What if Marshall followed in his family tradition but didn't wind up in Witness Protection after all? What if Mary had followed in her family tradition, too? This is an alternate universe, but these two are still drawn together, as of course, we know they always must be. Very much rated M.
They're not mine. I'm just messing with them. A lot. Come with me, won't you?
Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present, and future. ~Gail Lumet Buckley
Once upon a time there was a little girl named Mary who loved her father very, very much. He went out one day to get something at the store, and then... then, well, he came back home again. It was the event that changed her whole life.
Mary Shannon woke up sweaty and naked, but not what she'd call good sweaty and naked, relaxed or refreshed as she would have felt had that feeling come from having brought home one of her favorite recreational playmates. Instead, the air conditioning had gone out in this horrid little hellhole she was currently crashing in, and she'd been too tired last night to go down and kick the crap out of the super to make him do his job. It had been easier to peel down and fall on the mattress under the ceiling fan for a few hours before her meetup. Anyway, if things went to plan, she would only be here a few more days, tops.
She rolled over, stared at the slow spiral of the fan, and thought about the day before her, mentally laying the groundwork needed for this current stage of the plan. Why McNeil had wanted to meet in a coffee shop, she was never going to understand, but at least it would be cleaner than a bar or a back alley. She sighed, rose, and headed for the avocado-green tiled shower. God, this place is just a dive. I cannot wait to get out of here and back to some acceptable living conditions. The pipes clanked ominously, but she got cleaned up quickly, wrapping the towel around her hair. As she leaned over the cabinets by the sink to get another to dry off her body, reflected in the small mirror was a tattoo across the base of her spine and almost a handsbreadth toward her hipbone on either side. It was shaped like an elaborately drawn pair of wings.
Mary was dressed, groomed, and headed out of the tiny efficiency apartment in time to arrive a good fifteen minutes early for the meeting. In her experience, this was always a good idea. Besides, McNeil struck her as being a squirmy little bastard, and she couldn't quite shake the feeling that she shouldn't trust him. That instinct had kept her alive and well, alive and free now for many a year, so she'd learned to listen to it. She felt the comforting weight of the Natchez Bowie knife in her boot, its foot-long blade strapped in its sheath to her leg. Not exactly dainty, but well, impressive as all hell if McNeil fucks with me. She did not, as a general rule, carry guns. That was one thing Daddy had always been very specific about. Guns would get you killed.....
She entered the small coffee shop and headed for the order counter. There was no sign of McNeil, but there were a few other patrons scattered around. Hogging all the good chairs, I see. She ordered a coffee, and while she was waiting, she let her eyes scan the room. There was a gaggle of teenage girls in a sunny spot near the front windows, the floor near them piled with shopping bags. Their hands were waving animatedly and they were drinking frothy-looking confections out of big mugs. Over near the wall in a booth was a dark-haired woman about her own age, book in hand, sipping a mug of tea. She had a large battered tote bag sitting beside her, and she was wearing a shirt from one of the local high schools. Has to be a teacher refugee, Mary smirked. She has that worn and frazzled look about her. Two business men were apparently trying to persuade each other to purchase products from one another at a small table near the front, ties loosened, tones serious. A tall, slender guy with a netbook had taken the seat she would have preferred in the back corner, sipping something as silly-looking and frothy as the selections the high school girls had made and occasionally chuckling to himself at whatever he had going on in the electronic world in front of him. And disturbingly, Mary's eyes made two cops sitting in the booth nearest the front door.
They were detectives because they were in suits. One was a lean African-American, and he was finishing up a pastry of some kind and hassling the one he was sitting with, a blocky boxer-built blonde. As the teenager behind the counter slid Mary's beverage to her, she surreptitiously edged away from the pair of cops and back toward the computer geek. He glanced at her when she sat down, and it was the unwelcoming territorial scowl of the technonerd whose private domain was being invaded. He turned the little netbook on the tabletop just a degree away from her. She flashed him a brief politely apologetic smile. 'Scuse the hell outta me, fella. Surf that porn all you want. I assure you I don't care. Shame, that, though. He's not bad looking... On another day, I'd enjoy flirting just a little just to watch his social skills deteriorate. She made sure she was still near the emergency exit and bathrooms, just in case, made sure she could hear the cops' conversation, but she didn't feel like they were here for her. She sipped and watched.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, the two detectives got up and walked out continuing to hassle each other. She sighed silently in satisfaction. That should silence the warning bell that had been dinging since she walked in. She pulled out her cellphone to glance at the time. McNeil would be along any minute now. So why did she still have that nagging itch at the back of her consciousness...
She looked over the patrons again. Same people occupied in the same activities. The teacher was deep into her book and tea. She had a look of weary bliss on her face. The business guys were finishing up their conference and gathering jackets. They were totally absorbed in the universe of "the deal." The high school girls had just gotten lemon bars from the server and were giggling unsubtly behind their hands because they thought he was cute. TechnoNerd was typing something sporadically as if he were waiting for a response and then returning his own. Ah, the little lamb must be on FaceBook or MySpace or something. How nice. I bet there he is a god.... The thought amused her, and she snickered a little into her coffee.
The door opened, and her instincts went crazy, trying to attach the vague threat she felt hovering to a tangible source. It was, however, only a tiny wizened little lady carrying a very small similarly wizened dog. The people at the counter apparently knew her because nothing was said about the canine companionship, and she, too was soon ensconced in a booth with a hot beverage.
What is tripping my alarms? Just the fact that those cops were here? Or is McNeil bringing friends with him? She shifted the boot with the Bowie knife in it. Be the last time McNeil does something stupid....
The little bell on the shop door chimed again and in walked McNeil. His short frame was slightly hunched in that way of his that never failed to remind her of a rabbit. His eyes darted around the room until they settled on her. She gave him a little finger wave. Relief was plain on his face, and he scurried over to where she sat and wrapped his hands around the back of the bench as though it were a flotation device and the ship was going down.
"Jesus, McNeil. Why don't you go get something to drink? We have time, and you need to calm down."
He continued to stare at her a moment longer, and then he nodded, scrambling back to the counter before returning with a clear plastic cup of lemonade. He fiddled with the straw a moment before taking a long sip.
"Now," Mary said. "Better?"
"Yeah. Yeah. I guess. Sure. Better."
Mary fought the urge to roll her eyes. If McNeil wasn't so very good at what he did and so completely trusted by her uncle, John Patrick Shannon, she probably would have kicked his ass long ago. He was such a child about some things. She was almost positive she didn't want to hear whatever was coming next. I was right, dammit....
"It's just so hot out. And I don't like this place or this heat. When are you going to be ready to do the job so we can get the hell out of here?" His voice was a strident little whine, like a tiny little buzzsaw ripping through her patience.
"McNeil, you know as well as I do that you are the deciding factor as to when things happen. I am waiting on you to set me up. Once you get me the intel, things can begin to...move along in a manner agreeable to everybody concerned."
McNeil's bottom lip stuck out petulantly. "Well, all I'm saying is that if you intend to hook this big fish, you're going to have to work it, honey. He's cagey as hell, suspicious of everybody. I know you're good, and all, but..."
Mary smiled, but it didn't touch her eyes. "You have no idea. Look, you let me worry about the details. Just get me an intro, make sure you use the information I gave you about me, and I'll do the rest. By this time in two months, you could be in Alaska on a glacier or something."
"Okay, okay. Look, I brought you some extra information about him," McNeil dug in the retina-searingly yellow messenger bag he always carried, propping it up on the table next to his lemonade. Anybody could have seen it coming.... She held her hand up, even, to prevent it, but it was like an act of nature. The bag toppled the lemonade right into her lap, ice, yellow liquid, slices of fruit and all.
"Shit!" She leaped up, brushing at herself with a handful of napkins.
"Oh, Mary, I'm so sorry." McNeil's little rabbit body was quivering with a combination of fear and remorse. His face flushed red, the color creeping up from his neck and clashing horridly with his wild auburn hair. He pushed his glasses up his nose in a nervous gesture and grabbed napkins to try to blot the spill on the table.
"Never mind, McNeil. Just let me step into the bathroom a minute and see if I can sop up some of this mess with some paper towels." She strode toward the ladies' room and TechnoNerd looked up at her, ran his gaze over her sodden front, and gave her a brief smirk. Careful buddy. I've got a wicked temper and a foot-long blade in my boot....
She dabbed at herself, pressing and drying the fabric between layers of paper towel, and when she thought she had most of the sticky-sweet beverage off her, she turned to head back out to finish with McNeil. McNeil was still sitting at the table clutching his satchel, looking at her with that same mixture of fear and remorse. She had no sooner passed through the arch leading from the restrooms and storage area in the back than she heard an all-too-familiar clicking sound and felt a cold steel muzzle press against the middle of her back.
"Well, hell...." She slipped her hands slowly up in front of her, careful not to make any gesture that could get her dead.
She was aware of the tea-sipping teacher also training a gun on her, too, and she felt the muzzle behind her leave her spine as she was turned and forced face first against the wall. Her mind raced, trying to work the options for escape, trying to chain down her fury with McNeil at being betrayed. She covered it with a smartass comment. "So you're not TechnoNerd, then."
Laughter, the same laughter she'd heard earlier from the booth in the back corner, barked briefly as his strong hands cuffed her. "Oh yeah, Mary Shannon. Make no mistake about it. I am definitely TechnoNerd. But I'm also a US Marshal and you're under arrest. I think that's probably the important bit right now." He ran his hands lightly down her sides. "Are you carrying anything?"
She turned her head, caught his bright blue eyes, and smiled a wicked, deliberately flirtatious smile, "Isn't half the fun in looking to see?"
He smiled back easily, raised one eyebrow in a way that was full of a mischief she didn't usually associate with law enforcement. "Guess we can do it that way, too." He ran his hands professionally, impersonally down her legs. He stilled when his fingertips encountered the hilt of the Bowie knife at the edge of her boot top.
"Mary, Mary, Mary," he said, pulling up her pantleg to reveal the hidden weapon. He tugged it free of its sheath and the foot-long steel blade shone under the fluorescent lights. He whistled.
"What can I tell you, Marshal? A girl has to be so awfully careful these days..."
He laughed that same appreciative short laugh again, and turned the knife to look at the worn hilt, the razor edge she kept on it. Blue, blue eyes cut to hers across the blade for a moment, and then he pulled the sheath off her leg and slipped the knife back into it, handing it to a uniform who had appeared while he was searching her.
"You know what, Mary? I don't think you can lay claim to the title girl."
"What? Why not? I've got all the required equipment, I assure you." She smiled, just a little, shifted to cock her hip just a little, knew it wasn't touching her eyes.
"I don't think any woman who is the niece of John Patrick Shannon, ran her first major long con by the age of 21, her first exotic car theft ring by the time she was 24 and now carries the modern equivalent of a broadsword in her boot qualifies as a girl anymore. Let's go." He placed his hands on the cuffs, tugging her firmly along.
Mary smiled at the abbreviated list of her credentials as he and Tea Teacher led her out two-by-two toward the waiting transport vehicle. As they walked, he read her her rights. She twisted her hands in the cuffs lightly, feeling them shift just a little. She ran her fingertips lightly over her bracelet. Good. 'Cause there's one little thing he didn't add to my resume. Guess he's about to find out about it, though.
McNeil was still sitting where she'd left him. One of the uniformed Marshals was talking to him. Cut a deal, did you, little rabbit? Well, Uncle Johnny's not going to be too happy with that or with the fact that you got his favorite niece nabbed by the Feds. Hope they find you a nice deep rabbit hole. She gave him a wide, bright grin as they passed by and said, "If you should happen to see them before I do, make sure you tell everybody I said hello, okay?" McNeil whimpered. He understood immediately what she meant.
The Marshal holding her cuffs jerked a little harder, and she cut angry eyes at him. His gaze was ice, and for a moment, they just stared at each other, evenly matched. Then she remembered her plan and smiled at him, pretending acquiescence. They stepped out of the doorway, and the Marshal stepped ahead of her to open the door to the vehicle, leaving only Tea Teacher to control her. The other officers were occupied for one perfect moment with talking to McNeil, gathering the bits and pieces of evidence on scene or preparing to leave.
With a speed and a viciousness that was breathtaking, she made a flying side kick at Tea Teacher, bringing her to her knees. The woman didn't even get the chance to cry out since Mary's boot caught her in the abdomen, knocking the air out of her with a soft grunt. Mary was sprinting, hands still chained behind her, headed for the alley beside the coffee shop when the other Marshal turned, blue eyes narrowed. He drew his gun and shouted for her to stop, but she turned the corner and kept going.
She pounded down the narrow alley at breakneck speed despite her hands being pinned awkwardly behind her by the cuffs. She could hear the fast strides of the Marshal behind her. Damn, he's fast.
"Mary Shannon, stop or I'll fire!"
You can try, big boy. Good luck hitting me... I'm running, you're running. You may be good, but I'm a betting woman just like my Daddy taught me, and I'm going to play the odds today. Her stride never slowed as she raced for the end of the alley. She heard his Glock fire two shots, heard one of them whizz past her ear. Fuck me....Okay, so you are VERY good, Mr. Marshal..... Still she ran, and she turned into another alley.
This one branched two ways. She made a quick decision, hung a left without breaking stride and raced part of the way down. She could hear the law man's steps nearing the mouth of the alley she'd left. She kicked open one of the shabby wooden doors in front of her and plunged into an abandoned building. She pushed the door shut behind her with her shoulder and then turned to race up the interior staircase. On the first floor of the building, she found a room filled with old dressing forms and yellowing stacks of newspaper. She lay on the floor and with a flexibility that would have astounded most people she maneuvered her bound hands in front of her.
She pulled her silver bracelet off her wrist and removed slender piece of wire from it and quickly worked it in the keyhole of the cuffs. The whole business took less than two minutes before she was free. She stood up quickly and listened. She could hear the footsteps of the Marshal in the alley below her. He was not running as she'd hoped.
Why, oh why, couldn't this one just be a stupid local bastard who'd just run past like a Keystone Kop or somebody I could seduce or buy off? This one is going to be a lasting problem, I can just tell. I can feel it right down to my bones.
She rubbed her wrists, watching him stalking down the alley, gun drawn, moving like a hunting beast after its prey. Doesn't understand that this time there isn't a rabbit in the hole, though. Wonder what happens when two predators stalk each other? A brief smile twisted her lips. Nobody thought to tell him that "escape artist" also belongs on my laundry list of achievements. Bet heads will roll back at the office for that SNAFU. Wish I could have seen his face when he turned around and realized I was gone.
His steps had taken him past her building. Well, Mr. Marshal, whoever you are, it's been fun, but... Time to get out of here. I need to figure out a way to get out of town, and then I'll need to start looking for some way to rework that job or replace it.
She crept down the hallway, found another set of stairs at the end, picked the lock on the front door, and after looking carefully to make sure there was nobody looking, she slipped out into the light foot traffic on the downtown streets.
Okay. Let me know what you think. Do we like this different Mary and Marshall? Detailed feedback would be greatly appreciated for this first chapter but even a yes or no would be lovely....