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One-Eyed-Jack: \wen\-\’id\-\’jak\

Adjective: 1: being, of, pertaining to, a face card or cards on which the figure is shown in profile, such cards being the jack of spades, the jack of hearts 2: a loner who has a hard time trusting anyone 3: navy term for a greasy hamburger topped with a fried egg. Often served during midrats--midnight rations.

“Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it.” ~~ Michel de Montaigne, February 28, 1533 – September 13, 1592


Lima, Peru

El Tocón Sangriento – the Bloody Stump – was a back alley, low rent cantina that hadn’t changed in clientele or décor since Mike Brown first set foot in the dump eight years ago. The class of women, however, appeared to have catapulted to new levels.

He turned his back to the cracked, smoky mirror, a shot of pisco in one hand, a time worn Jack of Hearts in the other and propped his elbows behind him on the edge of the scarred bar. Then he watched the dance floor with interest as one particular woman moved sensuously to the rhythm of a slow, Spanish guitar.

Absently flipping the playing card back and forth between his fingers, he squinted through the tobacco and marijuana haze at the dark-haired Latina beauty stirring up trouble and testosterone with the seductive sway of her hips. She was way too hot for this dive. And while he didn’t have a clue why she flashed her flirty smile his way, he wasn’t going to question his good luck. Just like he wasn’t questioning the reason he was tying one on like there was no tomorrow.

He tossed back the shot and exchanged it for a full one from the neat row of soldiers lined up on the bar behind him. Screw the fact that he’d been clean and sober for 364 consecutive days … a record he never seemed to beat. Tonight, like every other July 15th since Operation Slam Dunk had gone south, he was getting flat-ass drunk.

The end of days. That’s how he thought of the debacle in Afghanistan eight years ago.

‘Sobrietus interruptus’. That’s how he thought of his annual commune with alcohol and self-pity.

Tonight he was holding a post mortem. Throwing a pity party. Conducting a wake for the friends who’d lost their lives eight years ago. For the life and career he’d lost.

Hell, call it whatever you wanted – a guilt trip, grief, suppressed rage, self-destruction – he didn’t give a rip. It was happening. The only new wrinkle in his yearly bender was that it had started to look like he might also get laid.

Talk about poetic justice. He was already fucked up in the head … might as well make it a clean sweep.

Eyes on the prize, he slammed back one more shot, pocketed the bullet ridden playing card, touched the unlit cigarette tucked above his right ear for luck and pushed off the bar stool. Then he tried like hell not to stagger as he walked unsteadily across the room toward the spicy little enchilada who seemed to only have eyes for him. Big dark eyes. A little sleepy, a little slutty, a lot interested.

Damn, she was something. Centerfold something. A petite, hot mess of raw sexuality. Long, satin black hair escaped in sleek, bed-mussed strands from the silver clip she’d used to secure it in a loose knot on top of her head. Elegant neck. Smooth, bare shoulders. A lot of soft, caramel skin. And that red bustier – B cups not having a lot of luck harnessing a generous pair of C’s – worn with black spandex pants that stopped at her ankles where the straps of her four inch stilettos took over and played hell with the fit of his pants.

“Hey, gorgeous,” he said. Because she was. And because he was too wasted to come up with anything original. He moved in close – crowded the hell out of her personal space – and the way she slid up real close and cuddly told him that she was totally fine with the invasion.

Hola,” she said, smelling sweet and musky and sexually charged as she tipped her head back with a bold, inviting smile and pressed those amazing breasts against his chest. “Nice bling.” A long-nailed fingertip – slick, shiny, red – tapped the diamond stud in his left ear, then lingered at the tip of his lobe.

“Nice…” he let his gaze slide down to that magnificent cleavage before easing back to her face… “smile.”

She laughed and tilted her head to the side in blatant invitation, giving him an even better view of all that dewy, soft flesh.

“Wanna take this somewhere private?” Just as well cut straight to the chase.

The lady knew what she wanted. “Thought you’d never ask,” she said, her English laced with sultry, lyrical Spanish.

Her hand was small and hot – like the rest of her – when she took his and led him toward the back door. He followed like a love struck puppy, mesmerized by the smell of her hair and the sway of her hips and the way her sparkly purse hung from a silver chain looped over her shoulder and rhythmically bumped her gorgeous ass with every step she took.

Outside, the alley was as shadowy and dark as the desire that ripped recklessly though his groin. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a warning bled through his lust-induced fog, telling him to slow the hell down, reminding him that if he hadn’t been so drunk, he might have asked a few more questions. That maybe, if he added two and two together he might come up with something other than fournicate.

Just because he wanted her to be a working girl, didn’t negate the fact that she had way too much going for her in the plus column for that gig. And just because he was drunk, didn’t mean he should let his guard down. He started to rethink this entire proposition … but then she leaned back against the wall, gripped his t-shirt with both hands and pulled him flush against her.

Good-bye presence of mind.

She was all hot, wet, open mouth and ripe breasts rubbing up against him, her left leg wedging super sweet between his thighs and moving up and down over his rapidly expanding package as he pressed her against the wall with his body.

He groaned and scrabbled for a hold on his sanity. “Maybe we should get a room, wild thing.”

She laughed, a husky, naughty purr and bit his lower lip. “That comes later, gringo … but you’re gonna come right now.”

Holy mother.

When she reached into her purse, another spike of alarm jabbed him out of his stupor.

“Condom.” She flashed that dimpled smile and damn if he didn’t almost weep with gratitude.

What the hell. It was dark. He was gone. And all this lush woman heat had him hypnotized by the prospect of her doing him, right here beneath the flashing neon Quilmes sign.

He skimmed his palms down her sides, pressed the heels of his hands against her superior breasts then slid them lower again, gripping her hips and rubbing her against his raging erection.

All the while, she had one hand on her purse, while rooting around inside with the other.

“Damn, sweetheart. If you don’t find that thing soon the party’s gonna be over.”

Just then he got wind of a scent … and got sober real fast.

He grabbed her wrist, pressed her harder against the wall and pulled her hand out of her bag. A loop of thin, stiff plastic dangled from her red tipped nails.

“Well now.” He glanced at the flex cuffs. “Speaking of bling. I’m all for kinky sex, but there’s no way in hell you’re going to slap that bracelet on me.”

She wasn’t smiling now.

“And nice perfume, by the way. Eau du le gun oil?” He felt the outline of a pistol inside that sparkly purse. “Shoulda gone for Shalimar, chica … the smell of that stuff makes me stupid.”

“That’s not all that makes you stupid,” she muttered and jammed a knee hard into his gonads.

He doubled over with a gasp of pain, helpless to fight her when she yanked his arms behind his back, expertly looped the strip of plastic around both wrists, and jerked it tight.

“We can do this easy,” she whispered close to his ear as he groaned in agony, “or it can go real hard on you.”

Well, of course, he wasn’t going to go easy.

He drove a shoulder toward her midsection. She dodged like a pro and he landed on his face in the alley's pocked, filthy pavement.

By the time he felt the prick of the needle in his neck, it was all over but the headache he knew he was going to have when he woke up. If he woke up.

Which, unfortunately, he did.



When Mike finally came to and managed to blink through the cobwebs clouding his vision, three things registered in disjointed tandem … each one worthy of a nightmare.

One – he was spread eagle on his back on a mattress in a room he recognized as standard fare fleabag hotel. Two – flex cuffs bound his wrists above his head to the bars of an iron headboard. And three – the woman staring at him in stony-eyed silence from a chair at the foot of the bed looked vaguely familiar.

And even though the only light in a room with mustard yellow walls and cracked plaster came from a low wattage bulb hanging from a frayed cord in the middle of the ceiling, very familiar, was the Beretta 92FS she held in a confident grip. The gun was his which not only made him stupid, it made him officially – if not literally – screwed.

Interesting. Sort of. Because there was some good news here. If she wanted to shoot him, she’d have done it by now.

So if she didn’t want him dead, then what did she want? And where, exactly, did he know her from?

He breathed deep. Fought to remember. Anything. Then snapped to with a painful jolt when a memory as blinding as headlights cut through the fog.

Cantina. Pisco. Hot tamale. Leading with his dick.

He clenched his jaw. Dumb ass. He’d let her get the drop on him. She must have juiced him with something. Yeah … he remembered the sting of the needle … stumbling down an alley, his arm slung over her shoulders, her arm around his waist ... falling into a cab … staggering down a narrow hallway, up a flight of stairs.

Collapsing on a lumpy bed that smelled of mildew and cheap disinfectant and where – judging by the fact that he was still zipped and tucked – he was willing to give pretty good odds that he hadn’t gotten laid.

He framed her face between his boot tips, and squinted, trying to get a read on where this was going, who she might be. But she’d stacked her deck rock solid with the three c’s – cool, calm, and in control. Her unwavering gaze wasn’t giving anything away. He could still smell her above the low rent hotel room scent but gone was the sultry temptress with the bed mussed hair. She’d pulled all that black silk into a sleek, utilitarian tail and bound it snug at the nape of her neck. She’d also replaced her ‘slut suit’ with a blinding white t-shirt, tight jeans, and a pair of lace up leather boots that had seen a fair share of wear. And yet, if you overlooked the gun, she was still damn sexy – in a kick-ass, GI Jane, ball-breaker kind of way.

But sexy didn’t hold much sway right now. Too bad he hadn’t realized that half a dozen shots of pisco ago.

So … was she local policía? No. That didn’t fit. He’d be locked in a cell by now, most likely beaten, more likely dead. Besides, his nose was clean this trip. And despite the Rambo-ette persona, she didn’t have enough sharp edges to be a hardnosed cop. Not that he hadn’t been fooled by dangerous curves before.

Extortion? Good luck, chica. His plane was the only thing he owned of any value and that was hocked up to his eyeballs. Woman scorned, then? Did he know her from somewhere? Had he done her wrong? That didn’t fit either. He wouldn’t have forgotten a face or a body like hers.

So … what? What did she want?

Nothing good. The only thing he knew with any degree of certainty was that so far, he didn’t much like her agenda.

“Tell me what happened in Afghanistan,” she said without so much as a blink and absolutely zero warning.

And his heart stopped dead.


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