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Here is an excerpt from Part 3, Chapter 2 of Book 3 of Volume I of my series Dragon Drive, A Time for War:

“I think I better go get set up for work, Mom,” Leroy told me, sliding off the bench and getting to his feet. “I’ll do dishes tonight to make up for not helping you clean up now, okay?”

“Sure – it isn’t a problem, anyway,” I told him, “not that much to clean up.”

“Well, I feel bad about it. When I make breakfast here in the morning, I do clean up after myself, it’s only right. Anyway, I’d better get in there and start work,” he said, heading for the study.

The morning went by slowly without the others present. Leroy was there, true, but engrossed in whatever project they had him on now. Maybe that was why, lulled by the unusual quiet in our suite, when the phone rang and a woman told me I was needed down in Accounting as soon as I could get there to take care of some sort of “bad problem” over my account, instead of remembering what Monty had told me and refusing, I just told her I’d be down as soon as I could get there, after also running an errand to Administration. All I could think was that they were going to try to pull some more bullshit with Monty’s or my account, and that I’d better get printouts from Administration to back up my side of it. I didn’t even think to ask what sort of problem it was, just hung up the phone and went in to tell Leroy that I had to run an errand.

Staring at me, his eyes dark caverns, he said, his voice full of anxiety, “Mom, are you sure you should go? Daddy said not to go anywhere unless we had to, like if there was a fire or something.”

“I know, I know, but I don’t see how this could hurt. They’re probably going to try gouging more money out of my account. Anyway, I’m going by Administration, where Monty was headed, and get print-outs to back up my end of things, before I go over there to Accounting.”

“I – okay, but please wear your guns, okay, Mom?”

“Why, sure, Leroy. Here, I’ll go belt them on right now . . .” Going out into the front room, I caught up my own gunbelt, which held my Glock on my left hip and a new .357 Magnum revolver I’d wanted to get the heft of on my right. I went back in to show Leroy that I had put my guns on, to reassure him.

Leroy was hard at work at the computer. Without turning to look at me, he said, “Switch the holsters they’re in, Mom. Put the Glock on your right hip, please?”

I was right-handed, and had originally put the revolver on the right to test its balance from time to time. But something, maybe an odd note in Leroy’s voice, maybe that sudden frisson that raced down my spine following on his words, made me take my guns out and switch them in the holsters. “I – sure, if it makes you feel better,” I said. Then my training took over and I double-checked to make sure both guns were fully loaded and in good order.

They were. Giving Leroy a kiss, I told him, “I’ll be back as soon as I get this over with. Shouldn’t take long, Leroy.”

“I wish you wouldn’t go, Mom.”

“I – I’ll be extra careful, believe me!”

“Okay. If Daddy calls, what should I tell him?”

“Tell him where I went. He’ll want to know.”

“Good. Okay, ’bye, Mom,” he told me. “And be careful,” he added in a near-whisper.

Soon I was on my way down the elevator to the first floor, where both Accounting and Administration were located.

If it hadn’t been for Leroy’s plea before I left, I probably wouldn’t even have worn my guns that day, let alone swapped them in their holsters. I’d become more and more careless about that lately, the good life here in the Keep increasingly lulling me into a sense of complacency and a false sense of security which, in retrospect, came dangerously close to killing me – and would have, if not for Leroy.

Monty wasn’t in his office in Administration, and neither was Bill. According to a worried-looking filing clerk there, they’d both gone up to the dojo with print-outs from Administration, Bill seething with rage and Monty somewhere on the edge of a total meltdown. Whatever they’d found there in the files must have been even worse than Monty’d already told me.

The girl who’d told me that added, “Maybe it had something to do with that man from Accounting coming in here yesterday and asking for access to our computers.”

“Uh-oh! Did you give it to him?”

“Hell no! He didn’t have the password, he hadn’t been briefed, and there was nothing from any of our superiors saying he could. So we told him no, and he left here in a really ugly mood.”

“Who was he, do you know?”

“Some guy named George Carlton, I think. He’s a senior accountant over there.”

“I know him,” I told her. “He’s right up there at the top, almost ready for retirement.”

“You should have heard him – ranting and raving about how we’d all get fired for ‘insubordination’ and a bunch of other stuff that was total bullshit! I mean, Mrs. Eisenstein, we know our own jobs and we also know what we are and aren’t supposed to do, and that man thought he could just walk in here and order us to do whatever he wanted and we’d do it, like robots or something!”

“Robots only do what they’re programmed to do, so he was still an idiot if he thought that. Or desperate. I’m betting on desperate.”

“Why, Mrs. Eisenstein?”

“Well, there’s a lot of trouble going on over there now. My husband and some other people just discovered some . . . discrepancies in the books in Accounting, and I imagine people over there in Accounting are afraid heads are about to roll. Which, maybe, they should be, but that’s something that Big Bill and Monty and the other managers are going to have to decide. Anyway, sounds like they’re really upset over there.”

“Yeah, when Mala came back from lunch, she said her friend Luis, who works in Engineering and had some work to do over in Accounting this morning, fixing lights or something like that, told her it’s like somebody took a stick and tore up an anthill over there, people running around in circles and yelling at each other and everything.”

“Wow! Well, I’ll get my little chore done there and go back home as quickly as I can, then. Doesn’t sound at all pleasant. – So how long will it take to do my printouts, Doreen?”

“They should be about done, ma’am,” she told me. “I started the print run a few minutes ago, it doesn’t take long. I’ll go see if they’re ready,” she said, pushing her chair back from her desk and standing up. Going over to the printer, which had been spewing out paper for several minutes but was now quiet, she told me, looking over the printer’s output, “Yes, it’s done. Here, let me tear that off for you . . .” Quickly she separated the last printed page from the first fresh blank one and handed me the output I’d requested.

“Thanks, Doreen, you’ve been a big help! Let me know if I can ever help you out with something, just name it.”

“Sure,” she said, with a rather tired smile. It had been a long, frazzling day down there, apparently, between Carlton’s tirade earlier and everything else they had to do – Administration was the combined brain and heart of the Keep, taking care of everything from the registry of births and deaths and the burial details to filing of court records and Benny Suggs. I’d have tipped her for her trouble, but she would have been insulted – it was her job, she did it well, and was proud of her service. Tips weren’t necessary – or desired. It would have been different if she’d been working at a temporary, entry-level gofer-type job, running errands for others. But she was a true professional, happy with her career job there in Administration, and would have been as offended at the offer of a tip for her service as would an honest judge have been at the offer of a bribe in exchange for throwing a case.

“Okay, it’s off to Accounting I go. If you see my husband or Big Bill or Andy Thorsson, would you let them know where I went?”

“Sure. Take care, Mrs. Eisenstein,” she told me as I headed out the door, on my way down the hall to Accounting.

I was within sight of the door to Accounting, which was on the same side of the northern first-floor corridor as Administration, when I found myself confronting a young woman with short, dark hair, about 5 inches taller and 75 pounds heavier than I, flying straight at me from an alcove just the other side of Accounting, where she’d been concealing herself until then. Her face was contorted with rage and something worse, something beyond rage, a pitch-black exaltation like that of a fallen angel storming the ramparts of heaven, as she raced toward me. Throwing her arms in the air for dramatic effect or out of sheer clumsiness, I couldn’t say which, in a Harpy’s full-throated scream she cried, “Die, fascist bitch, die!”

A moment later, she had both feet planted and was beginning to draw her gun, a 9-mm Baretta she carried on her left hip. Being right-handed, she was attempting a cross-body draw – and she’d holstered her gun with its handle to the rear, precisely the wrong way for such a draw.

An instant later she lay sprawled on her back on the floor, one .40 calibre round from my Glock having hit her square in the gut and another having gone through her right lung. A puddle of blood fed by both exit wounds was quickly growing on the tiled floor beneath her body. Within a second or two, blood began to leak from her red, red mouth, and she choked again and again on it.

Stunned at what I had just done, dropping out of the Weaver stance I’d instinctively adopted when I drew my own gun and shot her, leaving my printouts strewn on the floor where I’d let them fall as I went for my gun, I tottered over to where she lay. Drawn by the woman’s hellish scream and my own answering shots, a crowd was beginning to fill the hall around us; a susurrus of frantic conversation filled the air. Bending down to see if there was anything I could do for the woman, I looked down into her blue-gray eyes, which were wide open in shock and horror. “Honey,” I told her, “hang on, we’ll have medical help here for you soon.”

“I – I –” she began. Beginning to grasp frantically, gulping and trying to spit out the blood filling her mouth, she tried again. “It – it wasn’t – how did you know?” she said cryptically, her eyes, like two discs of smashed glass turned dark blue by the desert sun, fixing on me in sudden recognition. Then, mercifully, she fainted.

Suddenly two more shots rang out. “God damn it, Batrix, get down!” came Paul’s voice from behind me.

Without even thinking about it, I hit the deck beside the unconscious woman I’d just shot.

“Christ, get out of the way, here come the medics!” somebody else yelled.

“Get back, damn you!” Paul was yelling. “There could be more – you don’t want to stop a bullet, fella!”

Warily I lifted my head a little to see what was happening. Paul, head turning left and right, weaving snakelike back and forth, back and forth as he scanned the area before him, was coming along the corridor toward me, guns drawn, ready to shoot from the hip. Several people pushing gurneys and carrying big white boxes marked with red crosses were running up behind him, shouting at people to get out of the way.

When Paul reached me, still looking around warily, his guns, a pair of Firestar .45s, still out and ready for use, he squatted down beside me. “Batrix?” he whispered. “Are you all right?”

“Y-yes. But this woman here, she’s hurt real bad,” I told him.

“Serves the bitch right. That’s Canela Johnson. Don’t you recognize her?”

“Who?” Stunned, I looked at the woman’s pale face, now going gray from blood-loss and shock. “Oh, my God, that is her! I didn’t recognize her – her face was so . . . so strange.”

Medics with a gurney finally reached us, and set about lifting up the unconscious Canela and placing her on the gurney.

Reholstering his guns, Paul got to his feet, gently helping me to rise as he did so. Drawing me out of the way, over to the wall, so we wouldn’t obstruct the medics, he said, “She just tried to kill you.”

“I know,” I told him. Reaction was beginning to set in. Somehow I was still holding my Glock. Carefully, in spite of my shaking hands, I managed to reholster it. “She – she didn’t even have her gun drawn when I got mine out. I hit her before she was even able to get her gun all the way out of its holster.”

“Good,” he hissed. “Sounds like your dojo and range practice paid off big-time.”

“Not to mention all those years of chasing down bandits and doing them in,” I told him with a wan smile. “Paul, what were those other two shots?” I asked.

“Me, darlin’. Two of Canela’s stilyagi were coming down that hallway just ahead of me. When you shot Canela, I saw them tense up, knew they were starting to draw their guns. I don’t know if they’d planned to shoot you anyway or whether they decided to take you out when you shot Canela, but believe me, Batrix, they were ready to kill you. I backshot the fuckers before they could draw. They didn’t see me coming – and good riddance. If they had seen me, I don’t know if I could have gotten them both before one of them got you.”

Suddenly the scent of voided fluids and offal filled the air.

One of the medics who had been attending Canela put a hand over his face; a choked sob came from him, and one of his hands briefly touched the small golden crucifix he wore at his throat before dropping back to the gurney. Another turned her head away briefly; then, turning back, she gently drew the blanket they’d covered her with over Canela’s face. “Looks like she just checked out,” Paul whispered.

“How far back were the two men you just shot?” I asked him.

“Over there,” he said, hooking his thumb toward the west end of the hall. “Maybe forty feet back or so.”

I looked down that way. Several people were wheeling away two more gurneys, on each of which was a body-bag encasing a man-sized carcass.

“Oh, my God, Paul!” I said. “Oh, my Lord . . .” Now I was trembling all over. Gently he drew me into his arms and held me there so that I wouldn’t collapse.

Then Andy and Liz Thorsson were there, along with Leah. “Batrix, are you all right?” Andy asked me, his eyes wide with alarm.

“She’s okay, just shook up real bad,” Paul told them. “Canela Johnson just proved the value of frequent dojo practice – she tried to get the jump on Batrix, but apparently she was too busy yelling Commie slogans at her to bother with drawing her gun until the last minute, and by then Batrix already had her gun out and was firing.”

Andy briefly closed his eyes, wincing a little. Then, smiling wryly, he told me, “It looks like you haven’t been all that lax on your training and practice lately, Batrix.

“Come on, you two, let’s go on back up to Administration. Monty’ll be there soon – somebody’s already calling around, trying to locate him. I think they may’ve sent a runner to find him, too. He’s going to be fit to be tied when he hears about this, you know.” . . .

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