"Marcella: Princess or Pawn"

A Spirited Tale of Intrigue and High Adventure
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Marcella - Chapter One
by JP McDonald

The air was perfectly still as the afternoon sun blazed down upon the Arizona desert. The blinding glare and intense heat washed out the colors of the landscape as it baked everything that resided in the desolate realm. The mountains were colorful pastels of red, orange and brown as they stood their ground proudly and guarded the secluded valley as a parent would its offspring. They reached majestically towards the clouds above and sloped gently to the sandy terrain below which was covered in cacti, tumbleweeds and other hearty plant life.

Rising pockets of heat emanated from the scorched earth while the scattered tumbleweeds sat motionless and waited for the slightest hint of a breeze to send them on their way again. The spindly cacti, ravaged by the harsh climate, sprouted from the dirt as if in defiance of Mother Nature and stood like soldiers in the sand. A lone rattlesnake slithered across the hot surface as the temperature easily topped one hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

The silence was deafening until the stillness was broken by a faint drone that came from over the mountain tops. The sound increased in intensity until it began to echo throughout the valley and bounce off the mountain walls. Suddenly, a small, silver airplane broke through the clouds as the sun glinted off its shining hull and created a show of dazzling colors.

"Yee-haw! We made it, dude!" Steve shouted and clapped his hands, his nose pressed to the tiny window as the plane glided smoothly over the mountains and began to descend into the isolated desert. "Andrew, you never cease to amaze me with your piloting prowess!" Reaching over, he slapped his friend on the back for emphasis.

"Ouch!" Andy yelled in mock pain as the plane dipped slightly. "I think I broke a rib here! Is there a doctor in the house?"

"You broke a rib in your back, dude? Aren’t those supposed to be in the front? I think you just made medical history with that one."

"Oh, yeah," Andy replied as he thought it over before he turned to grin at his partner. "Maybe you broke my spine and I'm permanently paralyzed. Yeah, that's it!” He reached for his back with one hand. “I’m fucking paralyzed!" he laughed. “Oh! My aching back!”

“Quit your bitching, sissy queen, and get back to steering this rat trap.”

"Fine,” he said as he got serious and concentrated on his landing approach. “Our long-ass flight is finally over so let's get this thing on the ground, shall we?"

Andy Blevins was a skilled pilot and navigator who loved to have a good time at other people’s expense. He had a strong jawline and rugged skin due to the constant five-o'clock shadow which contrasted sharply with the laugh lines around his eyes. Curly, dark brown hair flowed to his shoulders but had started to recede on top which was a major cause of concern for him. His blue eyes and long eyelashes made him a handsome man but he was shy around women and kept himself buried in his work.

Andy wore his usual outfit: a flowery, Hawaiian-style shirt along with blue jeans and cowboy boots as he steered the plane towards the desert floor. He searched for the faint outline of a seldom-used landing strip that matched the directions he had followed. With his hands on the controls, and sweat that glistened on his brow, he lowered the landing gear and dropped the altitude as he fought the vicious updraft from below.

"Shit, man!" Steve screamed as the plane bucked and bounced on the turbulent air currents. "Don't kill us now!"

"Keep your panties on, dude! We're almost there," Andy said as he set his sights on his target below.

Steve continued to peer out the window. "See that?" he said as he pointed at some dust clouds that were being kicked up in the sand. He saw four black sedans, with blacked-out windows, that quickly approached the area along the sandy roads. "See that? If that's Carlton, he sure as hell came in style!"

Andy managed to grab a quick glance at the approaching vehicles as he concentrated on the tricky landing. "Think he brought any women who might be looking for a good time with a couple of smelly dudes?"

"I just hope he brought us some brewskies!" Steve laughed. "My throat is parched something awful and, to tell you the truth, I could use the buzz!"

"Now you’re talking. Yes, sir, that sounds mighty damn good!" Andy replied as he smacked his lips in anticipation. "But, first we have to get ready for a bumpy landing. It won't be pleasant, my friend, so I suggest you assume the crash position." He grinned broadly and waited for one of Steve's witty comeback lines. When none came, his forehead furrowed with concern. "Hey, asswipe! I'm talking to you!"

"Shut up, you turd! Can't you see I'm watching here?" As the plane neared the ground, Steve kept his eyes on the four cars as he wondered what was going on. "It seems kind of strange, is all. Didn't Carlton say he was coming in a chopper at one o'clock? It's not even twelve-thirty yet and these cars show up out of nowhere. I got a bad feeling about this, dude." His eyes squinted from the bright sunlight that reflected off the windshields of the cars as they moved ever closer to the make-shift airstrip.

Steve Sikes was the more cautious of the two, very detail-oriented, and always thought ahead as he tried to plan his every move. He hated surprises and Andy took that as an invitation to pull some practical jokes which drove Steve crazy. They were a good team, had been together many years and knew each other like a book. Steve stood six feet-two inches with wavy blonde hair that was cut short, "Like an accountant," Andy had mentioned numerous times. He had brilliant green eyes that seemed to match the Hawaiian shirt he wore, similar to Andy's. As he buckled himself in and prepared for the rough landing, he steeled himself for what he felt was a confrontation to come.

“A bad feeling? Care to clue me in, big fella?”

Steve kept his eyes on the cars as they stopped and parked along the outskirts of the airstrip. “Something's just not right,” he thought, as he felt the plane touch down on the bumpy terrain. He watched as three men exited each car, all wore dark suits and sunglasses, and all stood, with their arms crossed, next to their vehicles. Steve waved and smiled out the window as the plane passed the waiting men but received no reaction, no facial expressions, nothing from which to make a judgment one way or the other regarding the disposition of these strange men. One of the plane's wheels hit a sizable hole in the ground and bounced the plane slightly into the air.

"Shit, man! Can't you stop this thing?" Steve inquired.

Andy slowed the plane to a stop, turned off the engine and turned to Steve. "Welcome to paradise, Stevie my boy!"

The plane stopped about fifty yards from where the cars were parked. "Well, what now?" Steve asked as he peered out the window at the waiting men. "I didn't see Carlton, did you?"

Andy looked at the men as they stood by their cars. "Can't say that I did but you know old Carlton, he might be sitting in one of the cars enjoying the air conditioning. That would be just like him, you know?"

They knew Carlton to be a man of his word and, to keep the mission under wraps, would only tell a select few people of any plans he had developed. Andy scratched his head as Steve and he discussed the situation.

"Okay," Steve concluded. "Here it is. Carlton said he'd arrive by chopper but, instead, four cars show up. We're supposed to meet at one o'clock, and we know he's a very punctual guy, yet these cars appeared a half-hour early. Only a handful of people was to know of the plan yet there's twelve men here to greet us."

Andy nodded his head as he listened and pondered. He pushed the hair out of his face and cursed the heat. "I see what you mean. Well," he sighed as he unbuckled his seatbelt and rose from his seat, "I guess we should see what's up and find out if this is a welcoming committee or a death squad."

"Yeah, I suppose so," Steve replied as he climbed out of his seat. He never wore a seatbelt in an aircraft except for a bumpy landing like they just experienced. He always figured what was the use, if you crash you die, period, end of story. He preferred to be ready to get out as soon as possible if need be. He moved to the back of the plane and waited for Andy to join him before he opened the side door.

The plane was a single-engine, six-seater with the four rear seats removed to create a small cargo area. They carried all their supplies with them, at all times, just in case. They had all types of guns including rifles, handguns and machine guns along with all the necessary ammunition, grenades, plastic explosives, and a bazooka with plenty of shells. They also had a mortar launcher that sat in a storage bin, rarely used but good to have in an emergency. Also on board was extra clothing, water, food, medical supplies and bathroom essentials. “Better to be safe than sorry,” Steve always thought.

Andy joined up with Steve at the door, rifle in hand, as he opened it slowly. Sunlight flooded the cabin as they debated their next move. "Just wave to them," Andy said nonchalantly. "Let's see what happens."

"But, they look so mean!" Steve said in mock fright as he grinned and slapped his friend on the back.

"Hey! Dammit! You got a real problem with that back-slapping shit! I might have to give you an attitude-correction if this keeps up!"

"Quit your bawling, asswipe, and let's greet our welcomers, shall we?"

They both leaned out the doorway and smiled as they waved to the waiting men.

"Think they'll wave back?" Andy asked as he grinned the best he could.

Steve watched the mysterious men with their stone faces and look of defiance. The men were looking at them and moving slightly though Steve was unsure what they were doing from that distance. "I doubt it, good buddy. They look pretty damn serious to me. Why don't you say something to them?"

"Couldn't hurt, I guess," Andy replied.

"Just say hi or something."

"Okay, hold on." Andy cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, "Good day, gentlemen! How goes it?"

At that point, one of the men crouched in front of one of the cars, whipped out a pistol and fired one bullet that whizzed past Andy's ear. It was soon followed by another and another until it turned into a hail of bullets. Steve and Andy dove back into the plane as they searched for a weapon.

"Shit!" Steve yelled as he grabbed an AK-47 assault rifle and slapped in a clip. "They ain't none too friendly, are they?"

"Assholes don't know who they're messing with!" Andy screamed as he dropped the rifle and grabbed his long-range machine gun.

They both returned fire but nothing was being hit except for the fuselage of the plane and the bodies of the cars. Andy became increasingly frustrated as he looked around for another weapon.

"Damn fine way to treat your guests, shitheads!" Steve yelled as he emptied his gun and reached for another clip. He looked back at Andy and screamed, "Come on, dude, get your ugly ass out here and give me a hand, will you?"

Andy grabbed the bazooka. "I’m working on it!" Andy replied as he loaded one of the shells. "We'll have to give them a firm spanking, if you ask me!"

Steve ducked the bullets as they tore through the fuselage. "Hurry up, man! If they hit the gas tank we're as good as toast!"

"I've got it, I’ve got it!" Andy got on his knees and positioned himself behind Steve. He wrestled the bazooka onto his shoulder and yelled out, "Get down...now!" Steve dove for the floor as Andy squeezed the trigger. With a thunderous boom, and a reverse kick that sent Andy into a backward somersault, the shell flew gracefully through the air. It went over the heads of the suited men, exploded a good fifty yards behind them and sent dirt billowing into the air. “Shit!" Andy screamed as he scrambled for another shell.

"Good shooting, Tex!" Steve laughed as he once again got up to return fire. "You missed them by a country mile, you turd! Now hurry up before it clears and they start shooting again!"

"Ah, hell!" Andy quickly reloaded his weapon and took aim. "This time I won't miss." He carefully aimed the weapon and braced himself on one knee. "If you want to keep that ugly thing you call a head on your shoulders, I would suggest that you move out of the way!" Steve again dove to the floor as Andy fired and sent the shell directly towards his intended target. “Ah-ha!” he said in triumph as the shell hit one of the cars dead-center which created a mighty blast that sent bodies and dust flying through the air.

"Ya-hoo! We got 'em on the run now!" Steve shouted as he jumped from the plane. "Come on, dude! Victory is ours! Hahaha!" He turned, smiled at Andy, pivoted back around and fired wildly ahead of him as he ran into the cloudy mayhem.

Andy threw the bazooka down, grabbed a machine gun and, as he smiled a devilish grin, leapt through the door and onto the desert floor. "Holy shit, Batman! Wait for me!"

The scene was total chaos as flames shot out from the burning vehicles with some of the men themselves on fire as they screamed and fell to the ground. Bullets flew through the air and blood spilled onto the desert floor as Steve and Andy shot anything that moved as they ducked and swerved to avoid being shot themselves. After a few stressful minutes, it was over.

"Ah, shucks!" Andy scowled as he kicked at the dirt under his feet. "I was looking for more of a challenge. I guess it was too damn much to expect from this bunch of asshole wimps."

"Quit your bitching and get your ugly ass over here!" Steve yelled as he stood over a mortally-wounded man who was bleeding profusely from the chest area.

Andy nonchalantly walked over and surmised the situation. "And what do we have here, pray tell?"

"It's a damn survivor. Can you believe it?" Steve replied in feigned disbelief. "And there's another one over there,” he said as he pointed to another man who had blood seeping from his head. “Sheesh! Now what do we do?"

Andy strolled over to the other man on the ground who had a nasty head wound. "Want I should shoot him dead and put him out of my misery?" he laughed as he aimed his weapon between the man's eyes.

"Now, just you hold on there, hot-shot," Steve replied. "They might prove useful to us." He looked at the wounded man by his feet. "I don't know about you, bleeding dude, but I'm having tons of fun here. Care to answer a few questions?" He smiled as he glanced towards Andy.

"Hey!" Andy exclaimed. "I know! Let's take a break and let our guests catch their breath. Maybe that will clear their minds a little." Andy took a seat on a nearby rock and wiped the sweat from his brow. He nodded to Steve and sat back to watch his friend do his thing.

"No, dammit! No breaks!" Steve curled his upper lip in mock anger. He turned his attention back to the man who laid on the ground before him. "Now, asshole, who the fuck sent you here!" The man beneath his feet opened his mouth as if to speak yet no words came out. "You wanna say something, jerk-boy?"

The man swallowed hard before he gathered his strength and said, in a weakened voice, "Fuck you."

"Excuse me?" Steve asked as he got down on one knee and got closer to the man's face. "There's no need for such hostility," he said with authority. "It's just a simple question. Besides, who was it that fired first, butthole?" He looked over at Andy and winked. "We didn't start nothing. We are the innocent ones here." He stood and yelled to his partner, "Hey, Andy! Did we fire first or what?" Andy shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "No, we didn't. You shot first," Steve continued as he again got on his knees. "All we did was protect ourselves from looking the way you do now!" He smiled as he watched the man wince with the pain from his many injuries. "We greeted you guys cheerfully and with open arms now this is the thanks we get?" He leaned down and got in the man’s face. "Now, who the hell sent you here?"

Andy grinned broadly at the sight before him while he kept one eye on the other wounded man nearby. This was Steve's forte and he loved to watch him in action. “Classic,” he thought.

"Fuck you! I ain't telling you nothing!" the man replied as he clutched at the bleeding hole in his chest and coughed up some blood.

"The man's got a filthy mouth," Andy said as he rose and cocked his weapon menacingly. "I say we terminate him now."

"Nah, let's give him one more...” Steve began. “Hey!" he exclaimed as the wounded man reached out and grabbed him by the shirt. Steve slapped the man's hand down. "Sir, you are trying my patience!" He stood up and brushed the dirt from his pants. "Now answer my goddam question or..." He stopped, shocked at what he saw. The man had spit blood on Steve’s pants leg and took hold of it with one feeble hand. Steve looked down at it, simply shook his head, placed the gun to the man's temple, and said, "You, sir, are an idiot." With one quick burst from his rifle, the man slumped back as if to melt into the desert sand.

Steve watched as the life drained from the man's body. "One down, one to go," he said with a sigh as he stood and turned his attention to the other wounded man. “This is fun," Steve thought as he flashed a grin in Andy's direction. He then put on his best scowl and began to walk towards the other man. "And what's your story, other bleeding dude? Feel like spilling your guts or shall I simply blow your nuts off?"

The second man was already bleeding from a shot to the head as well as half a leg that was blown off in the explosion. "Please," he uttered softly. He looked at the tall man who appeared, and demonstrated, that he meant business. "I'll tell you what you want to know," the man said in faltered speech.

Andy walked over and stood a few feet away. He knew that this man didn't stand much of a chance of surviving. He had lost massive amounts of blood and appeared to be losing energy quickly.

Steve crouched next to the man with his rifle across his knees. "Just remember, dude," he said as he patted his rifle for emphasis, "I hold all the cards." The man closed his eyes and nodded slowly. "I will help fix you up if you just answer a few simple questions. Now, who sent you here and why?"

"His name is Sonny," the man said as he kept one eye on the rifle. "We were sent by a guy named Sonny Burke. He wants you guys dead. We got the orders from..." The man’s voice faltered as he began to fade in and out of consciousness.

"No!" Andy yelled as he started to rush forward.

Steve waved him back and continued to try to coax information from the dying man. He gently shook the man’s shoulder. "You there, dude? You said the order came from who?"

“Uh...Johnson," the man said through closed eyes as he swallowed hard. "The guy’s name is Johnson. I don't know why he wants you."

"Well, that's a start," Steve said as he rubbed his chin and stared into the horizon. "Where is Sonny and this Johnson guy now?" There was no answer as the man had grown limp and closed his eyes for the last time. "Shit!" Steve said in frustration as he watched the life ebb from the man's body.

"That's all she wrote,” Andy said as he approached. “So, what do you think?"

"Well, we know who Sonny Burke is but I've never heard of this Johnson guy."

Andy remembered Sonny Burke, with his big, flashy limousines, expensive suits, fancy diamond rings and bodyguards that accompanied him everywhere. "Shit, what are we getting ourselves into here?" he thought out loud.

"I don't have a clue, good buddy, not a clue." Steve looked at the mountains that surrounded them and peered into the sky. "And where the hell is Carlton?"

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