Unfortunately not only her brother had thought The Most Dangerous Woman On The Planet was a good label for her. So did the editors of a popular celebrity magazine, People or Us or one of those.
Her two BFFs greeted her the second school day after Thanksgiving with a magazine containing a story about her. She could only be grateful that her picture was deemed less interesting than that of a trio of bikini-clad teens from a popular TV show which was blazoned across the front cover.
The magazine did however devote two side-by-side interior pages to her, with photos of her visits to the sniper-rifle, practical-pistol, and fun-shotgun events. There she was in a glorious color sending (the author averred) unerring death downrange toward defenseless targets. They had selected (or doctored) shots which made her look like death incarnate, an entity which would scare the piss out of Sasha herself if she met such an avatar of morbidity.
The story of course had to reprise her encounter with criminals, including a (she guessed) deliberately fuzzy (and thus more seemingly documentary) shot taken from the online video of her breaking that pitiful knife-wielding young man’s arm. That the fuzziness and angle of the shot made invisible the long knife in his hand made her seem all the more dire.
As the week and the next went by videos trickled onto the Web taken of her performance in the three events. Much was made of her firing the heavy sniper rifle from a standing position and suffering almost no visible recoil.
One consolation Sasha had was that she only got moderate teasing from her school mates. Sasha was old news to them by now, and as usual there was some new scandal at the same time or around the corner. Those who made the biggest noise about her doings were students who seemed to take a proprietary interest in her. She was THEIR dire monster.
By the third school week after Thanksgiving the Deadliest Woman excitement had disappeared entirely. It helped that semester finals were coming up and two weeks of holiday vacation.
With the new year came various Olympic-type events for Sasha to compete in or show up at, suitably glamorized by the Beauty and in apparel vetted by her sister as über chic. Sasha’s own beauty had matured into knock-out gorgeous territory and her photos were popular on the net and in print periodicals. She got invited to movie and other premieres and went to a few, accompanied by the Beauty who gloried in them and made Sasha behave (Sasha thought) as if she could actually refrain from crapping on the furniture.
There was one annoying incident. One of the tabloids published a front-page photo purporting to be Sasha walking away on a sidewalk in a short skirt and no panties. It was shot from low enough that “her” buttocks could be seen.
Sasha’s mother was annoyed. Three attorneys hired by the tabloid, minnows all, found out why she had been nicknamed the Shark. The tabloid ended up a few million dollars poorer. Sasha in a move choreographed by her mother donated all but $100,000 to Sasha’s favorite charity, for research into cures for paralyzed athletes.
Then in March an incident occurred that got all Sasha’s crime-buster instincts aroused.
A young girl was kidnapped on the streets of Alisa Viejo, a seaside community almost as upscale as Oceanside and only a dozen miles away. Alert citizens chased the van and police sirens were approaching when the criminals opened a side door and rolled the victim out. She ended up in critical condition but in a week was well on her way to recovery.
Sasha read all she could on the incident. She was especially interested to discover that three other girls along the coast had disappeared and presumably been kidnapped in the last several months. All four girls were young leggy redheads. She also read all she could about the disappearances, especially where they occurred.
Then, using her celebrity and a lie about being acquainted with the kidnapped girl, she got permission to visit her. The Beauty, learning of the visit, badgered Sasha to come with her. Knowing how relentless Silvana could be she gave in.
As they drove to the hospital the Beauty kept her own counsel, looking out the window of Sasha’s SUV and seemingly enjoying the end of a cloudy day. The clouds which had dimmed the day made for a beautiful fiery sunset. Sasha wondered if her sister, a very smart girl beneath her sunny friendly air when in a group, could help Sasha in her plan: find the kidnappers and make them suffer for what they had done.
The girl, Kellie Taggart, was in a private room. This Thursday well after her dinner her family was visiting. All were redheads with something of the Irish about them. The mother and father and two younger brothers all had slightly pug noses while Kellie’s was adorably turned up. She was lovely, perhaps why she had been picked for kidnapping. That loveliness was dimmed this evening. She had dark circles under her eyes and lay listless.
Her older brother, about fourteen, was the first to notice the visitors. He jumped up.
“Look, Kell! It’s Sasha Canaro!”
Sasha had eyes only for the one she was visiting. Her senses, extra-sensitive and focused on the girl, read a dozen symptoms of damage which the girl’s body was fighting against.
Kellie turned her head toward the door and smiled. Sasha smiled back. “Hello, Kellie.” The young woman answered back almost inaudibly.
At that her parents stood from their easy chairs and turned toward the two blond girls in the doorway. They introduced themselves, exaggeratedly cheerful. Sasha sent their bodies commands to grow healthy and fight depression as she shook hands with each of the four.
Then she moved to the opposite side of the bed, causing Kellie to turn her head away from her family. Sasha wanted to focus the girl’s attention on her, and at the same time be able to watch the family and respond to them.
Beauty followed Sasha and stood beside her. “Hello, Kellie. In case you didn’t catch my name, it’s Silvana. We brought you presents.”
Sasha placed hers on the narrow rolling hospital table which projected over the girl’s lap. Her mother came closer to the bed and helped Kellie tear off the pink and silver wrapping paper. “Running shoes!” said the girl. “Oh, they’re so pretty!” The tennis shoes were white leather with grey and pink trim and had little pink puff balls swinging from the back of the heels.
“I read that you are a cheerleader and called your coach to see what kind of shoes you should have. Your mother told me your size. The receipt is in that little envelope in case you want to return them for a better fit or color. Or anything else the store has.”
“Oh, no, they’re beautiful!”
“Promise me you’ll exchange them for a better fit if you need to.”
The girl readily assented to this. She would have agreed to much that was not too unpleasant for her. The gene-analysis sensor in Sasha’s nose had delivered the formula of an organic chemical which would make any of the Taggarts readier to agree to reasonable suggestions. Sasha had been breathing out that chemical almost from the first minute she had stepped into the room.
The Beauty smiled at Kellie. “My sister is such a jock. I got you something a little prettier.”
“Oh, no! My shoes are lovely.”
“Well, I hope you feel the same about this.”
Kellie had become more energetic due to the pleasing act of getting presents and the commands to her body given through the casual hand Sasha laid upon her wrist. She would recover from her psychological and physical hurt much faster now and be very resistant to any disease from now on. She took the lead from her mother in unwrapping the second present.
“Ohh! Is this cashmere?” She smoothed a hand over the soft spring green material of the sweater which, since the Beauty had picked it, perfectly complemented her red hair and fair slightly freckled skin, now marred by small bandages and scabs.
Sasha and the Beauty chatted with Kellie for a time, Beauty pulling in family members with skill Sasha admired. She had been right to bring her sister.
After fifteen or so minutes Sasha commented that everyone must have been under a lot of pressure the last week and they must feel ready to get home and to bed. Mrs. Taggart disagreed but shortly Mr. Taggart stood up and declared he had to work the next day. He came over and kissed his daughter good bye and she gave him a hug, then repeated the action with her brothers and mother.
When her mother hesitated and looked back and forth between the two sisters her daughter protested.
“Oh, can’t they stay till visitor’s time is up? It’s only about fifteen minutes! They won’t tire me out!”
Sasha said, “It IS only fifteen minutes. I promise we’ll leave when the time is up.”
The woman hesitated, then turned and left.
The Beauty moved around the bed and sat in one of the chairs her parents had sat in. Sasha remained standing where she was. After a few minutes of innocuous chatting she brought up the subject of Kellie’s kidnapping.
“Have the detectives talked to you about what happened?”
Kellie tensed. Sasha sent a command to her body to be calm.
“No. And I can’t remember anything. It’s all just a blur.”
“Maybe if you went over it with us you could remember better. You don’t have to, of course. And you can stop any time you want.”
She sent a command to feel safe to Kellie’s body, for her memory to work well but stay a bit removed from her consciousness. The girl relaxed.
Then she began to talk, hesitantly, but with increasing ease. Sasha coaxed details out of her, with the Beauty sometimes chiming in.
There weren’t a lot of details, but Sasha had not expected many. Finally, with just minutes remaining till the end of visiting time, she finished the conversation.
“You know, men think they’re the tough ones. But they don’t have babies. We’re the strong ones. I think you are going to get over this just fine. I can tell you are really a tough girl.”
Sasha smiled. “But don’t let on to the guys. They like to think they can take care of us. We don’t want to hurt their feelings.
“When the detectives come, you ought to be able to tell them everything. You already did to us, right?”
Kellie nodded. Sasha took out a card and handed it to the girl.
“If you ever want to talk, call me. Any time. When I go to bed I turn my phone off, so you won’t disturb me if it’s at some weird hour and I’m asleep. OK?”
“I … I will. Thank you so much, Sasha!”
The night nurse showed up then with prescriptions and the sisters hugged Kellie one last time and left.
The Beauty was silent for a little while after they left the hospital to a chill night with a strong breeze off the ocean just a little while away. Then she hitched around in her seat to watch Sasha’s face as the passing street lights alternately lit it and sent it into half-shadow.
“Bran told Gia and me that you’ve turned into a kind of superhero but not to worry you’d hurt us, or Mamá and Papá. He’s right, isn’t he?”
“He did? Hmmm. Yeah. I think I died this summer. And I came back better in some ways. Stronger, faster, harder to hurt.”
“But it’s more than that, isn’t it? You were hypnotizing those people back there. Can you do that to us?”
“A little bit. It’s not very strong. Especially when you know it’s happening. And when you have a head as hard as you do.”
Sasha laughed. “You remember what that lawyer called Mamá a few years ago? The English one who lost that case to her? He said she was ‘a right bitch’.”
The Beauty giggled. “That’s Gia and me, too, isn’t it? Right bitches. And you. You are a right bitch.”
“Damn straight.” Sasha made a fist of one hand on the steering wheel and offered it to her sister without taking her eyes off the highway. The Beauty bumped fists with her.
They rode in companionable silence until Sasha turned into the driveway of their home.
“Sash’? You’re going to do something about those kidnappers, aren’t you?”
Sasha spoke very quietly. “I don’t know if I can find them. But if I do they are going to wish they were never born.”
She began her search by reviewing all she had read about the four incidents, especially the speculations about where the kidnappings had occurred.
Then she began riding an old used bicycle along the Pacific Coast Highway between Oceanside and Aliso Viejo that exposed her to the possible kidnappers. She wore a short checkered skirt which bared her long shapely legs. She had turned hair turned bright red and curly like the pictures of the hapless girls.
She did this for three weeks. It and the means she used to keep her family or friends from catching her took a good deal of time from her other activities, but no one was more disciplined than Sasha in full competitive mode.
Twice police highway patrol cars slowed and kept her in sight for a time. But police had so many duties that the officers in the cars could not protect her (if that was what they were doing) for long.
Sasha was getting a bit discouraged by the end of the third week. Then the bad guys took the bait.
For a couple of miles of PCH the ocean was on one side of the highway and soggy scrub land was on the other side. Near the halfway point on the ocean side was a wide gravel parking area with a single plastic-lined garbage barrel. It was only a few car-lengths long and Sasha could see no useful purpose for it except perhaps for fly fishers, of which she never saw any.
She stopped there for long minutes every day, drinking bottled water and pretending to rest and enjoy the ocean view. It seemed the ideal kidnapping spot and a couple of times she thought a passing white van might hold the bad guys. If so they were being careful about reconnoitering or were getting up their nerve.
Then they struck. The van pulled alongside her with a splatter of gravel thrown forward by their sudden braking. She pretended slack-jawed shock while two men in jeans and checkered shirts jumped out and grabbed her.
She began to struggle and one of them punched her hard in the stomach. He cursed and shook his hand. Sasha’s body was as hard as tire rubber when struck. She doubled over and pretended to be breathless.
The two picked her up, one at her shoulders and one at her knees, and threw her into the side of the van. They jumped in beside her. A third kidnapper, a young women, grabbed her bicycle and tossed it in the back, then jumped into the passenger-side front seat.
By then Sasha was enjoying herself pretending to clumsily fight back. She landed a fist on one man’s groin and the other’s nose. The fight was almost over then, but the woman turned and spilled out of her seat far enough to press a chloroformed cloth against Sasha’s face.
By now Sasha’s body had evolved to the point that she would barely notice massive doses of strychnine and radioactive Strontium-90. Chloroform was a only a deliciously piquant odor not unlike the odor of pine oil. She inhaled it deeply, enjoying the stringent effect on her internal tissues, and fell artistically limp. While not-so-accidentally scratching one of the amateur anesthetist’s hands. She injected an irritant into the hand skin as she did so. Shortly that hand would be badly inflamed.
At that she contented herself with a relaxed sprawl while the two men in the back gagged her and bound her ankles and wrists with white plastic wrap ties.
The ride was brief, only a mile or two. From slit eyelids Sasha memorized the landmarks she could see outside the van’s side windows. They weren’t much, but from the motion of the van on her body she had a good idea where she was.
Near the end of the trip the van turned sharply and traveled about a half mile. The crunching of the roadway under the van’s tires sounded like a gravel surface of some sort. It was likely a dirt-gravel roadway, for Sasha smelled a lot of dust coming in through the open side windows.
Her kidnappers dragged her out of the van and set her on her (artistically unsteady) feet. Fake-groggily she took in their surroundings. She was on the soggy-scrubland side of a large two-story ranch-style house within a mile of the coast and the Pacific Coast Highway. As they pushed her to walk toward the house she saw a second smaller house off to the side. There was where they brought her staggering to stand before a locked front door. They opened the door and pushed her inside.
All the walls inside had been knocked down. The ceiling was supported only by a few square pillars. The bad guys had made the interior into a torture chamber.
Spaced near each other on one side was the prisoner lockup: four yard-square cages with bars made of what looked like quarter-inch rods welded to a base and a closed top. As they neared one cage Sasha scented iron and burn-iron odors. The cages had been crudely welded together by, she guessed, one or more of the kidnappers.
Good. She could get out of the cages. She allowed herself to be forced into one of them and the door in its front side was locked with a heavy padlock.
She looked fake-fearfully around. In the center of the room was a rack upon which a victim could be hoisted by chains and wrist-cuffs. On tables on both sides were various torture instruments, one a blow-torch.
Anger exploded inside her. She calmed her insides while keeping a fearful, groggy look on her face.
The four kidnappers turned toward an older man in a wheelchair who approached them.
“Any trouble, Sally?” He had addressed a blowzy red-headed female kidnapper who had driven the van. She was dressed in a bilious tight green body stocking and wore green spike heels. He was quite fat and dressed in coveralls. He was bald and had many broken veins in his face.
“None at all.” The woman stepped to one side of the wheelchair and caressed one side of the man’s face.
He leaned into the caress and took her hand in one of his. Then he wheeled forward to look at Sasha. He gazed for minutes at her and she stared back at him. His odor told her he was dying of a cancer of some kind.
“She’ll do. She’s the best one yet. Good job, everyone. Come, let’s eat dinner. I’ve made steaks and have champagne to celebrate.”
He spun his chair and led the way out a side door toward the larger house. The younger female kidnapper skipped to catch up with him. “It’s not brut champagne, is it? I hate the brut. It’s so sour.”
One of the two male kidnappers said, “God, Sally 2. You are so immature!”
Sasha smiled at their backs and sat, sticking her legs out between the widely spaced cage bars. The family that preys together…!
“Why are you smiling?”
Sasha turned to the cage beside her. The woman inside could have been the sister of the identity Sasha wore. One hank of her fiery hair had been torn out, she had black eyes and a flattened broken nose, and scars all over her visible skin, which was lot. She was naked.
“Martha Cunningham, I believe. You’ve been here six weeks. How are you still sane?”
“I’m not, all the time anyway. I decided early on that they could break my body but they could not break my soul. Lately I’m not so sure.” Her face twisted and she wept, but only for a few seconds. Resolution came back to her face.
The woman’s body was gaunt.
“You are not sure because they’re starving you. Starvation works on your spirit.”
Martha said, “Sometimes it works the other way, though. You know, the way Indians do when they go on a spirit quest. And you haven’t answered my question.”
“I’m smiling at a private joke. And I can smile because I’m not human, and not afraid. I’m an angel. Or a demon, if you’re them. Here, give me your hand.”
“So I can take your pain away and start your recovery.”
“If so, we just hold hands and you’ll make a fellow sufferer feel better. If not, you’ll feel better.”
Martha looked at Sasha for long moments. Then she shrugged and held out her hand.
Sasha sent into the woman’s body her usual command to become perfectly healthy. She also sent a command for all the woman’s pain to go away and slowly return over a period of days.
The hand jerked in her grasp and Sasha let it go. She had done what she intended.
“I don’t hurt anymore! Well, not much…. And now I don’t hurt at all!”
Sasha had turned her attention to a third sister in suffering in the cage behind her own, closer to the wall. She stretched a leg through the bars of her own and the third woman’s cage. It was enough to make the needed contact so that she could send commands to the woman’s body.
It took longer to help this woman. Her injuries were extensive, including a badly bruised liver and an eye which in normal circumstance would never have recovered sight. Her psychic healthy would take longer to recover, though Sasha made especial effort to ensure it would.
It seemed as if her immersion in the woman’s body took forever, but when Sasha surfaced to outside reality her body told her it had only taken a few minutes.
The woman gave a great sigh and turned onto her opposite side. She was now sound asleep, rather than in the near-coma of before.
Martha Cunningham has spoken for a few moments when Sasha had turned her attention elsewhere, then fell silent. Now she spoke again.
“What did you do?”
“The same thing as for you. But I also had to work longer because she was worse off.
“Now, as for you. The pain will return, but slowly. By that time you’ll be in a hospital and they’ll give you pain meds. Also your body will be healing itself and you’ll need to be able to tell them where it hurts and how.
“You will heal faster and better from now on. You’ll be stronger and faster and better coordinated, happier too. Though you can’t believe that now, I know.”
“You’re wrong. I’m happy now.”
Sasha smiled. “That’s your body rebounding. It’s temporary. But happiness will come. You can speed it up by getting some therapy.
“Your broken nose will fix itself. It will take a year or more, but it will. DO NOT get plastic surgery. Your body will undo the surgery and you’ll just have wasted time and money.
“Let’s see. Ah, yes. You’ll have very healthy kids, if you want some. Someday you’ll even want sex and be able to enjoy it. I know the rapes make you think otherwise now….”
A stubborn look came over Martha’s face. “No, I don’t. I won’t let what happened to me ruin me.”
Sasha gazed at Martha Cunningham for long moments. Here was a true hero. People might think Sasha was one if she ever let them see her in action. But what was hard for ordinary humans was easy for her. There was no heroism in physical action when it was easy. Heroism was a matter of the spirit.
Sasha said, “I am in awe of you. You are a real hero, you know?”
The woman looked embarrassed. But then pride began to shine through.
“OK,” said Sasha. “When they come back they might do several things. Here is what WE do …”