Avon Books
July 2018 (06-26-18)
ISBN-10: 0062566539
ISBN-13: 978-0062566539

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(One year ago)

A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do…

Fleur Gaudet, whose nametag read Doris Jones, stood in the dressing room of the Silver Stud Club in New Orleans, using a long-handled dust pan and broom to sweep along the edges of the tiled floor, meanwhile keeping an alert eye on her surroundings. Although she wore a blond wig to hide her identity and a rather demure black nylon uniform with a white apron, as befitted her new job on the club’s cleaning staff, unlike the scantily clad women around her, she was still outside her comfort zone. Way outside!

She decided to offer up the discomfort as a penance for past…and future…sins. Mortifying the flesh, so to speak. Like that self-flagellating albino monk in the DaVinci Code. You had to be Catholic to understand the logic of suffering in silence and offering it up as a heavenly gift.

But then, Fleur was a nun!

An honest-to-God, hope-and-pray nun.

Like Mother Teresa.

Well, not really like that holier-than-holy nun, bless her heart, who had lived, by choice, in abject poverty in Calcutta. In the old days, Mother Teresa would probably have worked in a leper colony.

On the other hand, a strip club was somewhat like a leper colony, wasn’t it?

Truth to tell, Fleur wasn’t really a nun yet. More like a nun-in-training, with the Sisters of Magdalene religious order. The Magdas had originated in Spain, but expanded into satellite convents throughout the world. Like the one in Mexico, with which she was affiliated, that had in recent years joined forces with the rogue order, St. Jude’s Street Apostles, in Dallas. Their mission: to rescue girls kidnapped into the sex trade. Which was why she and some of her partners were in this sleazy club tonight.

There were other females in the dressing room, but mostly they kept to themselves as they lounged or touched up make-up. None of them were the young, frightened teens they hoped to rescue, though. Not that they were old, exactly. In fact, Peaches Galore, the girl in front of her, was no more than twenty years old, wearing a sheer black bustier and a g-string and heels high enough to give a person nose bleed.

Peaches was on her cell phone, presumably talking to one of her three children, all under the age of eight, that she’d told Fleur about a short time ago. “No, you cannot make a frozen pizza, Henry. You know the stove is off limits. The microwave, too. Did Jimmy say his prayers before you put him to bed? He skipped Auntie Priss?” Peaches laughed, and murmured something under her breath about how she would skip the old bat, too. “Did you change Elisa Mae’s diaper? I don’t care if it stinks, do as you’re told. I know, sweetie. I’m sorry I yelled. Be a good boy, and tomorrow we’ll go to the park with your remote control airplane.”

It was sad, really. But the Magdas couldn’t rescue everyone. And not everyone working in this club wanted or needed rescuing.

Just then, the door flew open as a group of strippers, waitresses, lap dancers and bar maids trooped in, laughing, cursing, talking, many of them pulling five, ten, and twenty dollar bills from their g-strings or thigh-high fishnet stockings. The pounding beat of that old Motley Crue song “Girls, Girls, Girls” could be heard through the open door, coming from the DJ station.

Also, through the open doorway, she could see the raised circular stage with its spokes leading out into the crowd, up close and personal. At any one time, a dozen girls were dancing. Another dozen would be doing lap dances in semi-private alcoves.

A regular meat factory! Ironically, that’s just what this former warehouse had been…a huge meat packing plant.

And none of these activities included those upstairs, which was why Fleur and her “posse” of nuns were here tonight with the Rogues.

“Gentlemen, let’s give a warm…no, hot…welcome to the next round of ladies,” the DJ yelled out. The door hadn’t closed tightly. “Chocolate Cream. Bubble Icious. Fanny Bigguns. Ms. Demeanor. Moana Bigona.”

Yep, this was a high class place, all right.

Fleur rolled her eyes as the air compressor door finally swooshed shut, muting the club noise. Just then, she noticed one of her religious cohorts, Sister Carlotta, leaning her forehead against the wall, muttering something. Lottie was working as a waitress, not a topless one in the bar, but a regularly-dressed one in the coffee shop. Her uniform was similar to Fleur’s, except shorter, and she wore the proverbial high heels. She wore a wig, too, but hers was black and cut into a straight bob. Attractive, actually.

Fleur went up to her and whispered, “Lottie, are you all right?”

Lottie nodded, then turned to face her. “I was just praying. This place just gets to me. How disgusting! And sad!”

“I know what you mean.”

Carlotta waved the ten dollar bill in front of Fleur and said, “A man stuck this in my blouse, then had the nerve to ask if I had five dollars in change. This place feels like hell.”

Or a leper colony. Fleur barely stifled a laugh. Carlotta wasn’t that old…about twenty-five…but she’d been in a conventional Spanish convent since she was thirteen. The philosopher John Milton’s “cloistered virtue” personified.

Carlotta, like many other humble nuns who cherished the insular life of prayer and meditation inside the walls of an abbey, was a victim of the upheaval in all the flagging religious orders, male and female, throughout the world. The old ways no longer worked. Nunneries and monasteries were now forced to open their doors to deal with modern issues. Prayer was fine, prayer with action was better.

A strip joint wasn’t what the Papal decree on reformation of religious vocations intended, of course, but in this instance, “needs must,” the Magdas were told by their Mother Superior when outlining this mission. Mother Jacinta, who was noted for her dry sense of humor, had said, “Some nuns go to jungles to convert the natives. You will be going to another kind of jungle, to beat the natives who harm these young girls.”

And so there were five nuns here at the Silver Stud jungle this week, including herself, working undercover. To say they were all outside their comfort zone would be the understatement of the century, but some more so than others. Like Carlotta.

Now, if they could only make their connection with Brian Malone, the ex-Air Force pilot who was now a priest with the St. Jude’s Street Apostles, this show could get on the road. Literally. Well, the skies, not the road. Brother Brian had a plane waiting for their getaway.

Speaking…rather, thinking of Brother Brian…she took Carlotta by the arm and led her toward the back of the room. “This isn’t your usual time for a break. Has Brother Brian made his connection with you yet, or anyone else?”

“That’s why I came to get you,” Carlotta said, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. “No one has seen him since early this evening, and there was some kind of ruckus out in the alley a little while ago. I saw several bouncers rush toward the back exit doors.”

“Oh, no!” Fleur bit her bottom lip with dismay. “Well, perhaps Plan B needs to kick in now. You go back to the coffee shop and wait for the signal. I’ll make my way upstairs.”

Carlotta exchanged a worried glance with Fleur, then left.

Fleur inhaled sharply, straightened her shoulders, and picked up her long-handled dust pan and broom, preparing to go out into the jungle…uh, leper colony. Like Daniel going into the lion’s den, or the Christians entering the coliseum to be food for the lions and tigers and such. If worse came to worst, she could always use these tools of her cleaning trade as weapons, she joked to herself.

But then, she reminded herself, nuns eschewed violence.

On the other hand, she shrugged, she wasn’t yet a nun.

Was it irony, or celestial humor, that the loud song assaulting her eardrums when she entered the arena was, “Eye of the Tiger”?


Snakes are alive and well in Louisiana…

Aaron LeDeux was in his garconniére, or separate bachelor quarters, on Bayou Rose Plantation outside Houma, Louisiana when he got the phone call that changed his life. Not that there hadn’t been a lot of changes in Aaron’s life already.

He and his twin brother Daniel had been born and raised in Alaska by their Cajun-born mother, Claire Doucet. After her death a few years ago, they’d come to Louisiana to discover their roots. Hah! Those roots were more like tentacles. It was supposed to have been a temporary visit, but with one thing and another, including Tante Lulu, that outrageous busybody aunt (or whatever she was of theirs), they were still here.

Dan, a pediatric oncologist (Try saying that three times real fast!), had gotten married last year to the former Samantha Starr of the Starr Supermarket Chain. Although Aaron and Dan owned the plantation jointly (Don’t ask!), the married couple lived in the main house, an arrangement perfectly agreeable to Aaron who’d gotten tired of all the love sounds the newlyweds were making, in every frickin’ room of the mansion, at every frickin’ time of the night, or day, and, yeah, he was probably a little jealous.

Dan was finally settled, to everyone’s relief, most especially his twin brother (that would be me) who’d been worried about him for so long. Aaron, on the other hand, a pilot, was still trying to find himself, or his place, in this crazy world. Maybe it was time to move on.

He’d just emerged from the shower and hadn’t yet decided what to do on this Saturday night when his cell phone rang in his bedroom. He caught it on the fourth ring, just before it went to voice mail.

Maybe it was Babette, the new nurse at Dan’s medical center. She’d told him that she might be able to trade shifts with another nurse.

Or maybe it was Remy LeDeux, his half brother. Even though Aaron had been part-owner of his own air shipping company in Alaska, he worked for Remy’s company here in Louisiana, running copters back and forth to the oil rigs. Eventually (praise God and pass the grits, as Tante Lulu would say), he would form his own business here. Or not. Decisions, decisions.

If it was Tante Lulu wanting him to do her yet another “teeny tiny” favor, he was not going to answer. Not on a Saturday night. Since he was the only one of her “nephews” who was unmarried, she figured he was free all the time.

To come kill the raft of fire ants in her toilet, for example.

“Why not just flush them away?” he’d told her at the time.

“Because they’ll swim back up, fool!”

Turned out the fire ants had just been rust flecks that had loosened and backed up from her ancient septic pipes.

Or the time she wanted him to row her pirogue out to a gator nest in the swamps to gather gator eggs.

As if!

But, no, it was a caller he’d never expected to hear from. Brian Malone, an old Air Force friend, better known by his nickname “Snake,” for obvious reasons when he went commando. “Is this Aaron LeDeux I’m speakin’ with?” He pronounced LeDeux like Lay-dough, rather than La-doo.

“Snake! I’d recognize that blarney voice of yours anywhere.”

“How are you, lad?” he asked Aaron in a deep Irish brogue that sounded more like “Ha ware ya, laddie?”

Even though he’d been living in Michigan for twenty some years, Brian still retained the musical dialect of the “old country” he’d immigrated from as a teenager with his parents. When drunk off his ass, the Irish proverbs that spewed from his mouth with an elongated Irish burr had amused all of the flight squadron. “As ye slide down the bannister of life, may the splinters be goin’ the wrong way.” Or Aaron’s favorite, “May all your ups and downs be under the sheets.”

“Still doin’ somersaults above the clouds, are ye, Ace?” Snake asked now.

“Snake? Where the hell you been, dude? I haven’t heard from you in ten years. Yes, I’m still flying. Copters at the moment. What’s up?”

“You wouldn’t believe it if I had the time to tell you.”

“How’d you know my number?”

“Ways and means, me boy. Ways and means. Actually, I’ve had it for a while now. Got it from your aunt up in Alaska. Been meanin’ to call.”

“You married? Any kids? Weren’t you engaged or something to that girl from your hometown…Jillian, no Julie?”

“No engagement. No marriage. No children,” Snake said. “I’m a priest.”

Aaron dropped his phone and had to scurry to pick it up off the floor, under the bed, where it had slid. He could hear Snake laughing when he put the device to his ear again.

“You’re shittin’ me.”

“No. I really am a priest. I work with St. Jude’s Street Apostles in Dallas.”

“Huh? I never heard of…wait. Aren’t those the yahoos that rode motorcycles into a cult campground last year and rescued a bunch of teenagers? And I saw something on CNN recently about them liberating some American girls who joined ISIS?”

“Um,” Snake said. “I’m not so sure about the yahoo part, but, yeah, we’re sort of a rogue gang…uh, brotherhood.”

“What do I call you? Father Brian?”

“You can call me whatever you want, buddy. But most folks call us Brothers… Brother Brian, Brother Samuel, Brother Chuck. No, I’m not kidding. There is a priest named Chuck. Used to be a member of Hell’s Angels. Some of us in the Street Apostles are ordained priests, some are monks who haven’t taken vows. Just easier for all of us to go by the Brother tag.”

All this was more than Aaron could take in. “Let’s get together and catch up. Are Brothers allowed to drink a beer or two?”

“Bite your tongue, me lad. An Irishman always has room for a beer,” Snake…rather, Brother Brian…declared. “But that’s not why I called, my friend.”

Uh-oh. That “my friend” sounded ominous.

“I need a favor. A big favor.”


“Can you come to The Silver Stud in New Orleans?”

“A strip club?” Aaron laughed. “I don’t know, Snake. I’m not really into the club scene anymore. How ‘bout tomorrow. You can come out here to—.”

Suddenly, Aaron could hear shouting over the phone, and then some popping noises that might be gunfire.”

“Holy shit, Snake, what kind of trouble are you in?”

“Big trouble. The deadly kind.”

Snake had saved Aaron’s ass on more than one occasion when they’d served in Afghanistan. Aaron owed him. “It will probably take me an hour to get there.”

“Thanks. Gotta go.”

“Wait. Where should we meet?”

“The alley out back. I really appreciate this, good buddy.”

“Maybe you should call the police.”

“No police. And no weapons.”

“Are you sure? I have a small pistol that I can hide—.”

“No. Non-violence is essential for our order. We rely on unconventional warfare of a different sort. Disguise and creativity are our tools.”

“How’s that working for you?”

Snake laughed. “Sometimes we get the bear, sometimes the bear get us.”

“That’s just great. We have a lot of grizzlies in Louisiana.”

“Hold on a minute,” Snake said. He appeared to be speaking to someone in a whisper. When he came back on the line, he told Aaron, “If I’m not here…or I’m…uh, incapacitated…go inside and find Fleur. The password is ‘lugnut’ tonight.”

“Floor? What floor?”

“Not that kind of floor. Fleur, like a flower. F.L.E.U.R.”

“Okaay,” Aaron said dumbly, meanwhile chilled at Snake’s mention of being incapacitated. “Is this Fleur a stripper?”

Snake laughed. “She’s a nun.”

“You mean she’s dressed like a nun? Remember the time we went to that German nightclub, and the nun came out on stage--”

“No. Fleur is a nun.”

Oh, boy!

Then the line went dead.


Who can explain the things that turn a guy on?…

Aaron wended his way gingerly through the crowd, asking occasionally if anyone knew where he could find a woman named Fleur. He’d already cased the alley behind the private club, with no luck. No Snake. In fact, no people at all. However, there had been an ominous pool of fluid that might have been blood. But then, the lighting had been dim, and, besides, the back alley of a strip club…? It could have been anything.

Once inside, after having slipped the doorman a twenty, he glanced right and left, scanning the joint. Even though he was no stranger to male entertainment establishments, at this stage in his life…the wrong side of thirty-five…it was not an appealing sight. Too much noise. Too much booze. Too much smoke. Too much fleshy exposure.

People considered him wild, and, yeah, he’d done some outrageous things in his sorry life, but this scene wasn’t wild. It was…well, sad.

Good Lord! I must have grown up along the way, without realizing it. My brother will be so pleased…if I’m ever dumb enough to tell him. Of course, Dan will be quick to point out that I came to this realization inside a strip club.

If it wasn’t for his concern over Snake, Aaron would skip this rodeo and stop at the Swamp Shack for a beer before calling it an early night. This was not his scene.

That was, until he spotted the blonde bombshell sitting on a high stool outside one of the lap dance alcoves. She wore some kind of see-through, black blouse thingee, or maybe it was underwear. Who knew today! A scrap of red fabric barely covered her crotch. Her long, bare legs were crossed at the knee with glittery, red, fuck-me-please high heels dangling from both feet. She couldn’t look more bored if she’d been chewing gum and blowing bubbles.

Maybe we could be bored together.

No, no, no, that is not why I’m here.

Still, he paused and asked, “Don’t suppose you know some woman here by the name of Fleur?”

“Cain’t say ah do, sugah,” she drawled in an exaggerated Southern twang. “Won’t ah do?” She licked her crimson lips and make a kissy noise at him.

He was just about to respond when he felt something smack against the back of his calves. He turned to see a cleaning lady with a raised broom. With her straggly blonde hair and a skinny body in a shapeless uniform, she looked like a cross between that old comedian Phyllis Diller and Tante Lulu, except younger. Much younger. Probably in her thirties. Although that wart on the tip of her nose bespoke some age.

“Oops,” the woman said and grinned, showing him a dark space where one of her front teeth should be. The grin told him, without words, that that swat with the broom had been deliberate. And, oddly, peering closer, he could swear it was just black gum on her one front tooth. Whatever! He started to turn back to the lap dancer, figuring he could stand around here and look for his contact, as easily as prowling the joint aimlessly.

Another poke in the back. This time, the broom, handle end now, was prodding his shoulder.

He was getting annoyed now. “I beg your pardon…Doris,” he said after checking out her name tag.

“Were you asking for Fleur?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Do you know Fleur?”

“I might,” she said.

“Get lost, Doris,” the lap dancer ordered. “Yer interferin’ with mah business.”

Yeah, he wanted to agree, but wait a testosterone minute. Was the cleaning lady surreptitiously beckoning him to follow her with a forefinger held near her one hip.

He tilted his head to the side in question.

She cast a suddenly frightened glance out toward the bar where an employee was taking note of the lap dancer waving for him. The guy was built like a Greyhound bus.

He had no time for this shit. Taking the cleaning lady by the forearm, he frog-marched her toward a side corridor. “Are you Fleur?”

“Um. Who wants to know?” she asked, shrugging out of his hold and rubbing her arm, as if he’d hurt her.

He hadn’t. Or not much.

“Snake asked me to look for someone named Fleur if I couldn’t find him outside in the alley.”


“Brian Malone.”

“Do you mean Brother Malone? Brother Brian?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“Why would he ask you to come here?”

“Maybe because I’m a pilot. Snake and I served in the Air Force together.”

“Aaah!” she said, as if now she understood.

He wished he did.

“Well, Brother Brian must be in trouble then,” she concluded. “This is bad. Really bad. I need to get out of here and check with one of my team members. Mother Jacinta should know what’s up.” She stared at him kind of funny then. “If Brother Brian is…um, incapacitated, I guess you’ll have to take over.”

“Take over what?”

“The escape plan. Getting the girls out and flying them to Dallas. From there to Mexico.”

“What? Who? I’m not going to friggin’ Mexico, with or without some girls.”

“Didn’t Brother Brian tell you anything?”

“Not much.”

“I’m with the Sisters of Magdalene convent in Mexico. We have six girls upstairs who’ve been kidnapped. All part of the sex trafficking ring being run out of this dive. Mexican Mafia working with the Dixie Mafia.”

“So, a bunch of crackpot nuns are going to crack a dangerous human trafficking operation? Seriously? What are you? Special forces nuns?”

“We’re not here to crack any operation. That’s up to the government and law enforcement who aren’t doing a very good job, by the way. No, we just need to get these six girls on a plane to the Street Apostles refuge outside Dallas.”

“That’s all?” he said with another dose of sarcasm. “And you expect me to get involved…why?”

“Your friend, Brother Brian, must have expected you to.”

He swore under his breath. He shouldn’t have to remind himself that his buddy was in trouble, might at this very moment be wounded or worse. “You mentioned your team members. Are you a cop, or with the feds?”

“Hardly.” She laughed. “I already told you. I’m a nun. Sort of.”

He had no time to ask her what a “sort of nun” was. “That’s right. Snake told me you were a nun. Would you rather I call you Sister Fleur?”

“Whatever. Just Fleur will do.”

A nun who says “Whatever!” Who is on some asinine mission in a strip club? She’s the damnedest nun I ever met. Aaron shook his head to clear it. Then observed, “Your wart is slipping, Sister Fleur.”

She gave the thing, which looked like a glob of oatmeal, a whack, and it landed on the wall, like a booger.

Little boys across the world would be impressed with her feat.

Aaron just gaped.

And she said, “Eew!”

“I’ve gotta find Snake, now,” he said.

“We have to get the girls out, now,” she said at the same time.

But just then the guard who resembled a bus, the one who’d been signaled by the lap dancer, came stomping toward them. “What the hell are you doing out on the floor, Doris? Aren’t you supposed to be supposed to be cleaning the urinals in the VIP men’s room?”

“Oh, I forgot.”

The Bus rolled his eyes and muttered, “She forgot.” He glanced at Aaron and made a twirling motion with a forefinger near his head to indicate that the cleaning lady was a few bricks short of a full load.

“We were just talking,” Aaron said, which was a big mistake.

Fleur looked at him as if he was the one missing a few bricks.

Now suspicious, the bouncer asked, “About what?”

“Um, it’s like this, Mister….,” Aaron paused to check out the guy’s name tag. “…Albertson. I have this thing about cleaning ladies. The first time I got laid it was with a cleaning lady. I was only fourteen, and well, it was pretty amazing.” He shrugged and pretended to be embarrassed. Actually, he was embarrassed. How do I come up with this crap? Oh, hell, it’s the best I could come up with on short notice.

Albertson pocketed the twenty, then glanced between Aaron and the clearly unattractive cleaning lady. Losing the wart hadn’t enhanced her appearance all that much. “With all the hot babes here, you want this? I don’t believe it. Is this some kind of Candid Camera, or Punked, or something?”

Aaron passed the smirking guy another twenty and said, “Actually, I was wondering if Doris and I could go upstairs.”

“Are you frickin’ serious?” Albertson let out a hoot of laughter.

But Aaron noticed that he pocketed this twenty, too.

“I’ve heard of guys going for some pretty weird kinks, but cleaning ladies? That’s a new one.” When he was finally able to get his laughter under control, Albertson asked Fleur, “Are you willing?”

She was startled at first and indignant.

Aaron kept winking to alert her to his ploy to get them upstairs and hopefully find out what happened to Snake.

When The Bus went off to ask his boss if it was all right for the cleaning lady to take a trick, Aaron hissed at her, “Get with the program. You said the girls to be rescued are upstairs.”


” “Didn’t you see me winking?”

“I thought you had a nervous tic.”

He put his face in his hands for a moment and hoped that when he looked back up, this would all be a bad dream. But, no, The Bus was back. “Fifty bucks!” he announced.

“What?” Aaron and Fleur both exclaimed, he because he thought it was a rip-off, she because she probably thought she was undervalued. But then, they both said, “Sure!” at the same time, too.

Following the big bruiser as he made a pathway through the crowd, then up the stairs, he and Fleur exchanged several whispered remarks.

“Our mission goes down at eleven p.m. sharp,” she informed him.

Once again, this woman sounded more military then nun-like. When most nuns talked about a mission, they usually meant a religious vocation in some foreign land, bringing Christianity to the natives. When he was a kid, they were always asked to save their pennies for the poor missions. But that was neither here nor there. “Eleven! It’s ten-thirty now!”

And there was another difference between this cleaning lady and the average nun. Her body. As he followed her up the stairs, and her uniform cupped her bottom with each lift of her legs, he couldn’t help but notice a nicely shaped ass.

She glanced back at him over her shoulder and made a disgusted sound.


“It’s a short time frame, on purpose, to get the girls out the second floor fire exit and down to the van in the alley. The longer we have them out of their locked rooms, the greater the chance of discovery.”

“There is no van in the alley,” he noted. “I already told you that, didn’t I? I was just there.”

“There will be. Sister Evangeline will be driving. Did you bring a vehicle?”

He nodded. “A pick-up truck.”

“We might have to use that, too.”

“Nice of you to ask.” He was beginning to think this was a big mistake, friend or no friend.

“It’s for a good cause.”

“The Cancer Society is a good cause. Wounded Warriors is a good cause. Hookers for Jesus is not a good cause.”

“Stop being an ass,” Fleur said.

“A potty mouth on a nun? Really?”


“Just out of curiosity, does your religious order do strip clubs all the time?”

“This is a one-time thing. Hopefully. We usually work in jungles, or on city streets.”

“Aren’t I the lucky one?”

“Shhh!” she hissed again.

They came to a desk in the wide, second floor corridor where a woman who looked almost as big and muscular as The Bus sat, not topless or in some sexy hooker attire, thankfully, considering her size and gray-threaded brown hair, but wearing a t-shirt with the Silver Stud logo and black slacks. There was a list of services on a laminated cardboard table poster. He handed over his fifty bucks.

“Room thirteen, end of the hall, fifteen minutes,” Ms. Bus said. “Fifteen minutes!” he complained. “It takes me fifteen minutes to get my boots off.

“Here’s a news flash, Forrest Gump,” The Bus said with a smirk, already heading back downstairs. “You don’t need bare feet for a blow job.”

Once The Bus was gone, Fleur whispered to Aaron, “This is Sister Mary Michael.”

Of course, she was a nun. Why hadn’t he realized that? In his defense, it was the first time he’d seen a nun who looked like a bouncer.

Then, Fleur told Ms. Bus, “This is…” She glanced at him and raised her eyebrows.

He realized that he hadn’t yet given her his name. “Aaron LeDeux,” he said.

“Aaron LeDeux,” Sister Mary Michael repeated with a smile. “Thank God! We were expecting you.”

“You were?” Aaron asked dumbly. This was a day, rather night, for dumbness, on his part.

“Brother Brian said he called you to come help.”

“Ah,” he said.

Sister Mary Michael glanced right and left to make sure she was not overheard. “Brother Brian got himself shot. He’s in the back of the van. Mother Jacinta is caring for him, but he’s lost a lot of blood.”

“Whaaat? Snake is injured. Call 911.” Aaron pulled out his phone.

“Shhh. No, no, no! No police or ambulances,” Fleur cautioned. “There’s a doctor at the ranch headquarters in Dallas.”

He was afraid to ask who would be taking Snake there. He knew. “At least I’m dressed for a ranch,” he quipped.

“It’s not that kind of ranch.”

Fleur took him by the hand and yanked him along with her, down the hall, to Room Thirteen, which was next to the exit door. To his surprise, Sister Mary Michael followed after them. She was about the same height as he was and fifty pounds heavier.

When Fleur opened the door, Aaron was taken aback. Literally. Huddled about the small room which held a single bed and not much more were six obviously frightened girls of various ages and nationalities, mostly under sixteen, he would guess. Also in the room was a woman in a nun outfit. A real nun, or a nun stripper? he wondered.

The nun acknowledged Fleur’s entrance with a nod of her head, and his presence with a raised eyebrow, but then she said, “Let’s all pray until we get the cue to run.”

“What cue?” he asked.

All the nuns dropped to their knees and began to pray the “Our Father.” The girls stared at them as if they were crazy, not believing yet that they were about to be rescued, but then they, too, dropped to the floor.

He stood. Not that he was against prayer, but couldn’t they pray as they ran?

Just then, there was an explosion somewhere below, followed by several others. They sounded distant, like maybe in the basement, or the far side of the club’s main floor.

“What the hell?” he exclaimed. “Snake emphasized non-violence.”

“Firecrackers,” Fleur explained.

Organized chaos ensued as the group was herded out the door by Sister Mary Michael and the cheerleader, along the hall, around the corner to the exit door, and down the metal fire escape to the alley. More explosions could be heard popping and sirens sounded in the distance. Just before they entered the sliding door of the van, which had miraculously arrived, Fleur announced, “By the way, when I heard your last name, LeDeux, I realized that we share a mutual acquaintance.”

“Yeah, I know. Snake?”

“No. Tante Lulu.”

Why was he not surprised?


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