CHAPTER I

  The strobe lights, suddenly piercing the smoky darkness, were damn near blinding.  I tried to blink of the effect and keep my vision level. But the blaring music, the crust of the gyrating crowd, and most of all those lights, like colored stabbings, made it difficult to keep any bearings at all.  Every once in a while, one of the spaced-out dancers would drop to the floor. Then the crowd would spread just long enough for a couple of the bully boys to lift the body by the armpits and carry it away. Then the space would fill up again with the gyrating blank-faced dancers as if nothing had happened.

  The crowd was very young, early to mid-teens mostly, and every once in a while I started to wonder what I was doing there.  It wasn't for my health, you can believe that. My reasons were strictly business, although no one in that crush would have suspected it, I'm sure.  That's a very important part of my business.

  I'm Cherry Delight, girl operative numero uno for an outfit called N.Y.M.P.H.O., which means New York Mafia Prosecution and Harassment Organization.

  The place I was in is called Ditto's, and it's known in the trade as a juice bar.  Kids can get in because there aren't any alcoholic beverages served, just fruit juices.  Hell, these kids don't need booze—they operate on acid, Quaalude, and any other sort o drug you can think of, plus a whole lot that you can't.  Except for the confirmed acid head, most of them are on downers, popping pills like Valium til they just pass out—on the dance floor, in phone booths, on the street outside the club, on cars parked at the curb.  The admission price, for the privilege of moving your ass on the minuscule dance floor or flopping on one of the benches that lined the room, was pretty steep, but that was just the frosting on the cake to whoever was operating the joint.

  What the place really functioned as was a drug exchange, a cafeteria where kids could pick up on just about anything that would zonk them out for a few days or a few hours at a time.  The pushers and peddlers operated like concessionaires, sharing a percentage of their take with the owners, raking in piles of bread without even trying, thanks to the market being concentrated in one handy-dandy spot like Ditto's, without having to be sought out on the streets.  It was like giving candy to a baby, and that's about all these pathetic little kids were, thinking they were so hip, that the rest of the world was straight dumb, and all the time dropping like flies, sometimes from a bad batch or an overdose or the wrong mix, never getting up again.  That wasn't a rare occurrence. We were losing a lot of kids. And that's why yours truly, bare midriff, bouncing boobs and all, was squirming around the dance floor. Sad ol' experience had taught us that where there was a concentration of drugs, illegal but accessible, your friendly neighborhood hood with his whole slimy organization, wasn't far behind.  And since ol' baby Cherry is firm enough and can squirm enough with the best of 'em, I was on the case, to find out and wipe out whichever sordid branch of our local families was behind this latest rip-off.

  I knew I would be dealing with the deadlies, because anyone lousy enough to profit off dead kids was slimy enough to do anything at all for money.  Even killings by whatever means necessary would not be unusual. Of course I had been dealing with this type low life for a long time now and that is how I got so cracker jack at it.  But somehow the kind of thing was these mugs were into and what they were doing to these kids had already put a bitter taste in my mouth before I had actually seen any real action.

  I glanced around the crowded, milling room.  It was very easy to spot the connections and tell them apart from the customers.  The connections were the ones who were still smiling and still steady on their feet.  The kids who had already copped were looking for a place to fall and the kids who had come in on the scene later were milling around trying to make the connection.

  The five musicians who were playing for the dancers seemed pretty spaced out themselves, I noticed.  I could just imagine how much of the money they were supposed to be paid for doing this gig they would actually leave in the club in the hands of the pushers.  I thought I could make out about six different bona fide pushers in the room. They came in all shapes and sizes from the young and long haired to the older, beady eyed rats who come to the surface like scum on water wherever there's a racket to be played out or a trick to be turned.  And out of the six there was one who interested me most.

  He was big, very swarthy, typical Mafioso type, which was unusual.  Those bully boys are usually kept hidden well behind the scenes. If they're buttons they'll come out of the shadows at night to make a hit or score off a mark but you very seldom see them handling any of the illegit stuff directly.  But this one was doing it and from what I could tell from out of the corner of my eye doing damn well at it. He was passing a lot of stuff and piling up a lot of money. It was the money that caught my eye and interested me the most.  For a guy to be that cocky about flashing a big bankroll in a place like this, what's the tip-off? He must have been very confident that nobody would dare try to touch him. Of course in a rip-off scene like this anybody who would be that open with their roll might be just plain stupid or careless, I thought.  There was that possibility too.

  But this guy just didn't look that dumb.  I eased myself out of the crowd on the dance floor and stood against one of the walls, ostensibly to catch my breath but really to get a closer look-see at this guy.

  He was facing off with a really young chick.  A skinny little thing poured into tight jeans and a leotard with long light brown hair streaming down her back.  I could see that she was pleading with him. Trying to give him a come-on and still look pitiful at the same time.  I surmised that she was looking for some stuff but didn't have enough bread to swing it. Instead of backing off as these greedy guys usually do, he seemed to be listening with close attention to her rap.  I saw him getting that gleam in his eye when they smell pussy close and accessible. I figured that she was going to barter off to get the stuff that she wanted.

  Sidling along as if I was minding my own business I followed them as they made their way, she in front, he a few paces behind her, through the crowd that milled around at the edge of the dance floor.  I followed casually to see where they were going. Just in case he wised up and turned realizing that I was following them I could always claim that I was looking for the little girls' room.

  I followed them through a door into a corridor behind the main room that had enough traffic in it to keep me from looking conspicuous.  They didn't go too far; she walked through a door and he followed her. I stood outside a few feet away leaning against the wall much in the same position as some of the other characters hanging around.

  I glanced at the door they had passed through.  Stupid idiots! I thought to myself, they're so hot to trot they didn't even bother to close the door all the way.  I sidled a little closer, leaning my back against the wall, staring at the ceiling breathing in and out deeply as if I was trying to come back to reality, but I pressed hard trying to hear as much as I could of what was going on inside.

  "Give it to me first!"  I heard the girl exclaim.

  "I haven't even got my pants down yet, honey," I heard him reply, good naturedly.  "You come across like you promised and then I'll give you the stuff."

  "I'm much better after I have some, " I could hear her bargaining.  "Honestly, man, I get so hot after popping just one that I don't know what to do with myself.  I'll do anything you ask me to, honest I will."

  "Okay, okay," I heard him say still in that agreeable tone of voice.  "Here, take this, but it's all you're getting until after we're finished."

  What a schmuck, I thought to myself, handing over the stuff before taking payment.  This certainly wasn't the usual modus operandi of your true-blue mafioso. But then again, what the hell was he risking?  He was twice the size of the girl and there was no way she could get out of giving him the nookie she had obviously promised him outside.

  But he was getting as impatient as I was.  "Get your damn clothes off," I heard him snap, the pleasantness gone out of his voice now, replaced by the hard-edged insistence of a man in a hurry to get what he wants.

  "I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying," I heard her whine, and already I could sense the slight blur in her voice that told me that whatever dope she had swallowed was already taking its effect.

  I could hear movements of clothes being discarded and dropped to the floor but I knew that there wasn't too much more I was going to learn on the outside.  I took a deep breath and decided to play my trump card. I would give them a few more minutes to get their thing going and casually sidle into the room as if I was all hot and hung up myself and try to join in their fun and games.  If this kid got as worked up by the dope as she claimed she did and her friend was as horny as that bulge in his pants seemed to suggest, I wouldn't have any trouble being palsy walsy with the pair of them.

  While I waited, I wondered what it was that made a girl that young need something to turn her on before she could really enjoy herself sexually.  With me it comes as easy as breathing, and it always has. Now these kids with all their permissiveness and no holds barred and no inhibiting parents to stop them could get to as much as they wanted and yet they seemed to need more and more stuff to turn them on.  I shook my head, for someone who loved doing what comes naturally, it made no kind of sense.

  After a few minutes, I could hear her grunts and moans.  That certainly sounded real enough. Trying to fix a somewhat glazed look in my eyes, I sauntered through the door.  I stuck out my pelvis, making my hips gyrate and breathed deep to give some play to my breasts.

  "Is this a private party," I said trying to imitate the girls slur.  "Or can anybody join in?"

  I looked down at them.  If either of them were surprised to see a third person come in on them, they didn't display it.  The kid was too zonked out of her mind to be paying attention to anything really and the guy seemed to be in the last throes of the action.  He scarcely looked up at me. "Come on it," he panted. "There's always room for one more."

  I dropped to my knees, he pulled the girl up by her shoulders to make room for me on the scrubby little carpet that covered the floor.  She was chattering through her teeth and moaning, shivering beneath his hands as if some cold chill had gone through her. I wondered if this was some of the aftereffects of whatever it had been she was popping.  She lay there naked, all her defenses gone, trembling. Her pale face disclosed how frighteningly young she really was. It had been hidden somewhat by the lack of lighting in the big room and her air of bravado. But now I could see that she couldn't have been more than fifteen at the most.  I gritted my teeth. I really had to force myself to get into this thing, but I knew that it was the only way I could crack the vicious ring that had trapped this kid and so many others like her.

  I ran my hand up and down her body feeling her breasts beneath my fingers.  She was scarcely the well-developed voluptuous kind of female flesh that usually turns me on.  But there was enough appeal in the firm tautness of her tight body to get me started.

  The pusher was still in her and living up to his title.  He would stroke her gently enough a few times and then every once in a while wham her with an uncontrollable motion of his organ that made me feel he would split her in two.

  She responded to him almost mechanically, almost as if she didn't know what she was doing.  Her eyes were closed and her teeth were still on edge. But her hard little bottom moved up and down off the floor as he alternately rammed and stroked, stroked and rammed the little mound of fur between her legs.

  "Did you come, or did you come to watch?"  the man asked me suddenly and sharply, as if he was noticing for the first time that I was there with them.

  Realizing that I had almost blown it, I quickly slithered out of my pants and stretched out on the floor, putting the girl's head into what was my lap as I half reclined but soon became a pillow of flesh and fur to which I gently urged her mouth.

  I couldn't tell if she was conscious of what she was doing when she opened her mouth and started moving lips and tongue against me, but I liked it.  Obviously our partner did too. His eyes were wide open now taking in the sight of her licking and tongue-caressing me, as he thrust deeper and deeper into the taut young body.  I knew he hadn't climaxed, so I was surprised to see him pull out of her and move over to my side. Taking my head in one of his big beefy hands he commanded me to do him what she was doing to me.  I complied immediately.

  The sucking sound of her mouth o me had made my own mouth water for something similar to do.  Now my mouth, my jaws, my thighs worked to the same rhythm. I got completely caught up in what I was doing and what was happening to me.  It was hard to breathe because my mouth was so full and I could feel the tremendous strain of not being able to release tension that the girl was creating inside me.  I thrust and heaved uncontrollably making it even more enticing for the both of them.

  I couldn't believe how long he stayed in me.  Pushing him aside for a second I whispered, "Aren't you ready yet?"

  "Just a little more, honey," he panted.  "I just want you to do it a little more, I'm going to finish up in her," he said, indicating the girl with a jerk of his head.

  Once a pusher, I thought, these guys are all the same.  He extracted payment from her and he was going to get it no matter what.

  He rose on his knees.  Straddling the girl, he pulled her off me and inserted his own organ in place of mine.  It stayed in her mouth a few minutes, then he pulled himself out. I couldn't help staring, it was huge and swollen and almost purple.  He quickly thrust it inside her again with a ramming motion that caused her thin body to shudder and move on the floor.

  Suddenly she screamed in pain.  It wasn't now insufferable passion that had hurt her; the thrust of his movement had carried her a little way on the floor and she had struck her head on the side of a steel cabinet.

  The man paid no attention, to either the scream or its cause.  He was satisfying himself and extracting his payment at the same time, and to this animal that was all that mattered.  I could tell.

  Beneath his bidding, the girl now lay motionless and terribly pale.  I wondered if she was completely under the effects of the drug now, oblivious to where she was, what she was doing, and what was happening to her.  I shook my head in disbelief. If this is what they considered getting their kicks, I truly felt sorry for these poor kids. What was the use of doing it, if you couldn't even be awake to enjoy it?

  As he spent himself in her he put his hands on her tiny breasts squeezing and pounding as if to draw the ultimate satisfaction from her frail little body.  I was getting hotter by the minute since my initial arousement hadn't yet been satisfied, but even this handling of her breasts and nipples didn't seem to do anything to her.

  It took me a few more seconds to realize what had happened.

  "Stop it!  Stop it!" I screamed.  "Can't you see! She's dead!  She's dead!"

  He kept right on as if he hadn't even heard me.

  Finally he was finished.  He got up and reached for his pants which lay on a nearby chair.

  For a moment I didn't know what to do.  Drugs or not, that kid was dead, I was sure of it.  Numbly I reached for my own pants.

  Next to getting killed yourself, I knew that there was nothing worse to have happen to you in dealing with the Mafia than to witness a killing, accidental or not.  I knew I had to get out of there and get out fast.

  The guy reached into his pocket and pulled out his bankroll.  He peeled out the top side bills, folded them up tight and handed them to me.

  "Here, kid," he said, tucking the bills into my hand.  "Take this and get out of here, fast, real fast. Forget anything you saw here and don't ever let me see you around here again, got it?"

  "Got it," I said.  I pulled on my jeans and got out as quickly as I could and hurried down the corridor and disappeared into the milling crowd that was still going through its motion on the dance floor.

  I was pretty sure that he would check out quickly so I didn't see much danger in hanging around.  It was too important to find out what would happen next. Practically going through the motion of whatever music the zonked-out band was now blasting forth I kept an eye peeled in the direction of the corridor.  I saw two of the club's turtle-necked bouncers go through the door that led to where it had happened and I wasn't at all surprised to see them emerge a few minutes later with the girl's body carefully carried between them.

  Now was the time to make my exit too.  I got out of the front door of the club just a few microseconds after they did.  Soon enough to see them place the body across the hood of an Eldorado that was parked at the curb.

  She would be good there at least until the morning, looking for all the world like just another spaced-out kid who had collapsed at the nearest available place.  By the time the police or anybody else came around to discover what condition she was really in there would be no way to tell that she hadn't crashed on the car hood itself and caused her own death.

  Pretty slick I thought.  It had all happened so quickly the blood on her head hadn't had time to congeal.  It would adhere to the hood of the car. It would present no mystery at all to the cops when they came and discovered the body.

  I hailed the first cab I saw, and gave him my home address.  As I leaned back in the seat I felt dirty and crummy and scabby all over.  I couldn't wait to get to my apartment and strip myself bare and get into a hot steamy shower.  I wanted to scour myself to the layers of filth and dirt and ugliness that seemed to have penetrated my pores in a few hours that I had been at Ditto's.

  I let myself in wearily but before I had half my clothes off the phone started ringing.

  It was Mark Condon, my boss and main man.  Ordinarily I'm tickled pink to hear from him no matter what the hour or circumstance.  He was awfully eager to know what happened to this first night of my assignment to the case.

  "Honestly honey, I'm so hot and dirty I can barely think," I pleaded.  "Why don't you come over here and I can tell you everything? That will give me time to hop into the shower and be presentable when you get here."

  "Okay," he agreed, chuckling on the phone.  "But when you hop out of that shower, don't hop into anything else.  I want to see you just the way you really are." He hung up.

  I replaced the receiver on the telephone.  How I do love that man! His heart beats exactly in time with mine.  He is always, always ready.

  I really owe that man a lot, I reminded myself as I lathered my back in the thick suds of my Secret of the Sea bath soap.  Not only had he taught me all the tricks of the trade that I needed for my N.Y.M.P.H.O. job but he had taught me more ways to make love than all of the other men that I had ever known in my life put together.  I rubbed and scrubbed everywhere, letting the creaminess of the soap wash away all the disagreeable events of the past few hours. I used my Swedish massage brush even more briskly than usual. That not only got rid of all the grime but made the skin everywhere on my body pink and tingly and ready.

  Stepping stark naked out of my shower stall I leaned over the marble sink and sloshed mouthful after mouthful of Scope.  I wanted to get rid of the taste of that bastard long before I would encounter Mark.

  Even under the steaming water of my shower I felt an involuntary shudder surge through my entire body.  He had screwed the dead girl and it had apparently not bothered him at all. The only thing he was worried about was getting caught with the murder on his hands.

  I wondered why he had let me get away so easily.  I guess he realized that I wouldn't be in any position to testify against him or hurl any accusation against him.  The dead girl was zonked out enough to be dumped on an automobile hood but I was too unlikely a corpse for him to have to handle.  I guess this is why I had gotten away so lightly. Then too, he would have been attuned to the fact that the denizens of that never-never world never fingered each other.

  What he hadn't figured on was that I was no citizen of that world or any other where his code of conduct prevailed.  My world was out to destroy his before the reverse thing happened. When I toweled my body dry, patting carefully in all the important places, I vowed to myself that I would catch up with that animal and even the score someday for that poor kid.

  The monsters who control that Mafia-ridden world of dope pushing preyed on the minds as well as the bodies of the kids that they snared in their nefarious nets.  The kids were mostly just reckless unthinking youngsters bored with the middle-class existence that their parents handed to them on a silver platter. But too young, too inexperienced, too vulnerable to understand what they were getting into, all they were looking for was their kicks and to get them that's all that counted.  Some day some of them would realize what it was all about and outgrow it, but it was a big ugly lesson to be learned.

  I smiled at my scarlet lips as I applied gloss to my mouth, looking in the bathroom mirror.  I was damned glad that I had grown through the adolescence at a time when you got your kicks in the back seat of the car, not sprawled out on the hood of one.  Most of these kids were so doped up they couldn't even enjoy sex. I reached into the cabinet and took down a spray bottle of Paco Rabanne's Calandre and I sprayed myself liberally with it.  I sprayed some in the curves behind my knees, between my thighs, between my breasts and then everyplace else.  I puffed a huge sweet smelling smoke of powder in the same scent all over my body. Hell, I got excited just touching myself in all those places and these kids' idea of a good time was to get so stoned that they just conked out.  The times sure had changed. But this girl, for one, wasn't sure that they had changed for the better.

  By the time my doorbell rang and I opened it to admit Mark I was tingly all over.  I had put on a sheer blue peignoir that enveloped but did not quite conceal my body.  The filmy fabric stuck out with the points of my breasts jutting against it. And I knew that the curly red hair that had inspired my nickname was clearly visible through the folds lower down.

  At least from the direction that Mark's eyes traveled in I could tell that it was.  He looked east to west across my chest and then immediately due south for the rest of the season.  "You look good enough to eat," he murmured, his lips brushing my ear lightly.

  "I am!  I am!" I answered him eagerly.  I pulled myself away from him just long enough to fix us both dry, dry martinis.  I put an extra olive in his and the two little green things bobbed up and down together exactly like a pair of miniature breasts in the clear liquid.  The excited red tips of pimento at the end made the illusion even more realistic.

  "See how much I love you?"  I teased him. "I gave you two."

  "How many do you want me to give you?"  he shot right back at me catching my teasing playful nest exactly.

  "Just the usual," I smiled back at him, reaching for his face and stroking his cheek happily.  Gee I really was glad to see him again. "The usual is always good enough for me."

  Mark sat back on the sofa and took a sip of his drink.  He whistled appreciably at the exactly right combination of gin and vermouth I had concocted for him.  "Is this your first one tonight?" he asked me appraisingly.

  "You better believe it is," I answered ruefully.  "That crazy joint you sent me to specializes in grape juice and if there's any aging involved with that then I'd say the vintage was last Wednesday."

  Mark laughed.  "What else would you expect them to serve in a kindergarten?"  he asked.

  "Kindergarten!"  I scoffed. "Those kids know more than you and I do about a lot of things," I stated.  I ran my hand up and down his torso, following the lines of his St. Laurent body shirt to where it was tucked into his pants.  I could feel his lean hard muscles tensing underneath and I knew what we would soon be doing. "Of course there are a lot of things we know that they don't," I finished lamely.

  Mark always anticipated my mood.  "What do you know that they don't?"  he asked playfully. "Show me, so I can learn too."

  "Well, they don't know anything about sex to start with," I replied.

  "Compared to you, who does?"  Mark asked playfully.

  "That's right," I replied.  "The only action there was with one of the pushers and that was pretty grim."  I went on to explain what had taken place in the room with the little girl and how he had forced himself on her and extracted his payment even after the kid was dead.

  Mark suppressed an involuntary shudder.  "Sounds kind of mean," was his only comment.

  "This is going to be very tricky," I sighed.  "This guy looked like the kind of middle-level pusher who could lead us to the big boys, but right now I am absolutely dead as far as he's concerned or I will be if he ever sees me again.  I am going to have to work out another contact at another club."

  "Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the city is crawling with these damn places."  Mark said grimly. "You could be back at another spot tonight or rather tomorrow night," he corrected himself, glancing at his watch.  "I see that it's still kind of early."

  It wasn't yet midnight.  I recalled that I had hit Ditto's at sometime after nine o'clock that evening so the whole scene hadn't really taken very long at all.  The score was already one dead body and one live suspect.

  "Why don't you try a wig?"  Mark suggested helpfully. "Maybe a little bit of disguise will keep you from being spotted so easily."  He pulled at a lock of my hair playfully, twisted the burnished red curl around his finger, and at the same time and with the same gesture drawing my face closer to his.

  "I figured on that,"  I admitted. "And on a big pair of shades and different kind of clothes every time I go out, but there are some things that you just can't disguise you know."  I looked up at him slyly, heaving my boobs up and down suggestively.

  "Oh you can disguise those too," Mark answered putting his hand over the left one.  "Try wearing a bra for a change."

  I bounced up on his lap and glared at him.  He knew how much I hated to confine myself in those things!

  "Well, I just suggested it for a disguise," he answered spreading his hands helplessly.  "I didn't mean to change your whole way of life, baby."

  I got back on his lap and nestled against his chest, deciding to forgive him for the blasphemy.  His hand reached inside my gown and he started stroking my leg and hip slowly, carefully working his way up, up, up my torso, touching and rubbing and circling what he loved best.  I let myself lay back and enjoy it, pushing all thoughts of what had already happened this evening out of my mind. This was going to be love the way I liked it, and not that way-out-stoned-out stuff that those kids were ready to settle for.  I felt Mark's hands push gently but insistently between my thighs and I opened them a little to make it easier for him. I was glad that I had used my new perfume there. And I grinned wickedly hoping that he would appreciate it too.

  "Let's go in the bedroom," I whispered to him.

  "Let's go on the floor," he replied.

  "The bedroom is more comfortable," I said.

  "The floor is closer," he answered and his answer carried the day.  He carried me from the couch, cradled in his arms, and gently lowered me to my plush carpet.

  Mark is the only man I know who can take his pants off easily in one simple motion while he's standing on his knees.  My boss is an absolute expert at never wasting time nor energy on unimportant things. Almost before I could lift my eyelids from their studied ecstasy he was completely stripped and on the floor next to me.

  I twined his arms around my neck, and eased my body close to his, making as many touch points between us as was anatomically possible.

  "You haven't yet told me what happened tonight, baby," he reminded me softly.

  "Oh Mark, let's not spoil this now," I pleaded.  "I'll tell you everything afterwards."

  "Sounds like it was pretty grim," he admitted.

  "It sure was," I replied.  "I'll tell you everything later.  Please just make love to me now."

  "I will," he said, and placed his lips and everything else close against me.  And he did.

  When it was all over I fell back, utterly spent.  As usual his ecstatic love making had taken as much out of me as it had put into me.  Being in love with Mark Condon is a joyful affair but as a performance the only thing that can follow is a good night's sleep.

  But that was not to be.  At least not this time, and not right away.  Now that we had spent ourselves on all the ecstasy we were used to whenever we met, Mark was ready to hear the full story of Ditto's and what had happened there.  I took a deep breath and started at the beginning. I told him what I had been wearing and how I had tried to make out like I was just another one of the kids. I told him how easy it was to spot the pushers and how they seemed to operate in complete freedom and without any fear of interference from the police or anyone else.  When I told him that I estimated that there would have been easily a dozen guys working the room, Mark leaned his head back and whistled.

  "I knew we had a terrific problem with this thing, Cherry," he told me, "but I didn't have any idea of the size of it."  He studied my ceiling for a moment. "We've got to get to the bottom of this thing and clean it up but fast," he looked at me carefully.

  I nodded my head.  I knew only too well how many people could be losing their lives in scenes like the one I had experienced at Ditto's.  You could multiply that by the number of juice bars that had sprung up all over the city. Hell, it wasn't just a small sickness, it was an epidemic.  How well I knew that if the pushers were able to operate that openly at the juice bars there had to be very heavy guns and heavy money behind them. To crack through that operative layer of pushers and get to the Mr. Big of this operation would be the function of one Cherry Delight.

  I was so used to running to all parts of the world in order to stop and smash Mafia operations it would seem strange for me to be operating right here at home.  I had to know a whole set of facts and rules. The major seat of Mafia power had switched from Sicily to New York in the early years of the century when hordes and hordes of immigrants first came to these shores trying to seek a newer and better life for themselves.  But as always the parasites, the harpies and the vultures came right along to feed off the poor people even in the new environment. And if the great masses of people had prospered and grown healthy here, how much more so had the gangsters. In spite of all the revelations in the periodic housecleaning by the police, the FBI, and other government agencies the big boys of the Cosa Nostra were more secure and solidly entrenched than ever.  Even as the country grew bigger and wealthier and technology advanced so were they right on the case ready to take advantage of every new wrinkle. Their weapons, their lines of communication, their cars, everything that they needed to operate their underworld empire was always the biggest and best and latest model.

 But I was more than ready to tackle them on their home ground; after all this was my own turf as well, and I stood in as much danger from their criminal activities as anyone else walking these streets.

  It was with that kind of determination on my mind that I finally fell asleep cuddled close against Mark's chest, nodding against his shoulder.  He picked me up and carried me into the bedroom at last and we both fell into one of the most refreshing sleeps we had enjoyed in a long time. After all this was the first caper in I couldn't count how many months that we were able to make love at the beginning of a new case without my having to fly off a few hours later.

  Not that we were home scot free however; Mark and I had to e very careful about being seen together and to continue the shield of secrecy that had to be over every N.Y.M.P.H.O. case.  When I woke up in the morning I was able to push all of this to the back of my mind at least for awhile. The first thing I had to do was get myself a whole new wardrobe, for the case.  This was going to be lots of fun. For once there was something that Mark and I could be doing together. After dressing we had a light breakfast and then left my house. We hailed a cab and rode up Third Avenue and 59th Street.  We got off and went into that fabulous black square emporium known as Bloomingdale's. This was the ideal place to outfit myself as a right-on, New York teenager with everything going for her including Daddy's charge account. It was a beautiful, crisp sunny day in the early fall and luckily school had already opened for the most of the real adolescents I would be aping.  The high school shop was pretty empty so I didn't have to feel like an idiot buying kids clothes.

  As a matter of fact the middle-aged saleslady hardly gave us a glance.  She was so used to outfitting customers of all ages and sizes in the jeans, work shirts, and other casual clothes that had become the uniform of that younger generation.  I bought denim jackets and matching jeans with all sorts of silly patches appliqued over them. I bought some of the faded blue work shirts and even the very heavy worsted coveralls that the kids were so fond of.  At the accessory counter I picked up an armful of plastic bangle bracelets, a couple of apple jack caps that were still popular and some art deco fake jewelry. I bought some plain sweaters too that would look kind of good draped over my boobs just for a change from those icky work shirts.

  "You've bought enough to last you through three cases," Mark said grudgingly.

  "What!"  I retorted.  "All of this junk doesn't cost as much as one good dress in Paris would have," I reminded him.  "My expense account is getting away with murder."

  "Well I still don't know what you're going to do with all of it," he said.

  "After I crack the case," I promised, I'll bring all of this stuff to a thrift shop."

  "Good deal," he said approvingly.  Denim jeans and work shirts weren't the kind of clothes that he ideally pictured his lady love in.

  "Before you get too happy honey."  I reminded him, "we've got one other stop to make."

  "Where's that?"  he asked.

  "We've got to go to an army-navy surplus store to pick up the rest of my stuff."  I replied.

  "What!  You've got to be kidding!"  Mark exclaimed.

  I shook my head.  "No way." I answered him.  "That's the kind of stuff these kids wear and that's what I'm going to need."

  If he hated the denims then the dull khaki army chinos really threw my poor boss, but I had studied the kids closely and I knew that this is what they were into.  If my disguise was going to be effective this is what I would have to be into as well. I hated the idea of these stiff and scratchy fabrics against my skin but a job is a job and I did what I had to.

  "At least I won't have to bother with the hairdresser," I reminded Mark.  "I'll have to unset my wigs, not set them, to look like another one of these kids."  I finally got back to my place and Mark helped me upstairs with all the bundles. He loosened his tie and was about to loosen everything else when I looked at my tiny 18-carat gold Omega.  "So sorry baby," I told him, "but it's almost two thirty and Woo Sing will be here any minute for my lesson. I better zip into my uniform quickly." I started to unzip my blouse and get into the tiny skin-tight stretch leotards I used for my martial arts lesson.

  Mark came up behind me and slipped his hands through the now open zipper that ran the length of my back.  He brought them across my chest fondling a breast with each one. "Now you be very careful and don't hurt yourself," he whispered into my ear.  "I'll call you back and check with you on your schedule for tonight, after I get back to the office."

  I swung around slowly and we deep kissed goodbye for a few minutes.  Then he left and I got myself ready with some manhandling oriental style.

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