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THE COVINGTON JOURNAL

Macedonia, 1940. Xena Scrolls dig site.

Just another normal day, or so I thought. I woke up, walked around the dig site surveying all my men in their search to uncover anything that would let me into this blasted tomb. At least I think itís a tomb. All was in order, just a normal day. But even the famed Covington Bad Luck can get worse, which more common folk couldnít handle. I could being Harryís little girl. This string of bad luck wasnít nothing to get my self worked up over. Well, letís see what and where exactly my day changed. Ah yes, that bastard Smithe and his little band of thugs. At least I was able to get a good workout today thatís something.

Well, I broke a few valuables that the museum would have wanted. Iíll bluff a bit, tell them I ran into Germans, that always seems to work. I have to laugh at all the war propaganda thatís being sent home sometimes. After seeing the devastation of England and France for myself, itís only a matter of time before we get into the war. Maybe Iíll join. What am I thinking? Theyíd never let a woman fight.

Sometimes fate is more twisted than even I could have imagined. My bad luck just kept rearing its ugly head all morning long and it didnít end with my little encounter. There she was, in all her prim tall and lean glory. Smug. Yeah thatís it, a rich smug nosed little brat trying to weasel her way into my discovery. Calls herself Mel Pappas, the daughter of the Melvin Pappas who died last year. I canít trust her yet, itís all too convenient for my tastes.

Oh she drives me crazy! That Mel gets in more trouble than even I can handle, and she constantly gets in my way. Worse yet, we have that French moron following us around. Why did I ever agree to this! She must have some hypnotic power in those blue eyes of hers. And let me tell you they are blue! We did manage to get into the tomb, unfortunately so did Smithe thanks to Mel and her big mouth. The fine art of subtlety isnít one of her many skills. Skills, ha! So far all she has done is translated a few paragraphs in that old scroll of dadís. I canít even image that sheís even close to being right with her version. I have searched the globe over twice tracking down anyone that knows this archaic writing. And here comes Miss Pappas from South Helenaina translating it as if she was reading off a grocery list. And if she says "oh my." one more time I think Iíll scream.

Well of course, yet another fitting turn of events in the life of one Janice Covington. Mel Pappas sat her pretty little caboose down and triggered some sort of mechanism that revealed what my father spent a lifetime, and our life savings looking for.... The illustrious Xena Scrolls! Then our Miss Mel had the audacity to claim a 50% partnership in them. She reminds me of my supplier Big Rod, who I am sure sold off his own mother just to get to Greece! Well as it happens not only did she find the scrolls, but also the Warriorís fabled Chakram. Nothing more embarrassing that admitting failure in your own journal, but as strong as I am I couldnít even budge the damn thing out of the wall. Mel sauntered over and slipped it out of the rock like it was only lying upon it. Yes, I should have just stayed in bed today!

Wonderful! Have I told you how much my whole life has meant to me lately? Well guess what, I am batting a thousand today. Turns out that I am not Xena or Callisto descendant, I am Gabrielleís. The silly little tag along bard, you remember the one that Callisto so easily captured. Yeah thatís my great great great, oh whatís so great about my ancestor. Why canít I just be related to George Washington like everyone else! As if I donít have enough shame in my family tree, Melinda turns out to be a direct decent of Xena, my hero. Thatís right... That stumbling, tall, motor mouth of an Anthropologist has Xenaís blood coursing through her veins. How do I know all this new information? The scrolls? No. I stood there and talked to Ares himself. Yeah, Ares the God of War and I had a conversation.  It wasnít long, but it was definitely a conversation.

Finally my luck is changing, somehow Mel brought Xenaís soul into her own body after both halves of the Chakram touched. I was looking at my hero in the flesh, and mentally noting that Mel is actually one good looking broad. I wonder what Xena looked like, she was described as tall, muscular, tanned, piercing blue eyes, and long black hair. I had to blink, was I really looking at Xena, or was this still Mel? One thing was for certain, Xena explained to me just how much Gabrielle meant to her and all these years of thinking she was nothing more than a pest I knew better. The only way I could thank Xena is by helping her defeat Ares.

I have no intention of putting this on my resume. It was deja vu all over again being tied up on this pillar with Jack, yeah the bastard lied to me. Heís just a brush salesman from New Jersey. Ever since Mel Pappas walked into my life I feel like the word gullible was stamped on my forehead. Next thing you know I might even run off and join a religious cult or something.

Well thatís all over with. Xena defeated Ares, I blew up the dig site, confiscated the scrolls and was just about to set off on my way. I donít know what it was, the sound of her voice, the words, or it might just be that I am so damn lonely. But I asked Mel to team up with me. I know Iíll regret it in the end, but its something that just seems bigger than the both of us. I feel a connection with her somehow. That and Jack was absolutely right about her, she does have a great set of gams.






"Come on Mel, Come on get in the truck." I watch her say goodbye to everyone like she was going off on a cruise or something fancy. "Itís the desert Mel." Ah, no matter how many times I berate her to myself she isnít going any faster. I drop my pen in the satchel and close up my journal, oh looky she hasnít gotten close to the truck yet, Iím gonna honk, I swear it Mel. Finally, she turns to me. I hide my giggle as she steps on a rock with her bare feet, I have a mean streak in me and I quite enjoy it at times.

So off to Salonika, eh Mel? Fancy Hotel, hot bath, cool sheets, ah I can get used to this. And now with these scrolls I never have to worry about money or anyone again. Maybe this will work out after all. "Oh for Christís Sakeís Mel you donít have to talk to the cook you never ate anything!" Oh now what, great just great I wanted to get outta here before he showed up, oh no Mel donít bring him over here.

That short Greek fellow ran up to my truck and stuck his hairy knuckles through the open window and said a brief, "Here." in broken English. Oh looky I got me $100.00 I thought nearly aloud as I bit my lip. Nah, this will do me for now, I can get into a poker game in town and triple it in the first few minutes. I hide a giggle knowing the real truth to my sorry excuse for a fee. Nothing like a good explosion to end a day of nearly being killed by the God of War.

I suck in my sweet aroma, oh how this calms me. I think Iím invincible when I enjoy a good cigar, and to think I will be able to actually get the best now. I can hear the register ching thinking of those scrolls. Well whatís this, a note? Probably a Ďdamage fee assessmentí bill. Still wouldnít pay it, saved your sorry asses and I get a bill. Typical. Hold the fort, itís not a bill, itís a note. I chuckle to myself at the seediness of it and the humor of Miss Pappas sitting next to me. "Save that for when we get there," I think stuffing the note away in my pocket and giggling aloud not realizing I had done so until it was too late.

Well what the hell, Iím about to fall asleep as the truck rocks steadily along our journey to town. Oh, and the concerned gaze she has cast on me means I better say something to comfort her. No Mel Iím not gonna fall asleep at the wheel. At least the humming is keeping me awake, all right truth be known itís the blasted tune, I canít think of what it is. I always did like a challenge.

"She did a number on that skirt." I strike up something of a conversation watching my cigar butt hitting the dirt in a shower of brief orange sparks. Turning to her I glance at her bare thighs, lingering a minute recalling the moment it happened. Xena or rather the ghost of Xena, possessed Melís body and I guess the skirt was too confining so She ripped it at both seams. Now that was impressive. I must be smiling cause the look she is giving me is very explicit.

As soon as we got that door open, I darted into the bathroom before Mel said a word to me, yeah yeah yeah nice place you got here and all. But sometimes when a girlís gotta go, a girlís gotta go! And those few shots of whiskey I had after blowing the place up finally hit me, or would that be went straight through me. That shower looks pretty good, and boy do I need one right now. Sorry Mel, but I think Iíll do us both a favor and cut in line.

All right, clean and refreshed and a growling noise. Oh itís just my stomach. I call for room service and notice Mel has changed into a form fitting navy blue number. Man that looks too tight, no wonder Xena ripped the last one. I find the least soiled of my gear and change as quickly as I can. That note had a particular time on it and I canít be late for this meeting.

"Sure Janice, make yourself at home." Melinda giggled out at me with that southern drawl. I smile my little crooked smile I always do to charm and reply, "Well someone had to." As I glance about the fine looking room.

"So Janice. What are we going to do now?" she sits on the bed and looks at me, sometimes I canít read her. Thankful that the light snack I ordered arrives in record time delaying my explanation until my stomach is satisfied.

I raise an eyebrow at a wicked thought before pushing it away and approach her, "I have to meet this man, you coming with me?" I ask holding out my hand, trying to be polite even though the dayís events are starting to take its toll on me.

"Sure! Who is he?" She grabs my hand and hoists herself up, towering over me in those shoes.

I smile and touch the side of my nose with an index finger, rolling my hat up my sleeve and adjusting it to fit comfortably on my head I wink. Before she could say another word I thought that discretion was the better part of valour tonight and I strode to the truck as fast as my feet would carry me.

I take in a breath and light another cigar trying to stay awake, I feel her eyes on me just before she says, "Do you really like smoking those things?"

I feel my dark sense of humour surface again "You want one?" I ask already knowing the answer. As I hear her decline I notice the shoes again and this time in my weary state they register. "Mel you are not wearing those shoes are you?" I slam the door, hoping it will hold close this time.

She climbs in next to me and raises her smooth leg, "Which ones? These?" Showing off her matching navy blue pumps with a nonchalant pride.

I survey the pump in question and blow a bit of smoke out, "I really need to talk to you about sensible shoes Mel."

She sighs, her exasperating sigh. "Well Janice, I find these things to be very comfortable. Well letís go." Only known her less then a day and I am already picking up on her mannerisms, oh Covington this is getting weird.

The truck rocks as I pull over the curb out into the gaslit street. "Mel the first time you have to walk in sand and fall over, I will laugh at you." I can feel my edginess start to settle in.

She smiles at me, easing my temper. How on earth does she do that! "I hope not." Is all she says quietly.

It just occurred to me how rough this part of town really was, as the streets grow dimmer the closer I get to our destination. I glance from working girl to working girl, and how close Mel could pass for one in the dark with that get up and make-up she was wearing. At least she goes easy on the paint, never was too keen on too colorful a canvas. I can feel my nerves kicking around in my gut, I donít want anymore trouble tonight I think I have filled my quota.

There it is no number on the door as the note said but that orange bulb is flicking so this must be it. Oh I donít like alleyways, that is always asking for trouble. I park as close to the door and a bit cocked for an easy escape if need be, and look at my partner. "Mel donít leave my side, you got that?"

She stands next to me as we approach the door, I see her nod to my request and follow through with it as well. If only she would have listened to me in the tomb! I lay my hand on my revolver and reach for the door.

It bursts open nearly nailing my hand, I think quickly as an object is hurled at us. Pushing Mel out of the way with one hand my other draws out my gun, she huddles behind me gasping, "What the...."

"AND STAYS OUT!" a bouncer yelled at the figure slumped on the dusty concrete, drowning out whatever scandalous word Mel had said. He looks at us, and I donít like the look of that sneer.

"Iím looking for a Mr. Small." I sneer back at him still casually holding my revolver.

He crosses his arms and looks Mel over, "Yeah? Ainít hoiída of em." Heís obviously from the States and from the looks of him there was probably a very good reason he was here in a dimly lit dive in the middle of nowhere pushing around the locals. Oh this isnít looking good.

I try the pushy approach again, "Told me to meet him here."

"Mr. Small?" Mel asks in a hushed voice. I shrug her off just as the bouncer shrugs me off. Only thing left to do, I hand him the note and he reads it. Well that question answered, he can read.

"Whatta I know...." He says moving away from the door, I smirk at Mel getting my way again. Holstering my gun I innocently ask, "Can we come in and look for him?" I peer around him to give it the full Janice effect.

He is annoyed, "Well git in Ďere den!" a thick finger thrusts past my nose into the disreputable darkness.

Melinda just smiles and follows me in. Oh I hope I have done the right thing bringing her here. I donít know why but I must have grabbed her hand at some point cause it was in mine as we reached the bar. She must think Iím a mother hen or something!

"A dame in a suit, huh? Whatís this world comin ta?" was the last thing I heard from the bouncer before he disappeared behind the curtain. I never did understand if he was talking about Mel or me. Either way it didnít bother me a bit.

"Are you sure itís safe going in here?" Mel asked jarring me from my thoughts, I glance around the bar taking in the surroundings. Or what I can see of them through the murky cloud of smoke. I count the tables scattered round the floor, assess how far away the bar is from the door and the dozen customers milling about and drinking away whatever it is people brood over near dawn.

I sigh at the arrangement of tables, itís a maze. I hope we donít end up going that way. I escort Mel to the bar, untangling my fingers from hers if I had been thinking more clearly I would have wondered if she wasnít holding my hand tighter then I was hers. I knew she was scared even if she was too stubborn to admit it. "Give me a whiskey and a gin and tonic for the lady."

The barkeep is a burly older man, missing a few teeth from what I can see after he spat into a glass before wiping it with a dirty dishtowel. "Yes?" he grunts in his native tongue.

I couldnít help to feel queasy at that, "In a fresh glass please." Trying to reason with the Greek.

"I cleaned it." He insisted no matter my disgust, Iím thankful that Melindaís eye is too busy squinting around the place. This must have been the lowest place this aristocrat had ever been in. I look back at the man who still hasnít cleaned two glasses the proper way. "With water." I insist realizing that itís the lowest place that I have ever been in.

Then I hear that unmistakable voice, a voice that has haunted me for so long. I clench up for a moment before I remember not to feed it. "Put that on my tab, Jimmy. Janice, they told me you were in town. I see you got my note?"

I turn around to look at his hobbling form, no matter where I go or who Iím with he seems to pop up. And now he was here, probably heard I was on a dig and wants to get in on the action. I smirk at his casualness with the bartender watching him closely as he prepares our drinks. "Youíre Mr. small?" I glance back to him.

"Well... I donít like to brag." he says with a wink back at me. His humor eludes me at times, usually when I am tired. I turn back in time to see the bartender about to spritz my drink. I hop on the barstool, "You donít mix whiskey." My low-key authoritative voice.

I relax as he grunts my way something that could only be translated to "Shaddup, Iím a gettin to yah." and puts down the seltzer bottle with an irrupting thud. I turn back to our good Mr. Small with sly grin, "What can we do for you?" I motion for Mel to sit down as I leer at the bartender. "Hey! Be nice, thereís a lady present."

"Janice, I need to sell your body." There was always something to be said about his tact. Or rather lack of it, I think Melinda nearly swallowed her tongue at that. I would have laughed but I must not have heard him right off the bat after my confrontation with our delightful bartender who was passing our glasses out to us.

"What did he just say?!" Yep I think she definitely swallowed her tongue when that squeak came out of her.

I spun around on the loose stool saving poor Mel and his teasing, "I know you just didnít say that Rod!"

Big Rod without shame added insult to injury, "Hey. Youíre the best in the business baby!"

I down my whiskey in one gulp and glared at him. He must be getting me back for embarrassing him in front of his little filly. A realization hits me, he must think that Mel is a backer for a dig and he wants to upset that. Or he is having a go at me, either way Iím too tired for this.

"What is he talking about?" I can feel Mel slide off her stool wedging herself between my back and the bar.

"Rod, you have done some stupid things in your time, what have you gotten yourself into now?" I need another drink, my temper was flaring after getting duped down here in the wee hours of the night, or was that morning, to be sucked into one of Rodís little schemes. I was not in the mood!

He took both of my hands into his larger ones "I mean these hands just work magic!" I glance up at him looking him over my eyes hidden under the brim of my hat. Still wearing black I see in the desert, and that hair cut. My theory was that he was once an Indian and never could get past that mohawk of his. Problem with our relationship is that I was always the cowboy.

"When and where Rod?" I sigh aloud frustrated that I drug poor Mel out here and away from a nice soft bed. Oh the thought of sleep now is all I needed to drain the last of my waning energy. I heard Mel start to say something way past my subconscious thought of a soft pillow, but even Melís persistence wasnít a match for Rod.

Rod pulled out a wrinkled old note pad, "Let me see... Iíve got this written down somewhere." I watch him flip page after page, catching only glimpses of scribbles that I have referred to before as HieRodglyphics. There isnít a soul alive that could translate his writings. Even Mel would be stumped.

Mel! Oh Mel Iím sorry I forgot to explain this whole mess to you, what she must think of me now. "Meet Big Rod Mel, heís my supplier."

"Umm, youíre supplier?" she says to me with more then just a quiver in her voice. At first I thought Rod really riled her up, but it was the sight of three unsavory characters now leering at Melinda. I knew I shouldnít of brought her here, I can smell a fight coming on. I sit, calming my nerves watching them out of the corner of my eye, tugging Mel away from them slowly. Donít wanna startle the animals with any quick movements. I didnít speak until Mel was closer to Rod.

"Lets go somewhere else and talk about this." I urge to Rod, with little success, his notepad interests him more then my problems.

"Hey, youíre awful pretty." I hear one of them boldly attempt English. Oh great just great like I need this now! Okay Covington look for a table, good thereís one. Now letís just get these two over there, come on yeah thatís right Mel follow me.

"What do you mean by supplier, Janice?" She speaks but Iím not quite focused enough to answer her question. I know what they want from Mel and Iíll be damned if Iím gonna let them. Okay Rod you just keep reading and walking... "Uh oh."

"Ouch." That was my nose that just bounced off this bruteís chest. Now that was very rude. Oh great now these two wanna play too. "Itís three against three boys." I glance at a nervous Mel and then an unconcerned Rod. "Okay itís one to three hardly fair."

I shook my head and backed up enough to stick my revolver in his gut, "Move out of my way mister."

"Wanna dance?" I canít believe this, can they be that drunk? Mel is obviously scared and tried to stick close to me.

"Friends of yours, Jan?" I hear Rod who finally looked up from his little quest. The big lug before me swings my attention back to the matter at hand as he laughs at my display of force. I hate when men do that!

I stared at him and cocked the gun, I should kill him just for laughing. "Oh, Janice... um..." I can catch Mel out of the corner of my eye glancing back and forth from my gun to his face. Iím sorry Mel but Iím not gonna let them touch you and if it means filling him full of lead then so be it. I feel a grin coming on.

He laughs and sways a bit, oh the effects liquor does to the brain, "Look boys, little girls got a toy!" I cringe at his English. He may as well speak Greek.  The three of us understand it, and it would save us from listening to this. Ah but life never gives me what I want, when I get the scrolls I still get into trouble.

I can feel Rod looking over my shoulder, "Iíve been meaning to talk to you about that. I have a guy who can get you a bigger gun for a very reasonab... Oh I see youíre busy. Iíll just go grab a booth." Then I felt the wind from his retreat, "Thanks Rod!"

At least he took Mel out of the way after grabbing her wrist. Or at least he tried until Mel got stubborn again, "Um... um... Janice?" I can see her struggling in his grasp. Rod was never known for his strength, she of course slips away from him and is near me again. I sigh, why couldnít she do this in the tomb I repeat my last plead to whatever God is in charge tonight.

"Oh well... I guess Iíll be slipping on by then... Iím sure Iím the last thing they want to dance with." I see his shoulders rise and fall with his exasperation trying to get by these big lugs, and then he had the nerve to apologize to the brutes, "Iím not with her." He snuck by them. Men!

I know my face was hard and set as I glared at him, I could feel the blood leave my veins. Melinda let him slide past her, oh Mel what are you doing to me! You will be the death of me yet you know. Okay enough of this bull Iíve had it I wanna hit the hay before daybreak. I lift my leg as hard and as fast as my small muscular frame would let me.

Iím conscious of Mel fawning and squeaking out, "Ouchie." after my solid groin shot to this moron. I have to laugh, aware that itís my evil vindictive laugh gets my juices flowing for the unavoidable fight. "Next?"

Big Rod grimaces in the corner to my rather cheap yet effective attack, "Owwwie." Good I hope you felt that too Rod.

I giggle internally at Melís cute little, "Thatíll teach ya" quip as I catch the sight of a woman getting up from one of the tables, looks like she has a vested interest in this fight. Melinda moves past me back to where Rod had runoff to, finally the sense of survival hits her.

This strange woman walks quietly behind one of the men, and twists her foot around his ankle and shoves him to the ground. My thin bangs must have crept out from under my hat cause I felt my eyebrows hit them and I smile. Ah I love a woman who can take care of herself. Pity I canít see her face in all this smoke.

"Oh I hate the sight of blood." I hear Mel from behind me, I look at the fallen foes and the lack of blood. Oh Mel what am I gonna do with you?

And then there was Big Rod still making excuses in the background as if anyone was listening, "Hey I canít even dance, bad leg you know. Iíll just be going to that booth if you donít mind?"

I am just itching to shoot someone tonight. I havenít killed anyone all week, I deserve a treat. Iím jolted from my thought of something my daddy once called Ďbattle lustí as the last joker in perfect English makes his intentions known. "Get outta ma face. We want them!"

Well it was hardly perfect English, but he was definitely not from around here. I wonder what he meant by "Them?" as the thought passes through my lips Big Rod makes his presence known again, and as usual getting in the way.

He just walked right over that guy I racked and smiles at the last doomed lackey, "Yes, well good luck." Rod whispers past me with a smirk and a wink, "Youíll need it." He added just for my ears to hear, I smile at him sidestepping the lunging man.

Big Rod turns, motioning towards the bar area, "Should I get menus?" I actually thought about it for a second, nah this place is a dive and the clientele isnít up to my standards, "No lets go somewhere classy, I got paid today."

I hear a faint high-pitched voice and look down, "That hurt wench!" he squeaked. Ah he speaks, speak again bright angel! Hey thatís my leg! Okay you wanna grapple, you got a grapple on your hands buddy!

I could feel Rodís smile before I actually looked at it, "Ooh really? You got the truck, throw me the keys. Iíll start her up." He was always thinking with either is wallet or his stomach. And in this case he benefited from both.

Okay that tugging on my thigh Mr. Brute is getting annoying, I look down at his struggling form, gotta love steal toed boots and then back up at Rod who is awaiting my answer. "Bit Busy here Rod!"

"Kickíem!" I hear a very different tone from Melinda who placed herself behind one of the bigger wooden chairs, atta girl Mel! Youíre wish is my command mílady. Goal! I send his forearms cracking in the other direction.

"Throw me the idol! I mean keys!" Rod signs to me, I land after my little bounce and kick digging out my truck keys ready to get the hell outta this place. I can see him tapping his foot, he is so impatient.

"Now now, donít look at me like that." Was a new voice, ah our mysterious stranger in a skirt. His buddy musta thought he could at least have her for the evening, cause he was sure looking at her with intent. Pity he missed her knee, which she didnít like at all. She almost looked upset with herself for a moment, which makes me wonder.

The sound of "Kickíem" rings in my thoughts I turn to Mel unconsciously and I must have smiled cause she smiled at me, I nearly didnít hear the threat of "Youíre gonna pay for that knee Missy!" or even notice he stood up, swinging a punch in my direction.

"Donít worry toots, Iíll get her started without the keys." Rod has impeccable timing have I told you that, my eyes widen as he turns to leave and jerryrig my truck. "No you donít!" I turn to leave and feel the wind from a mistimed punch against my cheek and dart after my overeager supplier.

I never knew that one of the other fellaís tried his hand at knocking me senseless but I turned to stop Rod from wrecking my truck and his punch missed me again, thatís two. At least he missed Mel as well, who was following me out of the place.

"STOP!!" I hear on my quest to get to Rod who stopped to say a goodnight to the dozing bouncer acquaintance. Through the smoke and shadows all I could catch at first was a nice suit. Prissy kinda suit that richie rich boys wear, or the mob. Ah a chauffeur, yeah its either the mob or some bored tycoon. I take in my surroundings briefly and opt for the Mob theory. Okay Iíll bite whatís this all about, I need a better look as I turn and land right into Mel. Or rather her chest, I think I bounced, what the hell kinda bra is that! I nearly drop my gun.

"And you thought she was going to be easy?" Mr. Mobman laughs at the fools, I glanced at Mel and smiled smugly. I know I smirked and did my little snort that someone once told me was cute, then I signed his cast later that day. "I see Ms Covington that your reputation is well earned!" he laughs out still hiding in the shadows. Damn coward, Iím too worn out for these tests. This better be worth it and Rod you better not involved in this or I will give you a limp in your other leg.

I decide the threat is over and put my gun away, I get comfortable knowing I have bags under my eyes that arenít gonna go away anytime soon. I cock my hat back letting the sweat from my forehead catch the cool air in the room. "And you are?"

"Boris! Get yourself and your brothers out of here!" His voice echoes around the small room and I think I twitched an eye at that. I hope not, donít wanna spoil my rough and tough image. Did he say Boris? "Ah ha! Russian, I knew it!"

"I," he smugly bows at me, what is he a debutante? "Am Mr. Giles Nelwin!" Oh woo hoo strike up the band boys, he has a name. I can see this makes Rod think a bit, I can smell the smoke. I really donít have time for this, I shrug off this nonsense, "And?"

I have a theory about Mel, sheís boy crazy. "Oh well." She nearly purred looking him over like he was the catch of the day. Dames! "Mel." I chastise under my breath but I doubt she heard me, had to roll my eyes at that one.

Our host for the evening points at a larger table at the end of the shady room, great now Iím on display too. All I wanted was a nice soft pillow. I would be sound asleep by now. "Please sit." I eye the chair he pulls out for that woman who appeared outta nowhere. Iím not taking any responsibility for her, she ainít on my meal ticket. "And you too Big Rod and Ms?" I can see him looking her over. Sheís average looking, nothing to get all riled up over. Not like Mel here, he must have a thing against women in glasses.

That mystery woman blinks through a double take, my stoic personality doesnít allow me to giggle so I just watched. I guess she wasnít expecting an invite, "Helena. Call me Helena."

"I just needed to test you was all." His attention turns back to me, I cautiously eye the chair with an outward sense of nonchalant disinterest. "To see if I heard was true." I love it when someone goes out of their way just to see what Iím made of, I feed off of it. "Smithers. Help the ladies with their seats." I get a chuckle from this, I think I know how to sit on my own, been doing it now for twenty-something years.

Melinda raises one of those sculpted jet-black eyebrows at him, she must pluck them things everyday. "Heard of me?" Those ĎSouthern hand gesturesí of hers. From now on I think I will count the number of times she lays her hand on her bosoms. Give me something to do, hell I should make it a drinking game. Nah better not if she gets on a ramble I would be a goner before I got the bottle open.

"Ah, yes indeed I have. But please sit." Heís eyeing her again. Something deep inside of me wants to break his arm for that. What the hell is wrong with me?  Like a damn puppy, she is growing on me. Oh now looky here Smithers I donít need your help, why am I being singled out here. I know it has something to do with the Scrolls. Hell people I only just found them give me time to rest before you all start with your skulduggery! "This is Smithers my driver."

I swing the chair around, my back has had a workout today, needs a rest. I straddle the chair, cross my arms and put my weight on its wooden back. Now I have to look lucid to this group, I know I canít trust these goons. Rod, well I trust Rod to be Rod. Helena whoever over there isnít with my group so after this moment I wonít have to see her again, and the jury is still out on Mel there. "What have you heard about me?"

"You know mister drunks donít usually make the best thugs. I could hook you up with some Macedonian strongmen." Yes Rod and one wonders where you get your Ďstrongmení I think it was reject workers from the knackers yard last time. Yeah Nelwin youíd be better off with the drunks.

Well at least Nelwin found it funny, "And I see what I hear about you is true too!" His energy at the wee hours in the morning ticks me off. If this all could have waited till tomorrow I would actually be slightly more interested. I see that Mel is trying to put up a brave front over there, little puffy traces under her eyes are forming. She hides a few yawns that I try not to notice without falling victim to them myself. Go on Mel you can do it, stiff upper lip and all that, we are nearly outta here. "Well now that I see we are all aquatinted, I must speak to you all."

Bored, yeah itís more boredom now then fatigue, Iím way past that. "So there Giles, you know about us. Now itís time for you to tell us a story. Tell us about yourself, starting with why you had those thugs attack us."

"Well, donít believe everything you hear about me." Rod sighed as if anyone was really paying attention to his reputation these days. After that whole fiasco of his short lived arms dealership and how they seemed to rust quickly in the rain, I donít think heís been on solid ground since then. I wouldnít use him either, but heís the cheapest and despite it all he has never done me wrong. I look him over trying to keep my lids up, but there is always a first time.

Our Mr. Giles Nelwin pulled himself up a chair last, guess he wanted to pull the old Mafia number on us, big crime boss and his apathetic style. "I needed to see if you really were the people I wanted. Especially you Ms. Covington." Well I thought now would be a good time to show my apathetic well thought out style too, I stood up pretending not to have a care in the world listening to his words. "Well, for one thing I was an old friend of your fathers."

"Humph." I must have uttered aloud from Melís sudden interest in my mood, I took in that bit of information and casually swung my leg out from around the chair and picked it up spinning it around. My movements seem to be what they care about with all eyes trained on me I pull out a cigar, what the hell did I do with my lighter? "Well thatís nothing new, everyone knew my father." I hear a simple reply of Ďyesí out of his lips.

"Well any fees for Janice will have to go through me." Ah my savor Big Rod I roll my eyes. What would I ever do without you, letting the chair slowly fall back until I feel the bump against the soiled wall. Now I can relax. Rod in his ever attempts to strike up a profit leaned close into me and whispered in such a way the whole place nearly heard him, "Let me handle this, toots."

"Well it so happens I have a very ancient text that was once his." Nelwin proclaims loudly, proud of himself. I catch on quickly, its that tablet, it has to be. Dad lost it right before he died, well we all know it was stolen but poor old dad was so busy looking over his shoulder all the time he would usually miss what was right in front of him.

"Ah ha! You stole it!" With just enough bravado and a wild glint in my letting Nelwin think I was a bit crazy. I feel Mel lean over towards me, I was so far back from her and Rod she had to crane her neck uncomfortably just to look me in the eye.

"Steal is such a harsh term." He tries to charm, me, I am uncharmable. Get to know that Nelwin, we might actually do business if you do.

"You really have to explain all of these to me later. Who these people are." Melís voice was tired, her accent slips into a calmer state when she is worn out. Mental note; wear Melinda Pappas out. I tap her leg to let her know I heard her and whisper my reply.

I donít mind telling her about this, chiefly cause I have no idea who any of these people are apart from Big Rod. Contemplating my cigar biting down with my teeth I smiled, let the games begin! "Well return it and I wonít charge you a late fee."

Big Rod nods to Nelwin again trying to take the mediator stance at the table, "Oh I agree with that, Mister. Steal... bah... Everyone throws that word around to loose. Jan, allow me." I hope I didnít cringe, I hate being called Jan and he knows it.

"Iíve had it for some time but can make no sense of it. I want to put you in charge of an expedition to figure it out." There it was, the reason why we are here. Finally. Can I go home now? I have a real bed waiting for me not some hard dusty ground with a few blankets scattered about, or those tiny little tent cots that I always seem to get some of my skin in an uncompromising position pinching the hell outta it.

My brain isnít obeying the subtlety order I gave it, as I sigh aloud revealing my previous thoughts, better light the cigar. A good puff and they wonít wanna hang on my every word. Wonder if the wind is with me, aiming the smoke in Rodís direction. "I donít work for just anyone, especially thieves."

"I merely borrowed it." Oh heís a smug one, makes for a change. "Now Iím returning it and wish to put your skills to good work." Guess I should leave out the uncovering of the Xena Scrolls, doing battle with the god of war and talking to a spirit that hasnít walked the earth for thousands of years. I think my skills need a rest buddy!

Well two can play at this game, I mock him and hold my hand out wanting that tablet back. "Then return it."

"How bout if you give Janice the text and we cut you in for a small cut?" Rod has a knack for thinking up the same things I do, scares me about my own mentality. Didnít like that Ďsmall cutí remark, I owe Nelwin nothing.

"Rod here will supply you with what you need." Thank you Mr. Pompous Obvious!

I look Rod over with a smirk, "Thatís a given anyway." Melinda is soaking this all in, poor girl is gonna have to put ice on her hand tonight after writing this all her diary. "So Giles, what do I get out of this?" There must be a reason, as my patience is beginning to wear thin.

"Janice please..." Rod and his puppy dog eyes, what does he think Iím gonna shoot this stuck up snob? I grin at the thought, well good way to clean my gun before I go to bed. "So just what are ya offering mister?" Rod tries again to control the situation for me.

"Why to follow daddyís dreams!" Oh Nelwin, I have done that already, and I donít need you. So if thatís all I think I will grab Mel up and head back to the hotel. I have to chuckle at this manís attempts to lure me into his flock.

"Iíve been doing that for more years than I care to remember. You have a problem answering questions Giles." I let the chair return to all fours, and adjust my hat.

"Well I will pay you all well." Cha-ching Okay maybe I can give him a few more minutes.

I lean over the table close to the well groomed snob, "I want to see the mullah." My Covington sneer in full effect, the word money always makes me do that. Not sure if it was cause we never did have any or cause I really want it. Maybe I should have paid more attention in my psychology class.

"Thatís a start." Rod nodded using his own personal sign language that we shared, wanting me to think about the offer, at least for his sake. "Up front right?"

For being a rich boy he sure isnít smart, I nearly filled him full of lead when he reached into this coat pocket. Ah Mr. Giles Nelwin you are indeed an amateur, a rookie would have killed ya. Got a straight shot at you under this table even in the holster! Rod jumped, Iím not his only client left you see. And by that reaction looks like he has a few greenhorns buying from him as well. I want to laugh, but I restrain myself.

Nelwin let his hand linger inside his breast pocket, noticing that Helena stranger seemingly for the first time. "I donít know who you are?"

Well about time, I thought she was with him, "Sheís not with us." I have always been a matter-of-fact person, I donít waste much time that way. Little Helena there didnít quite like the sound of that, but sorry sister this is my deal. Nelwin throws out a stack of bills, they hit the table. My head spun at the sight of it, I watched Rodís hand slowly reaching out and standing in his chair. Melindaís eyes widen, for being a spoiled rich kid she sure did have a funny reaction. The world around me in slow motion, I could see all the greedy hands lunging for my money. I moved as fast as I could and snatched up the wad holding it close to my heart. "Get off!"

"Oh donít worry, Iíll pull my weight." Helena sounded like she was a hundred miles away, I caught her eyeing my cash. Who in the hell are you lady? No one invited you along. I have one partner, and in this life and thatís Melinda. Did I just think that?

"There is Twenty-five hundred American dollars there as a good will gesture." He leans back proud of himself after that display from this group. Oh one day Nelwin when I no longer need you Iím gonna make you swallow that pinkie ring.

"Oh well now look at that." I hear that southern drawl and look up still hoarding my money. I canít read the face she is giving me. So Mel what is your story, eh kiddo? Run off from the comforts of the south and all a belle could have to come to a war torn rock and translate for a grubby old archaeologist? No Mel something else sent you here and Iím sorry honey but I canít even begin to trust you until I find out what it is.

I am coherent of rational thought again as the world moves to the pace it had before. Helena must have dove for the money followed by Rod. I laugh out loud at the spectacle before me. A pile of limbs, and squeals. Mel is biting her lip too, probably wouldnít be proper to laugh at a time like this. I of course have never cared about which fork to use. "Who invited you anyway?" I beam at the struggling Helena freeing herself out from under Rodís weight.

Big Rod frowns at me, "Jan Iím gonna need that you know." Like hell rod, you could do it all for a third of this. "Oh sorry bout that Miss." I giggle at his apology. Oh come on Rod you enjoyed every moment of it, donít let Tara find out about that she will box your ears again.

Yet another squawk from Helena as Rod takes the last of his weight off of her, "Oh, thatís gratitude for you." Gratitude? For what? For a sad attempt at trying to take my money. For helping with a fight that was in complete control. Oh thank you Helena, thank you. I laugh.

"Well do you accept?" He rustles us from our individual thoughts. I lean back and flip the bills in my hand counting every last bit of it with a flick of my finger. I raise my brown eyebrow at him in contemplation. Stalling, the Covington way.

"Well. If yaíll want, I could hold the money." Ah Mel did you just bat your eyelashes at me? Must work on her boyfriends back home. However, just for appearance sake I think I will let her hang on to it.

I hand her the money not taking an eye off of Giles or Helena. Rod knows better then to cross me, besides I doubt he still hasnít paid off that favor he owes pops, "Keep it safe sweetheart." Must have been biting down hard on this cigar, at the sound of my muffled response. Janice you need to sleep, itís been what a month? You canít go on like this anymore.

"Well?" Persistent ainít he? Ah learning more about you Nelwin, you certainly have no patience.

Out of the corner of my eye looks like Mel found a hiding place for our spoils. Nelwin shifts his full attention to Mel fumbling with her brassiere adjusting herself. Oh Mel, what would the Ladyís Circle of the Charleston Fish Wifeís Association think of you if they saw you playing around with yourself like that, and in public to! For shame Melinda Pappas!

Enough of this, Iím tired and I got my money and my daddyís tablet back. I thrust an agreeing hand out to Giles still mystified to Melís adjustments. Come on Mel they look fine, nothing out of order. Nope she is still playing with the left one. Maybe if she split the money in half she wouldnít feel so off balance. Oh come on Mel, they are breasts they ainít going anywhere, now letís get out of here. "Show me the tablet."

Big Rod the ever vigilant third rate cut throat wanna be black market God just couldnít give the negotiations a rest, "You know weíre gonna need more than that right?"

"Well now that thatís all settled." Mel looks up at me from her sculpting class and lets her busy hands fall to her purse joining me in our goodnights.

I look her over, well done Mel! "Rather nicely too." Ack did I just say that aloud. Janice Covington you need some rest. "Uh oh." Just great she heard me. Well well well, is that a blush Mel?

"Oh there will be more. And I am sending Smithers to go with you." Oh get thanks Giles I donít need one of your goons to be a watchdog over me. Oh looky the lackey has a voice!

"Me?  Sir?  I just a drive, sir I donít know the first thing, or the second, or third thing for that matter about Archeology?"  Spitfire little guy ainít he! Hell if I ever put heals on I would be taller then him. What is he five foot four, five five maybe?

Big Rod continues his onslaught, "That will barely cover labor costs, pick rentals, and sorry but Smithy here hardly looks like the out doorsy type to me." Oh Rod do I have to be here for this?

"He will be my representative on this little expedition." No heís your watchdog, goon, lackey, thug number one, and all the assorted names that are more colorful than I care to get into right now.

"Oh Smithers, what a lovely name." Earth to Mel? Oh gods preserve us sheís swooning again. Mel heís too short for you, besides never thought you would go for the blonde haired blue eyed type. Bet heís from California.

"Where is the expedition?" I ask ignoring Mel for the moment, which I find is impossible since she is leaning on me to get a better look at him. "Down Mel." There went my eyes again, I just know they are gonna roll right out of the sockets. Damn Mel what are you just itching to loose that virginity?

"Oh Smithers will be fine. As for the expedition I will get the tablet to you tomorrow." Well good, business over with a done deal, come on letís get going Mel. Mel, oh Mel?

"I use to know a Smithers once..." I think we have lost her. "We were..." Oh yeah thatís right Mel no one is listening to you, okay I am but Iím a glutton for punishment. Obviously embarrassed she slowly sat down, giving me a nervous glance. Oh Mel sometimes your just so cute, makes me sick.

"I just a drive, sir I donít know the first thing, or the second, or third thing for that matter about Archeology?" Spitfire little guy ainít he! Hell if I ever put heals on I would be taller then him. What is he five foot four, five five maybe?

Big Rod determination is starting to irk me something fierce. Goodbye Rod we are leaving, "Iím sorry but as the sole supplier Iím gonna need at least another thousand on top of our personal fees, Mister."

Nelwin is something of a blabber mouth too. I thank my lucky stars that Melinda is tired, God forbid all three of them in the same room yattering away at each other. "As I said, I was unable to decipher the tablet so I hope you have better luck!" Oh looky Rodís little comment is sinking in, "What? That much more?"

Big Rod holds out his palm, "Oh yes and thatís conservative, believe me." Get em Rod!

"Well I suppose I can. I will have it brought tomorrow with the tablet." Oh my goodness he pulled it off, well I knew there was a reason I kept you around Rod.

Big Rod nods at him ignoring my futile attempts at sneaking out, "Fair enough, but can you spot me a note for gas?"

To be Continued...