Jackal & Hyde

An enemy is someone who will get you killed, regardless of whose side they're on.

        The air was still. Above him, the sun beat down relentlessly from a cloudless sky, scorching all that it touched. It hung in the middle of the sky, spitefully chasing away any shadows that dared intrude upon its domain. Nothing dared stir – not even the wind, whose cool caress would have been all too welcome now, regardless of the sand it would be carrying. But a breeze was not to be. The air simply hung there, dead, devoid of anything but heat.

        God, how he hated this place! It was all the same, all of it! The whole blasted desert was nothing but an endless expanse of boiling-hot sand, hot and dry and good for nothing more than baking bricks and other hapless things left out in the midday sun. And as if the stifling heat wasn't already bad enough, he had to endure it through a three-piece suit! For crying out loud, he was a tropical bird! He wasn't meant to be traipsing about in an arid climate!

        Ivan grumbled to himself. He was *supposed* to be in Italy. He'd been enjoying his time there, in the old country, experiencing firsthand the order his masters back in the states were still trying to establish. Ah, Italy. Such a beautiful country. Nice climate, nice language, nice ruins…great food…and an absolutely fabulous way of conducting official business. The city of New York had taught him the tricks of the trade, of course – intimidation, deceit, obedience, and the like – but Italy had polished those skills into an art form, and given him some culture as well. To be forced to leave it for this forsaken place was, well…upsetting.

        It wasn't that he didn't like Egypt. The clustered pyramids were as awe-inspiring and uplifting as they were reputed to be – at night, anyway. During the daytime, they were just more structures intent on denying him shade. Oh, he'd had enough history to know how many great and wonderful – and expensive – things came out of Egypt. The trinkets found in even just one room of an undisturbed desert tomb were rumored to be valuable enough to fund a lavish retirement. An entire tomb's-worth of items was worth millions, and the desert sands were supposed to be littered with them. Which was, of course, why he was here.

        He'd been sent to Italy by Don Peoci, to lay low and wait out the media circus surrounding one of the Mob's latest efforts. That was a pretty standard practice, since no one ever got enough evidence to threaten the Mob and her children - and even if they did, the lack of an extradition treaty with Italy kept implicated mobsters well beyond the reach of the law. His Egyptian side-trip, however, was not standard practice. But the legal situation in Egypt wasn't much different from that in Italy, and the law wasn't really looking for him in particular, so when Dan Santino, an archaeologist that just so happened to be Don Peoci's cousin, started having problems with raiders on his digs, Ivan had been part of the detachment sent over to give the situation a run-down.

        Which basically meant that they'd been deemed expendable enough to risk sending back into the spotlight, standing in as Santino's guards in case the fool actually managed to find something of merit. Despite his claims that his digs were being stolen out from underneath him by raiders and other archaeologists, Santino had a long history of dig failures. Either he found nothing, or he found nothing of value. So sending them out there was a waste of time.

        And sending them over without a map to Santino's current location was even more of one. How was he supposed to find the dig? he wondered as he plodded through the crowded streets of some overly-cluttered desert town. The locals wailed at him, shouting the merits of their various wares, begging for money, and eyeing his pockets. They knew all foreigners carried lots of money in this town, and every last one of them wanted it all for themselves. He'd long since stopped counting the number of pickpockets he'd had to boot away.

        One of the other men with him fell into step beside him, suggesting they escape the smothering noontime heat by ducking into the nearest ground-floor establishment for something to eat. Such places were open-air, but their overhanging stories provided them with the precious shade needed to cool an area several degrees.
Ivan nodded, indicating one such place at the corner of the market. It was shabby and ill-kept, its mud walls bleached white from countless years beneath the scorching sun, but it offered a variety of exits and a clear view of the street, making it a perfect place from which to observe and escape potential ambushes. They took a seat between one of the exits and a large, open window and talked idly of how to reach Santino as they waited for their food.

        No sooner had their food arrived than the shouting started. The towering dried-mud buildings of the city did an excellent job of channeling sound, and they could hear the enraged cries of an Englishman long before they spotted the source of his consternation. From their posts by the window, they watched as a trio of ragged-looking teens darted into view from an alley a ways off. The people in the marketplace screamed insults at the thieves, but made no efforts to stop them. They ran unmolested through the crowds until an angry screech parted the masses and sent the thieves bolting for cover.


        Dr. Reilly ran after the thieves, shouting and cursing at them and begging those ahead to stop them. The gander's dirty suitcoat flapped behind him, giving the portly bird an even more ungainly appearance. Ahead of him, the thieves were gaining ground.

        “Stop them! Please! The dirty buggers just stole my map!” he cried, fighting to keep them in sight. He needed that map! It was ancient, and the fellow he'd bought it from had guaranteed it was authentic. And he was running out of grant money. If he didn't find some treasure-laden tomb soon, he'd lose his funding. Again.

        Spots were beginning to swim before his eyes as he pushed himself past his limits. This wasn't good for him, and he knew it. He wasn't in the best of shape – far from it – and running in the heat of the day like this was a sure way to give himself a stroke. He tripped, falling over in exhaustion, and was forcing himself back to his feet when a swift-moving shadow streaked overhead.

        He sank back to the ground, breathing a sigh of relief. He knew that silhouette. The thieves would not have his map much longer.


        She cut a quick pace across the sky, streaking first towards the sounds of distress, then away from them as she caught sight of his distressors. They were obvious to anyone who bothered to look at them, running at top speed down a deserted street in the middle of the day, hoods back, with a roll of parchment clenched tightly in their leader's fist.

        The thieves bolted down the narrow alleyway, confident in their ability to outrun everyone who tried to chase them. Their destination was obvious – the marketplace, where they could easily pull up their fallen hoods and blend in with the rest of the shoppers. Or so they thought. Closing the distance between them, she began to descend. As soon as they rounded the corner to the marketplace, she folded her wings and dove at her quarry with an angry squawk.


        Ivan watched in fascination as a red blur slammed into the trio of thieves before they could separate. A Flier. Fascinating. There weren't any of them in New York – the city was much too crowded for their tastes – and as much as he'd heard about them, he'd never actually seen one. He discretely got up and exited the shop, securing himself a better view of the fight in the streets.

        If nothing else, the flier was an accomplished fighter. Her stoop had knocked one of the thieves out cold, and she held another's robes firmly in her left talons as she fluttered at the third, searching for a foothold. When the third thief, still gripping what looked like a map, broke away from her, she darted after him on the wing, dragging her captive several feet before releasing the choking rat and diving at the escaping thief. Keeping low to the ground, she banked steeply, cutting in front of her quarry and forcing him to turn. As he did so, she caught his shoulders with her talons and purposely beat her wings haphazardly, throwing the panicked and confused bird off-balance. As he fell backwards, she snatched the stolen map up in her beak and released the thief, flitting back to where the first thief lay before landing and surveying her handiwork.

        The crowd, unwilling to help stop the thieves while they were running, now closed in on them, allowing them no escape. They parted only to allow a disheveled gander into the arena.


        Dr. Reilly shot the red bird a grateful look, heaving another sigh of relief as he saw the map she now held cradled in the crook of one wing. He'd heard of her before, of course. Her name was legendary in this city when it came to theft prevention. His wasn't the only possession she'd rescued.

        “Oh, noble flier,” he gushed, panting out the words as he struggled to regain his breath - he really *should* get into shape, he told himself – “Thank you ever so much for retrieving my map from these rogues. I'm certain the treasures this priceless document holds the key to would have been placed in grave danger by them.”


        For her part, Iiwi paid him little attention. She'd already unrolled the map and was scrutinizing its every detail. “I hope that by 'priceless' you mean 'worthless,' Reilly,” she remarked, rolling the map back up and starting to hand it to him.

        “Don't be ridiculous!” the goose laughed, “I had the map dated myself, Redbird. I can assure you, it's authentic.” He scowled as she jerked the map out of his reach.

        “Oh, I'm sure it is,” she said, her eyes gleaming mischievously, “You are, of course, offering a reward for its safe return?”


        Across the street, Ivan chuckled. She was offering to sell him back his own map! Brilliant! He half-wondered if the thieves worked for her, but decided they couldn't – their surprise and fear had been too great when she'd arrived. Even the best actors could not have pulled that convincing of an act.

        The Brit growled, muttering something no doubt much less courteous about his 'rescuer' than his previous remarks. For her part, the flier merely took the money, smiled, and handed him back his map. As he stormed off, she lifted a wing, tucking the money away in a small pouch strapped to her side. How very clever! The pouch was positioned in such a way that no thief – regardless of skill – could get to it while her wings were folded. Clever indeed.

        Police – at least he assumed they were police, though they wore no specific uniform – arrived and lead the thieves off, and without anything else left to look at, the crowd began to disperse. The flier yawned, bored, then glanced about the market and noticed him.

        He quickly hardened his gaze, trying to look contemptuous, and turned away as if uninterested, but she ignored this. Her eyes took on a friendly glow and she flit across the street with a little gliding hop, landing just beside him as he strode away from her.

        “Hey, America!” she chirped good-naturedly, “Aren't you a little overdressed? You've got to be dying in that thing!” she indicated his suit, “At least get yourself a light-colored one. You'll bake out here if you stay in black!”

        “Thanks for the advice,” he growled, “Tell me, do you look out for every foreigner, or just those of us that look like we have money?”

        She laughed. “All foreigners have money! They come here with their assistants and their grants, needing food, and supplies, and guides - and sometimes even diggers. And then there are those that just skirt the work entirely and come here to buy the treasures we pull out of the tombs ourselves. But either way, they come with money. It's just a question of how much of it you can get out of them.” She grinned deviously. “Like poor Reilly there. The tomb on that map is empty. Has been for years. But he paid five gold crowns for it, spent another dozen crowns on supplies and workmen, and forked over another three to me just now! And he didn't even pause for breath when I told him the map was useless. The tomb's not even in good condition – it was flooded, so all the wall-paintings are gone! Poor fellow.”

        She chuckled, shaking her head bemusedly. “But what about you? What are you after?”

        “What makes you think I'm after anything?”

        “Ah, I see. You came here for the weather,” she laughed. “Or maybe to climb the pyramids. In a fine Italian suit. Riiiiiight.” She rolled her eyes.

        Ivan's patience was waning thin. “I don't have time for this,” he growled. “And,” he added, cutting her off as she started to respond, “I'm looking for an expedition that's already in progress, so stop trying to sell me maps.”

        She shrugged. “I don't deal in maps. Except when I'm recovering stolen ones, of course. I deal in information. And you're going the wrong way,” she chided him, pointing to her left, “Santino's dig is west of here.” She smiled impishly.

        And before he could say anything else, she spread her wings and leapt into the air, leaving him behind.


To Be Continued...


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