The kid continued staring. “You are so hot. Please don’t hurt me.”
“Damn!” Aviators man realized he’d left his gun on his desk — a rookie mistake. This new corporate culture was making him soft. He grabbed for the beauty queen, and she deftly elbowed him in the gut.
“Flag corps,” she hissed. “Learned that move for my first Miss Purdy Boots pageant. It’s got a real nice follow-up that goes something like this!”
Taylor executed two backflips with a kick to his ribs.
“Gymnastics,” she huffed. “My dismount was the envy of stage mothers across Texas.”
“Get her, you jackass,” Aviators man gasped from the ground.
“Could I have your number?” the Dweeb asked.
But Taylor didn’t stick around to answer. “A Miss Teen Dream is a bright light in the world,” she intoned. She was team captain, and her girls needed her. Alive with purpose, she took off running. Despite his wounds, the agent poured on speed, and Taylor felt something she hadn’t experienced in years: fear. Her breath was ragged, animalistic, the opposite of pretty. Her lungs burned. She stooped to grab a coconut.
“Ready? Okay!” she said in perfect cheerleader rhythm and launched it behind her. There was a moment of satisfaction as she heard the man hiss in pain. Some girls lost their aim in times of crisis. Taylor did not. Quick thinking. It was what separated the queens from the runners-up. Taylor was not going for runner-up.
Agent Jones’s shoulder throbbed where he’d taken the full brunt of the coconut. He ran fast, but he was no match for the beauty queen’s youth and conditioning. If she made it back to the beach, she’d warn the others. The operation would be exposed. His pension and benefits would disappear. Or he’d have to kill them all. Quick thinking. It was what separated the men from the dweebs. Agent Jones was no dweeb. He might not be able to catch her, but he had something that could. Still running, he reached into his pocket for the darts.
Taylor felt a sharp pain in the back of her arm. She reached back and pulled out the small, pointed tip. She chanced a glance behind her and saw the blow tube at the man’s mouth. Panic set in now. Her father always told her that panic was a soldier’s enemy. Fear could be used, but panic was no good. Focus, Miss Texas, she told herself. All she had to do was make it to the top of the hill and get off one scream to the others. Just. One. Scream. As she sprinted, the hill bounced in her vision. Almost clear! She was clear!
“Teen … Dream … Misses!” she gasped out. “This is … your … team … captain!”
The second dart stuck fast in Taylor’s neck.
“Danger!” The shriek was torn from her.
A third dart lodged in her butt. A fourth followed. She fell to her knees and tried to stagger to her feet again, but her legs felt numb and nothing looked right anymore. She felt like a visitor in her own body as the drug released directly into her bloodstream. Within seconds, her vision altered in terrifying ways. She whispered the word she’d never allowed herself to say, the word that she’d buried in her toy sculpture years before when her mother left.
And then Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, Miss Texas, passed out.
Panting heavily, his jaw bruised and his leg bleeding, the agent crawled toward the beauty queen and smeared her mouth with the Mind’s Flower fruit, torn from a neighboring plant. He put a few broken petals in her hands to suggest that she’d eaten her fill. Then he limped off toward the volcano lair. Before he’d settled into the corporate life of privatized security, the agent had initiated coups in third world countries. He’d overseen arms deals and planned assassinations. He’d taken out a rhino once on illegal safari with the board of directors for a fair trade company in Tanzania. The rhino went down after two shots. It took four for this beauty queen. None of his assignments had been as much of a headache as this one.
Women were a lot of trouble.
He hoped the Mind’s Flower would keep her nonsensical long enough to formulate a Plan B. MoMo was due on the island soon, and things were going from bad to worse. He didn’t relish telling the Board.
He certainly didn’t relish telling the Boss.
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