Strange thing about fear. It has a special taste - like dust, or sweat, or blood that runs cold when you realize this night might be your last. A familiar taste on my palate but tonight it’s worst. I have a date with the Devil. Will be held in the arms of Diablo himself, stare into his demon eyes and hope that somehow I’ll get away intact...and alive. But it doesn’t seem likely. So how did I get a date with this demon? Cunning, hard work and a ravenous hunger. In the circles I move, he's the prize, this Diablo, the brass ring everyone wants. Tonight, if the fates are kind, I'll get him, preferably before he gets me. This time, I'll leave my weapons at home. We rendezvous at midnight - prime time for the Dark Prince. I arrive first, hurry through the thick scarred doors and into the inner sanctum, or whatever they call this room where dread and fear hang as heavy in the air as the filmy blue smoke. Blue smoke, black walls and an eerie red glow that shows me the others huddled here in these shadows. I've never been to this club before, but it's the usual scene. Hot jazz from cool dudes on the bandstand oozes through the room, Here, everyone is a nameless face - the best way to hide a past, or ensure a future. But nobody else is in danger tonight. The Devil is coming for me. In the dark, it’s hard to navigate through the sweating hordes. Bodies jostle together but eyes remain shadowed. Fear is the language spoken here. With no windows to vent the heat and fetid air, I can smell that fear as sharp and pungent as my own. Feel the same dread, the same grim knowledge. Death and Diablo usually travel together. Will I be the sacrifice tonight? I’m ready for whatever comes. Prepared as much as one can be for what might be my last night. Dressed to thrill in blood red silk deep as the heart of darkness that exposes my pale skin and ripe promise - both of which might be broken tonight. He can do that. Diablo is a greedy devil who uses his powers to suit his needs. His desires will orchestrate our dance, but it’s my needs that brought me here, and keep me waiting in this fetid pit. But even in this darkness I know that there are angels among us. No undercover cop works without backup, and mine are at this bar tonight, lurking in the shadows. But I'm the designated bitch who is the offering, the bait who'll talk the talk. Waiting for the man who calls himself Diablo to walk through the door. I slip onto a bar stool and order a drink. The smudged glass is a handy prop that makes this all seem normal, just another part of a day in the life. No cops come to these parts, so tonight I've got to play someone else. The bartender winks at me. And wipes his hands on the damp apron that conceals his 9 millimeter Browning and two extra ammo clips. My back-up comes heavily armed. Tonight I have five of them here, strategically placed and waiting, but I've got to dance to the music alone. Tonight my role is a goddess of greed who'll court the devil's favors. It’s drugs I’m after, kilos of heroin and coke from one of the most treacherous drug dealers in the country. Diablo is his name, a mortal man as skilled in the Devil’s deeds as Lucifer himself. The blood of countless victims stains his hands. His head count of homicides is daunting even in the ruthless world of hard drugs and cold murder. Diablo’s appetites feed on power. Bad blood and cunning are part of his game plan, deceit and cruelty his usual M.O. His enemies are legion but few will take him on. Nobody is willing to battle this demon, but tonight we'll do the dance. A chill precedes him into the room. Or maybe it’s fear that’s raising the hair on my neck, squeezing my heart with icy claws. A fitting prelude for the figure who steps out of the murky dark. The Devil wears Armani suits and drinks his bourbon neat. “Another drink?” My glass is still untouched but I smile and nod. And stare into eyes that glow like sulfur in his sin-dark face. “Waiting long?” He doesn’t care. Poses the question only as a meter to gauge my apprehension. “No. Not very.” “Good.” And then he smiles. A blaze of porcelain white slashes his lean cheeks where dimples wink improbably. Warms those sulfur eyes to the burnished gold of fine brandy. I realize, belatedly, that the Devil is a babe. We chat. Typical bar talk bordering on flirtation, but this time, there’s an edge. He knows what I want. And I know he’s determining just what it is he wants to give me. A tongue done my throat or a knife in my back? Either choice would suit him. The way his eyes move like sucking leeches across my breasts tells me he hasn’t yet decided. The bartender lumbers past us, swiping a thin damp rag down the length of ebony surface. The music is slower now, the melody indistinct, or maybe obscured by the tribal rhythms of my pounding heart. Which nearly vaults out of my chest when Diablo touches my arm. “Pretty,” he muses, stroking the pale skin. His touch is searing. Smooth. Unexpectedly sensual. A minor seduction in this tense scenario. But of course, it’s only me who’s nervous. The Devil has done this dance before. Long fingers, carefully manicured, glide up to the wild pulse that jars my throat. “So soft,” he murmurs. “I like that.” Down the bar, my guardian angel scowls. More talk. More silky touches . My head is spinning from the heat and heavy sweetness of cigar smoke. Cubans, the only kind Diablo smokes. Another weapon in his limitless arsenal meant to disorient his victims, his partners in the dance. It’s taken a year to get here, this dark bar where a handsome man blows perfect smoke rings and feels my thigh. Twelve months of street surveillance, gathering intelligence on this demon who nuzzles my neck. He smells of bourbon and subtle cologne, and the blood of those who came before me. His ruby ear stud glints like fire as he leans closer to sniff my hair - or my fear- like a predator gauging his prey. Fingers trail along my spine, deceptively tender. He's checking for wires and concealed weapons. Diablo is no fool. He runs with the big boys- a family of Nigerian drug dealers merciless in their savage credo: Kill anyone who dares to cross them. When it’s only flesh his fingers touch, the Devil smiles. My cover is secure. An unarmed woman in a red silk dress is a suitable partner. The transaction will take place tonight. Drugs for money, the dance in which Diablo and I will trip the dark fantastic. In previous communications, we’d agreed to the terms of the deal. The price. Quality and quantity. And, most important, the location. Even for a woman who dances alone, my back-up needs a game plan. Most important in this orchestration is a place that offers my angels a clear view. Where it’s easy to maintain visuals and close in once the transaction’s been made. Preferably, a place clear of traffic or people who might get caught in the crossfire if gunplay is involved. That’s an undercover Narcotics cop’s wishlist, but just like Christmas, it’s not what we always get. And tonight, in spite of our previous plans, Diablo has different ideas. Instead of the agreed warehouse nearby, he wants to take me somewhere else. His car is outside, he tells me. A short ride to a private place, somewhere we can be alone. Relax and enjoy our shared interests, mix some pleasure with the business. Panic spikes like fever when he leads me outside. There’s a sleek black Mercedes at the curb, with windows tinted dark enough to conceal whoever lurks inside. No savvy drug dealer travels without a goon squad, and the Devil is no exception. If I get into the car, it’s a guaranteed transport to Hell. No chance of survival for an unarmed woman in a tight enclosure, surrounded by brutal thugs high on dope and hormones. I can almost visualize that year’s hard work and intelligence going up in smoke as wispy as Diablo’s cigar. No, I tell him. And lick lips suddenly dry as tombstones in what's meant as a seductive gesture. I want to be alone with him. Without his friends, without anyone to disturb us. This will be a private party. I’m trembling now. Desperately hoping Diablo’s greedy business sense will take us to the warehouse, the kilos, and his arrest. Rank cold fear ices my skin, poke nipples against the thin silk like pointing fingers. Diablo smiles. Hot sulfur eyes spark at what he thinks is my arousal. My car is already parked at the warehouse, I tell him. We can walk there. Take care of business and then...... Sultry intent hangs in the air, and I lick the Devil’s cheek. His goons will follow behind us, but it doesn’t matter. As long as I don’t get in the Mercedes, I’ve got a chance, and my back-up team can move into position. This pre-dawn hour is murky and hushed, with a seeping damp fog thick enough to swallow us whole. Puffing on his cigar, Diablo leads me down the street. No more tender crooning. His feral face is taut with hunger, ready to devour me. And while I’m wondering if my back-up is in place, he’s describing the art of this particular deal...and how he intends to sweeten it. He says he likes his women hot, his sex incendiary. Pain as a prelude to the ultimate, fiery bliss. A primal encounter of savage lust. His voice is thick with it, a deep whiskey rasp. Even in the fog, his eyes glitter fiercely. They should be right behind me, I think. Five armed men ready to take down the Devil. But I can’t turn around, can’t hear anything over my own heart pounding. And try not to scream when Diablo grabs my arm. “A shortcut,” he grates, propelling me down an alley. There are trucks parked here, pallets stacked high enough to block the view. Rats scurry among the reeking garbage and broken bottles strewn everywhere. A series of sharp turns, another alley, and I know for certain my backup’s been lost. No one can maintain a visual in this labyrinth, exactly what Diablo has in mind. He’s ready to begin the dance. One brutal tug, and my dress is torn away in a shriek of red silk. Eyes flame sulfur hot as the Devil’s mouth descends, sinking teeth in tender flesh. Pain and panic have me clawing out, but he shoves me down, brands my neck with his glowing cigar. Screams - my own or the squadron of demons come to witness this dance?- rise up around us like the fires of Hell. We struggle on the rough concrete, roll across gravel and shattered glass. Seconds? Minutes? An eternity as blood fills my mouth from his relentless blows. My eye's already swelling, and blood runs hot as he slams against me, howling like a hound from Hell. White hot pain, red rage and one sharp silver shriek before black oblivion. Like anyone who’s experienced death, it’s the angels I see next. Guns drawn, breathless from running through the maze of alleys, my back-up finds me crumpled in a seeping pool. Thick red oozes from the Devil’s inert body slumped beside me. Dead sulfur eyes stare in wide- open astonishment at the intensity of our last dance, or the thick shard of glass I buried in his jugular.# # #Excerpted from "Crime Scenes" Copyright 2000 by Gina Gallo.More information about "Crime Scenes" is available at www.gallostories.com.