Shane sat on a bar stool, in a shady nightclub on the wrong side of the tracks in a bad part of Savannah, Georgia, and tried to estimate how many people he was going to have to kill in the next hour. Optimally it would be one, but he had long ago learned that optimism did not apply to his profession. He felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket and pulled it out with his free hand expecting to see the GO or NO GO text message from Wilson, and about damn time. There were only three people who had his number, and they never called to chat. One of them was across the dance floor from him, which left two options. He glanced at the screen and was surprised to see JOEY. Jesus. First time ever and he calls in the middle of a job.
Shane hesitated for a moment, then thought, Hell, you gave him the number for emergencies
, and hit the ‘on’ button. “Uncle Joe?”
“Shane, you on a job?”
“Where you at?”
“Good,” Joey said. “Close. I need you home.”
Shane frowned. Home? You send me away at ten and now you want me home?
“What’s the problem?” he said, keeping his voice cold. Twenty-five years you wait to call, this damn well better be a real emergency.
“I got a little friend needs some help. She lives just outside Keyes in the old Two Rivers mansion. Remember it?”Fucking Keyes. Armpit of the South.
“Come home and take care of my little Agnes, Shane.”You adopt another kid, Joe? Gonna take better care of this one?
“I’ll be there in an hour.”
“I appreciate it, Shane.” Joey hung up.
Shane pushed the off button. Joey needing help taking care of something. That was new. Old man must be getting really old. Calling him home. That was--
“I’m a Leo—and you?”
Shane turned to look at her. Long blonde hair. Bright smile plastered on her pretty face. Pink T-shirt stretched tight across her ample chest with the word Princess embroidered on it in shiny letters. Effective advertising, bad message.
“What’s your sign?” she said, coming closer.
“Taurus with a bad moon rising.” The hell with Joey. He had a job to do. He looked at the office upstairs.
Two men in long black leather coats and wraparound sunglasses appeared in front of the office door. They took barely visible flanking positions at the top of the metal stairs, just as they had the previous evening at approximately the same time, which meant the target was in-house.
At home, so to speak.
Fucking Joey, calling him home now, in the middle of a job.
“Do you come here often?” Princess asked, coming still closer, about three inches too close. He scooted back on his stool slightly.
“Never.” Except for the reconnaissance the previous evening. He looked up again. Too many people had seen The Matrix, he decided as he took in the bodyguards’ long jackets and shades.
The Matrix probably hadn’t even played in Keyes yet.
Princess came in closer, her breasts definitely inside his personal space. “What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a painter.”
That’s what Joey used to tell people. I’m a painter
, he’d say. Enough with Joey
Shane glanced across the room. Carpenter was in place, his tall, solid figure near the emergency exit, the flashing lights reflecting off his shaved, ebony skull. I paint them, Carpenter cleans them.
Shane nodded his head toward the guards ever so slightly. Carpenter nodded back.
“That’s cool.” Princess began to scan past Shane, probably looking for someone who’d play with her. She must found him because she smiled at Shane blankly and backed off. “Have a good one,” she said and was gone into the crowd.
The phone buzzed once more, and Shane glanced at the screen: GO. Finally
. he secured the phone in his pocket, nodding once more at Carpenter, who nodded back and reached into one of his deep pockets. Princess was over by the bar now, dialing on her phone with a blank look on her face as she tossed her head to get the hair out of her eyes. Then she frowned and pulled the phone away, staring at it. Shane knew no one’s cell phone within two hundred feet would work as long as Carpenter kept the transmitter in his pocket working, jamming all frequencies.
He wove his way through the sweaty dancers to the bottom of the staircase and walked up, Carpenter falling in behind him. Both bodyguards stepped out, forming a human wall that he estimated weighed over four hundred and seventy pounds combined with another ten pounds or so of leather coat thrown in. Which meant they trumped him by over two hundred and seventy.
Fortunately two hundred and ten pounds with brains could usually beat four hundred and eighty pounds of dumb.
“Private office,” the one on the right growled.
Shane jabbed his right hand, middle three fingers extended, into the man’s voice box, then grabbed the face of the man on the left and applied pressure at just the right places with the fingertips of his left hand, thumb on one side, four fingers on the other. The man froze in the middle of reaching under his jacket, unable to move, while Carpenter caught the man to the right.
“Tell me the truth and live,” Shane whispered as he leaned close, ignoring the other guard’s desperate wheezing attempts to get air down his damaged throat as Carpenter took him back into the darkness of the landing. “Lie and die. Is Casey Dean here?”
“Uggh.” There was the slightest twitch of the head in the affirmative.
“Uggh.” A twitch side to side.
Shit. “Left foot,” Shane said. “How many are in there? Tap your foot for the number.”
The foot hit the ground twice, then halted.
“Good boy.” Shane shifted his fingers slightly and pressed. The man dropped unconscious to the floor. Carpenter already had the other man down, sleeping with the leather. At least they’d be warm.
Shane reached inside their coats and retrieved their pistols. He placed one in his waistband in his back, and kept the other one out, safety off. He stepped over them as Carpenter reached down and grabbed the back of each man’s jacket and dragged them to a small janitor’s closet and tumbled them in. Then he turned and faced the stairway to make sure no one else came up. He wasn’t wearing leather.
Shane walked down the hallway to the bright red doorway with a prominent No Trespassing sign hung on it. He kicked it right at the lock, the wood splintered and he stepped in and to one side, eyes taking in the dimly lit scene, pistol up, sweeping the room in concert with his eyes in split-second pie slices.
Movement. Two people. A man. Seated behind a desk. A redhead standing on the other side, leaning forward, palms down on the desktop, her skimpy halter top hanging loose, exposing her breasts. Great
, Shane thought. I had to hit at playtime
Shane strode across the room as the man jumped up and the woman turned, looking surprised. The man was reaching for a jacket when Shane hit him with a cat paw fist strike to the solar plexus, making him thump back on the couch, gasping in pain and floundering, out of commission for a couple of minutes at least.
The redhead lunged at Shane, who sidestepped her claws, grabbed her from behind, and used her momentum to slam her against the desk, pinning her to it. He got one arm in a half-nelson around her neck and pressed the barrel of the gun against the back of her head. He could feel her tight ass pushing back against his groin, and she began to grind as she struggled against him, putting her arms flat out on the desktop and looking over her shoulder angrily. He shoved her shoulders down on the desk and saw a small tattoo of a compass on the small of her back, just above her jeans. Like somebody needs directions there
, Shane thought.
She pressed back harder against him with her ass.
“Stop it,” he said.
“Oh come on,” she whispered. “You like it. Come on, we can work this out, you and me. I can--”
Shane pulled the gun back and tapped the barrel, lightly, against the back of her skull.
The girl cursed and rubbed her head. “What the fuck?”
“This is business and you are not part of it. Stay there.” Shane backed away, keeping the barrel aimed at her and when she didn’t move, he glanced at the man who was still gasping for air. Not a problem.
Then Shane reached inside his jacket and pulled out an airline ticket. He tossed the plane ticket on the desk in front of the woman. “You’ve got a problem, here’s the solution. A voucher you can use at the airport tonight. Enough for a one way ticket anywhere in the world.”
The redhead stared at him and then she began to fasten her halter top.
“You don’t ever want to come back to Savannah again,” he told her. “This man hangs with bad men, and they’re going to remember you were here and come looking for you.”
The girl was nodding, reaching for the ticket at the same time she tried to put her jacket on.
“You can go, but if you say anything to anyone on the way out, you will die.”
The girl was still nodding like a bimbo bobble-head doll, one arm in her jacket, the other with the ticket in hand. Shane kept one eye on her struggles as he focused his attention back on the man gasping on the couch. When she was ready and holding the ticket in one hand and her purse in the other, Shane pulled out his phone and hit the speed-dial for Carpenter. “You got one civilian coming out. Redhead. Let her go.”
There was a telling moment of silence. “A witness.”
“A civilian coming out,” Shane repeated.
“Roger,” Carpenter said.
Shane nodded to the redhead and she scuttled to the door and was gone.
Shane turned his attention back to the man. “Same deal for you, my friend.” He slapped another ticket voucher on the coffee table.
“Who—“ the man coughed and tried again as he managed to get to a sitting position. “Who—are--you?”
“Doesn’t matter who I am,” Shane said. “I’m gonna ask you some questions. Answer honestly, you take this ticket and go. Lie and die.”
The man’s face was shiny with pain and exertion, but he wasn’t giving up. “What—do—you—want?”
“You were hired to by the mob to kill someone the US Government would prefer stay alive.”
“Listen, we can make a deal—”
“I am making you a deal.” Christ, this was like talking to some jackass from Keyes.
“Well, I’d like to deal,” the man said. “But you got the wrong person here. I think you got me mixed up with somebody else--”
Shane hit him, an open-handed slap that was more insult than injury. “You’re wasting my time, Casey Dean,” he said, and the man flinched when he heard the name. “The people I work for do not make mistakes. Unlike you.”
“Really, I’m not—”
Shane reached out and jabbed his thumb into Dean’s shoulder, hitting a nerve junction, and the guy jumped as if struck by an electric shock. “Now here’s the deal. You tell me what I want to know and forget about the hit, fly away, and never come back, and it’s the same to me as if you were dead.”
Dean rubbed his shoulder, eyes darting about the room. “That’s it?”
“That’s it.” Shane slid the ticket voucher across the table.
Dean looked at Shane. “You’re really gonna let me go if I tell you what you want and forget about the contract?”
“No. I’m gonna let you go if you forget about the hit and give me the names and contact information of whoever hired you and the name of the target.”
Dean shook his head. “I can’t give the contractor up. He’ll kill me.”
Shane brought the gun level with the point right between the man’s eyes. “Which is worse? The possibility he might kill you in the future or the certainty I will kill you in the next ten seconds?”
“Shit.” Dean slumped, looking suddenly very old. “Listen, I’m just a business manager. A cut out. I’m not a—”
Shane pressed the muzzle of the gun hard against the man’s skin just above his nose.
Dean’s eyes turned inward, mesmerized by the barrel. “I’m telling you, I don’t know the contractor’s name. I just got a call that services were needed.”
“Who’s the target?”
“Didn’t get it yet. I swear.”
Great. Dean was an idiot, but there was a ring of truth in that.
“Listen, I’m cold. Can I get my jacket?”
Shane looked at him, almost pitying him in his stupidity. The dumb fuck has a plan
. He pulled the gun back. “Sure.” His assignment was to take out Casey Dean, world class hitman, but if this guy was a world class hitman, Shane was Princess’s date to prom. Some guys were all PR, no game, and Casey Dean was sure as hell turning out to be one of them. Must have been born in Keyes.
When Dean had put on his jacket, he looked downright confident, his eyes sly as they went to the desk. “So I really don’t know anything, but I’m definitely leaving town, just like you said. Okay, if I get my passport from my desk drawer?”
Shane nodded. You bet. Commit suicide with my gun. That’s what I’m here for, pal.
The man turned his back and opened a desk drawer, and Shane brought his gun up.
Dean swung around, a small gun in his hand, and Shane fired two quick shots, both hitting him in the chest. Dean fell back, disappearing behind the desk.
Below, the music pounded, drowning out everything. Shane walked forward, gun at the ready and rolled the man over, surprised to find there was still a spark of life in his eyes. Not surprised to see his two shots were so tightly grouped they appeared to be one hole, but not happy to see them an inch off target.
Fucking Joey, making him lose focus. Fucking Keyes. Fucking little Agnes, too, whoever she was.
A funny look came over the man’s face as Shane aimed the gun at his forehead. His eyes blinked rapidly. “You’re wrong,” he gasped, playing the odds to the end. “We can make a deal.”
“Oh, come on,” Shane said. “You know who and what you are, Casey Dean. You lied. You’d have completed the contract because otherwise you’d never get another job.”
“No, you’re wrong--” the man began, and Shane fired, the round making a perfect black hole in the center of his forehead.
Shane pulled out his cell phone and hit number 3 on the speed dial.
It was answered on the first ring: “Carpenter.”
“Painting’s done. You’ll have to help him on to the next world on your own, Reverend. I won’t be at debrief.”
There was a brief moment of silence. “Wilson won’t like that.”
“The target had no information on contractor or target.”
Shane put the phone away.
Then he strode across the room toward the window, reached under his shirt, retrieved the heavy duty Kevlar snap link attached to the rear of his body armor, clipped it to a bolt holding a drain pipe, turned outward and jumped, the carefully coiled bungee cord snapping out until it jerked him to a halt three feet from the street and bounced him back up half the distance. As he went down the second time, Shane pulled the quick release and landed on all fours. Right next to his Defender SUV.