THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S DEADLY DOSSIER
(Book 15: Series Prequel) Signal Press
eBook: 9780989558860 ($4.99 US) / Trade Paperback: 9781942052173
In this full-length prequel to the series, Acme Industries' black-ops agent, Jack Craig, is tasked with investigating the mysterious death of his organization's most prolific hit man, Carl Stone–only to fall in love the the dead man's wife, Donna: a woman he must never contact, but who may hold the key to her husband's disappearance. When Acme approaches Donna to join the organization as an assassin, Jack takes on an undercover mission that will change both their lives forever.
Chapter 1: A Hard Man is Good to Find
In espionage parlance, a “hard man” is an assassin: someone whose profession is to kill those stealing others’ secrets or spouting inconvenient truths.
Should one appear on your doorstep with a mission to exterminate, any attempt to outrun your caller will earn you a bullet in the back.
Think you’ll stave off the inevitable with an offer of “Coffee, tea, or me?” He may take you up on all three, but the bottom line is that his mission comes first.
Then again, so does your lust—for life.
Instead, invite him in and offer him a cuppa joe, along with something that will even the playing field:
A sprinkle of lye, as opposed to creamer, followed by going off the grid for good.
* * *
Carl Stone almost missed his flight out of Vancouver because his target refused to die.
It should have been an easy hit. The target, a portly Canadian defense contractor with a heart condition, was selling his country’s missile launch codes—not only to an international terrorist group, but to the Chinese as well.
A traitor was one thing. A traitor who double-dipped on what was supposed to be exclusive intel was an accident waiting to happen.
Fat Ass’s life insurance policy was about to be cancelled.
The man’s medical charts showed that his enlarged prostate sent him to the john at least twice an hour. And since he was a stickler for getting to his departure gate at least an hour before wheels-up, all Carl had to do was wait until Fat Ass was hit with the urge to take one more bathroom break. After the extermination, Carl would hop his own flight home to Los Angeles, which was scheduled out of YVR around the same time as Fat Ass’s flight.
He didn’t have to wait long. Five minutes after Fat Ass checked in with the gate attendant, he went in search of the nearest men’s room.
Carl was a step ahead of him. He was dressed in a janitor’s uniform, so no one questioned him as he rolled a mop and bucket in front of the door and placed an OUT OF ORDER sign on the handle. After he rousted the two guys zipping up in front of the urinal, he went back outside so that he could greet Fat Ass with the assurance that “the floor should be dry by now, so go on in.”
Fat Ass barely acknowledged him with a nod, let alone a thank you.
Carl left the sign on the doorknob and followed Fat Ass into the restroom with the mop and rolling bucket, locking the door behind them.
Fat Ass was mid-whiz when Carl pricked him in the back of his thigh with the needle filled with succinylcholine—probably not the best time to do so, because Fat Ass’s response was to turn around, dick in hand.
“What the hell!” they shouted in unison—Carl because Fat Ass sprayed his very expensive John Lobb brogues with urine, and Fat Ass because, let's face it, that needle hurt like hell.
Fat Ass was shocked, but Carl was angry. The shoes were a thou a pair! Still, he resisted the urge to punch the guy in the throat, which would cause him to double over, at which point Carl would bash his head against the wall and toss him onto the tile floor to stomp to a bloody pulp—
But only because that would defeat the purpose of making the hit look like an accidental death, as per his client’s instructions.
By now, Fat Ass was onto the fact that Carl was there to kill him. Having no lethal weapon, but fully aware that Carl was concerned about the condition of his shoes, he brandished his spraying organ in his assailant's direction.
In the best of all possible worlds, by now the guy would have fallen backward into Carl's arms so that he could drag him into one of the stalls and heave him up on a toilet for some harried traveler to find. An autopsy would reveal he'd had a heart attack when he sat down for a grunt.
“Die already, you son of a bitch,” Carl hissed at the man as he dodged the spray as best as he could. If his fancy footwork couldn't save his shoes, maybe it would wear out Fat Ass, who seemed to have the constitution—not to mention the pissing power—of a rhino.
Carl’s light-footedness seemed to do the trick. Fat Ass's chest must have started tightening up on him because one hand dropped limply to his side.
Finally, thought Carl.
Noting that the Canadian was leaning back, he positioned himself to catch the slumping hulk—
Only to have to leap in front of the man in time to cradle him before he fell to his knees or cracked his head on the tile.
Metaphorically speaking, with death comes relief. But in this case, Fat Ass also relieved what was left in his bladder all over Carl's shoes.
“Damn it,” Carl swore again.
His damp shoes squeaked as he hauled the body into the nearest stall and shoved it up onto the john. By bending Fat Ass's knees and positioning them far enough apart, the body might just resist the gravitational pull to fall to the floor long enough for Carl's plane to be wheels up.
He had just mopped up the puddles of piss when he heard the sob. He froze. Was it coming from Fat Ass's stall? How the hell could that be?
He stayed perfectly still. Minutes went by that seemed like hours.
A flushing sound came from one of the next stalls.
Shit, Carl thought. He slowly removed the knife concealed in his trouser leg and flicked it open. His steps toward the stall were slow and silent.
The door creaked open.
Out popped a head.
It belonged to a boy. He couldn’t be any more than nine years old.
Still, the boy had heard everything. Maybe he'd even seen what happened through the crack between the door and the stall.
Having a witness to one of his hits was a first for Carl.
The boy shook while Carl thought through his options. In this case, a knife wasn’t necessary. He could pinch the boy’s nostrils and suffocate him in less than two minutes. But if he killed the kid, it would be too much of a coincidence that two people had died in the same restroom on the same day.
I’m no monster, Carl told himself.
For the first time since he’d become a hard man, he had a chance to prove it.
No one had jiggled the restroom door’s lock, so the sign was certainly keeping everyone away. But surely the kid’s parents were looking for him by now and beginning to panic as well. Carl knew he’d be freaking out if it were one of his children. He had two kids of his own: his daughter, Mary, was seven. His son, Jeff, would be five tomorrow. This was one of the reasons he had to make it home tonight.
He wondered what Jeff would do in the same situation.
Just at that moment, the boy raised his head. His eyes sought out Carl’s. Then the boy reached out to him. He held something in his hand—a Wolverine action figure. “You…can have it, if you want.”
Carl stared down at it. Finally he muttered, “Thanks.” He kneeled down so that he was eye level with the boy. “What did you see?”
The boy blinked once and pursed his lips. “Not…nothing,” he whispered.
“It’s time to go.”
The boy nodded. Carl guided him to the door, opened it and followed him out.
The boy ran off to the left. Carl bent down and pretended to tie his shoe, but he watched as a woman, perhaps three gates down, shouted at the boy. He turned. Finding her, he ran into her arms. The look in her eyes went from frenzy to relief. Whatever he said to her had her looking back toward the restroom.
By then, Carl was buried deep in the throng of travelers crisscrossing the terminal.
A moment later, he was in the janitor’s closet, where he changed back into his business suit.
Carl’s Air Canada flight to LA was out of YVR’s international terminal. On the way, he passed several Canadian Air Transportation Security guards. To make his flight, he knew he’d have to make a run for it. Instead, he forced himself to walk as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
When he got to his departure gate, an Air Canada agent was already in the process of locking the door to the jetway. Carl practically threw his boarding pass at the woman as he ran past her.
Once in his seat, he pulled out a cell phone and texted his client contact, EW, the signal that the extermination went off without a hitch:
Have a nice day!
But because this wasn’t exactly true, Carl sent a second text, this one to his employer, the black-ops organization known as Acme Industries. It read:
Clean-up on Aisle Five
No doubt the airport’s security cameras would validate the young boy’s tall tale of a janitor assassin. Carl’s boss, Ryan Clancy, would have to alert the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service about the hiccup in the mission.
The last thing either Carl or Ryan would want is for the client—an organization known as the Quorum—to know something had gone wrong. Otherwise, the Quorum would never trust Carl again. After all, he had been hired as a freelancer.
He’d done so in order to infiltrate the organization, at the behest of Acme’s first and foremost client, the Central Intelligence Agency.
Noting the evil eye from the flight attendant who had already given him a hard time for holding up the plane, he snapped off his phone.
He slept on the three-hour flight home. Those he exterminated never haunted his dreams.
But this time, he dreamt of the little boy.
* * *
As always, Carl’s wife, Donna, was waiting curbside at LAX’s passenger arrival door. His children, Mary and Jeff, ran up to their father. As they smothered him with kisses, he lifted one child in each arm and hugged them to his chest.
When they finally let him go, he reached down into his valise and pulled out the Wolverine doll. “A birthday present,” he said, as he handed it to Jeff.
The little boy held it up, then ran with it back to the car, where his mother was waiting.
“What did you get me?” Mary asked her father as she curled her hand in his.
He held up her hand and kissed it. “I came home, safe and sound.”
“But you always do that, Daddy,” she said with a pout.
“And I always will,” he promised.
* * *
It never once bothered Carl Stone that he led a double life. In fact, he took pride in the ease in which he brushed off the cold emotionless demeanor that came with his job as a paid killer.
The same meticulous planning that went into his kills had been used in wooing his wife, Donna, whom he loved unconditionally. She was the rock on which his ideals were based. She was the beacon of light that guided him through the dark and treacherous undercurrents of his chosen profession, where money talked and power ruled supreme. Despite having neither, Carl vowed to, one day, reign supreme. His plotting and scheming skills would assure this, too.
The warm, welcoming smile that had Mary and Jeff leaping into his arms also lured his targets closer to him without ever realizing their lives were in danger.
And the index finger that slowly but firmly pulled the trigger on his M40 was the same one he used to bring his wife to ecstatic climax during foreplay—although arguably at a more frenetic and sustained pace all the way through the lovemaking that followed.
The kids had fallen asleep on the trip back from the airport. He’d picked up Mary, who was the heavier of the two, while Donna hugged Jeff to her chest and followed him into the house.
It took Donna and Carl just a few minutes to tuck the children into their tiny bunk beds.
It took a few seconds for them to strip out of their clothes and fall into the king-sized bed they shared.
He took her in his arms as if he’d never let her go. Eventually, his hands would roam over her body, his fingertips lightly skimming every curve—her plump breasts, her rounded hips, then onto the soft valley of her belly—before gently probing the sweet spot between her thighs.
In turn, her kisses revived him.
He never failed to feel a charge of anticipation when her lips roamed down onto his chest, or when her tongue circled his nipples, before moving down the taut ribbed plane of his abdomen.
Her touch never failed to harden him.
When finally he was inside of her—when he could feel her heart pounding practically in his chest, when he felt her hot breath rise in his nostrils—he felt they were one body.
As was always the case, it was after making love to Donna that he felt closest to her. During this precious moment between them, he wondered if she could read his thoughts, too. Why else would she give that deep, shy laugh that always made his heart skip a beat, and whisper into his hear in a singsong sort of way, “I know what you’re thinking…”
No, you don’t, he was tempted to say. But boy, wouldn’t it be interesting if you did?
He wondered how she’d react to the news that he’d murdered Fat Ass just a few hours ago. Or that just last week, when he was supposed to be in Chicago, he stalked a woman through the Bolivian jungle, taking her down with an eight-hundred-foot shot to the back of her head.
Would Donna be shocked or repulsed—or worse yet, scared of him?
Would she see him as a monster?
Maybe it would turn her on.
Just the thought made him hard again.
As if reading his mind, Donna whispered, “I have a confession to make.”
Maybe the timing was right after all.
To face her, he raised up on an elbow. “So do I.”
“Trust me on this, I should go first.” She lifted her eyes to meet his. “Carl, I’m…we’re pregnant. The doctor confirmed it yesterday, but I wanted to wait until you got home, so that I could tell you in person. I’m seven weeks along—”
He couldn’t remember what she said after that. Her words were drowned out by the wave of joy washing over him. When it subsided, he realized he was stranded on the barren reality of his dual existence.
“Honey, are you alright?” She took his hand in hers. “I know this pregnancy wasn’t planned, but we’d always talked of having three children—”
He silenced her with a kiss.
Then with another.
Soon she was crying and laughing at the same time.
She led him back inside her. This time, there was an urgency–no, more like a savagery to their lovemaking.
As they climaxed in each other’s arms, it dawned on him that she could never know the truth. Even if he tried to level with her, she wouldn’t believe him.
And deep down in his heart, he knew if she did believe him, she could never love him. How could she love a killer?
She couldn’t. Case closed.
Maybe it was for the best. If being in his line of work had taught him anything, it was that life was fleeting, so live it well, and hold onto what you have with both fists.
A hard man, in particular, always had a target on his back. During a hit, anything could go wrong, and usually something did. This last trip was a perfect example.
Granted, when it came to covering his tracks, Carl was second to none. He had to be. Otherwise, he’d have to kiss the best part of his two worlds goodbye—the universe filled with the love of Donna, Mary, and Jeff.
But now Donna had given him yet one more reason to stay alive at all costs.
The thought of losing the world they’d built together was all the incentive he needed to keep his mouth shut, and to busy himself with the next best thing: enjoying the precious time they shared.
Donna was surprised when his trigger finger found her, once again.
When she came, she gave that gasp that reminded him of the sound his targets made as they died.
Not that he could ever tell her that.
There are just some things you have to keep to yourself.
* * *
Carl’s phone was buzzing.
It was a stupid move on his part—leaving it on his bureau, and still turned on, no less. Until now, he’d never forgotten to turn it off the minute he came home.
At first, he didn’t hear it. He’d just gotten out of a hot steamy shower and was scrutinizing the bruises he’d earned while raising Fat Ass onto the toilet. By the time he opened the bathroom door, it was too late. Donna, who had been brushing her hair in front of the bedroom mirror, instinctively reached over and picked up his cell.
A second later, Carl was at her side—close enough to hear the man on the other end of the line chattering away in German.
Donna was so amazed that she was at a loss for words. The man at the other end of the line must have realized this because he paused, then uttered in perfect English, “Simon? Are you there, Simon?”
“No, there is no Simon here,” Donna said firmly. “You have the wrong number.”
The deathly silence between them was finally broken when, in perfect English, the man asked ever so politely, “Tell me, who owns this phone?”
Before Donna could answer him, Carl plucked the cell out of her hand and disconnected the call.
She teared up, but didn’t say anything.
He felt her eyes follow him back to the bathroom, where he closed the door behind him. He knew his actions seemed cruel to her. He knew he should put on his game face and say something, but he was too shocked to think through a plausible lie as to why some German person was calling his cell and asking for him as “Simon,” let alone why it should have rattled him in the first place.
Simon was the alias he’d used in his dealings with the Quorum.
He had recognized the voice on the other end of the phone as that of his Quorum handler, Eric Weber.
He’d never given Eric his cell number.
Something was terribly wrong.
He had every right to be scared.
At that moment, he knew exactly what he had to do: play for time.
He waited a half hour. When he opened the door, the lights were off.
Donna was sound asleep.
He took the cell phone with him. After slipping downstairs and out the front door, he jogged down the block to an overlook perched above the traffic flowing up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. When he was sure he was alone, he dialed his client’s number.
Eric must have recognized his cell because he didn’t bother with the formalities in greeting the man he knew as Simon by name. “I’m surprised you called back,” he said in English.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Carl replied in perfect German. “I took care of the Canadian problem.”
“You were sloppy.” Eric’s tone sent a chill down Carl’s spine. “You can imagine our surprise when our contact in the Canadian Security Intelligence Service informed us of your affiliation with Acme Industries.”
With that statement, there went the hope Carl may have had that he hadn’t blown his cover.
“We presumed you were following our orders. But I see now how it might work in Acme’s favor as well. One of their clients is your neighbor to the north, ja? You’ve now rid it of a traitor. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.” Eric chuckled. “For a family man to take on such an assignment—to go under deep cover with a group such as the Quorum—you’re either very brave, or very stupid. Which is it, Mr. Stone? No need to answer. We both know the question has no merit to your future—or that of your family’s.”
“You’re writing me off too soon, Eric,” Carl muttered.
“You’ll have to convince me otherwise.” The response was glib, yet Carl knew Eric too well. He was dead serious. “And at this stage, Mr. Stone, our trust comes at a very steep price. You’ve got less than twenty-four hours to make us an offer that proves your loyalty, once and for all.”
The line went dead.
Carl walked back into the house, but he couldn’t go to bed.
He stayed up all night, until the plan came to him—how he would buy himself time with the Quorum.
How he could escape, when the time came.
What he would give up, so that he could protect his family.
When Donna rose at sunrise, she found him staring out the window.
He walked over to her. His kiss said it all: Forgive me, please.
He knew she had when she brought his palm to her cheek. “Always and forever,” she whispered.
Always and forever, he vowed.
* * *
What Carl dangled in front of the Quorum was indeed something they couldn’t refuse.
However, it would come at a very high price for Carl.
But should he deliver, the Quorum would need him more than ever.
Carl knew this was obvious to Eric, too, because of the way the German laughed raucously, even as he tapped Carl’s mug of glühwein with his own.
It was early evening. They were standing dead center in one of Cologne, Germany’s renowned kriskindlemarts. This particular open air Christmas market was the busiest in the city because it took place in a plaza that flanked the Dom, the city’s grandest cathedral and one of its most notable attractions.
The time and place of their rendezvous was both a curse and a blessing. Carl had no illusions that Eric had come alone. If he hadn’t liked what Carl had to offer, Carl would not make it out of the plaza alive. No doubt there was a sharpshooter or two scoping him from a window high in one of the buildings circling the market, if not from one of the shadowy corners in the cathedral’s steeply pitched roof. Even if a bullet missed him, he could easily be knifed while maneuvering through the thick crowd.
Eric didn’t ask how Carl would get his hands on the item in question. A bigger issue was when—and the sooner, the better.
“It will take some time,” Carl conceded. Not that he wanted Eric to know it, but if he were to cover his tracks, he’d have to move slowly.
“You have six months,” Eric warned Carl. He sipped the last of his hot mulled wine, left his mug on the slim waist-high counter between them, and slipped away into the throng of holiday revelers.
Carl was relieved, but he knew he hadn’t bought himself much time. More to the point, he hated the fact that by then, Donna would be near her due date. Still, if everything worked out as he planned, by then what the Quorum wanted wouldn’t matter.
And what he wanted in return would certainly be within reach.
Until then, the success of every mission assigned to him—by both Acme and the Quorum—was crucial.
In the meantime, he had to secure the safety of his family.
Which meant keeping his situation to himself, at all costs.
* * *
Ryan Clancy presumed that Carl’s tenacity was compensation for the Canadian mission’s hiccup. Since then, the intel he provided Acme about the Quorum was solid gold.
Ryan didn’t know it, but this was only because Carl had to keep playing both ends against the middle until his plan was in place. The stuff being fed was actually chicken feed—genuine enough, but nothing of earthshaking importance, mostly disinformation and intel on the organization’s discarded assets. Typical of most terrorist organizations, the Quorum had a high burn rate anyway.
Still, Acme showed Carl its appreciation with a much-deserved raise. It provided a down payment for a spacious mock-Tudor in Hilldale, an exclusive planned community in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles.
When Donna saw all that Hilldale had to offer—the spacious lots, a country club, its very own “village square” with a gourmet grocery and upscale retail shops—she couldn’t believe he was serious. “It’s a big financial leap for us, what with the baby on the way, and all,” she said doubtfully as she patted her belly. “I mean, it certainly is beautiful. And the schools here are incredible! Still…well, I’d feel guilty about the commute you’d have to make every day–”
But Carl had already made up his mind: the house was going to be theirs. The telltale sign of this was the cocky tilt of his head. “Don’t feel guilty, ever, because I’ve earned it—the hard way. Believe me.”
For just a second, Carl’s satisfied grin was replaced by a hard grimace. “This promotion means more extended business trips. That’s part of my new deal. Don’t I deserve a palace to come home to?”
My new deal.
She’d never really know the terms of that deal—or with whom it was made.
From the wary look on Donna’s face, he could tell she was still uncomfortable with the idea of this new house. So to keep from arguing about it in front of the children, Carl scooped up Jeff and tossed him over his shoulder.
Their son squealed with delight.
“My turn, Daddy! My turn!” Mary jumped down out of the tree house in the broad heritage oak, which she had already claimed as her own. Wrapping her arms around Carl’s knees, all three tumbled to the ground, laughing.
“See, babe? This is the American dream, right? This is what it’s all about.”
(c) 2014 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. Distributed by Signal Press. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the publisher, Signal Press (firstname.lastname@example.org).