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Through a small gap in the grimy motel curtains, Lucky watched Conrad Andersen pull a hooker over his lap and playfully spank her ass. The woman shook her bleached head and kicked her legs in false protest, shaking the entire bed. She slithered against his portly belly and gave him an exaggerated kiss before vanishing from the scope.
Andersen wiped his mouth, and traces of bright red lipstick smeared across his face. Frowning, he got up and moved out of view.
Two hundred yards away, Lucky shifted on the rooftop, using the free time to ease the tension built up after an hour-long stakeout. First, a stretch and twist sideways popped a few vertebrae. Flexing both hands and then rotating both ankles brought the circulation back.
Wonder if military snipers do this shit when stalking a target. Doubt any of them ever had to endure an Olympic, Viagra-induced sexcapade.
Lucky eased back into position just in time to see Andersen appear in the rifle’s scope again. Even with the obstructed view into the room, she saw him dressed in a blue pinstriped suit with a white shirt. A decent-looking older man but knowing everything he’d done made him vile enough to eliminate.
The woman reappeared and gathered her belongings off the ratty nightstand. The lights dimmed; Lucky took deep breaths to maintain a slow, steady heart rate.
Lucky directed the scope three feet to the right and targeted ten inches below the top of the motel room’s door frame: the perfect height to hit the man. Once she had a clear shot, the window of opportunity would last five seconds. She already calculated the wind factor, distance, and bullet drop. The door opened. Lucky let out one last breath and then counted in her head.
One. The hooker emerged laughing.
Andersen appeared and draped his arm around the woman’s shoulders. Two.
She glanced up at him. Three. Lucky eased theof the scope on his head.
Four. He leaned down and kissed his escort.
The mark lifted his head to search the parking lot.
In the fifth second, the bullet penetrated his skull. His eyes popped upon exit. Pink bits of his brain spattered on the door behind him. Andersen’s body slumped against the door frame.
The hooker’s scream filled the air. Other rooms instantly sprang to life with commotion. A dog even barked in the distance.
The remnants of his face stared back into the scope, confirming the kill.
Burn in hell, bastard.
The brass catcher on the rifle trapped the bullet casing. Lucky removed the silencer and popped off the shoulder stock. Then she packed the Heckler and Koch MSG90 in the trombone-shaped case in record time.
She rolled up the blanket and surveyed the roof for noticeable evidence before slipping down the side of the house. The quiet development she found behind the motel provided excellent cover. However, the occupants and their neighbors might be home any moment, and she had to move.
Lucky pulled the worn French beatnik beret down her forehead before weaving through the backyard. She hopped over the fence of the adjoining property, emerging on
Margo Drive. She walked the length of the street, listening for any sign of the police behind her.
Though her heart pumped as if she just rode a roller coaster, she felt completely at ease. Yet another sign she’d been doing this job too long. Less than a mile from the scene and she didn’t have a stitch of worry about the cops catching her.
She was getting that good at killing.
Rounding the corner, Lucky noticed a young girl crying in front of a makeshift lemonade stand that her father was tearing down. The dollar sign, forgotten on the parched grass, had drops of tears streaking through the lettering. She slowed, feeling her stomach tighten as the sobs grew louder.
“We’ll try again tomorrow, honey,” the father said, ruffling the girl’s blonde head.
“But I dinnit sell anything, Daddy,” she squeaked.
Lucky had thirty seconds, maybe less, before someone called about Andersen. Response time in Vegas, at dusk, was never routine. Even if LVPD arrived within the next two minutes, she’d be long gone. She had to walk past them. Can’t let the poor girl go to bed sad and disappointed. Lucky knew how that felt. Fishing out two dollars from her jeans, she approached the stand.
“I need something to drink,” she said, clutching the trombone case tightly, her attention on the child “Think I can have one before you close?”
“Really?” The girl’s eyes bugged wide like little swimming pools.
“Get a cup, Daisy,” the father suggested and glanced up from his work on the wooden stand. The kid filled the cup all the way to the rim and decorated the lip with two cut lemons.
“I made it myself,” she announced proudly.
Lucky took the cup, guzzled half, and smiled. “Ahh, that’s very good lemonade.” She placed the two dollars in the girl’s hand. “Keep the change.”
“Thank you,” the father and daughter said simultaneously. That fatherly tone warmed her for a moment, but she didn’t make eye contact.
“Welcome. Gotta go,” she said, swinging the trombone case. “Gonna be late. Bye.”
“Bye! Come back tomorrow.” Daisy waved.
A minute after finishing her lemonade, Lucky found her rental car on
Pacyna Street. The smell of Vegas, sex, booze, and money lingered in the air. Streetlights sparkled, waiting for the last of the sunlight to vanish from the horizon.
Lucky opened the trunk, secured the case, and slipped into the car. She sighed. Her boss wanted her to get rid of the sniper rifle despite pleas to keep the weapon for sentimental value. She knew he was right; she used the execution method several times. Still, it was a great gun—one she had for years—and she hated to melt it down.
Sirens screamed in the distance, breaking into her head. Not wanting to push her luck any further by sticking around, she took off, traveled south to
E. Tropicana Avenue, and picked up her cell phone when she turned onto the main drag.
“It’s done,” she said while checking the rearview mirror. “Our boy had a thing for working girls, apparently.”
“Leave the package where I told you, he’ll take care of it for us. I’ll see you when you land, okay?” the man on the other end replied.
“Sure, Phen. Tell Bet she owes me dinner.”
“She does? Why?” He huffed. “Don’t tell me you two are wagering over your jobs.”
“No, she owes me because I told her you’d make me get rid of Heckle today.”
“Don’t be sore, you still have the other rifle.”
“Yeah, yeah. Talk to ya.” Lucky clicked off the phone. Annoyed and physically high from the adrenaline rush, she went to drop off her weapon at the butcher’s lock box, hoping to find a way to work through the pending madness that followed her jobs.
* * * *
Two days later, Lucky Fascino sat at the back of the plane, flipping through the complimentary magazine. She smiled up at the male flight attendant when he stopped the beverage cart.
“Drinks?” he asked.
“Gin and tonic, thanks,” she said.
“Make it two,” her neighbor added.
Her row mate, a pink-skinned, gray-haired man, had curiosity etched on his face. Next to Lucky, any Caucasian looked pale so she understood their interest. Being naturally bronzed, due in part to an unknown, mixed heredity, gave her an all-year color most women would kill to have. As part of her normally disguised travels, she hid her curly, honey-brown hair and slight almond-shaped, amber eyes—now considered exotic instead of strange—behind a jet-black wig and brown contacts.
Talking to a stranger was the last thing she wanted to do. Getting far away from the job was the only thing on her mind. She’d been in Vegas for nine days, watching the target, learning his habits, hangouts, and daily rituals. During the last five, she’d seen him with three women in two different motels.
Gotta love Vegas.
Afterward, she had worked off the adrenaline high from the job in the hotel gym, while waiting for news of the target’s death. It came in the form of a small article in the local newspaper. The city had well over a hundred murders so far this year. One more, under seedy circumstances, didn’t get much attention.
The man beside her tried to make conversation while she nursed her drink. Mundane chitchat mostly. I really don’t care where you live. It was natural for normal people to want some type of contact to ease the boring flight. Thanks to her second cocktail, she felt more social. Besides, she didn’t have a choice. He wouldn’t shut up.
“So, what do you do for a living?” Frank asked after the exchange of names and destinations.
Kill people like you. Well, she didn’t really kill people like him, unless he had some sordid history of crime. Unlike Andersen, who used his corporate success to embezzle, commit fraud, and murder, Frank seemed like just another guy.
“I’m the Comptroller for an international furniture company.” Lucky watched the man’s eyes glaze over when she described what she did for “work.” Accountant types never impressed anyone. During long jobs, she made up a personal history and itinerary to go along with whichever fake ID she used for cases like this. Today she played Lucille Summers from
. It was one part of the job she still enjoyed. Baltimore, Maryland
“Sounds lucrative.” He rubbed the side of his gin-reddened face and covertly tried to ogle her legs. “In Vegas for business or pleasure?” The way he enunciated the latter made her skin crawl. She wouldn’t give him the time of day if he were the last man on the planet able to donate sperm to keep the species alive.
“Business meetings, you know how it goes, have to get those fiscal reports in order for the CFO,” she said, smiling, mostly to suppress the gag reflex.
He laughed, continually eyeballing her and gabbing about his trip. The trite, one-sided conversation continued until the plane began its descent.
* * * *
The plane taxied off the runway toward the terminal as Lucky leisurely collected her things. Frank, already out of his seat, searched for his carry-on.
“Take care, Lucille.” After finding his luggage, he offered her a card. “If you ever need a contractor, give me a call.”
She put the card in her jacket pocket, cleaned the area with a Handi Wipe until it smelled like lemon, and waited until the crowd thinned out before deplaning. Having no checked luggage, Lucky walked right by and smirked. She spotted
Elizabeth standing with the chauffeurs near the exit.
“What the hell are you doing here, you nut?” Lucky handed over the garment bag. “Here, make yourself useful.”
“How was the trip?” Bet took the bag and grinned.
“Ya know, same shit, different method, location, and target.” Bet never heard the details of her hits so she dodged the question.
Her sparkling green eyes rolled in response, short, bleached hair tossing backward. Lucky towered over her by half a foot, but no one commanded attention like Bet. The product of a white father and black mother, Bet was a kindred spirit who didn’t fit the norm. Lucky always considered her a curvy, punk-rock version of
right down to the soft brown complexion. Shrugging off the eye-roll, Lucky secured the canvas bag against her hip. “Did your dad send you as a way of apologizing?” Halle Berry
“Well, he told me I owed you dinner so I figured we can grab something in town before we go home.” Bet shrugged.
“I should eat. Want to go to
“If you get rid of that stupid wig.”
* * * *
Lucky and Bet strolled through the former garment district of the
Center City section of Philadelphia. The bohemian atmosphere had slowly vanished since the looting in 2001. Now it was an overly crowded, tourist-shopping trap. Dining on fish and chips at the Blarney South thankfully staved off Bet’s need to buy a new outfit or shoes or some other girly knick-knack.
By the time they got back to
West Chester, the jet lag had set in. Lucky needed to meet with Phen before she called it a night.
Bet unlocked the ominous cast iron gate guarding the house—they still called it the compound—and pulled up the drive. Lucky gathered her belongings and went to the den. The smell of burning wood and cinnamon tickled the air in the foyer. She peeked in; Phen put his paper down.
“Welcome home, Felicia.” He peered over his thick-rimmed glasses and smiled at her.
Lucky smirked. “Thanks, Uncle Phen.”
He crossed the room and pulled her into a quick hug. She’d known Stephen Chambers, her adoptive father’s childhood friend, most of her life. He was the reason she and Bet were best friends and “cousins.” The reason she had the career she did, more or less.
Phen motioned to the couch near the fireplace, which roared with warmth she desperately needed. She hated the change in temperature while traveling, and coming home when
Pennsylvania was unseasonably cold sucked. Lucky tossed Frank’s card into the fire and then sat nearby, letting her body absorb the heat.
Phen poured two drinks and carried them to the sitting area. She arched a brow, studying him. Something’s up. He never gave her a drink after a job.
He sat down, took a sip, and placed his glasses on the coffee table. Her uncle scrubbed his sharp, pale face with both hands. He sighed. At fifty-eight, he still looked like a man in his forties despite his thinning, white hair. His weary hazel eyes opened, and the lines on his face crinkled as he faked a smile in her direction.
“Aren’t you ever going to call me Lucky? It was my nickname first, and it’s been five years since Luciano used it,” she said, trying to break the silent tension in the room.
“You’ll always be Felicia to me, sweetie,” he said and then downed the contents of his glass in one gulp.
“Phen, what’s wrong?” Lucky put her drink down.
“It’s time for me to retire.” He held up a hand, stopping her attempt to interrupt. “You know I’ve been doing this a long time, but what you don’t know is that I’ve been training my replacement this past year.”
“You have? But what about—”
“Felicia, let me finish,” he interjected, rising to pour another drink.
Lucky watched him, spotting a few new bottles on his antique liquor cabinet. The colonial décor of the den normally soothed her. Now it agitated her with memories of the past hanging all over the room. Reminders of why she killed for a living.
In the portrait above the fireplace, Lucky was eight, Bet nine, and both of their parents were alive and well. Luciano and Molly Fascino stood beside Stephen and Kiya Chambers, smiling proudly into the room. All of them were a mixed group of misfits. Bet had a tooth missing, and Lucky’s smile was anything but genuine. She remembered posing for the picture. For some reason, it had been a bad day.
This was turning into one now. Without Phen helping her track down leads, she had no way of fulfilling her promise. All those years killing and living in her father’s shadow would mean nothing if she didn’t finish what he started.
“I’m not about to abandon you or the search. I’ll always be here for support and back up. It’s time to focus on finding leads; we’ve had nothing for three years. If we want to get anywhere, I need to devote more of my attention to it.”
Lucky frowned and finished her drink. He was still on board, but she had a bad feeling about what came next. Phen approached; she lifted the glass for more cognac.
“Don’t be sore, sweetie. I’m doing this for the both of us. It’s just as important to me as it is to you.” Phen put the bottle back and then took his seat across from her. “I’ll keep tabs on your jobs for a few more months while I help
Elizabeth acclimate to the network. After she’s comfortable with Ruddy, I’ll step into the background.”
“She’s taking over for me,” he said, picked up his glasses, and put them back on. “You didn’t think I’d leave you with a complete stranger, did you?”
“Well, uh, no, I guess. But…Bet? Phen, do you really want to expose her to this? I mean, I know she knows what we do for the network, but I’ve never told her the details of my jobs.”
“You’ll never have to, unless that’s what you want.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. The harsh details of her jobs or what she went through out in the field stayed locked inside her head. Phen didn’t know her struggles. She deliberately kept him in the dark, knowing it was unfair to put more stress on the man. She chose to live this way. Although Phen understood, to an extent, explaining those reasons to Bet wouldn’t go over well. She didn’t know the person Lucky became like Phen did. “Believe me, I’ve thought about this for a while. I wouldn’t expose
Elizabeth to this unless I knew she could handle it. In this business, everyone needs to be on top of his game. My head’s not in it like it used to be. The last thing I want is to put you in danger.”
“Are you sick?” She rose from the chair. He shook his head, and Lucky moved to the front window to hide her concern. “Then what is it?”
“I’m just getting older, Felicia. I’m almost sixty. I’m tired. I don’t have the energy to keep up with everything regarding the network and SEC anymore.”
Lucky nodded and walked the length of the Oriental rug. Taking care of SEC Inc., the business front for her contract hits, wasn’t an easy endeavor. Phen had to keep the company legit on the books. She and a few of her aliases were on the payroll as consultants. The real work Phen subcontracted out for security installation, training, and Bet’s salary completed the company’s purpose. They had no products or overhead, but like any business, they had bills and taxes to pay. It took a lot of work to keep everything running.
She paced in front of the bookshelves lining the length of the room. Phen and Luciano’s collection held everything from Chaucer to the US Army’s Survival Guide. Each one read by both her and Bet practically by force. Lucky should have seen it coming. Recent changes were starting to make sense. Bet had picked her up after jobs, made flight arrangements, and did other tasks for Phen regarding her network hits. Bet wasn’t just dealing with the legitimate side of SEC Inc. anymore; she’d been making her move into the network life.
When Lucky decided to step into her father’s network shoes, one stipulation had been telling Bet. Although she wasn’t pleased to learn Lucky killed people for a living, Bet eventually accepted the truth.
During the last year, Bet integrated herself into network conversations and privately mentioned suspecting her father had been into something shady for a while. She’d been right. However, the more she learned about what Lucky did, the more she’d want to know. Always a cousin first, Bet was big on family and didn’t mind shoving her nose in everyone’s business. The reasons were simple: a family had to stick together. Most families handed down a farm or at least a tax preparation business, but contract killing was way out in left field.
Family first. That was their expression, had been for years. Bet said it more than once: family doesn’t turn their backs on each other. Even though Lucky never told her the real reasons that she did what she did, Bet had always been there to help.
“There’s not going to be any trouble is there? I mean, do people quit from this business and live to talk about it?” Lucky glanced over at him. It was rare a contract killer made it to “retirement.” The cops found you because you got sloppy, someone else killed you, or like her father, it wore you down and diseased your body. Handlers had a certain amount of anonymity and better survival rates, but they were still at risk.
“The network likes to keep tabs on those who opt out, just for safety reasons, but there’s no reason to fear retribution from Ruddy and his partners or other contractors. He knows I’ve been thinking about it; the few I know won’t be surprised either. Some think we’ve gone soft because of the earlier jobs I’ve turned down for you.” He pressed his lips together in a tight smile.
“Hey, don’t give me shit; you know how I feel about those scrap board jobs.” She ran her finger along the edge of the shelf and turned back to the fire. “I’ve kept us in the network so we can keep digging for leads, and I’ve made us a lot of money.”
“Luke was the same way. He wouldn’t take a job unless he felt justified.” He patted the spot beside him, and when she sat down, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “You have enough money saved to call it quits too.”
The thought had crossed her mind many times over the last five years. What would it be like to feel normal again? Stop killing and start living. Lucky had no idea. She was in so far, so deep, she didn’t know if there was a way out for her. Even if she did get “out,” what would she do? Contract killing didn’t exactly give you real-world skills to work in an office building or retail store.
It didn’t matter; getting out was a long way down the road. She still had an obligation to fulfill to the people who adopted, raised, and loved her. Questions needed answers. She and Phen hadn’t come close to those answers in all the years they’d been searching, but maybe his renewed focus would change things. Her life would stay on hold until she fulfilled her promise and gave her parents a bit of peace.
“You know I can’t quit,” Lucky said, resting her head on his shoulder. She allowed herself a moment of comfort from Phen; he was still her uncle, despite knowing what she had to do to keep that promise. “When you get me some solid leads and I find out who killed her, I’ll stop. Until then, Lucky lives.”