Blurbs & Excerpts!
She had been a thief most of her life, tonight she would become a killer.
The night was still and peaceful.
Surveying the quiet city street, she was careful to stay within the shadows.
He had chosen his safe house well. They were just on the edge of Potomac Park in D.C. The small, unassuming brick house was moments away from Independence Avenue which would allow a quick getaway to the highways. Plus it skirted the edge of the Yards, a low-rent, high crime area. The perfect place to score equipment, a quick smash and grab crew or fake I.D.s from people who didn’t ask allot of bothersome questions. Of course that was why he was considered the best.
They called him Paine. Doubtful it was his real name. None of them used their real names. Reals names were for people with families, memories, normals jobs…a real life. In her world, there was only the moment. The adrenaline rush of a heist. The pride in a good score. Living for the day because tomorrows are not a promise. In her world, trust was a fantasy of the foolish and love was a weakness. Too bad she had forgotten all that, allowed herself to trust and fall in love, to actually believe she could have a chance at a normal life.
Then Paine took it all away from her. Killed the man she loved.
And now he would pay.
First, she took away the only thing of real value any criminal had…their reputation…but it was not enough. It should have been. Watching him get burned, not knowing who had set him up. Watching him twist and spin as her web closed tighter and tighter around him.
It had all been perfect. The perfect setup. The perfect deception. The perfect revenge.
She could feel the warm stone between her breasts. The Raj Pink Diamond. The thirty-seven carat diamond he was hired to steal.
She got there first.
Stealing the diamond and letting The Syndicate, the crime outfit they both worked for, believe Paine had double-crossed them. She had been thorough, posting on the dark web to make it look like Paine was searching for a buyer, or worse, to cut the diamond down for a quick sale. Then she started dropping hints among the dirty dealers that he had sold them fake jewels and artwork over the years, that Paine’s reputation as a master thief was a sham. The final piece was retuning a Vermeer he had stolen and sold two years ago back to the museum in Brussels. The Vermeer was an exceptionally well done fraud, not that the museum cared. They primly ignored the signs and announced the triumphant return of their masterpiece. While Paine’s underworld and very influential buyer seethed. Assuming he had been deceived by Paine, he was demanding his fifteen million back. The best part was, assuming it was of no value, the underworld buyer had practically tossed the original Vermeer aside, placing it in storage on one of his estates. She had snatched it up with no problem. It now graced her walls in London. A reminder of her perfect revenge on Paine.
It really had all been perfect. The perfect setup. The perfect deception. The perfect revenge.
She waited for the final climax. The final act.
She had hoped The Syndicate would put out a on contract on him. Hoped they would do her dirty work for her, to finish the job she started and kill him for his betrayal. A fitting end.
Impatiently she watched and waited. Listening for rumors or even a hint, someone had been hired to kill Paine. Nothing.
Criminals had short memories, especially when a big score was involved. Instead of a kill contract, she began hearing murmurings that Paine was returning. A man of his special kills was hard to find. A trained fighter, thief and hacker. A criminal renaissance man. The Syndicate was beginning to doubt Paine had betrayed them.
Now her perfect plan was unraveling.
With Paine back in The Syndicate’s good graces, he would have the resources to learn it was she who betrayed him. He was a dangerous man to cross. Their brief past connection would mean nothing to him. He would kill her for certain. Slowly and painfully for her deception, that is if The Syndicate didn’t get to her first. They would not take too kindly to learning she had set up one of their best operatives. Despite her skills as a master thief and almost cult-like reputation, Paine was worth more to them.
She needed to act fast. She would kill Paine and plant the diamond on him. The Syndicate would be assured of his betrayal and move on.
She would be safe and her final revenge realized, by her own hand.
It had taken her months to track him down to this safe house. Another month of careful surveillance, each day worrying he would pick up and leave.
Now her time was up. The Syndicate has ordered her to London to perform a job for them. No one told The Syndicate no.
She would have to put her plan into action tonight.
It will be perfect. The perfect setup. The perfect deception. The perfect revenge.
The perfect murder.
Keeping to the dark, she swept along to the back of the house. Placing her knapsack on the ground, she pulled out her CPM-700. The counter-surveillance probe would let her know if Paine had installed any new cameras or audio devises other than the ones she had already mapped out on a floor plan of his house. Crouching low, she turned on the small black box, waving the handheld wand over the house and surrounding area. All the electronic noise was coming from the lower level. Paine was either careless or arrogant, leaving the upstairs unprotected with any kind of electronic eavesdropping devises. Opening up the four flukes on her foldable, steel grappling hook, she drew out the slack on the rope and chain. Throwing back her arm, she swung the hook in a circle, picking up speed. Finally she let it fly, watching through the darkness as it arced before hitting its mark. The balcony under the second-story window. She winced at the slight screeching noise the hook made is it connected with the balcony, followed by the hollow clang of the chain as it wrapped around the stone balustrade. The chain was loud but necessary. It would withstand the rough rubbing along the rock better than the rope which may fray and break.
Creeping under the cover of a low-branched tree, she waited. Holding her breath to see if the subtle, yet unmistakable sound of the grappling hook had alerted her quarry. She knew better than to watch for a sudden light in the window. A trained criminal like Paine would know not to give away his position or the fact that he was alert. No, her first warning would be a shot fired at close range or perhaps the thrust of a knife between her ribs to pierce her lungs and prevent her from screaming for help. He wasn’t called Paine by accident.
Feeling her legs tingle and cramp from her crouching position, still she waited. Searching the stillness for any sign of movement.
Finally she was satisfied it was safe to proceed.
Placing the knapsack on her back, she grabbed the rope and placed her toe in the first foothold. She had created a bowline with a bight knot every foot and half to make her climb easy and quick. In a matter of seconds she was tossing a leg over the balustrade. Peering through the glass into the darkness, she saw the faint outlines of a bed, dresser and chair. This was the spare bedroom. She knew from her surveillance that Paine slept in the front bedroom. It was easier to monitor the street that way. Cops came through the front. Only criminals came through the back.
Even currently being on the outs with The Syndicate, Paine had a fearsome reputation. Any criminal would have to be mad…or determined…or both…to try to harm him. It was no wonder he didn’t bother with any extreme security measures for the safe house, that and it would draw the attention of curious neighbors to see the blinking red lights of cameras and a satellite dish on what should be a lower income, ramshackle house.
This was a narrow balcony meant more for show and leisure so there was not a patio door where she could easily pick the lock. Only three large windows, side by side, overlooking the garden. Once again reaching into her knapsack, she took out her roll of butcher paper. Unrolling a large sheet, she placed it against the window for measurement, using a razor to cut it to size. Reaching in to her knapsack, she grabbed the small, brown glass bottle. Cringing at the smell when she unscrewed the metal cap, she pulled free the small brush, careful to watch the gooey streams of glue. Gingerly brushing the paper with the rubber cement, she lifted it up and adhered it to the window. Using her watch, since the glow from a phone may alert someone to her presence, she waited several minutes for the glue to dry. Unlike what the movies showed, successful breaking and entering was about stealth and patience. The faster you worked the louder you were likely to be.
Testing a corner of the paper, she was satisfied it was fully adhered to the glass window. Taking out her pocket-sized brass hammer, she gave the window a strong tap right in the center. It shattered. Moving quickly, she caught the now heavy piece of butcher paper before it fell to the ground. A window breaking did not actually make much sound. It was the sound of glass shards hitting the floor which made all the noise. With the large pieces stuck to the butcher paper, there was only the slightest tinkling sound from the falling remnants. Cautious not to cut herself or worse, disturb the jagged pieces that still lined the sill, she reached in to unlock the window. Slowly she raised the window. The sound of metal scraping stone from the grappling hook was far worse then then muted sound of wood sliding along wood but still, it was noise. Any noise could alert him to her presence.
Again, she waited. Holding her breath. Training her ear for the slightest shuffle that wound indicate movement inside. At the slightest sign of trouble she would be over the balcony, down the rope and a mist among the shadows before anyone got close enough to see her face.
All was still.
It was time.
Reaching once more into her bag of tools, she pulled out the one thing she usually never carried on a heist. A gun.
She was a thief, not a murderer. Her tools of the trade were flush cutters, cone steel bits and lock pick sets. If there was danger, she fled.
Except for tonight.
Everything was different tonight.
Instead of fleeing danger, she was walking headlong into it. Six feet and two inches of hard muscle danger. It was a wonder he was so successful as a thief with all that brawn. Thieves were usually small and wiry like her. It was probably why he developed a reputation for…other things. He didn’t flee when caught. He stood his ground and fought it way out. Whereas she got her information through research and observance when on a job, Paine was known for the more direct approach, extracting it from unwilling participants. Once again she was reminded, he wasn’t called Paine by accident.
Ruthlessly stifling a shutter and shaking off dreadful premonitions, she continued with her plan. This was for Dev, she thought.
Taking out her Ruger .22, she screwed on the barrel extender, the suppressor. This was a quiet neighborhood. She didn’t want to alert the police any sooner than necessary. The silencer would buy her time.
Leery of falling glass, she made sure not to jostle the frame as she stepped through the window into the dark interior.
Deftly circling around the furniture, she crept out of the room into the hallway.
Pausing for a moment, she tried to slow her racing heart. She needed to stay calm and focused.
Despite wanting to rush and get it over with, she had to proceed slowly. Now that she was inside the home there were several unknowns. There was a hardwood floor. Any board could let out a telltale squeak. Giving both her position and presence away. It was why she always wore dance sneakers. With their split sole and soft rubber sole meant for sliding across dance floors they were ideal.
Sliding her foot along the boards, testing each before placing her full weight into the step, she made a slow and steady progress down the hallway to his ajar bedroom door.
Holding her breath, she stopped when she was at the threshold. All was silent and still.
Bracing the gun with both hands, she stretched out her arms and crossed the threshold.
The glow from the street lamp outside through the gossamer curtains allowed her to just make out the shape of the bed and the long form under the covers.
The tip of her finger caressed the trigger. Her hand started to shake. She tightened her grip under the butt to steady her shooting hand.
Tears briefly clouded her vision but she blinked them away. Knowing at any moment he could wake and find her standing over his bed with a gun, she had reached the point of no return.
Sucking in a steadying breath, she pulled the trigger.
There was a faint thwap sound before a spray of tiny white feathers flew into the air. Dismayed she stepped towards the bed and threw back the covers. It was empty, save for a pile of strategically placed pillows.
From the corner of the room came a low, mirthless chuckle.
She turned gun raised, peering into the shadows. The dark outline of a tall form stepped forward.
“I honestly didn’t think you would have the balls to do it.”
Her jaw clenched. Her lips felt stiff and unresponsive as she forced them to form that one single word. “Paine.” She uttered it like a curse.
“Hello, Mirage. Welcome to my home,” he intoned with a mock bow.
With a cry she fired the gun again but not before he swung right, knocking her outstretched arm with his hand. Plaster dust rained down on them both as the bullet glanced across the ceiling. Placing his large hand over her smaller ones, he wrenched the gun from her grasp, tossing it on the bed as he spun her around. Her back connecting with his front. His free arm forcing her own down, pinning them against her body.
He whispered darkly into her ear, “I knew if I waited and made myself enough of a target the person who set me up would strike again.”
Mirage felt sick with fear. Her knees buckled but his restraining arm kept her upright.
“I’m going to make you pay.” His sharp teeth nipped at the delicate curve of her ear as Paine hissed his malicious threat.
Mirage closed her eyes.
Clasped in Paine’s strong, unrelenting grasp, she knew…she was a dead woman.