Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Past Catches Up When the Mob Asks for One, Final Favor #SampleSunday

Excerpt from Assassination of a Dignitary, Chapter 1

Detroit, Michigan
Thursday, June 3rd, 3:50 p.m.
THEY SAY THE PAST HAS A way of catching up with you.  Mine was in my living room when I came home. 
Christian Russo, son of the Italian Mafia Don, Pietro Russo, sat on my sofa making himself comfortable.  The side table had a glass of amber liquid sitting on it.  He raised it for a sip.
The clock read three fifty.  Brenda would be home with the kids soon.  I hadn’t seen the man in fifteen years. 
“What are you doing here?”
“Now is that any way to greet an old friend?”  His Italian accent laced each word.
I couldn’t show the man fear.  This is what he wanted.  He craved a reaction.  He always had.  “If I saw one before me, I may greet him differently.”
“Oh.” A fake pout had his lips pinched together only a second.  He put the drink down and placed a hand over his heart.  He laughed when it touched the silk of his silver jacket.  “If only I had feelings, Hunter.  Maybe you’d hurt mine.”  Silence fell between us like a cloak.  I stood in front of him.  He studied my face.  “Sit.”
“Get out of my house, Christian.”
“Sit!” His voice rose, and he straightened his posture as he barked the command. 
I sat.  I wanted to stretch my leg, one over the other, but didn’t want to appear too comfortable either.  I kept myself leaning slightly forward, apprehensive this would give the impression I was eager to hear what he would say. 
“We have a job for you,” he continued.
“I don’t do this anymore.”
“Tsk. Tsk.”  He raised a finger to his lips.  “You don’t interrupt me.”
“But, I don’t…”  I let my words trail off into non-existence based on the reflection in his eyes.  I wasn’t the type who could take a life for a wad of cash anymore.  I had too much to lose, too much to live for.
“Pays one hundred k.  Half up front.”
“I’m doing fine.  I have been—”
He dropped a wad of cash on the table between us.  I knew from the banding it was ten thousand.
“How can you be fine?  After you turn your back on The Family?  Surely you must miss us.”
I missed the pay check, the one that padded my bank account with thousands at regular intervals, but not the control they held over me.
“Seriously, there must still be fire in you.”  Christian’s mouth lifted, slightly to the left as it always did when he schemed manipulation.
His eyes contained more evil than had been there the better part of two decades ago.  In all honesty, I was shocked to see that he was the one the Don sent to me.  Christian was more hurt than Pietro when I turned my back on The Family. 
My eyes scanned my living room, settling only briefly on the family photographs, on the children’s school portraits.  My eyes came back to Christian.  “Like I said, I don’t do that anymore.  I wouldn’t even know how to—”
“Fire a gun.”  Christian finished my sentence and cocked his head to the side.  “You should know better than to lie to me.  Want to try again?”
When I was offered a permanent role in The Family’s business, I had declined.  I saw my way out and took it.  There were times the nightmares of what I had done would slither back into the darkness of night, but I worked to shutter them out.  I justified my actions as responding to directions.  It was nothing personal.  A kill never was.  I reminded myself they were marks, not individuals.  But over the years I had never lost the love for firing a gun.  The fall of the hammer and the slight kickback as the bullet exited the chamber.
“I know you go to the gun range.”  Christian took another sip of what looked to be my scotch.
I pointed a finger at him.  Many men would not dare to.  “Don’t follow me.”
“You tell me what to do now?  Things changed, yes?”  Christian laughed.  “I believe every Thursday afternoon.  I trust that’s why you’re home now and not at the office.”
How closely had he been watching me?  In fact in such an economy, I was fortunate not only to have a job but to own a modest accounting practice.  I chose the career hoping the rumors were true; accountants lead uneventful lives.  I looked at the clock.  Within fifteen minutes, my family would be walking through the door.  My eyes went back to the cash on the table.
“How does it pay you Hunter?”
“I’m not that person anymore.”  My last name improvised as my nickname among the Russos.  They viewed it as evidence of a life calling.  I was predestined to be their hitman.
“You always will be to me.”  Christian reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a cell phone.  His eyes were on me.  “Disappointing.”
“Why me?”  I didn’t know the details yet, but wasn’t sure I wanted to.
Christian leaned forward and appeared more comfortable than I was, at this moment, in my own home.  “You’re close to her.  You can make this happen.”
“Who?”
Christian smirked.  “The Governor of Michigan, of course.  Marian Behler.”  He leaned back into the sofa.
My heart beat as a piston in a chamber.  It felt ready to explode. 
Governor Behler was a client of mine at the firm.  Christian obviously knew this just as he knew my whereabouts on Thursday afternoons and my active fascination with guns.  “I didn’t think you killed dignitaries.”
“An exception has been made.”
My last kill was over fifteen years ago; it may as well have been a lifetime.  But when I had been at my finest, I excelled both at close range and sniper hits.  The versatility made me a valuable asset.   “Pietro Russo ordered this hit?”  I knew I was being arrogant, and even courageously stupid, questioning Christian’s authority but the directive was hard to believe.
“You used to call him Pops.”  Christian didn’t react the way I had expected, but that was partially what was frightening about the man.  He had always been unpredictable.
“My life is different now.” I had to stop staring at the clock, but my eyes kept drifting there. 
“Different, good?  Different, bad?”
I owed him no explanation for the direction my life took or an assessment on its fulfillment.
“We used to be close, you and I.  We can be again.”
“Did Pietro Russo order this hit?”  I repeated my question.
“Why else would I be here?”  He held out his cell phone.  “Want to speak to him yourself?”
My stomach tossed.  One normally didn’t leave the Italians without there being recompense.  I seemed to have been an exception to the rule.  Now I wondered if the smooth transition had been afforded me because of the service I had offered and could possibly again.
“I can dial the number for you.”
“Why her?”  Behler was the first female to serve as Governor in the state of Michigan.
Christian laughed.  He lifted the glass to his lips but lowered his arm again.  He rested it on the sofa arm.  “You know we don’t answer those questions.  Yet she must know where her death is coming from.  And, to the media it must appear as an assassination.”
“So you want it to take place from a distance, or close range?”  I asked for clarity.  His words seemed to contradict each other, know where her death is coming from, yet it must appear as an assassination.
“A statement must be made.”
“In-her-face-personal then?  And you want the last words she hears to be—”
“From Pietro Russo.”
“From Pietro Russo?”  The woman must have wronged the man on a personal level.  For all of my past close range kills, they would know where their fate came from, but the Don was never explicitly named.  My thoughts were on my wife and the kids.  I couldn’t risk their lives being caught up in this vortex.  My wife, my parents, no one knew about my past.  While I preferred it stay buried there, it might not be an option.
“So what will it be? One hundred thou richer or—” Christian stopped talking as he exchanged his drink for a nearby family portrait.  “You have a nice family.”
“Don’t even think of hurting them.”  My jaw tightened, the familiar adrenaline rush surged through my blood stream.
“It’s not a threat, Hunter.”  His calm voice conflicted with his words.  “If you don’t do this, it will be more than that.”  Christian rose to his feet.  “You have until tomorrow morning, 9:00 a.m., to decide.  After that, I can’t answer for what happens.”
“You son of a bitch!”  I rose to my feet and came at him fast. 
Christian turned.  The barrel of a .38 was pointed at my abdomen.  “Don’t think I won’t kill you just because you’re a friend.  I can get new friends.”
I wanted to tell him to find a new one for this mission, but with the wildfire in the man’s eyes I needed to back down from the confrontation.  I put my hands up in surrender and slowly took a step back.
“Smart, Hunter.  It would be a shame to lose you.  I want her dead within the week.”
“The week?”  Just when I didn’t think my heart could pump faster, or the adrenaline provide more of a high, it exceeded on both counts.  I glanced at the clock.  Brenda and the kids.  “If I do this—”
“You’re out for good.”
“I heard that fifteen years ago.”
Christian laughed and finally retracted his gun and placed it inside his jacket pocket.  “You have no reason to trust us.  Keep that in mind.”  He stopped at the door, his hand on the knob, and spoke facing it.  “The clock’s ticking Hunter.  Say hi to the family for me.”
With him gone, I felt violated.  He had been inside my house, my home that I shared with my family.  They could know nothing about this.  They would know nothing of it. 
The clock read four ten.  I had about seventeen hours to let Christian know what I decided, but did I really have an option?  It was either kill or be killed.  I knew too much now.  Christian had seen to that.  I scooped the wad of cash from the table and fanned it.  The smell of money lodged up my nose as nostalgia.  I tucked it into a pant pocket causing it to visibly bulge.
I poured myself a few shots of single malt and swigged it back in a couple mouthfuls.  As the alcohol started to work, my mind assessed the situation.  It recalled my past life in detail, the people, the blood, the locations, the intensity I would feel every time I took a life.  In a way, it was the type of rush I hadn’t experienced since.  I wouldn’t dare say I missed it, but as the vague recollections transformed to shape, I knew I was capable of doing it again.
The directions were simple:  kill the Governor.
But I wasn’t that man anymore, and this was different.  Governor Behler was my client.  I was her accountant.  We had grown close.  Brenda and I had even been to her house for dinner before. 
As the alcohol soothed me, I remembered that Behler had mentioned something about an upcoming trip to Niagara Falls, New York.  I looked at my watch for the date.  Next weekend I believe.  I needed to get downtown to the office.
The front door opened.  Yvonne, my fourteen year old daughter was the first one through it.  “You don’t understand!” 
She closed the door on her mother who came in behind her.  “Get back here young lady!”  Brenda cast me a passing glance as she went down the hallway after our daughter.  “I told you not to skip anymore classes.”
“You don’t understand!” 
Another door slammed and Brenda returned to me with anger brimming in her eyes.  “That girl needs to be disciplined, Ray.  She can’t go on talking to me like that…”  Her words paused as her eyes went to the glass on the side table.  “Speak to her.”
Max, our ten year old, walked through the room carrying a backpack that looked like it would tip him over backwards.  He waved at me on the way by.
“Ray, are you listening to me?”  Brenda’s eyes darted from the bar cart to the glass in my hand and back to the table.  “You’re drinking?  And you had someone over?”
I just nodded.  To say I had an old friend drop by would be a lie.  And, if she didn’t like the afternoon drink, she really wouldn’t like what I had to say next.  “I’ll need to go back to the office later tonight.”

Want to read more? Assassination of a Dignitary is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Scribd.