Here’s a sample chapter from my recently released book:
I was sitting in the driver’s seat of a 2017 Mercedes Benz S-Klasse, staring at a handheld computer screen tapped into the security feed of the Everhope Hotel. It was a cold Chicago night and the tomb-like atmosphere of the parking garage didn’t help. Still, it was appropriate for my job: to kill very rich and powerful people for money.
The target, Marshall Redmond, was fifty-two, possessed a net worth of sixty hundred million dollars, and was currently attending a fundraiser for a cause only the one percent of the one percent could care about. Conservation of a breed of salmon or something. The fat blond man was sitting at the table in the front of the ballroom with his unhappy-looking spouse beside him.
I was dressed in a chauffeur’s outfit, deep in the identity I’d established for myself, and doing my best not to be bored out of my mind. I was G, just G. Once I had a human name and background, but that’d been scrubbed from my brain along with the rest of my past. Real Total Recall stuff. Despite losing almost the entirety of my life, I didn’t sweat the details too much. I was paid exorbitant amounts of money to do what I did and would get the details back after ten years. Supposedly. One thing you learned when working for the—finger quotes—”International Refugee Society” was paranoia. It was the most valuable skill they could teach you.
To allay my boredom, I often tried to figure out why the Society had sent me to kill a target. I mean, obviously, it was because someone had paid them, but I mean the reasons behind the hit. Usually, it was depressingly simple: A target was having an affair and their spouse was a client. A target was a witness to a crime that could bring an end to a multimillionaire’s business. Or a political activist working for some group’s rights, or a political activist working against another group’s (many times the same group. Or someone who had made the mistake of betraying their employer in some way.
Not Marshall Redmond. No, he was special. To look at him, you’d think he was being targeted by his wife for decades of unhappy marriage or by someone he’d bilked out of millions. He looked like Bernie Madoff, not Osama bin Laden. However, it was closer to the latter than former. Marshall Redmond was a terrorist, or at least a terrorist financier. The difference was academic, really, since the former could kill a few hundred people in a bombing while the latter could kill thousands by organizing dozens.
Honestly, that had caught me off guard. People weren’t complex. Nine times out of ten, they were exactly what they appeared to be. It made me curious to see how a guy who’d grown up in the country club circuit had ended up dealing with everyone from ISIS to Red Sword.
“Well, I’ll find out soon enough,” I muttered. “Dead men tell no tales, but the about-to-die are remarkably chatty.”
After waiting twenty minutes for them to arrive, I saw Redmond and his wife part ways and move to their separate cars. Redmond and his bodyguard moved toward this car, the former looking distressed with the latter. Redmond’s bodyguard was a tall, thirty-two-year-old, muscular black man named Charles Dulcimer. Dulcimer was an ex-Navy Seal who had done contracts for Universiti and was currently working for the world’s largest security corporation. He looked violently ill and seconds later threw up on Redmond’s shoes.
“Tsk-tsk-tsk,” I said, shaking my head, adjusting the side view mirror. “You should always watch what you eat, Charles. You never know what someone might have slipped into it.”
Wow, I was so bored I was talking to myself.
Redmond backed away in disgust, yelled some obscenities at the man, and climbed into the back seat of the car. According to the profile, Redmond had never been comfortable with Dulcimer as his bodyguard. At the risk of pulling the race card, I suspected the ex-mercenary’s looks had a large part to play in it.
I was biracial myself, at least per my medical records, but light-skinned enough to pass as a white man. Doubly so since I dyed my hair blonde. Really, my appearance was perfect for putting people like Redmond at ease. These things I could disguise with the right wigs, contacts, and prosthetics, but tonight I was going as something close to the “real” me. It was dangerous, but the FBI didn’t exactly collect information on the Society either. Hell, they were one of its biggest clients.
“Take me home, David,” Redmond said, looking at his shoes. “God almighty, those people. Do we have a napkin or something in here?”
I reached into the glove compartment and removed some McDonald’s napkins I’d collected just in case this sort of situation happened. Putting on a stereotypical Southern drawl, I said, “Here, sir. I hope these help.”
Redmond took them before shooting me a dirty look. “Have you been eating in my car?”
I continued speaking like the expected hick. “No, sir, I ate outside, washed my hands, and came back in. I put the napkins in because you can never have too many napkins.”
“Good,” Redmond said, patting his interior lovingly. “Do you know that fucker actually wants to rezone the city to attract more foreign investment?”
“That fucker” I assumed to be the mayoral candidate. “Really?”
“Ugh. I’d tell him to go to hell, but I’m getting first dibs on several of those projects.”
I’d been working for Redmond for the better part of a week, having arranged for his previous driver to take a preferred assignment with an ex-fashion model known for banging her chauffeurs. I’d then taken over his job after making sure my name was at the top of the list via my Assistant’s computer hacking. Breaking into the limousine service Redmond used wasn’t exactly a challenge for a woman who had cracked the International Refugee Society’s servers, but Marissa was itching for work as much as I was.
I pulled out the car into Chicago’s busy streets. The most difficult part of the mission was over, and I could dispose of my target at any time. However, as I mentioned before, I was curious about what made a man like Redmond throw away a privileged life for something so ephemeral as politics. “Do you ever give any thought to the matter of identity?”
Redmond reached into his jacket and pulled out a bottle of prescription pain killers before popping three into his mouth. “What the fuck are you going on about?”
It was over now. Redmond just didn’t know it. I’d managed to replace the contents of his bottle with a much, much stronger dosage, plus several other recreational pharmaceuticals that would kill even a healthy man Redmond’s age. That was just the backup plan, really, to make sure he didn’t get away. Not that I was afraid he would, but I wasn’t a Letter because I took chances. I also had something more . . . elaborate planned for his demise.
“Memory. It’s the basis of our identities, but so much of it is malleable. We recast events how we want them to be and how our present-day opinions influence them. For example, a person who commits a terrible crime might think of himself as completely justified in the events and recall things that drove him to it—even if they never happened. It’s why eyewitness testimony is so unreliable. Because a lot of times, what people recall happening didn’t happen at all.”
Redmond started coughing, unable to respond.
“For me, I can’t help but think it raises some interesting philosophical questions. Do we ever really know a person? Are all the various wars and conflicts of history because we interpret events solely through our own perspective? If you are a person without a memory, do you have an identity at all, or are you simply a hollow shell? I prefer to believe we’re like cups, emptied and waiting to be filled anew, but retaining some semblance of our past selves.”
“You . . . “ I heard a gasping, labored voice speak behind me. Looking over my shoulder, I watched Redmond clutching his chest, sweating like a pig and reaching for his cellphone. He was desperately trying to enter the number for 911.
I lifted up a small black box. “This is a cellphone jammer. You can buy them at almost any electronics store. It’s hilarious.”
Redmond dropped his cellphone on the ground. “Why? Is it . . . is it Mahad?”
Mahad al-Malik was a Saudi Arabian real estate developer who was suspected of having ties to Red Sword, but was so low on the totem pole he was allowed to conduct business in the United States. I couldn’t make up this shit if I tried.
“Do I look like the kind of guy who works with terrorists?” I said, chuckling “Then again, you don’t exactly look like that sort of fellow yourself. By the way, my name isn’t David, it’s G. I know—that’s a letter, not a name, but it’s as close as I’ve got. No Men in Black jokes, please.”
“I can pay—”
I rolled my eyes. “I hate when targets say that, I really do. First of all, if I spared your life, then you wouldn’t pay me because you’d call the police or the FBI. Next, if you paid me beforehand, there’d be nothing to stop me from killing you afterward. Use your head.”
Redmond looked at me with pure hatred in his eyes. “You’re . . . insane.”
“Possibly,” I admitted, shaking my head. “The people who employ me put me through a fairly punishing
regime of mental conditioning and drug therapies. Things designed to remove those qualities that don’t find humor in your situation, for example.”
Redmond started to cry. It was kind of sad, really. I usually felt better about these things when my target was dirty as fuck. Then again, Redmond was a racist white-collar criminal terrorist, which was a trifecta of things I loathed.
“I would like to know why, actually. That might change a few things.” It wouldn’t, but he didn’t know that.
“The money,” Redmond said, raising his hand into the air. “Red Sword robbed the banks of Mosul of . . . four hundred million dollars . . . they . . . needed someone to launder it.”
I stared at him, frowning. Such a disappointing motive. “Money? Really?”
“I had no choice.” Redmond wheezed, giving the excuse so many other targets gave. “They would have killed me and my family if I’d refused.”
“I’m sure they would have, once you took their money.” I shook my head and turned on the lights again before driving toward Chicago’s industrial district. It wouldn’t be long, now, until Redmond’s heart gave out. I’d have to work quickly if I wanted to make sure I got this whole thing resolved the way I wanted to. A good hit was like a work of art. If it was done properly, it was a remarkable sight and could be talked about for hours. It had to be done just perfectly, though, or the whole thing was ruined.
Redmond proceeded to surprise me again. “You . . . you work for the International Refugee Society.”
I looked into the rearview mirror. “Really? A twit like you knows about the Society?”
Redmond bitterly laughed. “You fucking bastard, they’re the people who arranged the meeting between Mahad and me.”
“As bad as I think my employers are, I don’t think they finance terrorism.”
Terrorists, by and large, couldn’t afford us.
“They’re going to steal . . . the money.”
“Good for them.”
“I can arrange for the . . . CIA . . . to help you. To protect you. They can . . . get you your memories back.”
Redmond knew way too much to be what he appeared. Worse, he was dangling the one carrot in front of my face that might entice me.
The chance to know who I was.
Pulling onto a set of train tracks just moments before the barriers moved down both in front and behind
me, I heard the warning bells as the flagger began flashing. I could see the train coming down from my left. I turned off the headlights to make sure the car wasn’t visible to the engineer. I had to make a choice now. Eh, who was I kidding? There was no choice. “The CIA won’t go against the Society.”
I stepped out of the car, went to the back of the trunk, and pulled out a drugged and confused-looking David Johnson, a.k.a Josh Harden. He was the man whose identity I’d stolen. An ex-convict and registered sex offender who was operating under a false identity while he sold pills to rich clients. We had a vague resemblance. Especially when you put as much effort into not being noticed as I did.
Putting him in the driver’s seat and adjusting his hat to be perfect, I shut the door and walked forward as
the 11:30 train barreled down the tracks. I was fifty feet away before I heard the screeching, smashing, and crushing noise that was the death rattle of Redmond and his driver.
I confirmed both kills before walking away from the crime scene and turning my chauffeur’s attire inside out. The black suit top became a Chicago Cubs sports jacket and the hat a ball cap. The pants would become blue jeans, but I would wait until I was somewhere more private to change those. I also needed to contact the Home Office to confirm my kill.
Cramming my tie into my pocket, I pulled out my cellphone before removing a thin metal wire from its side with a needle at the end. I jabbed the needle into the right side of my temple, linking it up to the IRD implant they’d removed part of my brain to install. Cybernetics came with being a Letter.
The International Refugee Society had access to a lot of technology well above what regular humanity did, and instead of using it to help people, they used it to make better killers. Says something about the world, doesn’t it? I wasn’t the Six Million Dollar Man or anything, but I could run sixty miles per hour without breathing hard and recovered in two days the last time I was shot. OK, maybe I was the Six Million Dollar Man, adjusted for inflation.
“Hello, G, is the mission completed?” A woman’s voice interrupted my musings.
A holographic image of an older, white-haired woman in a white business suit appeared in front of my vision. It was Persephone, the Society’s Director. It was unusual for her to be the one answering this sort
of call. Usually, Marissa was the one to check on my progress and relay it to my superiors.
“No, I just love stabbing myself in the head with an information jack.”
“You should learn to watch your mouth. If you weren’t my favorite, I’d have it sewn shut.”
“I bet you say that to all the Letters.”
“Yes, but you should at least have the courtesy to not point that out.”
I could feel Persephone’s irritation. I had to wonder what sort of person I was to continually challenge my superiors like that. I didn’t want to. I wanted to just serve out my ten years and retire with the ungodly amount of money I’d made during my contract. Preferably some place with large amounts of sunshine and rum. Yet I just had to push. It was unsettling.
“Now, I repeat, is the job done? No complications?”
“None. Tomorrow the headline will read a suicidal chauffeur decided to kill himself and his boss after deciding he couldn’t live with his crimes. Add in the business with the pills in Redmond’s stomach, and his businesses will be radioactive for the next few months. Just like the client wanted.”
Technically, they’d just said Redmond should die in “infamy,” but I’d interpreted that to mean something
“We’ll be sending in financial cleaners to his office tomorrow for the next part of the contract. Did he mention anything of importance before you completed your mission?”
“No, ma’am,” I lied, thinking about the whole Red Sword and CIA business Redmond had mentioned. Was it true? Maybe. It didn’t matter now. He was in a hundred pieces and any connection to the Society in his files would be erased tomorrow. It wasn’t my problem, though. I needed to stay loyal. I’d served five years of my ten years of service. I would make it to Reassignment.
“Good. Your payment is awaiting pickup with a bonus for prompt delivery. I’m afraid you’re not going to be able to enjoy spending it on your usual orgy of alcohol, hookers, and cocaine, though.”
“I don’t use cocaine.” I’d also rapidly cut down on my alcohol and hooker intake since beginning my relationship with Marissa. I wasn’t about to tell Persephone that, though, since I didn’t know how that would affect our working relationship. They might reassign her, or worse, and I didn’t want to imagine what life would be like without her. Marissa was one of the few things that made me feel human.
“I need you to come in to the Home Office as soon as possible. This is a time-sensitive issue,”
Persephone said, shaking me out of my thoughts. “High priority.”
“Say hello to the wife while you’re in town. I’m sure she misses you.”
“Like a bullet in the head.”
“Be prompt. Those can be arranged.”
Persephone’s image vanished from view and I removed my information jack. The encryption built into my head meant no one, short of the supercomputers at the NSA, could decrypt our conversations. Theoretically. I couldn’t help but think the Society’s overreliance on technology was a weakness rather than strength.
“Fuck, I need to get cleaned up,” I muttered, disappearing behind some empty rail cars as police sirens buzzed in the distance.
I was gone before they arrived.