Free Story: The Hitman Chronicles: Death on a Cold Gray Morning
He sat in a corner booth with a newspaper on the table, sipping a cup of coffee. It was early – just past six a.m. – but there were already a half dozen customers in the diner. He was going to kill one of them. He wasn’t sure yet who.
The diner sat on a plot of pavement in the juncture of a Y intersection. His position in the corner booth gave him a view of the parking lot’s single entry and exit and of the vehicles entering and leaving and the passing traffic.
He looked through the plate glass out at the morning traffic. Right now the early shift workers were on the move. They were the people who wore uniforms of some sort to perform services of some sort for the people who were still at home, just getting out of bed or enjoying breakfast in their suburban kitchens. The suburbanites would be out here in a couple of hours, on their way to work wearing suits instead of uniforms.
The day looked like cold gray iron. He thought that even inside, the atmosphere had that vibe, like the air was pregnant and might give birth to snow at any moment. Like it was just dying to snow.
He looked out above the traffic and the rooftops, at empty tree branches reaching up like dark, skeletal fingers, reaching to welcome the snow that had to come, or maybe trying to hold it back. Some things had to come. There was no holding them back. Like the snow. Like death.
It was going to snow today. He had no doubt about that. And someone was going to die today. He had no doubt about that, either. Well, a lot of people in the world were going to die today, but one in particular. Someone in this diner.
Thinking about the coming death didn’t bother him. But thinking about the cold and the coming snow gave him a chill. He shivered even though he wore a leather overcoat over a turtleneck. He took a sip of coffee to calm his shiver and looked down at the newspaper.
The headline was about yesterday’s Super Bowl, about the St. Louis Rams edging out the Tennessee Titans for the championship. He wasn’t a fan of either team, but he thought it would’ve been nice if Tennessee had won, since Steve McNair was their quarterback. It had been a while – twelve years – since Doug Williams had squashed the stigma that a brother couldn’t lead a team to a title.
He scanned the article without reading it, tapping his pen on the newsprint. It was an act. Most of his attention was on the diner parking lot, and on the people already inside having coffee or breakfast.
There were three men on stools at the counter: A thirtyish dude in hospital scrubs. A young brother wearing a hoodie and a way out of style fade. A middle-aged man in a plaid flannel jacket and a John Deere cap. Two sat across from each other in a booth, both wearing soiled coveralls. Another one with long hair and a beard that made him look like the European version of Jesus sat alone. This wasn’t The Last Supper, but one of them was having his last morning repast.
The waitress was coming toward his booth, carrying a carafe. She was young and blonde and pretty. She wore a friendly closed-mouth smile and a size too small pink uniform dress. The tight uniform revealed that in addition to a pretty face, she had a hot body. She was young and blonde and pretty, but a couple of years too old to be considered a nymphet. The person who’d paid for someone to die today was partial to nymphets.
When the waitress reached his booth she stopped next to his seat so that he could see her legs and broke into a bent knee pose. “Want me to top off your coffee, honey?” she smiled.
He smiled back and said, “Thank you.”
The platstic tag over her left breast said that her name was Erin. Erin leaned over as she poured so that he could see that her bra was white and lacy and filled to near bursting. He didn’t think the laws of physics would allow for pouring liquid in slow motion, but Erin accomplished it, and he got a nice look.
As she poured she breathed, “That’s a really nice coat. Is it real leather?”
“I can never tell the difference. You could give me plain old vinyl and I’d think I’d died and gone to heaven.”
Erin looked like a Nordic princess. She lived in Pennsylvania. She talked like she was from the Ozarks. The contradictions made her interesting. Okay, the lacy bra straining to do its job was interesting, too.
He said, “I’m sure the cow could tell the difference.”
She straightened up, frowning. And then she got his joke. She smiled again and said, “Well, if it’s any consolation to the poor cow, you’re wearing her hide well. You look very handsome. Scrumptious.”
Outside, a silver Infinity pulled into a space in the diner parking lot, drawing his attention away from Erin. A man wearing a suit with an open collared shirt under a calf-length wool overcoat got out of the car and looked around. Then he hurried toward the diner entrance. He had a folded newspaper tucked under one arm.
Erin was waiting for him to respond to her compliment, so he looked back up at her. “I’m sure you’d look even more scrumptious in leather than me, Erin.”
Her smile widened, revealing perfect white teeth. She said, “Hmm…that sounds a little kinky.”
He responded by gazing into her eyes as he sipped his coffee. Let her lead the way.
The dude from the Infinity came into the diner, slid onto a stool at the end of the counter near the entry and ordered a large coffee to go. He made a big deal of not looking around as he waited.
Erin was still standing over him. She had nice, full curves. He wondered how she’d look naked.
She said, “I haven’t seen you in here before. What’s your name, handsome?”
“Lawrence,” Duncan said.
“Do people call you Larry?”
“Not if they want to live.”
“All right,” Erin cooed, “Lawrence it is. I’ll be right back to check on you Lawrence, but you just call me if you need anything, okay?” Her blue eyes gleamed the multiple meanings behind her statement.
Duncan watched Erin walk away. She looked just as nice going as she did coming. He wondered how nice she might look when she was really coming.
The dude in the suit and wool overcoat paid for his coffee and left. He left the newspaper on the countertop.
Duncan figured he was some congressional aide, an employee of the Pennsylvania congresswoman who wanted someone in this diner to die. The congresswoman was planning to run for governor. She had all her political ducks in a row. Her personal life wasn’t lined up quite so well.
The congresswoman had been married for twenty-three years. She had three teenage children and a cocker spaniel. She liked hiking and skiing. She ran marathons for breast cancer prevention. And she liked sexy little nymphets, like Erin probably was a couple of years ago. Throughout the course of her marriage the congresswoman had had a string of affairs with sexy little nymphets.
One of those nymphets wasn’t as discrete as she was supposed to be. In addition to the congresswoman, this particular nymphet was also having an affair with a married man. She’d told him about her involvement with the congresswoman. Her male lover was an enterprising fellow. He saw an opportunity to make some money. He figured the congresswoman would pay to keep her secret desires secret. Ten thousand dollars was the demanded fee.
The congresswoman knew that if she went to the police and her blackmailer was arrested, it would mean that her taste for sexy little nymphets would likely become public knowledge. And she understood that if she paid once, the blackmailer might keep coming back until her bank account was empty, and she still might be revealed. So she’d agreed to make the first payment, and planned for it to be the last.
The dude wearing hospital scrubs slid off his stool, tossed some bills on the counter and headed for the exit. When he reached the end of the counter he picked up the folded newspaper.
That was the man who was going to die today.
The diner parking lot was small, with just a single row of parking spaces lining the triangular asphalt plot. From his seat in the corner booth Duncan watched the man in hospital scrubs slide behind the wheel of a vintage Mustang. Duncan used his pen, which was also a camera, to take a photo of the car and license plate. If things became complicated, he could track the target down and handle him another way.
He watched the Mustang and waited to see if that would be necessary. Then his cell phone rang. Duncan fished it out of the inside pocket of his overcoat.
“Duncan, hello. This is Brianna Winters. How are you?”
“I’m fine Brianna. You?” The Mustang was still in the parking spot. The brake lights hadn’t come on, and he didn’t see the engine exhaust condensing in the frosty air. The target hadn’t started his car.
“I’m excellent, thanks. Listen, I think I found just what you’re looking for this time. It’s a beautiful colonial with an unfinished basement in Oceanport. Four bedrooms; two and a half bathrooms. The gourmet kitchen is just remodeled. Are you available to take a look today?”
New customers entered the diner – a couple on foot. They took seats in a booth. Erin went over to wait on them.
Duncan said, “Actually Brianna, I’m out of town today.”
The target was doing something. Duncan could see his head. Because the Mustang’s bucket seat blocked his view it was hard to be sure, but Duncan thought the target was looking down into his lap. That’s right. Be anxious.
“When are you back in town?” his realtor asked.
He couldn’t see any movement in the Mustang now. If things went well, he’d be on a flight back to New Jersey this evening. He looked over at the booth occupied by the new couple. As Erin recited the breakfast special to them she looked his way. She smiled and winked.
Duncan said, “It might be a couple of days. Let’s say Friday, to be safe.”
He heard a sudden, sharp blast from a car horn. He looked through the diner window again. Now there was movement in the Mustang. A lot of movement. Thrashing.
He’d instructed the congresswoman that he would provide the blackmail pickup kit. He emphasized to her that under no circumstances should whoever handled the kit – a manila envelope containing a zip lock bag with the money inside – open either.
The money in the zip lock bag wasn’t important because it was counterfeit, and a poor counterfeit at that. The bills – fifties and hundreds totaling ten thousand dollars – were produced on a cheap inkjet printer. They’d pass a cursory visual inspection, but even a child could tell from a touch that the money was fake.
The zip lock bag was the gem of the blackmail package. It was a neat little CIA invention. The bag’s seal was lined with a ribbon strip that when opened, broke the casings on thin modules of sulfuric acid and potassium cyanide, mixing them. The chemical reaction produced hydrogen cyanide gas, the same as used in gas chambers for executions.
The Mustang’s horn blasted again as the target thrashed and convulsed on his way to death on a cold gray morning.
“In case you’re wondering Lawrence, I don’t usually do this kind of thing,” Erin called from his hotel suite’s bathroom.
“I wasn’t wondering,” Duncan called back. He was standing at the suite’s bedroom window, watching huge white snowflakes break up the cold, gray afternoon. The ground and parked cars below were already covered. He might not have been able to fly out today if he’d wanted to.
“I just think you’re scrumptious,” Erin said.
The snow reminded him of a brisk, snow covered morning on the summit of Mount Fuji in Japan, when he and Nikki had stood looking at the sun come up over the edge of the world. “So are you,” he said, because he was supposed to say something.
“Are you ready?” she called.
He turned around. Erin came out of the bathroom, wearing his leather overcoat. On her it was almost floor length.
“What do you think?’ she smiled.
“The cow would be proud.”
“Lawrence, that’s not really a compliment.”
“The brown sets off your hair.”
“That’s barely better.”
“That’s all I see.”
Erin unbuttoned his coat, shrugged out of it and let it drop to the carpet. “Better?” she asked, knowing that it was.
He lay in the hotel bed, staring through the open curtains at the heavy flakes of falling snow breaking up the cold black night. Erin lay on top of him, planting soft kisses on his chest.
“You’re amazing,” she sighed between kisses.
“So are you.” He wondered if it would stop snowing and clear in time for him to get home to New Jersey by Friday.
“So Lawrence, where are you from?” she asked.
“Really? You don’t talk like a Southerner.”
“Oh. Is that where you live now?”
“Yes.” He’d never heard of Richmond, Indiana until a week ago, when he’d seen the address on his fake driver’s license.
“How’s the job market there?”
Duncan looked down at her. Now her chin was resting on his stomach. He could feel his erection trapped between her plump breasts. She was smiling up at him. “Why?”
“I might have to track you down,” she said. “You’re scrumptious.”
Duncan decided that he was going to have to pay his man Kevin extra for manufacturing his false identities. They came in handy for a lot of reasons.
Coming in 2013: The Hitman Chronicles Novel