Free Story: The Hitman Chronicles: Rumors of War – Prologue/Chapter 1-3
The Hitman Chronicles: Rumors of War
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.”
Matthew 24: 6-7
“The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
Fifteen Years Ago
They walked the streets of Fussa City, a suburb of Tokyo. This was her mother’s hometown, the place from which they banished her when she became pregnant by the son of a wealthy business man. They exiled her mother alone and penniless to the island of Okinawa.
Her mother did what she had to do to survive, to put food in their mouths. First she became a whore. And then she married an American Marine.
When she was two years old the Marine took them to America – to San Diego. Now she was back in Japan for the first time in seventeen years, since she was two years old. She wanted to see her mother’s hometown, to walk the streets in which she’d grown up. But she wasn’t in Japan to sightsee. No, she was here to learn to kill. This trip to Fussa was a break from the rigors of her training in the business of death.
Sometimes as they walked they held hands. Sometimes they stopped to gaze into a store window, or if it looked particularly interesting, they’d go inside. Sometimes they stopped on the sidewalk among the throng of pedestrians to share a kiss. She liked kissing him.
They were kissing now, ignoring the people who bumped against them as they passed. In America such contact might result in a street fight, maybe a senseless killing. But this is how it was in Japan – so crowded that you became accustomed to contact with strangers.
After moments that were much too short they ended their kiss and continued on their way. He held her hand again.
“I’m sorry about your ribs,” she said. “I didn’t mean to kick you so hard.”
He smiled at her. “Yes you did. You wanted to see how much you could get away with. But I am sorry about your head.”
“I don’t have a head anymore,” she fake-pouted. “You knocked it off.”
She liked sparring with him. Somehow the violence of their fighting sessions intensified their sex. She liked feeling the bruises, remembering the brutality he’d inflicted on her body when he made love to her. It reminded her that they were animals. They killed. And they loved. Like animals. She liked feeling like an animal.
The place in which they sparred wasn’t open to the general public. It was a secret place, used only by those whose purpose in life would be to take other people’s lives.
The first life she’d taken had been her stepfather, the Marine. He was a cruel man, a brutal man. Her mother bore the pain of his brutality. When her mother went missing, she was sure her stepfather was responsible.
She was a freshman at Wright-State University in Ohio when her mother vanished. The police had no proof of foul play. But she knew her stepfather. She knew his cruelty.
She was seventeen years old and suddenly alone in the world. The only person who offered her compassion was her psychology professor, Dr. Clifton Alford. He understood her pain, and her desire for revenge. He showed her the way.
The Professor provided her a round trip plane ticket. He also provided the untraceable silencer-equipped Smith & Wesson nine millimeter pistol. The weapon was waiting for her at a storage facility in San Diego when she arrived.
She found her stepfather in the backyard, floating on an inflatable raft in his new in-ground swimming pool. His new blonde girlfriend was in the pool with him. As she looked at them she wondered if maybe her mother’s body was buried under this pool.
Her stepfather was surprised to see her home in the middle of the semester. He was more surprised when she pulled out the Smith & Wesson. The blonde girlfriend started to scream, so she shot her first.
She was back at school less than twenty-four hours after she’d left. No one had missed her.
That was her first kill. Her baptism in blood.
She looked up at him as they walked the streets of Fussa City, holding hands. She liked the way he held her hand, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. She wondered if this was for her only, or if he treated all women this way.
“Did you love her?” she asked.
His mind was somewhere else. She asked him again. “Your girlfriend who was raped and murdered. Did you love her?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “When I think about it now all I remember is the anger.”
“But you took your revenge. You’re still angry?”
“Yes Nikki, still.”
“How did you feel, killing someone that first time?” she asked.
There was a look in his eyes. She saw it. The look told her that perhaps the man who’d murdered his girlfriend wasn’t the first person he’d killed. She was curious, but didn’t ask the question. She didn’t want to upset him and put him in one of his moods. She wanted to make love as soon as they returned to the apartment. She wanted to be an animal with him. She decided to change the subject.
“What are you going to do now that you’ve graduated?” she asked.
“I’m going to work, and paint…and wait for the assignments,” he said. “What about you – are you going back to school?”
“There’s no need,” Nikki said. “I’ve found my calling. I don’t need a degree for what I want to do.”
Later, because of his bruised ribs, she got on top. She rode him, loving the feel of his strength inside her. She loved the way he made her come over and over. But in spite of the sweet pleasure, she was distracted. The question still nagged at her. She had to know.
Excerpt from forthcoming novel, The Hitman Chronicles :
“How many have you killed?” she asked.
Duncan opened his eyes and looked up at her. The apartment’s tiny air conditioner hadn’t kept pace with their frenzied lovemaking, and Nikira’s golden skin glistened with perspiration as she straddled him on the tiny bed.
Without breaking the rhythm of her hips she tossed her hair out of her face. “I said, how many people have you killed?”
Her black eyes locked on his – probing, piercing, demanding something that his instincts warned was best not to give. He gripped her waist and thrust upward, making her groan. “We’re not supposed to talk about that,” he said.
“We’re not supposed to fuck each other either,” Nikira gasped. “And yet here we are.”
Nikira smiled down at him from behind the strands of her ebony hair. A twinge of unease took the edge off his arousal. She looked like a hungry lioness peering between blades of high grass, yearning for the blood of some unwary prey. Lying beneath her, he suddenly he felt exposed…vulnerable.
“So tell me Duncan, how many?” she urged.
Instead of answering he pushed himself up off the bed, lifting her with him and making her laugh as he flipped her onto her back. The fact that she barely weighed one hundred and twenty pounds meant nothing. In close quarters she could kill a fully armed Special Forces trained Marine twice her size with only her hands and feet before he knew he was dead. And she would enjoy it.
That was the difference between them. Duncan killed for money. For him it was just business – how he made his living. Nikira Horikoshi killed because she loved it. For her, the thrill was worth much more than the pay. She would kill for nothing more than the pleasure of taking a life.
They were friends, and during they year they’d trained together in Japan they’d become lovers. Still, Duncan felt better when he was on top and in a better position to defend himself.
Just in case.
Manhattan, New York City, New York
Early Friday Morning
Nikira woke from her dream yearning. She yearned for the memory to be real. She yearned for his touch. Waking up was such a disappointment. She sighed and got out of bed.
She hadn’t dreamed about Duncan like that in a long time, not since before The Professor contracted her to kill him. After that she hadn’t allowed herself to feel for him. She hadn’t allowed herself to think about possibilities. She hadn’t allowed herself to hope.
She walked across the studio apartment to the window and stood naked, looking down at the city. It looked so cold out there, and she thought it would be nice if he was here with her, holding her in bed and keeping her warm the way he used to on those mornings on the other side of the world. But he wasn’t with her.
Nikira sighed again. She had an idea why she’d dreamed about him, about their time together in Japan. It was because she needed him now. If things went as she anticipated, a war was about to begin. It wasn’t a war she was afraid to fight, but she had to be sensible. She likely couldn’t win the battle alone. She needed help. She needed Duncan Gray.
For a very long time she’d wanted to kill him, but in her heart she’d been in no real hurry, even after he’d almost killed her. So she hadn’t devoted much effort in locating him. But now she needed him.
She gazed across the Hudson River toward New Jersey. She had to go there today to make her preparations.
She knew that Duncan wasn’t home in his Oceanport residence. He and his bitch wife hadn’t been there for weeks at least. But somehow she had to find him.
They woke up in the same position in which they’d gone to sleep, with Maisha wrapped in his arms and her head resting on his shoulder. He kissed her gently on her forehead.
“Mmm…do that again,” she whispered.
He did, and then she turned her face up, asking for a real kiss. He complied, needing the tenderness of her lips. He felt her hand slide down his body, and she grasped the part of him that always needed her. He broke their kiss then. “Okay, I still feel weird doing this in your parent’s house,” he said.
“I kinda like it,” she smiled.
“Something about trying to be quiet while Mommy and Daddy are down the hall – it’s kinda hot.”
“No, that’s sick.”
Maisha slid under the covers, down until her mouth contacted the part of him that always needed her.
From beneath the covers he heard her ask, “Is this sick?”
Afterward, he watched Maisha as she padded across the bedroom to the window. She opened the curtains and stood with the golden sunlight caressing her golden nakedness. He loved her body. He never tired of looking at her, of drinking in her beauty.
In the distance beyond his wife’s beauty he could see the snow capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. An amazing sight, he thought – her body framed buy nature’s vista. This was a vision he might paint one day soon, while the memory was fresh.
As he got out of bed Maisha said, “Honey, I want to go home.”
He walked up behind her, placed his hands on her waist and kissed her neck and shoulders. “I didn’t think you’d miss North Carolina,” he said.
“No, not there,” she said. “Home is where I met you – where we fell in love. I want to go back to New Jersey.”
“Where did this come from?”
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” she said. “But it really hit me when Simone left to move into the bungalow. “God, I was so jealous that she was going back to Jersey. It made me realize how much I missed being there. I miss the beach. I miss my gallery. I miss all the life. And, I miss our house. That’s where I always pictured us living and raising our children one day – not in North Carolina.”
She turned around to face him and placed her arms around his neck. Duncan was surprised and touched to see tears in her eyes.
“Honey, can we please go home?” she pleaded.
He would have cut his own throat before denying her. “Well, we need to close up the house in Murfreesboro,” he said.
“Oh, Honey, I know that house has so much sentimental value for you. I’m sorry.”
“When I moved there, I went alone,” he said. “I thought I’d lost you, and going back to my family’s roots was a good place for me to heal. And I thought that you felt safer in North Carolina. But to be honest, I miss Jersey too. That’s home.”
Maisha smiled her relief and happiness. Looking at her joy warmed his heart.
“I want to go back there, now as man and wife,” she said. “And as soon as we get back I want to christen every single room, even the bathrooms. I want to make it truly ours.”
“Um, by christen you mean…”
“Yes, exactly,” she smiled.
“Babe, that’s a lot of rooms.”
“Then you’d better take your vitamins.”
Bradley Beach, New Jersey
She came to Monmouth County approximately once a month, to check the house in Oceanport and this one – Maisha Templeton’s (okay, Maisha Gray’s) bungalow in Bradley Beach.
The house in Oceanport was still empty. But this time the bungalow wasn’t. There was a Mazda RX-8 in the driveway with a new registration tag taped in the back window. Nikira parked across the street at the boardwalk a half a block up from the bungalow.
She figured that Maisha might have sold the bungalow. Or, maybe she’d returned alone. Her gallery in Asbury Park was still open, run by her assistant, so she still had a connection to this place. Nikira decided to wait and see who was there.
A couple of hours later a young woman came out of the bungalow and went to the car. Nikira looked at her, shocked. It wasn’t Maisha, but she did recognize the woman. She’d seen her once before.
It was the woman who’d taken down the rapper’s bodyguard at the hotel in West Virginia.* This woman had skills…deadly skills. What was she doing here, in Duncan’s wife’s old house?
Nikira didn’t know the answer to that question, not yet. But she did know that this couldn’t be a coincidence. She had no doubt that this young woman had some connection to Duncan Gray.
*From the novella Friends, Lovers and Other Killers
Somewhere in Northern New Jersey
The Shadow Club
She was in her office, standing at the window behind her desk with her hands clasped behind her back. She didn’t turn around as Nikira entered.
“How was the grand opening?” Nikira asked.
She didn’t respond, and she didn’t turn around.
“Amarante, is everything okay?”
“How could you, Nikira?” Amarante asked. “How could you do this?” She turned around now. Her green eyes – a stark contrast to the African woman’s sepia complexion – glared anger and hurt. “I thought you were my friend – that I could trust you.”
“I am your friend, Amarante.”
Amarante went to her desk, pulled out her chair and sat down heavily. “Do you think I don’t know, Nikira?”
“You don’t understand.”
“I understand that Viktor doesn’t want me to leave the Solntsevskaya,” Amarante said. “He doesn’t want me to have my own, and to be free. He wants me as his slave, to continue running his whorehouse. But I won’t. I am a slave to no one. Viktor knows that. So rather than let me go he offered you a contract to kill me. And you accepted the contract, Nikira. So what is there to understand? You are what you are and you do what you do.”
“I took the contract because if I didn’t, Viktor would have hired someone else,” Nikira said. “Viktor is acting independently of the Solntsevskaya. They couldn’t care less if you leave, as long as you keep quiet and as long as the money from the house keeps coming in. Viktor is the one who won’t let you go. By taking the contract I gave us some time.”
“Time for what? I am not going to run, Nikira. I’m not afraid of death. I have seen more death than you will ever know.”
“I know you won’t run,” Nikira said. “But we need time to prepare. Viktor has his soldiers at his disposal, but only a handful. I don’t know who he might bring in to help. But to stop him, we’re going to have to kill them all. For that, we need help.”
Amarante leaned forward on her desk. “Who would help us?”
“I know someone,” Nikira said. “But I have to find him. And I have to hope that when I do, one of us won’t kill the other before he hears my offer. If he’ll help us, then we’ll be ready to go to war.”
Nikira watched Amarante, and for the second time today she was shocked. She’d never seen Amarante show emotion. The African had always seemed as cold as her strange green eyes. But now, those eyes were filled with tears.
“Don’t worry,” Nikira said. “We’ll get through this. We’ll kill them before they kill us.”
“I’m not worried,” Amarante said. “I told you, I don’t fear death. I am just so tired, Nikira. I am so tired of war.”
(To be continued…)