tijuana nights (the nights series book 1)

 

 

LEIGH K. HUNT

 

Kindle Edition

*

London Dusk copyright © 2014 by Leigh K. Hunt

Edited by J.C. Hart

Cover design copyright © by Dwell Design & Press

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

*

The is a work of fiction. Names, places, businesses, characters and incident are either the product of the author's imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual events or locales is purely coincidental.

*

Tijuana Nights, Book I of the Nights Series by Leigh K. Hunt

Published by Dwell Press, New Zealand

www.leighkhunt.com

*

Find out more about Leigh K. Hunt at

WEBSITE

NEWSLETTER

*

Kindle Edition, License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

*

Dedication

This book is dedicated to my husband, Michael.

 

You are my rock, and more often than not (or that I would like to admit) – my voice of reason.

Thank you for always listening and being there, even if I do cause you a few eye rolls. X

***

1

I kicked my high heels off under the courtyard table at the Little Havana bar in Tijuana, and sparked up a Marlboro Light, savouring the inhalation of the smoke. I kept telling myself I was going to give up, but it’s really not the time. Especially not today. Adrenaline still coursed through me, and my hands shook as I lifted the margarita to my lips and took a sip. I swore as I spilled a few drops. I had to contain myself and calm the fuck down.

But who could calm down when they have just seen their plane blown to dust? I should, in reality, have been on my way to Los Angeles, before catching a connecting flight home to London. But I missed my flight, and then when I got to the airport, I stood by and watched the plane explode into a million pieces just after take-off.

And somehow, deep down... I knew that explosion was meant for me.

Tijuana was hot, and dusty, and I'd thoroughly had enough. I wanted to go home to England, sort out a few things, and settle back into my life as a historian, writing historical reports, and losing myself in the labyrinth of archives around Europe. The last place I wanted to be was stuck in Tijuana, in designer clothes, knowing that I'm up to my neck in shit. I stubbed my cigarette out, and had another sip of margarita, savouring every moment of the taste, in an effort to centre myself. I knew that I had to call River and ask for his help.

I rummaged through my handbag, pulling things out and dumping them on the table as I tried to find the business card with River's numbers on it. In the process I grasped my iPhone, my finger traced the bullet hole through the middle as I drew it from my bag and slowly exhaled.

My iPhone was the last luxurious thing I had got myself. I had bought it the day that I found Luke screwing my best friend in our bed and I threw him out.  I never would have spent that sort of money if I’d known he was going to demand half of everything I owned. I bit my lip as I turned it over in my hand. Many people consider phones to be their 'life-savers'... but usually that's just a figure of speech. No one actually believes their phone will literally save their life. But I do - I'm living proof. The bullet that killed my phone made me move; if I hadn't, the next bullet would have been in my head.

I found River's card and stood, leaving my shoes under the table as I walked barefoot into the dim bar.

Dredging up my limited Spanish skills I approached the bar, “Dónde está el teléfono?” I painfully asked.

After a frustrated look of confusion, the barman finally pointed the phone out to me. Looking down at the card in my hand I read the words – Mergers and Acquisitions. I grimaced. More like Murders and Executions. I picked up the phone, and dialled River's mobile number. After two rings he picked up.

"It's me," I said quietly, watching the barman across the room as he polished glasses. There were no other patrons apart from me. Not surprising really considering it was still morning.

"You're alive." River’s voice echoed with relief down the phone. "Where the hell are you?"

I smiled. "Little Havana Bar."

"I'll be there shortly."

He hung up on me, and I looked at the phone in disbelief. It's not the first time he'd done it, but I thought he would at least be a bit more polite. Particularly considering he’s British. Rolling my eyes, I hung the receiver up, and on my way back to my table, stopped by the bar and ordered another drink. I knew I wouldn’t be able to drive legally after this, but who gave a shit about legalities in Mexico?

Twenty minutes later, I spotted River making his way through the dark bar, and out into the courtyard. As always, my heart raced when I saw him. From what I had gathered, River used to work for the British MI6 or some other covert organisation. He was trained as an assassin by a professional government outfit of some kind. If truth be known, I didn’t really want to know the exact details.

I couldn’t tell what nationality he was, as he looked like he was of mixed descent. He was from England – that I could tell from his middle-upper class accent – and almost African looking, but then he could have been Mediterranean, or maybe even Middle Eastern. River’s colouring allowed him to fit in perfectly in places like Tijuana. He always maintained a professional composure, always dressed immaculately. Today, he was in a white shirt, casually open at the collar, and wore designer jeans despite the heat. I couldn't read his caramel-coloured eyes as they were hidden behind the aviator sunglasses that he always wore. Automatically I reached for the last of my margarita.

River sat down at my table, and smiled across at me. "I've spent the last hour wondering where the hell you were. Gabe hacked the passenger manifesto, and we discovered that you never boarded Flight 474 to LA." He picked up my iPhone, and put his little finger through the hole. "Looks like you caught a lucky break, Mack. Very lucky." He put the phone down, removed his glasses, and lifted his gaze to mine. “What happened?”

I drew in a deep lungful of air as the explosion of the plane replayed in my mind. I didn’t know where to start. I ran my hands through my hair nervously. A part of me didn’t want to breathe a word of what had happened in this godforsaken city. Another part knew that he needed to know.

“Mack?”

“Yeah. Okay. Well, I woke up late this morning, God knows why; maybe because my phone was shot to shit and my alarm doesn’t work anymore. Anyway, I hadn’t finished packing properly, so I kind of just threw a few things together, and arranged for the hotel to send the rest of my gear back home.” I looked up at River, and saw that he was shaking his head in disapproval. “What?”

He smiled. “Rule number one. Never trust anybody – especially if they can be paid off for information.”

I wanted to tell him he could go fuck his rules, but thought better of it. It was not the time to pick a fight with an assassin. Instead, I frowned at him and shrugged. “Yeah, whatever. Anyway,” I continued. “Then my useless piece-of-shit car took ages to start, and when the engine finally ticked over and I hit the road, there was an accident, and I got stuck in traffic.  Seriously, I tried to make that flight, I really did. I even took back roads through this shithole to try and get to the airport faster.” I lit another cigarette, and slowly blew the smoke out into the sun-drenched courtyard. “The check-in lady informed me that I, “Rachel White”, had missed the flight, but that I was more than welcome to watch it take off.”

So I had. And I watched it explode mid-air. A huge white burst of light engulfed it, and I saw it before I heard or felt it. There were a hundred and fifty odd people on that plane, and I was meant to be one of them.

River reached across the table and grabbed my free hand. His fingers felt warm and steady against my clammy, shaky ones. “You need to settle down. I know you should have been on that plane. Now, Gabe has been checking the manifesto, and you’re right. No one else on that flight, that we can tell, had any affiliation with the cartel, or even anything else remotely shady.” He slowly smiled. “You are in good company, Mack. We’ll protect you. We got you into this mess… we can help you get out of it.”

The barman walked out of the bar, laden with two more drinks. I was really not going to be able to drive. I looked down at the Tag Hauer watch that River and Chase had given me, and noted that it wasn’t even mid-morning. If my mother was still alive she would be kicking my backside to Timbuktu and back again for drinking before five o’clock.

“So, let me guess. You know who blew up my plane?”

River leaned back in his seat and laughed. “I like you, Mack. You’re direct and to the point. It’s damn refreshing. To answer your question, yes. We have our suspicions that the destroy order on the plane may have come from Carmen Amaro.”

My guts sank. That was the same bitch that had shot my phone. The same bitch that was married to my mark. The same mark that bought me out to this fucking country. I wanted to scream. River could see my anger in my eyes. He smiled, infuriating me even more.

“What?” I snapped.

He shook his head, amusement evident on his features. “You’ve changed a lot since the first night I met you. You don’t even seem that phased by the fact that it’s Carmen who is after you. Before, well, who knows? You would have probably been a little unstable about the whole situation.”

I wasn’t listening. I was too busy thinking about the best way to get revenge on her. Not only had she shot up my favourite phone, but now in the process of trying to kill me again, she had ended up killing a hundred and fifty innocent people instead. What the hell was her problem? I could see River still talking to me, but all noise was swallowed by the sound of my inner voice. I wanted her to die a very slow and morbid death.

No. I had to stop thinking like that. I was just as bad as her if I retaliated like that. Okay. Not quite as bad. I wouldn’t go off and kill a plane load of people because I’m a jealous, psychotic bitch. I’d like to think I have more class and style than her.

I looked up at River. “For God’s sake,” I muttered. He was a contract killer – there was no reason why he couldn’t take her out for me. I wouldn’t even have to watch. If I couldn’t run, and I couldn’t hide, and I couldn’t get home to England at the moment, then surely I should inadvertently rid the world of a terrible person.

“River?”

He looked at me blankly, and then shook his head. “No, Mack. No.”

“What? You don’t even know what I’m going to say.”

“You don’t have to say it. It’s written all over your face.” He sighed, and looked me directly in the eyes. “I’m not going to kill Carmen for you. Bottom line.”

Damn. I was never good at playing poker, and it seemed that River could read me like an open book. “Why not?”

“Because I’m not about to screw up an entire information gathering operation all because you’re letting your emotions get in the way.”

Oh, I could feel it. I was about to explode under the pressure that was building up inside me. “Emotions?” I said, dangerously quiet. “Are you for fucking real? This is the second time she’s tried to kill me.”

He laid his hand on mine, and his eyes softened. “Mack. Compose yourself. I understand, you know. I do. I get it. I’ve been the target of a few people myself. But you’re not going to make this better by getting all emotional about it. You need a clear head. If you don’t have a clear head, you get killed. Rule number two.”

More. Fucking. Rules. But I knew he was right. I took a deep breath. This wasn’t going to go away, but I knew he would help me. His phone started ringing, and he released my hand to answer it, keeping his impenetrable gaze on me the whole time.

“Gabe.” He smiled at me, and I felt myself begin to relax again. I reached for another cigarette and the last of my third margarita as he gave short responses on the phone. Gabe is the tech-guy in their operation. Apparently he was some kid-genius hacker they pulled out of Langley when he was seventeen. Gabe is the biggest geek I have ever met, and that’s saying something considering my academic background. But he’s not your typical geek. He looks like a pot-smoking surfer, but then again, maybe that’s his cover whenever they’re on an operation. Gabe can hack into any system in the world and cover his tracks. I’ve watched him build fake databases, create new identities, leave false trails, and shift money without leaving a single trace that it was ever there. And I haven’t even been hanging out with these guys for very long.

The sound of River dropping his phone on the table snapped me out of my daydream. “We’re wanted,” he stated, eyeing up my lit cigarette. “Finish up. Gabe has organised your gear from the hotel to be delivered out to my place. We’re having a team meeting.”

* * *

 

Handling alcohol has never been one of my strong points, and as we walked to the car park outside the Little Havana Bar, I felt slightly woozy. Fresh air, heat from the midday sun, and tequila really doesn’t mix too well, and I questioned what the hell was wrong with these Mexican people, considering that from what I had witnessed, a big part of their culture is founded on drinking.

“You can’t keep using that car,” River said, disturbing my thoughts.

I slowed to a stop and turned. “What?”

“You can’t keep using that car. Carmen will track it.”

“What? You’re trying to get rid of my car but yet you won’t kill Carmen for me?”

“I’m not going to kill Carmen, you can do that.” River smirked. “Besides, you might be one of the team, but you’ll never survive here without us. Cars come and go.”

I threw my arms into the air. “Well if I can’t use this one, where am I going to get a new one from? Jack it?”

River snorted with amusement. “I would like to see you try. No, you can use mine until we get you another one.” He held his hand out to me. “Come on, pass me your phone.”

Baffled I rummaged around in my bag, and pulled out the iPhone.

He glanced at it. “You don’t need this anymore.” And then I watched my beautiful bullet-holed phone go sailing through the air towards an open dumpster.

“Are you shitting me?”

River shrugged. “What? You’ve got enough junk in that handbag without adding a dead phone to it. We’ll get you a new one.”

“You just threw my phone out!”

“Take your wig off as well,” he ordered deadpan. “That needs to go. You’re too recognisable in this town now that you’ve been out and about with Javier.”

I swallowed, and started unpinning the wig from my head. Tears pricked at my eyes as the events of the morning came crashing back to the surface. I silently handed him my wig and car-keys without looking at him, and leaned against his car, crossing my arms in front of my chest.

River unlocked the rental car boot. He pulled my small suitcase out, and much to my horror, dropped the keys inside the boot as he slammed it shut. “I’m assuming you didn’t need anything else out of the car? No spare iPhones floating about?” Eyebrows raised, he waited for a response with a glint of amusement in his eyes.

Since Luke had left me I had become a very independent woman. But here was this guy trying to look after me and take control. I swallowed my frustration. I knew he was just trying to help.

I sniffed, and swiped at my eyes, giving him a watery smile. “My lucky dagger?”

River burst into laughter. “I have a spare one you can use.”

I rolled my eyes. “Is there anything you don’t have?”

“Not that I’m aware of.” He smiled. “C’mon, let’s get out of here.” He pulled his keys out of his pocket, and unlocked his truck. “The sooner this is over and done with, the sooner we can get you back to England.”

I climbed into the big black Range Rover, and onto the cool leather seats. My hair was damp with perspiration from the Tijuana heat, and undoubtedly from the stress of almost dying again, and I wondered how the hell I signed up for this life. I’m a qualified historian, not some covert operative interfering with Mexican cartel business. I knew that River would protect me. I was just being silly. “I never understood why you needed such a big truck. Doesn’t it draw attention to you?”

“No,” he answered drily. “There are plenty of ‘big trucks’ around this region, if you hadn’t noticed. It’s one of the ways the cartels move their product. Luckily for me, I never seem to get stopped.” He dropped his phone into its cradle, and pressed a button. “Chase,” he said, his tone firm.

“Dialling,” the phone responded.

Chase. Panic welled within me. I just knew that there was so much hiding behind those intelligent eyes of his. I couldn’t tell if he was a good guy or a bad guy. “Why are you ringing Chase?”

River smiled. “Because he’s the one that pays the bills.” He took the phone off speaker, and lifted the mobile to his ear.

Chase is a different story to both River and Gabe. Chase is scary as hell. I don’t know where he comes from, but he can put on any accent he wanted. I have the distinct feeling that he has always been an assassin, although I don’t know for sure. His natural accent is definitely English. It sounds refined, but I don’t think he grew up anywhere with the same level of class as River. Chase looks a million dollars at all times; everything designer. He’s clean-cut, well spoken, with high chiselled cheekbones and vibrant blue eyes that he often hides behind glasses or different coloured contacts so that he’s not so memorable. If I were going to pick any word in the world to describe him it would be ‘tailor made.’

River once told me that Chase was extremely accurate at reading people and the situation around him, which made him a handy asset to have on the team. Perhaps that was why he made me nervous. I constantly wondered if he was assessing me.

“… yeah, I’ve got her. She seems to think that she can do over Carmen Amaro.” I looked up at River, instantly snapping back into reality.

“Roger that. See you soon.” He ended the call with a press of a button and turned to me, his smile infectious, though, considering the circumstances, I should have been crying. But I wasn't.

We started to head towards the coast area. I had been to River’s Tijuana house a number of times before. If truth be known, it was more like a mansion, by my standards, anyway. The first time we went there was a defining moment, where I really understood that being an assassin must pay seriously well. His house was huge and intimidating; I felt more at home in more intimate spaces.

I went to reach for my phone to check for any messages, when I suddenly remembered that River had thrown it out. It was a dead and useless phone anyway, but with it missing, I felt as though I had lost some sort of appendage. “I can’t believe you threw my phone out,” I said sullenly. “You could have given me some bloody warning.”

“Out with the old and in with the new, Mack. If you roll with me, that’s how it is.”

I put my palm against my forehead and leaned back, closing my eyes. “You have got to be kidding. I don’t even want to roll with you. You guys are the ones who got me into this position in the bloody first place.”

River snorted with laughter. “If I hadn’t found you when I did, you wouldn’t have nearly as much dignity as you do right this very minute. You were trying to whore yourself, I saved your ass. You should count yourself lucky that I took time out of my day for you.”

I could feel a headache coming on from the direction this conversation was taking. “You should be lucky that I happened to need the money. Now I just want to go home.”

River shook his head. “No sweet pea… you’re damn lucky we have the money you need.” He was focused on driving in the Tijuana traffic. “We’ll get you home, don’t you worry about that. But just remember that this was originally a business deal. You held up your end of the deal, and we promised you would go home safely.” He paused and took a deep breath, “Now in the meantime, we just need to make sure nothing goes wrong.”

“You think I’m going to do something wrong?”

He shook his head, “It’s not you I’m worried about. It’s Carmen. She’s unpredictable, and so is the Cartel.”

I glanced over at River, wondering if I should light a cigarette, but with the mood he was in now he’d almost certainly throw me out on the side of the road somewhere. The only other time he had ever let me have a cigarette in his car was the night I first met him.

Instead of killing me when he’d the opportunity, he’d let me live, and then taken a chance on me by offering me a better paying job. I could come to Mexico with his team, and do just one small job for them. Be a sexual distraction to one of the El Diablo Cartel leaders. Before I knew it, they cut my hair to a close crop so I could wear wigs, sent me off for laser surgery on my eyes, thrown me in a sunbed for a few sessions to give my English skin a few shades of colour, and dressed me in designer clothes. The attitude I seemed to be developing now has only been rearing its head since the night I met the team.

It was all too much; today, the past month. I knew that if I didn’t close my eyes and sleep, I was in danger of throwing up from the motion of the car. I absolutely regretted drinking far too many early morning margaritas.

I woke to the sensation of salty air tickling at my senses. We rounded the top of the tree lined driveway to River’s place, and pulled up in front of a low lying house overlooking the Mexican coast. River stopped the car and turned off the engine. “Listen. I will do whatever is in my power to assist you with Carmen. However, new information has come in, and I strongly suspect it has to do with Javier Amaro. So let’s just play this one by ear, shall we? Our pay check will have everything to do with Javier, therefore he’s the priority. Carmen’s just a bonus if you can get to her. Okay?” I undid my seatbelt, and gave him a watery smile. “Okay.”

2

When I woke a few hours later in one of River’s guest rooms, I found that my clothes had been hung up in the wardrobe and I sighed with relief. After a shower, I felt thoroughly alive again, and more mentally prepared to deal with whatever was coming.

Despite the fact that it never got very cold here, River had the fire roaring by the time I walked into the living room. With the bi-folds wide open to make the room more bearable and the sea breeze ruffling white gauzy drapes, it made a far prettier scene than you’d ever expect to find in the lair of a contract killer.

Chase was stretched out on one of the sofas with a book propped up on his knees, and a glass of wine on the coffee table beside him. “I hear you’ve severely pissed Carmen Amaro off.” Chase directed both the words, and his calculating blue eyes, at me. My breath caught slightly under his gaze. I nodded and sat down on the opposite sofa. Some people are just so good looking, that they made you feel completely inferior when you're near them. Yeah… Chase was like that for me. Was I attracted to him? Hell yes. But I didn't have a chance in hell with a man like him, I didn’t even know if I wanted a chance. If anything I was scared shitless of him, yet found him intriguing at the same time.

He had his contact lenses in this evening. It made him even more good looking than normal. I swallowed as Chase smiled. “Yes, well, some days are better than others, eh? I guess we always knew this could happen.” He closed his book, and turned his full attention to me. “And now you want revenge?”

I froze. Revenge? I shook my head slowly. “No… not revenge. I just don’t want to get killed. Carmen seems to have a death wish for me, and from what I’ve heard, she’ll do anything to achieve her goals. She’s nuts.”

Chase threw his head back and laughed. “You don't get to be a cartel wife just for looking pretty, Mack. I’m sure she has a few more assets behind her than that. Watch your back.”

“Leave her alone, Chase,” River interrupted, as he walked in carrying a tray with several crystal tumblers on it and a bottle of tequila. “She’s had a shitty day.”

I smiled gratefully at him as he lowered a tray onto the coffee table. “That’s an understatement,” I muttered. River poured tequila over ice into four crystal tumblers, and handed a glass to Chase. When he passed one to me, I accepted it hesitantly. Alcohol was the last thing I needed right now, but I didn’t have to drink it if I didn’t want to.

Chase smirked as I eyed up the golden liquid suspiciously. “This tequila is nothing like the revolting stuff we get at home. This is pure and untainted. Try it.” He raised his perfectly manicured eyebrow as he waited.

“What the hell,” I muttered, and took a generous sip. Subtle warmth spread through me as I swallowed. Chase was right. Unlike the crap back home, this tasted mellow, cooled by the ice in the glass. I found myself taking another sip. “That’s actually quite refreshing.”

River laughed. “Yes, it is. You know, the Aztecs used to make their own form of tequila called ‘octli’. The people from this region have been distilling the blue agave plant for hundreds and hundreds of years. Believe me – if it tasted as awful as it does from those cheap bottles we get in England, they would never have continued to drink it.”

“River is quite right. There is only so much of a culture you can experience outside of a country. If we had never brought you out here, you would have continued to think that everyone in Mexico wore sombreros, lived on nachos, and drank cheap firewater tequila. As you have discovered – this country has so much more to offer.”

“Yeah… a body count.” I smiled, amused at my own wit. I had a feeling there was still a load of margarita in my system, and the tequila was just waking it up again.

River burst out laughing. “That too. The cartels have a lot to do with that though. Speaking of which – where the hell is Gabe?”

“Here,” Gabe called from the doorway. He eyed up the glasses in our hands, and glanced down at the laptop he was carrying with him with disgust. “What? Ya’ll started without me?”

I pursed my lips with guilt. We should have waited, and I felt bad on Chase and River’s behalf. I liked Gabe. He was nice. I couldn’t understand what sort of potential he saw in these two, but the relationship seemed to work. He plonked himself down beside me, put his laptop on the floor at his feet, and reached for a glass.

“So,” Gabe started, his American lilt muffled by the glass at his lips. He took a long sip and put the glass down, “We have a completely new set of instructions, should we choose to do it.” He shrugged. “Kind of a big job though. It’s not going to be easy, to say the least.”

Chase’s eyes lit up with cunningness. “What do you mean? What’s the job?” He swung his long legs off the sofa, and leaned forward with anticipation.

Gabe sighed. “Well…” He took another sip of his drink. “It’s another directive from the clients. Apparently our little information gathering expedition has paid off somewhat.”

He turned his focus back to his drink, and I really considered throttling Gabe, and throwing his fricking glass out the window. I’d had a no-good very-bad day, and the last thing I wanted was to listen to him playing games. I could see the others thinking the same thing. “Gabe,” I said with impatience. “Come on. What’s the job?”

“It looks as though the information we gathered was mainly structural, giving our clients full records of most of the higher ranking employees of the El Diablo Cartel. The hits are for eleven of those employees.”

“Eleven.” Chase muttered. His eyes met River’s across the room, eyebrows raised. “That’s one hell of a hit.”

I didn’t need to be a professional hit man to know that this was a huge job. Eleven people dying at the hands of Chase and River seemed insane. Although, from the little I knew of the Cartel’s, it wouldn’t make that much of a dent in their numbers.

I couldn’t help myself, I had to ask. “Is Carmen on the list?”

Gabe shook his head. “She’s too high up the food chain… these guys are from, what do you call it? Middle management, I guess, for want of a better word.”

River shrugged. “Payment terms?”

“Proof of death, the usual. They’ll pay us two million a head, plus a bonus if the job is done within a certain timeframe.”

“Two million?” I whispered “Seriously?” That would pay off some of the major debt that Luke had left me with, even if I only whacked one of them.

Chase smirked, and shook his head slowly with amusement. “Mack, you’re not trained. Don’t even think about it.”

“She can train with me,” River said quietly. “She needs the money, you know that.”

My eyes went wide and my mouth dry as I glanced at River. Kill someone? Holy shit, I didn’t know if I was ready for that just yet. I couldn’t even use a gun properly, let alone think about blowing some random guy’s head off. “Train me?”

“Yes, Mack. Train you. You need to learn some skills if you’re with us – especially for your own protection. You want to kill Carmen, right?”

I nodded mutely as I dropped my gaze to the floor, unsure of what I wanted. My heart raced. Was I actually that kind of person? I guess I had to be. I knew that to get Carmen off my back it was going to take something more than an academic education and a pretty face. It was going to take some hard skills; skills that she had, and that I hadn’t acquired… yet. Actually, it was kind of a thrilling feeling. I looked from Gabe who was looking at me with encouragement, to River, and then to Chase. They all looked at me as if they had complete faith.

“Well, then I guess you’d better learn, eh?” Chase snorted, and raised his glass to me. Holy shit. I really wasn’t prepared for this.

“So – you want the list or not?” Gabe interrupted.

“Yes, Chase and I will take five each, and if Mack’s got the skills to assist us by then, she can help us with the eleventh.”

“Me?” It came out like a squeak, and I immediately drank back the remaining liquid in the glass. I stood unsteadily, and sought out my cigarettes in the handbag at my feet. “I need a fag. A lot to process.”

Both River and Chase watched me cross the room, making me feel even more self-conscious. I stepped out onto the terrace under the starry night and lit up. I inhaled, the warm night air mixed with the cigarette smoke, which immediately went to my head and started to calm my nerves.

I could hear them still talking inside. Eleven people? Gabe called them middle management. But why wouldn’t you kill the people at the top of the Cartel first? There must be some sort of grand master strategy, but I was buggered if I knew what.

I could hear the others discussing people and their marks locations. Part of me felt sick. Logically, I knew that these people were really bad people, but there was just so much death. Then again, I knew they had probably all killed innocent people themselves and they worked for Carmen and I knew she deserved to die…

After all, her and her staff had just basically murdered a plane-load of people.

* * *

 

When I woke the next morning to River shaking my shoulder, I was feeling rather worse for wear. I’d had only three hours sleep, and felt like I had been at an all-night rave, not sitting around talking. I was just pleased that I’d had the common sense to stop drinking halfway through the night.

River looked as though he’d slept 12 hours at some luxurious resort, and was bright-eyed and far too bushy-tailed for my liking. He shook his keys at me, shoved some sort of ridiculously healthy, green smoothie onto the bedside table, “Come on – up you get. Things to do, people to see.”

I groaned, throwing my arm over my face in protest, “Five more minutes,” I murmured, feeling the drifts of sleep starting to pull at me.

Moments later I heard the curtains getting ripped back on their rails, and I opened my eyes to glare at him. “You have fifteen minutes to get ready, Mack.” He tapped his watch, “If you go back to sleep, I’m taking you out in your pyjamas.”

I rolled my eyes, and swung my legs over the side of the bed. Moments later, the door closed behind him and I was alone. I looked over at the green smoothie, and my stomach went queasy just from the sight.

Once I had showered and dressed and finally walked into the living room twenty minutes later, he silently handed me a wig to wear along with a pair of huge sunglasses.

I didn’t like being out in public, despite being behind the tinted windows of the car. Not only did I hate sunlight right now, but River was busy taking photographs of houses and the different people associated with his marks, and I was the designated driver. We were parked outside an enormous house with a large fence line, and electronic gates. I imagined there would be guards somewhere in the gardens or along the perimeter who wouldn’t have an issue shooting us point-blank. “How bullet-proof is this thing?”

River lowered the camera, and sniggered. “It’s not. You’re just going to have to drive fast if we get into trouble.”

I raised my eyebrows; he had a lot of naïve faith in my driving skills. I returned my gaze to the road in front of us, where not one single other car moved. I wondered if it was always like this, or if it was just the time of day. “So, how are you going to get into the house to kill her, maestro?”

“I’m not. I’m going to get Regina to come to me.” River looked back at the house through the gates. “It’s not impossible to get in there. Actually, I would say it’s rather easy. However, it’s better if no one knows you’re there. Regina is heavily guarded, so I’m going to hook up with her at a bar she frequents, and get to her that way.” He looked down at his iPad, fingers scrolling across the screen. “And, according to the information we recovered she’ll be out tonight or tomorrow night, and we can catch up with her then.”

“Tonight?” Anxiety filled me. I swallowed. “So soon?” I was going to totally screw this up. I had never watched anyone die. Well, actually, that wasn’t true. I had, technically, seen my parents die, but I couldn’t remember it.  The psychologists said I might get the memory back. Might not too.

“Yes, tonight. Listen, Mack, you are on ops with me. To learn this trade, you need to live it. I need to show you exactly how it’s done in real life situations. Kinda like being thrown in the deep end.” He put the camera back in the case at his feet. “Now, let’s head back towards the city – there are a couple of other people we need to check on the way home. Then tonight, I expect to see you dressed to kill.”

Oh great, now came the fun.

3

When I looked in the mirror, I hardly recognised myself; dressed in a low-cut, black, slinky dress, my nails sparkled, and once again, I was wearing a wig that’d undoubtedly annoy the hell out of me later. This one was a short, dark bob, which made me look a bit like Cleopatra. My skin was thick with makeup, and I wondered where the hell River and Chase learned how to do this. This was one area I didn’t feel completely out of my depth in. I could do my own makeup – usually in subtle hues and tones, low key, but River and Chase had really outdone themselves enhancing my features. Apparently they’re masters of disguise.