Adaeze Timko lurked in the ladies room and peered through the crack in the door at the man sitting at the far end of the roadside eatery. He’d sent a simple message electronically: need help. Must see you ASAP in Vancouver. Where and when?
She believed him, and replied after very little internal debate. She didn’t even question the decision seeing as he gave no outward sign of any trouble at the moment.
His elegant business attire provided a jarring contrast to the working-class jeans, boots, and sweaters or plaid shirts worn by the smattering of other patrons in the joint, as did his dark skin. Her black jeans and black sweatshirt fit right in. Her own black complexion, not so much. But so close to Vancouver proper, she trusted they wouldn’t rate more than a passing second glance even in the tiny backwater fishing town.
Last time she’d seen Bill Washington, he’d looked every bit as scary as the drug lord he’d been consorting with. Now, a dapper three-piece navy suite had replaced the tattered jeans, torn tee, and black leather jacket. And he remained as furious as ever with her.
She read the emotion clearly beneath the calm façade he projected, or tried to. But she knew all his tells, however slight. The stillness belied his dynamic personality. He’d twirl a plastic utensil between his fingers, or twist his styrofoam cup in place, or fold and unfold his paper napkin. All so smoothly and subtly as to defy the label ‘fidget’.
Now he simply lounged unmoving in the corner table, two sides with benches built in to the wall, and two sides with chairs. His water untouched and cola half-drunk, Bill sat on one of the benches. He kept his back to the wall so he could survey the diner and all the occupants in it, as well as the entrance to his left, the counter and throughway to the kitchen opposite him, and the rest rooms on his right.
She strolled over to him and slid on to the other bench, putting her back against the other wall. “What’s going on, Bill?”
He glared and caught his breath, as if swallowing down a tirade. After a few deep breaths, during which a waiter brought him a refill and asked Adaeze what she’d like, he said, “I need your help and there isn’t anyone else I can trust in time.”
Coming from an FBI agent who used to be DEA, that couldn’t be good. She raised her eyebrows and twisted her mouth, waiting.
“Someone is going to try to kill Alvarez tomorrow. I need to expose them, not just stop them, or they’ll just try again.”
Alvarez? Adaeze’s mind raced. So Bill hadn’t picked Vancouver because he knew Adaeze had too many warrants out for her in the US to ever meet him on American soil.
He’d picked it because of Alvarez. Governor Santana Alvarez, daughter of President Elena Alvarez, and political superstar in her own right since her election as mayor of San Jose at the age of twenty-five.
At the moment Governor Alvarez was hobnobbing with Prime Minister Roderick Charles, former Vancouver mayor, ostensibly while attending the international convention on de‑politicizing funding for cancer research and prevention. But their unlikely friendship dated back to the amiable rivalry from the Sharks and Canucks facing each other in the playoffs. They’d remained cordial ever since.
“What are you talking about?” She would have assumed almost anyone else spouted nonsense and walked out by now.
But Bill spoke in a deadly serious tone, his deep voice low and urgent. “I have a contact in the White House but he’s out of the country until next week. By then Alvarez will be dead and any evidence long gone. I can’t go through my office,” he answered her unspoken question, “because I’m afraid someone there is involved, and I have no idea if the mole is isolated or part of a larger group. Local authorities here are out. I don’t have time to convince them I’m not a total loon.”
She scowled. “What do you think I can do?”
Like any charismatic leader, the governor had made her share of enemies. Many hated the idea of the Alvarezs growing in to a political dynasty to equal or even overshadow those of the Roosevelts, Kennedys and Bushs. With all seven siblings already successful in state or national government, the family appeared unstoppable. But a conspiracy inside the government? Definitely far-fetched.
From almost anyone else.
“Help me keep her alive on this trip. If we can do that, my friend has time to get back into the office. He can alert the President, who’ll pass along the word. They can start their own investigation and take more precautions.”
“A sniper could hit her from half a mile away. There’s not much protection against that kind of threat. Not to mention, someone could set a bomb or knife her in a crowd. Or slip poison into her food or drink.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Frustration made his voice shake. “But they’ll ignore any warning I try to give. Too many false alarms. Too many nut jobs out there that can’t do any harm.” He leaned closer, his voice dropping to a whisper. “I need your help here. I don’t know what else to do.”
“If this works, I want a presidential pardon, and not just for me.”
He shot her a look of disgust. “You know I can’t make a promise like that.”
“You can make sure the right people know we saved her life.”
He shook his head, still frowning.
“We’re pirates, Bill, what do you expect? Why should we get involved at all? I don’t care what happens to some politician even if she is the current Golden Child and daughter of the president.”
“All I can do is pass along your names,” he growled, then added, “Which means giving me all the names.”
She gave a brisk nod. Good enough, from him. She knew she could count on him to keep his word. Of course, she’d only give him the names of the five in her group on the Wanted list. The other ten could remain happily anonymous.
“Is your cell number the same?” She reached into her pocket and withdrew her cell phone. When he replied in the affirmative, she dialed his number. “That’s me. Stay as close as you can to the governor. We’ll take care of the rest. I’ll call if I need anything.”
He expression reeked of skepticism. “What’s your plan?”
“Don’t ask.” He would not like it, and best he didn’t know regardless. “I’ll call you.”
He thumbed his phone to save her number. “Please tell me I’m not going to regret this.”
She flashed a mischievous grin. “No promises. But we’ll get the job done.”
He actually chuckled, weakly, and gave a wan smile. “Once a marine . . .”
“Exactly.” She shifted to get up, but he reached out and covered her hand with his. Heat rushed through her whole body. Damn. Some things never changed.
“Be careful. And thanks.”
“Don’t thank me, just push for the pardons.” She twisted her hand to give his a quick squeeze then got up and left.
A tall willowy blond with short curly hair fell in step beside her as she strode up the street. “Well?” Malkia Day demanded. Second in command of their mercenary band, Malkia always watched her back.
Adaeze recounted the discussion.
“Lovely. How exactly do you propose we play secret service?”
“We don’t. I’m going to shoot at her tonight. That’ll show them the threat is real.”
Malkia did a double take and tripped, then kept walking. “That’s one way to convince them. So the job is off, I take it.”
Adaeze hadn’t mentioned the little detail that they already knew all about the medical conference. That evening, the most elite attendees would all congregate on a yacht for a glamorous party. She and her crew had planned to rob them then escape, as always, by sea.
“Yes, change of plans,” she said grimly. Adaeze hated changing plans. But if she could get a pardon for several in her group, she considered it worthwhile. Some day they may tire of living life on the run, or in constant shadow. She didn’t begrudge them that. Low turnover didn’t mean her crew experienced no personnel changes at all.
“What do you want us to do?”
“I’ll take the shot. Everyone else can stay on board, then I’ll signal you either that I’m on the way, or where to meet me later.” They had their spots all along the Pacific coast. Ideally, she’d return to the sub, but if her route were compromised or if she needed to stay on land for some reason, she didn’t want them waiting around for her.
The cliff afforded a breathtaking view of the panorama below: gorgeous sea receding to the fiery sunset on the horizon. A full moon, ghostly pale in the daylight, hovered overhead as if waiting for the sun to finally fade for the day.
Adaeze sprawled flat on the clifftop, peering through high-powered binoculars at the yacht cruising leisurely along the coast. Her wetsuit provided no cushioning against the cold, hard stone. A Barrett model 99 lay on the rocks beside her. She’d opted for it and a special round (the Raufoss Mk 221) for maximum bang over the 3.38 Lapua rifle she could have chosen.
She scanned the water then focused on the yacht, with its collection of gowned and tuxedoed passengers savoring the ocean breeze and mild temperatures. She caught sight of Bill among the guests, looking quite debonaire in his tuxedo as he chatted with the governor’s rakishly handsome equally hispanic husband.
Something glinted in the sunlight off to her left, so quick she barely had time to register the flash. She swung the binoculars in that direction, scanning the shoreline. On a cliff a quarter mile away she spotted a black-clad figure posed in a position almost identical to her own. And he was sighting over the top of a Lapua. Movements swift and sure, she grabbed her rifle, screwed on the suppressor, aimed and fired. She took no pleasure from the resulting spray of flesh, blood and rock. She did take satisfaction from defending an unsuspecting person, and from the expert shot.
She removed the suppressor even as she focused back on the yacht. No one seemed to have noticed anything, not surprising considering the mile that separated the ship from that rise.
The party remained in full swing. The music carried across the water but didn’t drown out the surf crashing on the sheer rock wall below her. Her earplugs muffled all sound but didn’t block it completely.
She reloaded, the single-action bolt locking the round into place. Six inches long and half an inch wide, it held a two-inch explosive bullet.
She regarded a buffet table laden with delicacies, waitstaff bearing trays and moving among the guests, a band playing live music. Some guests danced near the bow. Most others held a drink and/or a plate of hors’dervs.
Beside the buffet table, a three-foot ice sculpture in the shape of the cancer awareness ribbon balanced precariously on a ridiculously small table. Governor Alvarez—tall, lovely and just shy of too slim; wearing striking scarlet, her thick dark curls upswept—stood a few meters in front of it.
Adaeze lined up the shot, her finger not quite touching the hair trigger. She slowed her breathing and allowed the muscles in her body to relax, letting as much tension as possible drain away. Her finger twitched and the wind changed. She stopped herself just in time. At such a distance, close to a mile, her slightest error could kill someone.
She waited, watching the people, feeling the wind on her face and listening to the water. Gulls called overhead. The flaming orb of the sun sank lower and lower, limiting the time she had left.
Her fingered hovered at the trigger.
A gap opened among the revelers.
The wind stopped.
The governor began drifting away from the sculpture.
The ice sculpture erupted into a fierce cloud of vaporized water and flying ice shards. Her ears still buzzed, obscuring the screams she knew roiled over the water. Chaos reigned. In the pandemonium, she saw bodyguards rush the governor belowdecks. Everyone ran for cover
A shower of stone hit her in the face
Instinctively she rolled to her right, falling two feet to a lower ledge of rock. She kept hold of her weapon and grabbed the spent casing as she moved. Another bullet struck just above her.
Someone wanted Governor Alvarez really dead.
And Bill’s information had been right about the target but wrong about the date, either because it changed or was never accurate to begin with. She’d ponder what that meant later when no one was shooting at her.
Not her favorite pastime, dodging bullets.
But something she did well.
Now, however, she wasted no time on a firefight. Her crew waited for her. All she had to do was leave.
Adaeze took a fraction of a second to shove the earplugs in a pocket. Carefully choosing hand– and footholds, clambered down the steep incline to where she’d left her scuba sled. The distant roar of a car engine told her someone fast approached her perch above. She grabbed the sled off a boulder and, waiting for the waves to surge outward, jumped in with it. It started at her touch and propelled her swiftly under the ocean to where her submarine waited. The anticipated gunfire never materialized. The must have submerged before they spotted her. Thirty feet beneath the waves, she’d leave no visible wake. Now she welcomed the onslaught of darkness which also covered her escape.
The homing device mounted on the sled guided her straight to the waiting submarine.
~ ~ ~
“The yacht is already back in the marina, and the news is buzzing about the attempted assassination,” Malkia told Adaeze when she stepped onto the bridge. She’d hurriedly changed her wet suit for dry clothes.
“Good. Are they saying anything about the body found blasted to bits on the clifftop?”
Five pairs of eyes riveted on her, Malkia’s blue ones and those of the other four people crewing the bridge. Ron Weir, a slight man barely out of his adolescence and only non-marine, exchanged a shocked look with hulking Ansara who towered over them all and looked able to break anyone in half with his bare hands—and who barely tolerated the cramped quarters on the sub where he couldn’t stand straight.
The remaining two crewmembers, women taller than Adaeze but shorter than everyone else in the group, looked equally stunned. Affectionately teased with the monikers Light Red and Dark Red respectively, Rose’s strawberry blond tresses would never be confused with Carmen’s auburn locks, so dark as to be reddish black instead of reddish brown.
“Body?” Malkia prompted dryly.
“A real sniper was out to get her tonight. I saw him first and shot him. And he wasn’t alone. Someone shot back. They came after me and damn near caught me on the cliff. If I’d tried to escape by land, I’d never have made it.”
“Now what?” Malkia asked.
“Get us close to the surface and deploy the antenna. I need to call Bill.”
At the helm, Rose complied. Adaeze dialed as soon as she had a signal.
Bill picked up immediately. “Adaeze, thank God. Are you monitoring the news? The governor is heading back to San Jose, says she doesn’t want to endanger anyone at the convention. Someone killed the sniper who shot at her. Was that you?”
“Yes, that was me. Listen,” she told him, stressing her next words. “He wasn’t alone. Someone else was there and came after me, but I didn’t get a look at who. The sooner police identify the body, the better. It might tell you who else is involved.”
She smiled at the concern in his voice, but kept her own gruff as she answered. “Fine. They didn’t get close.” As an afterthought, she added, “Was anyone on the yacht hurt?”
“Bumps and bruises from the stampede, but otherwise, no.”
“Good.” She’d fleetingly wondered if flying shards of ice would impale anyone, then had decided most of it would vaporize or melt instead. “Have enough time now to contact your friend?”
“I hope so.” He suddenly sounded beset by exhaustion. “Thanks, Adaeze. I won’t forget the pardons. I can’t promise,” regret filled his deep voice, “but I’ll do my best. Get me the names.”
She texted him the list she had ready.
“Got it,” he said.
“Let me know what happens. For real. Not just what makes the news.”
Months passed before Bill got back in touch. In the interim, she pieced together much of the story thanks to news leaks and a few contacts of her own, but mostly thanks to Ron’s hacking skills. Enough to give her an idea how forthcoming Bill was being with her when he did call.
Her cell phone rang at five in the morning, reminding her what a morning person Bill was—and she was not. Nonetheless, the soft chime brought her instantly awake. “Yes, Bill?” She sat up in her cot and grabbed the cell phone from her dresser in the spartan room of her group’s base of operations, an island off the Oregon coast.
He sounded smug. “Six pardons, per your request.”
“Really?” despite what she’d told him, she hadn’t held out much hope. Her spirits rose. “Fantastic. Thanks.”
“But, Adaeze, they want their submarine back.”
“What submarine?” she infused her tone with annoyance. Innocence was never her style—not even when she was innocent. “Are we pardoned or not?”
“Relax, that’s what I told them you’d say.” He sounded, if possible, even more self-satisfied. “Yes, you are pardoned. But they might like some favors in the future. I told them you’d see, on a case-by-case basis. But that I thought you’d be amenable.”
“Good answer. So–?” she prompted.
All traces of levity vanished. “That sniper you shot, that was a coworker of mine. Secret service arrested six more people in my office. The verdict at the moment is that they were an isolated group, disgruntled at Alvarez’s popularity and success. There’s some debate as to what threatened them more: that she was hispanic, so young, or a woman. Or some combination of the above. But the whole mess seems to be resolved.”
“Glad to hear it.” That matched what she’d been able to learn. Then, she had to make double sure. “You’re not holding out on me, are you? Are we really in the clear?”
“Totally and completely,” he assured her. “Just don’t do anything stupid and ruin it, ok?”
“We’ll do our best.” She couldn’t even sound gruff at the moment. “Thanks, Bill. I mean it.” She couldn’t care less about her reputation, but others on her crew, some even younger than her thirty years, deserved a chance at a life without any black marks against them.
“You’re welcome. And Adaeze,” he said before she hung up, “I want to hear all about the submarine.”
“Uh huh,” she responded in a ‘yeah, right’ tone. Little did he know— “Bye, Bill.”
She grinned to herself in the darkness as myriad possibilities presented themselves to her.
No longer hunted in the U.S.
That didn’t help the international warrants, of course but they all predated the sub.
It almost made piracy too easy.
She liked the hunt, although being the prey quickly grew tiresome. What had taken her off guard was how much she had liked helping someone besides herself or her team.
Perhaps it was time to change the dynamic. Instead of targeting corporate robber barons, they could get even more information on drug lords, terrorists and the like. They could even go after Somali pirates and such, those much less discriminating on whom they hurt.
She lay back, interlaced fingers behind her head on the pillow.
She liked the idea of a new dynamic better and better.