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Previews of: Evolution of a killer -

EVOLUTION OF A KILLER - THE LAZARUS CHRONICLES BOOK ONE (chapter one)

(Previews of published and pending novels by writer, Robert Ullrich)





Chapter One


September 19, 2003


Sean O’Brien slowly regained consciousness – not sure what happened and no idea where he was. He remembered the valet handing him the keys to his BMW, getting in the car and pulling out of the parking lot turning left. Then it hit him – the face in the rearview mirror and the gun. O’Brien pulled over to the curb when he was told, expecting a car-jacking. That’s when everything went black.


His head was pounding as he opened his eyes. O’Brien found himself hanging by his feet, bound and gagged over a cracked and stained linoleum floor. Panic set in as he tried to get his hands free from behind his back. He screamed. All that came out was a muffled squeal, the ball gag in his mouth saw to that. O’Brien spun around on the chain as he struggled, stopping as quickly as he started. He wasn’t alone.


The man hanging next to him appeared to be unconscious; a trickle of dried blood on the right side of his neck. He was similarly trussed, hands behind his back with a ball gag in his mouth. O’Brien recognized him immediately: it was Tao. Mr. Tao, as he was known by all, was head of one of Chicago’s largest Tongs. Seeing him hanging there added to O’Brien’s confusion and panic. 


Their abductor sat in the next room less than ten feet away, cloaked in darkness. He was leisurely smoking a Gurkha Beast while he waited. Now that O’Brien was awake Tao would be coming along shortly. He’d been busy while waiting for the effects of the sedative to wear off; cutting off most of his hair and shaving his beard while standing in the middle of a plastic drop cloth. When he was finished, he wrapped up the clothes he’d been wearing in it, stuffing everything into a trash bag. He slipped into a pair brown cargo shorts and an old Emerson Lake and Palmer tee shirt from the Taurkus tour. He’d picked it up in a re-sale shop in Cicero and cut the sleeves off.


There was a tattoo on his upper right arm. It was the word Juden in black, overlaid onto a yellow Star of David. The design was taken from the only picture of his grandfather he possessed. He could never find a picture of his grandmother, so he wore the Star in memory of them both. Beneath the tattoo were two sets of numbers. They were the identification numbers used for his grandparents when they were taken to Auschwitz. 


*****


He knew going in Tao would be a far more difficult target than the insurance executive. The elderly crime lord was rarely alone. It took five months to work his way close enough for Tao to even acknowledge him. It took another two months to set up a meeting under the pretense he wanted to purchase three girls. Tao was known in Chicago for running the majority of the Oriental massage parlors, as well as an excellent selection of high-end escorts. He was finally able to put together a meeting with Tao for Friday, September 19th to discuss the purchase.


Grabbing O’Brien would be easy. The insurance executive was a creature of habit. He ate at the Acadia on Wabash every Friday before driving to Plano in the western Chicago suburbs. O’Brien was an arrogant asshole, at least according to anyone who had dealings with him. He believed himself to be untouchable, primarily because of his long running relationship with Tao and the Tongs. O’Brien handled millions of dollars of property and health insurance for Tao’s more legitimate operations. All his abductor had to do was slip into the back seat of the BMW while O’Brien ate, waiting until he came out. 


O’Brien was stopped at a light several blocks from the Acadia when he spotted him in the rear view mirror. The stranger put a gun to the back of his head, directing him to pull around the corner. Once the car was in park, O’Brien was injected with a dose of Etorphine, rendering him unconscious. The kidnapper stuffed the big Irishman in the trunk and then drove the black 735i to Chinatown for his meeting with Tao.


*****


The kidnapper was known to Tao as James McDonald, a Scottish National and procurer of rare commodities for an elite clientele. McDonald arrived at the Golden Moon Restaurant at 8:45, parking near the rear entrance as he had the first two visits. His light brown hair was tinted red, as was his beard. Black horned rim glasses and blue contact lenses completed the disguise. McDonald always had a touch of plaid on him, as might be expected of a Scot, either in his tie or handkerchief. Tao believed McDonald to be vacationing in Chicago.


There were two guards loitering outside the entry, handguns flashing under their windbreakers. As before, they did an amateur-like and inefficient job of frisking him. (That would come back to haunt them.) 


This was McDonald’s third visit to the restaurant. He’d noted their youth, coupled with the reputation of Mr. Tao, made them overconfident. Not once had either of them checked the boots he always wore. After the cursory pat-down, the one called “Snake” escorted him through the kitchen to an office in the back. 


“Would you like me to stay?” Snake inquired of Mr. Tao.


“That won’t be necessary,” Tao replied. “Get back out front with Chang. Keep your eyes open.” Snake bowed, giving the red-headed man one last look before closing the door as he backed out of the room.


Tao stood, extending his hand. “Good evening, Mr. McDonald,” he said, looking at his watch. “I see you are fifteen minutes early, a good sign.” He motioned to the chair in front of his desk. It was an old leather lounge chair, tattered along the seams but surprisingly comfortable.


“Good evening, Mr. Tao,” McDonald responded with a very passable Scottish brogue. “I don’t like to keep people waiting. My father taught me it was inconsiderate.”


Mr. Tao nodded. “It is indeed. Your consideration is appreciated. You are always prompt and have never kept me waiting, a rare thing these days. May I offer you some tea?”


“Thank you, yes,” said McDonald, accepting the proffered cup with both hands. He took a sip and smiled. “Good tea, Mr. Tao, as always.”


The two men sipped their tea for about 5 minutes making small talk, mostly about Tao’s love for his Chicago Bears. He was quite the football fan, which somewhat surprised McDonald. He knew better than to attempt to steer a conversation with this man. Tao was notoriously slow-paced when talking, prone to wandering off topic on the most innocuous subjects. Tao used those times to evaluate the man in front of him. He would test their patience, knowledge of world events and personality traits. It gave him insight into the type of man he was dealing with.


Tao was a very patient man and expected it in return. Tonight however, there would be no stories or parables. It was time to do business. He was satisfied that McDonald wasn’t a vice-cop, or affiliated with any law-enforcement entity or rival gang. He’d received assurances from his contact in the Chicago Dark Lords that McDonald was legitimate, well-funded and as reliable as he was discreet.


“Mr. McDonald,” said Tao, “I understand you wish to make a purchase from me.”


“I do,” McDonald replied. “I am in the market for three entertainers for a client of mine in Edinburgh.”


“Edinburgh is in Scotland, is it not? Why then, do you wish to deal with me for this purchase?” asked Tao. “Surely there are numerous European suppliers much closer, the Russians for example.”


McDonald nodded. “That is true. However, I am here in Chicago, and my client desires delivery within the week. He is accustomed to prompt service and I don’t wish to tarnish my reputation by failing to fill his order in a timely manner. One week doesn’t allow me the time to procure the product through normal channels. That is why I have come to you, Mr. Tao.” McDonald continued, “I’ve been told by several trusted contacts here in Chicago, that your quality is far superior to that of the former Communists. My client has a penchant for oriental ladies and from what I hear, none can compare to the women of Tao.” McDonald watched the old man’s face light up from the flattery. 


“I am curious though,” Tao commented as he leaned back in his chair. “Who do you normally use as suppliers?” asked Tao, feeling McDonald out.


“With all due respect, Mr. Tao, that would be my business, certainly none of yours.” McDonald leaned forward for emphasis, “If it were that easy to get me to divulge my clients and contacts, I would have been dead years ago.” 


Tao smiled, “I agree, Mr. McDonald. In fact, I would have been most disappointed had you responded in any other fashion. Discretion is a character trait that is crucial to our business.” McDonald had just passed another of Tao’s tests. 


McDonald replied politely, “I sincerely hope that I did not offend you, Mr. Tao, with the directness of my response. I assure you it was not my intent,” ending the statement with a nod of his head.


Tao returned the nod. “No apology required, Mr. McDonald. You were direct. That is a quality I respect. It is imperative no one question your discretion when it comes to your, shall we say, business partners.”


McDonald smiled and took off his glasses, slowly twisting off the right temple. It contained a needle with a small dose of Etorphine. The dosage would be sufficient to render Tao unconscious, but not enough to keep him that way more than 30 minutes. Now all he needed was the opportunity to make his move.


“Do you have photos of the product?” asked McDonald.


“Of course,” replied Tao. “Six very lovely oriental girls to choose from, all 18 years of age as you requested. Three are Japanese, one is Chinese and the other two are Thai. I find the Thai women particularly intriguing myself,” added Tao a bit whimsically. He opened a manila folder on the left side of his desk, spreading out pictures of six very beautiful, very naked Oriental girls. 


“May I?” McDonald asked as he stood, craning his neck as if to get a better look.


“Certainly,” said Tao, turning the folder towards him. McDonald moved to the left side of the desk, his right hand at his side. As Tao turned his attention back to the photos McDonald struck with speed and accuracy, plunging the needle into Tao’s ceratoid. The reaction was swift as the elderly man slumped over the desk.


McDonald had to move quickly. Tao was light, which would be an advantage when it came time to carry him out. He searched the desk, locating a .40 caliber Sig Sauer p320 in the upper right drawer, right where he expected to find a weapon. No silencer, but that wasn’t a concern. He tucked the Sig into the back of his pants, retrieved a compact Tanfoglio Witness P and silencer from his right boot, and a 16 round clip from the left. The Italian made Tanfoglio was loaded with hollow point 9mm’s. The rounds would provide maximum impact while minimizing the possibility of a through and through. One of the ballistic traits of a full metal jacketed 9mm was penetration, sometimes to the point of hitting unintended subjects behind the target.


McDonald opened the back door to the office, locating the exit at the end of a short hallway. The door had a panic bar labeled with a warning that an alarm would sound when opened. He wondered to himself if it was actually armed. If it was, he’d have plenty of lead on Snake and Chang. What McDonald didn’t know was there were two more guards posted out back. 


He tossed Tao over his shoulder, heading for the door and the BMW sitting close to the exit. A loud pulsating sound hit him when he opened the door. “Fuck!” McDonald exclaimed as two very surprised guards turned towards him. 


Dumping Tao unceremoniously on the ground, McDonald fired two rounds at the man on the left as he was bringing up his weapon. He put the first bullet in the guard’s chest and the second in his head. As the dead man hit the ground, McDonald dropped to one knee, using Tao as partial cover. 


The second guard had his weapon up, another Uzi from the look of it, but he hesitated when he saw Tao in the line of fire. That was all the time needed for McDonald to put two in his torso. The guard fell to his knees looking down at his wounds. The third bullet hit him in the forehead, knocking him over backwards.


 McDonald scooped up Tao in one arm and ran to the BMW, tossing him in the back seat. As he opened the front door shots rang out from behind him. Chang and Snake were coming around the corner. 


The first shot hit the roof of the car just to the right of McDonald’s head. The second caught him on the outside of his left thigh before he could get his leg in the door. Swearing to himself, McDonald fired up the engine and floored it, smoke billowing from the rear wheels. He spun the car hard to the right while lowering the passenger side window. 


McDonald spotted Chang first, who was turning to follow the car, firing in the direction of the BMW. The second shot from the Tanfoglio found its mark in the center of Chang’s chest, dropping him to the ground. 


Snake dove behind a parked Camry for cover. McDonald fired continuously through the passenger window as the BMW sped through the parking lot. Seconds later, Snake lay dead behind the Toyota, one of the rounds having hit him just below his right ear. He never even got off a shot.


Coming out of the lot, McDonald took a right on Archer and then a hard left, arriving at Halstead and 21st Street less than two minutes later. He took the alley around back of the vacant three story red brick building on the corner, pulling to a stop and cutting the engine.


McDonald gave himself a cursory examination of the gunshot wound to his thigh. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. There was blood, but it wasn’t flowing freely. He took off his shirt, fashioning a temporary dressing for his leg. He picked up sirens in the distant, working their way towards the restaurant. He punched a number in his cell and hit send.


“It’s me,” said McDonald, when the call was answered. “I might need some stitches,” he added with a chuckle. “I caught a round in the left thigh.” He listened for a minute or so. “No, it’s not bad, a through and through. The bleeding’s already begun to slow. I’ve got a field dressing on it that should do for now.” 


McDonald listened another minute. “Negative. No one comes to the kill zone, unless they have a serious death wish. I’ll shoot first and identify later.” 


After a short pause he responded. “Yes, I have both targets.”


“The cops are heading this way. I’ll fill you in later.” Without further ado, McDonald ended the call. 


The car was all but invisible behind the building with the black BMW tucked in the shadows under the fire escape. 


McDonald glanced at the south east corner and saw a shadow moving in the shadows. A red laser dot appeared and disappeared quickly. His look-out was in place. Seconds later a Chicago patrol car shot by on Halstead, heading south. McDonald waited five minutes. One more cop car had blown by seconds after the first, but nothing since then. Satisfied that would be it for now, he went to work.





family matters - chapter one

"FAMILY mATTRS: THE LAZARUS CHRONICLES BOOK TWO (chapter one)

  

~1~

November 11, 2016 

7:15 AM - CST

Derek Grimsrud never saw it coming. How could he, since it was a fellow CIA agent who set everything in motion? Regardless, he was caught completely unaware for the first time in his life. In CIA circles, he was referred to only as Mr. Black for security reasons. Only a handful of people outside his team knew even his first name. The reason; he commanded a black ops team of specialists, operating out of Fort Bliss Army Airfield. He was also one of less than a dozen that knew the international assassin – code name: The Chameleon, on a personal level. The Chameleon had saved Derek’s life several years ago, and from that grew a closeness that defied logic. 

Derek sauntered out of Charros Mexican Restaurant rubbing his very satisfied, very full stomach, headed for his black Jeep Rubicon. He’d eaten too much, so he decided to blame it on his chopper pilot, Craig. They usually ate breakfast together, usually at Charros. Derek ‘forced’ himself to eat both little fresh apple pies Senora Alvarez prepared especially for the duo. They’d been coming there for years and it was her way of thanking them. Derek rationalized that he HAD to eat Craig’s portion or Senora Alvarez would be offended. Logical or not, that sweet cinnamon topped pie with crust so flaky it melted in your mouth, had to be eaten. There was no way around it.

Charros was a small family owned restaurant on the West side of Laredo, Texas, across the border from the Mexican city of Juarez. Juarez had been turned into a warzone by the Drug Cartels. Trafficking in everything from pot to humans was the norm in the northern Mexican City. It was also known for its many factories that supplied parts to American automobile manufacturers. Many of the plant employees lived in El Paso, commuting daily across the border.

Derek heard a young girl scream as he was clearing the restaurant door. His head snapped to the left, immediately picking the girl out of a crowd. Two men were dragging what appeared to be an 8 to 10-year-old in a bright yellow sundress towards a brown, late model Ford F250 van. Derek sprang into action out of reflex; running towards the two men. He was so focused on the girl he didn’t see another man in the alleyway next to Charros. 

“Hey!” he shouted at the two men. “Let her go!” His Kimber .45 was already coming out of his holster as he skidded to a stop. That’s when he was hit from behind with a leather sap, dropping him to his knees. Two of the men scooped him up as he fell and tossed him into the waiting van. The girl ran up the street, her part in the deception completed. 

The Ford laid rubber as it pulled away from the curb, catching the attention of Senora Alvarez. She jotted down the license plate as the van sped off. She called the El Paso Police department for the umpteenth time with information about a speeding vehicle in front of her restaurant. The desk sergeant explained to Senora Alvarez, for the umpteenth time, they couldn’t send a patrol car out every time she called about a someone she thought was speeding. Had she known Derek was in the back, it might have made a difference, but she didn’t. The officer took the information and promised to investigate, mollifying Senora Alvarez enough to get her off the phone. It didn’t matter to Isabella Alvarez. She put the license number in her little card box, organized by plate number for future reference. It was her way of trying to help keep the neighborhood a little safer.

*****

The first thing Derek noticed when he came around was the smell of potatoes. He opened his eyes to slits, not sure what he would find, and realized he was under a pile of old burlap bags. That explained the potato smell. The vehicle he was in was moving at a steady speed with few bumps along the way. They were on a main highway; they had to be if they were in Mexico, and of that he had little doubt. The conversations he could hear were all in Spanish; Mexican Spanish and not the mix of English and Spanish found in South Texas. It made sense. If someone was kidnapping a CIA agent, in broad daylight no less, they needed to get out of the US. El Paso was almost perfect with Juarez just across the border. It wouldn’t have taken more than a hundred to bribe a Mexican border guard, but the US side would be more difficult, but not impossible. The Cartels used more than money for leverage and many of the guards on the US side had family in Juarez. 

Derek knew it was about 8:20am when they jumped him. Although he didn’t know how long he’d been out, he estimated two hours. Whoever hit him did it right; enough force to knock him out, but not crack his skull, for which he was grateful in an ironic way. Training dictated 90 to 180 minutes for a similar blow, so Derek split the difference, calling it 10:30am. He would keep track of the time mentally with his internal clock. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do until sundown. Sundown was a fixed time, so it would give him a solid reference point.

Derek could see one man well through the burlap. He was sitting to the right, on a folding chair in the back of what had to be a full-sized van. It was too roomy for a mini, and not big enough for a cargo van. He spotted a tattoo of a shoe on the man’s left earlobe; Los Zapatos de la Muerte Cartel insignia.

Derek wasn’t surprised. Six months ago, he’d led an off the book’s operation for the hit-man known as The Chameleon. It was a rescue mission; an extraction of three innocent civilians from the small town of Los Trios, southeast of Juarez. It went off without a hitch; if you don’t count the two SUV’s that his pilot Young Bear took out with their Sikorsky CH53-E and four well placed rockets. Derek could have let them go, except as an ex-Navy Seal, who had lost eight of his operatives to the Cartels in the last 18 months, it was an opportunity to thin the herd. He took it. He wouldn’t regret it in retrospect. 

Nothing the crew was discussing was of any intelligence value, so Derek decided to sleep, saving his strength for later. The bags were comfortable enough, and the floor was smooth. He also had the secure knowledge of the GPS locator embedded in his sinus cavity. He might not know where he was, but sooner or later someone would. 

*****

Camacho’s men were under strict orders to keep the CIA agent alive under any conditions. Otherwise, there wasn’t much they couldn’t do to the operative.

Andres Camacho was the new head of Los Zapatos; taking over after the Chameleon executed his uncle, Carlos Torano. Torano had gone to Argentina expecting to recover over 12 million dollars of Cartel money from his half-brother, Enrique Garza. Garza had embezzled the funds from the money he laundered through Gulf Coast Bank and Trust while president of the Corpus Christi location. Neither got what they were expecting. Enrique had paid the Chameleon to relocate him, and Torano had been sent to Argentina to get his money back at the behest of the same man.

The Chameleon wanted both men dead; eliminating any potential threat towards Angelique Shaloub, the woman who had captured his heart. They died when over twelve pounds of Semtex detonated; the two pounds in the laptop Torano was holding and the ten pounds L. J., the Chameleon’s associate, had packed into the stove and a brand-new BMW sitting in the garage. 

The death of Torano created a vacuum that Andres quickly filled; eliminating any competition for the position. He was ruthless as his uncle, having proven his loyalty to the Cartel by killing his own father, Carlos Torano’s first cousin, Reynaldo Camacho. 

Reynaldo had been selling cocaine through alternate distribution lanes, skimming product from the pipeline to feed his new suppliers. He managed to keep it going for over a year before Torano figured it out. Torano called Andres to the compound, not certain that the boy wasn’t involved, even having been told otherwise. It didn’t stop Torano from torturing the 19-year-old. In the end, he was satisfied that Andres wasn’t involved, ordering the boy to execute his own father to prove his loyalty.

He learned a lesson the hard way from the experience. Torano denigrated and humiliated him in front of his peers for killing his father while the man slept. “A woman can kill a man in his sleep,” Torano had shouted at him. “It takes a man to kill a man face to face, mano y mano.” As punishment, he made Andres a mule for the man who replaced his father, rather than giving Andres the position he had been promised. Resentment grew in Andres until he eventually reached out to Phillip Weaver, a well-known CIA agent operating out of the American Embassy in Mexico City, his cover being a cultural attaché. Andres cultivated a relationship with the agent, becoming an informant. He provided information undermining his enemies wherever possible, all the while plotting revenge on his uncle. In the end, the Chameleon took care of his vengeance for him when he killed Torano in Argentina. Andres quickly took over control of the Cartel. 

Andres avoided mentioning what he had in mind for Derek Grimsrud. He knew there was no love lost between the two men, but CIA is CIA and he didn’t want Weaver interfering in his plans. Perhaps if he had been a little more devious, he would have learned of the GPS locator, but such was not the case. Weaver had no knowledge of the actual kidnapping of Agent Grimsrud. If Camacho had told him of his plans, Weaver wouldn’t have been all that unhappy to hear of Derek’s position. Weaver was a decent agent, but he carried grudges, and the one he carried against Derek would never be forgiven, let alone forgotten. 

It wasn’t like Andres didn’t have Intel on Grimsrud. Weaver often spoke of the ex-Seal’s abilities and habits when drunk. The agent made little effort to disguise his feelings about Derek, but Camacho didn’t believe Weaver. He found it difficult to comprehend any man could be that good at warfare and not be hardened in his heart. Andres thought of Derek as he thought of himself; ruthless, cunning and willing to go to any length to complete the mission. He was wrong on several counts which one day would come back to haunt him.

*****

Camacho’s men whiled away the hours as they traveled south. They understood Andres’ reasons for taking the gringo to the jungle but wondered about the wisdom – though never aloud. It was Carlos Torano who started the tradition with Los Zapatos; the tradition of the hunt. 

The hunt was something that appealed to the men in the van. Each of them had lost one or more family members to the Sikorsky’s rockets outside of Los Trios. The fact they had been ordered not to kill the gringo left a sour taste in more than one mouth, not that anyone had voiced their objections directly to Camacho. One of the men, Marcos Martinez, wanted Derek dead despite orders from the Hefe. Marcos lost two brothers that fateful day outside Los Trios and he wanted blood for blood. 

Camacho had placed his most trusted man, Ben de la Sedro, in charge of the operation. Ben would make certain orders were followed, no matter his personal feelings. Yes, Ben had lost a relative in the attack, his nephew Jorge, but that was business to him. He had spent 20 years in the Cartel knowing that death was as much a part of the business as anything. He didn’t want revenge on the gringo, but not for any reason related to the attack. His nephew was dead. Many of his friends were dead, too. It was life in Cartel – few if any, got out alive unless they went to prison. 

Antonio Ybarra was Ben’s right hand, as it were. He had grown up with de la Sedro on the streets of Juarez and owed his life to the older man. If not for Ben, he would have been beaten to death by members of a rival street gang. There was nothing Antonio wouldn’t do for the man he saw as savior and brother.

The rest of the team included Jesus Veracruz, Rene Gutierrez and Carlos Martinez. Rene and Carlos both lost brothers, while Jesus lost two nephews, the brothers of Marcos Martinez. Rene and Carlos were good soldiers in the Cartel. They had no real ambition to move up and were satisfied with the money and the fear they wielded as Zapatos. Jesus was less inclined to toe the Cartel line. He was Marcos’ brother and shared the desire for revenge on the CIA operative, as well as the rest of Derek’s team.

Ben, Antonio and Jesus executed the kidnapping and were now headed to the Selva Lacandona, the Lacandon Jungle which spread from the southern tip of Mexico through Nicaragua. Their destination, a remote cabin east of the village of Ocosingo, in the Mexican State of Chiapas. The only time Derek was allowed out of the van was to take a leak and drink some water. It wasn’t much but Derek took what he could get. The added benefit was identifying the occasional landmark that let him know they were headed south, at least for now. Derek spent some of the time sleeping. When he was awake, he worked his muscle groups carefully to avoid attention and to keep the blood circulating. No matter where they were headed, or to what end, there was little chance Derek would die alone; at least not the way he looked at it. If it was his time, he would go out as a soldier; taking with him as many Cartel thugs as possible. 

image3

"THE WTINESS" LAZARUS CHRONICLES BOOK THREE

'the witness" the lazarus chronicles book three (2-chapters)

  

  

Chapter 1 

     The streets of the city were quiet. It was if the night was patiently waiting for the first light of dawn. A lone couple walked hand in hand; a striking pair. She was every bit of 5’10”, with silky black hair catching the cool night breeze. Her eyes of blue seemed luminescent in the moonless night. She walked with effortless grace; gliding more-so than walking. To say she was stunning in a white summer dress was too simple.

     She rested her head on the right shoulder of the 6’ 2” man she strolled with. Her black hair set-off against the blond highlights of his shoulder-length light brown. His hazel eyes seemed always moving, a man cognizant of his surroundings. They never stopped tracking as he swept the area around them. There was no sign of fear or indecisiveness. Even to the untrained eye he had the demeanor of a man who was always on guard yet never a bit concerned. The couple leisurely angled towards a sidewalk café, having decided a warm cup of tea would cut the morning-chill.

Approximately 100 yards to the south of the walking couple, eyes followed the pair from the shadows thrown by the street lights. If you knew where to look, you’d be hard pressed to see the owner of those eyes. A man, 5’ 10” tall, medium build – very little of it fat, though you couldn’t tell by looking. Dressed head to toe in black, standing motionless made him virtually invisible – not the same thing as truly.

     The brown-haired man spotted his observer with a glance in his direction. He avoided looking directly at him. Looking straight at the man in black would have made him impossible to see. It was the difference in shades of black that the brown-haired man saw the shadow within the shadows. A flicker of a smile danced across his face, gone almost before it started.

     He kissed his female companion on the forehead and pulled a cell-phone from his pocket.

In the shadows, another phone began to vibrate. The watcher retrieved it from his inner jacket pocket; an old flip-phone with no screen to light up when opened. He placed the phone to his ear, not speaking and waited.

     “You answered,” said the brown-haired man. “I wasn’t sure you would.”

     Silence greeted him.

     “Now, now,” he said, “don’t be a spoil-sport just because I spotted you. You are quite good at your craft. I am simply better.”

     Still no answer from the shadows.

     “You have two options. Speak to me as you step out into the light or die where you stand.” A silenced Beretta 92 FS had appeared in his right hand as he turned away from his female companion. 

     She glanced at the weapon as he turned to his left, back the way they’d come. With a half-smile she whispered, “You look as though you were born with a gun in your hand.” Kissing his cheek, she released his arm, stepping out of sight behind a tree.

     “Well?” asked the brown-haired man.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the shadow began to move. He stopped at the edge of the light cast by the street-lamp.

     He finally spoke. “Do you truly believe you can hit me from that distance?” It was close to one-hundred yards, no easy shot with a rifle in this light, let alone a handgun.

     The man in black suddenly doubled over as though he’d been kicked in the solar plexus.      Dropping the phone, he cursed softly to himself. “Fuck, I didn’t think he could do it.”

He slid down the brick wall until seated in the damp alleyway. His body felt as on fire, then the shock began to take over, slowly dulling the pain. “I just don’t fucking believe it,” he whispered as he slid over onto his right side, closing his eyes as his life-force ran out into the alley.

     His last words, mumbled through the rattle of death; “I never should have come after him alone.” 

     The brown-haired man was gone before he drew his last breath. Having gently pulled the trigger from hip-level, he rejoined his lady as he slid the silenced 9 mm into a shoulder holster; never looking back; knowing his aim was true. His suit, a well-tailored Armani, gave no indication a weapon hung beneath his right shoulder. 

     He held out his left elbow as she slipped a delicate hand into the crook. Together, they resumed their stroll through the quiet streets of the French city. A city which held over a decade of memories for the man who'd spent much of his youth in Châteaurenard.

Chapter 2

     “It seems like it’s been years since that night in Key West,” said the man on the water side of the fire pit. His profile was lit by the burning logs; the stone fire-pit more for appearances than warmth. The night was muggy, almost to the point of intolerable. The swimming pool behind the two men was getting plenty of use.

     “I know what you mean, Derek,” answered Lazarus from the other side of the fire. “Yet, at times it’s like it was yesterday when I got the letter.”

     Anyone close to Lazarus knew about “the letter”; it was always referred to as such. The letter he received the night of his reunion with Derek Grimsrud, the CIA operative across the fire-pit. 

It was a night of complete absolutes. It began with absolute joy when Derek stepped out of the wheel-chair at the restaurant. He’d been paralyzed from the neck down by a round taken in his upper back. It was as close to miraculous as Lazarus would ever concede.

     Moments later, Lazarus was taken to the depths of sorrow as he read a letter from his close friend, Darnell. The letter bore news of the death of Darnell’s wife, and Lazarus’ closest friend, Helen; gunned down in the street by one of the Tongs in South Chicago.

     Lazarus never heard from Darnell again. The word on the street was the former shock-collar for the Dark Lords of Chicago, took over two dozen members of the responsible Tong before being killed himself.

     Darnell had coaxed an oath from Lazarus to not come to Chicago. Lazarus had new responsibilities in a world he was just beginning to understand; a world where the man who had been a virtual island for three decades, now found himself with a family. 

     Lazarus honored his promise in his own way – the only way he could and live with himself. He traveled to China and shipped a box to the main location of the Five Tongs. The packages performed with the precision of their maker, killing sixty members of the Five Tongs in a single day when they detonated upon being opened.

     The men sat in comfortable silence, sipping a single malt while savoring a Gurkha Chairman Select – an excellent cigar by any standard. Lazarus had saved Derek’s life twice, now – his parents spared by the same man. The man known as the Chameleon; sent to kill them but befriending them in the end. 

     It made for a unique friendship, an international assassin, wanted in at least a dozen countries, a CIA Black Ops team leader and his father, an NSA analyst.

*****

     It was that friendship that drove Lazarus to all but eradicate a Mexican drug cartel, and kill CIA Special Agent, Phillip Steven Weaver. Weaver had set the wheels in motion that resulted in the wounding of Derek and two members of his team. One fully recovered, however, former Delta Ranger, Sergeant Jason Johnson, lost his left eye in the Key West attack.

     The events were over a year behind them now, but not the fallout that came with “The Chameleon’s” aerial assaults on Chihuahua, Mexico and the mountain stronghold of the former Cartel, Los Zapatos de la Muerte, had followed Lazarus like a shadow for over a year. He’d garnered international coverage during the air-strikes on Los Zapatos. The positive of the coverage was his stature and reputation had grown to almost mythical proportions. The negative repercussions were evidenced with the attempt by one of the Chicago Tongs sending someone to take him out.

     Fortunately for Lazarus, the shoulder-launched missile used by the man charged with bringing down the AC-130, was an old British design, The Blow-Pipe. It was possibly the most inaccurate missile ever created. It hit the mountain side hundreds of yards behind the banking Spectre. The fact Gustaf Reichart, one of the CIA operatives supplying support had shot Tommy Huang immediately after launch. Without the operator to guide the missile, it was destined to miss. 

     The entire mission was driven by Lazarus anger at Derek being first kidnapped, then shot. He got support in very non-typical fashion. Primary support came from Marine General Nick Fisher, Director of Covert Operations for the CIA and Ferdinand Villa, the newly elected President of Mexico. 

     The Mexican government flew an old C-130 into a remote mountain valley as a cover for Lazarus. The official word was “The Chameleon” was killed in the crash; not that many of the criminal contingency bought the deception. 

*****

     “When are you heading back to El Paso?” asked Lazarus.

     “Day after tomorrow,” said Derek. “Fischer is sending an Air Force T-39 to pick me up at Homestead. I will be flying in style; not as sweet as your Gulfstream, but it ain’t bad.”

     Lazarus nodded. “The Sabreliner is a fine aircraft. Fitting for a hot-shot CIA operative such as yourself.” He got the middle finger in response, and a chuckle for his effort.

     “Fair enough, Mr. Black,” said Lazarus, using Derek’s cover name.

     “No problem, Camo-man,” dead-panned Derek.

     Their repartee was interrupted by a disembodied voice coming over the hidden speaker on the deck. “Dinner is ready, that is if you two are done reminiscing.”

     “Was that Rebecca?” asked Derek.

     “Yep,” replied Lazarus. 

     “You think she made dinner?”

     “If she did, we are going to eat it without complaint, got it?

     “Copy that,” said Derek. “I just hope her cooking has improved.”

     “Beggars can’t be choosers, Grimsrud, get your ass in there and man-up.” Lazarus delivered the statement flatly, but his eyes betrayed his concern of the evening’s cuisine.

     Together they marched into the house, for all the world looking like two condemned men on their way to death row.

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Memoirs of the (not-so) grim reaper

Prologue and Chapter One

PROLOGUE

  Hi, my name is Bob, and I’m the Grim Reaper. Now, before you get too worked up, this ain’t no damn AA meeting; so all you friends of Bill? – Just don’t. 

  Yes, my name is Bob, (well, it was when I put pen to paper on this journey anyway), and you got it – I AM the Reaper, the guy who collects souls for the gods. Yeah, I did use a plural and didn’t use a capital G. I cap the name of only one God. If that bothers you, you’re really gonna be in a bad way after a couple of chapters. This book ain’t for the faint of heart or weak of spirit. (I love it when writers say that shit. Stephen King and Michaelbrent Collings write shit that will keep you up nights – not me.) If you’re the sort that gets easily offended, that’s good to know. That’s sorta my goal, at least one of them, offend “religious” people that is. Basically, this is a biography of sorts with a little history of the world prior to my entrance.

   So lean back, grab an adult beverage or fire up a fatty, whatever trips your trigger, floats your boat, winds your clock – you get the picture. I would, however, strongly encourage you, “Refrain from partaking of any of the more mind-bending and or 

perception altering hallucinogenic compounds, legal or otherwise. 

   One more thing – and it’s important. I swear by any and all the gods if one of you damn “Here, hold my beer” rednecks licks a toad to get off – I am personally gonna haul your ass over to Baal. Yeah, that Baal. The Canaanite Baal – baby eater extraordinaire. Now he has the reputation of being one nasty god. He’s the one Jupiter refers to as “Baal the Bitch; Cosmic Buzz-Kill”. Now, whether or not that is accurate is a story for a later day. 

  Got it? Good, because I hate repeating myself.

  Now let’s get to it. 

The Reaper of Souls

Robert Angus Dunbar the Seventh. 

(Since 1475 A.D. anyway)

  

1

  I’ve been tailing this guy for three weeks, not that he knows. I’m one damn good stalker – a nice little trait I picked up from a Mimbreño Apache fella by the name of Mangus-Coloradas (La-choy Ko-kun-noste, AKA "Red Sleeve"). Most people don’t remember him. Now that, my friends, is a damn shame. Mangus-Coloradas was father-in-law to the great Cochise of the Chiricahua and grandfather to Geronimo; not to mention Mimbreño Apache Chief Victorio and the Mescalero Apache Chief Kutu-hala. Google that shit if you don’t believe me. La-choy Ko-kun-noste was the greatest warrior and strategist of his time; and few if any through all time could hold a candle to him. Now, If he had been that fucking idiot, Custer, or maybe a Civil War general like Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, or some other white ass fucking general, you’d know who he was. History is written by the winners. No, this ain’t gonna be no history lesson with moral judgments and what-not. Well, maybe a little, I am quite the opinionated sumbitch on many issues.

  I digress. I have a tendency do that a lot. It’s one of the byproducts of living so long. So quit yer whining and suck it the hell up.

  As I was saying, or bragging if you will, I am a stalker’s stalker. This guy was nothing, to tail. Here’s a tip from Bob’s your Uncle; it’s not the target that usually busts your ass. It’s some clerk at the seven come eleven who spots you two or three days in a row and blows your cover. Hey, it happens. It just makes it more interesting.

  I haven’t been given the reason why this guy needs to cancel all his long-term plans. I have no idea. Hermes dropped off the name and location about a month ago; no details, just a name and a location; Dr. Jay Willingbrook of Springfield. The gods are funny that way; they didn’t even give me a state. It’s not like there’s only one Springfield in the damn country, ya know. It took a couple of weeks but I found him. I love Google. Now, as I mentioned I have been tailing the Doc for about two and a half weeks. From what I’ve seen, so far anyway, he seems to be a decent enough person. Being decent enough doesn’t mean shit to the gods. 

   Dr. Willingbrook is the chief of surgery at the Springfield Medical Center. He always seems to have something nice to say to everyone. He even gets the door for ladies, you know, shit like that. To top that off he’s got about the hottest redhead since Rita Hayworth for a wife. Still, none of that means shit to me. He’s on the gods’ radar and that ain’t where your ass wants to be – not when they’ve called me in. I’m pretty much the King of last chances, and yours aren’t good by the time I get involved. Only once in the history of the Reaper has one person survived my visit. 

   I am somewhat startled from my revelry when I hear someone talking from behind me.

“Excuse me, sir?” The voice is shaky; switched an octave half way through.

Don’t ask me why I did this, maybe it’s because I was bored, or ornery, or both. 

I slowly turned around, and by turned around I mean just my head; damn near a full one hundred and eighty degrees. It’s pretty dam creepy and is usually enough for most folks to start making the sign of the cross while thinking about that “Exorcist” movie, (Catholic or not, mind you). 

  I looked him up and down, slow and real dramatic like. He looked around seventeen to nineteen. Mother Nature must have been pissed at his parents – his face looked like somebody stomped out a fire with golf shoes. Acne scars, cuts, chunks missing; it ain’t pretty, but I’ve seen way worse so I smile, “What can I do for you, young man?”

   The kid was staring down at his ratty looking Chucks, shifting his weight from side to side. Finally, he sorta peeked up at me through his long and somewhat greasy black hair, “I was wondering if you had any spare change?”

   “Why?” I asked still smiling. “You need a fix or something? Are you some kind of junkie? Are you just looking for a little taste or are we are talking ‘I don’t remember my own fucking name’ quantity?”

   Shit. His face turned deep red and he actually flashed a little attitude/anger at me from those surprisingly blue eyes. “I am NOT a junkie, SIR,” he stated tersely. “I have never used illegal drugs in my life. I’m just hungry. I live under a bridge out by the interstate and haven’t eaten for about three days now.”

   “Sorry to have bothered you, SIR,” he spits out the sir even more sarcastically then before. I like that kind of shit. The kid’s got some real cojones hanging there. 

“Hold on a second,” I said as a stood and rotated my body back under my head. It’s a trip to watch and he doesn’t even blink. 

   The kid wasn’t moving either. He lifted his head up and looked me in the eye. I could see he was ready to fight, or at least try and defend himself. He was REALLY pissed. I did NOT see that one coming, but hey, I’m the Reaper, not a fucking psychic. “What’s your name?” I inquired.

  “Jonathan. Jonathan Winchester, sir.” No sarcasm this time, but the subservient tone had gone bye-bye. I was really starting to like this kid.

“You can drop the sir shit, Jonathan. It doesn’t impress me,” I replied with a scowl.

   “I’m not interested in impressing you,” he responded, still looking me in the eye. “I was taught to address my elders with respect – sir.”

   He just stood there. I could see the tension draining out of him as his eyes started to waver. Even if you don’t know you’re staring into the eyes of the Reaper, it can still give you the willies after a bit, or so Thor tells me. Yeah, that Thor; Why? Do you think there’s a shit-ton of Thor’s running around in the heavens? 

   I got an idea. “I tell you what, Jonathan. If you’ll do something for me, I’ll pay you, and pay you quite well, provided you complete the task.” I watched his face closely to see if my gut was right.

   I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. It sort of hurt to watch. Finally, he turned those big baby-blues of his back up towards me. “Is it legal?” he asked.

   “If I tell you it pays two hundred bucks, does it matter?” I replied.

   He shrugged and said, “Probably not; unless I get caught.”

   “Now we’re cookin with gas, Jonathan,” I said with a grin as I pulled a nice crisp Benjamin from my shirt pocket. His eyes lit up like the fucking Fourth of July. 

I tucked it into his ratty ass looking trench coat and patted the pocket. “Consider that an advance in good faith,” I told him. 

   All he said was, “What do you want me to do?”

   Bingo - game, set and match.

   I turned around, sat back down on the bench, and motioned him to take a seat. I pointed at the Burger King across the street. “See the guy sitting by the second window from the right?”

   “Yeah, the white guy in the blue shirt, right?” said Jonathan, his head nodding.

“That’s the one I’m talking about, yes,” I said. “I want you to go get a large soda, any flavor will do.” I fished a five-spot out of my shirt pocket and handed it to Jonathan. “I’m even gonna pay for it.”

   “I can do that, sure,” says Jonathan, “then what?”

He’s a quick study. “Then,” I said with my best poker face, “I want you to dump it on the guy in the blue shirt; the whole damn cup. Do you think you can handle that, Jonathan?”

The kid mulled it over for a few seconds and then asks, “Is this like a prank or something?”

“Jonathan, my man, the two hundred dollars is to retain your services. You don’t get an explanation. I’m paying you to dump a soda on that guy. Why you’re dumping it doesn’t concern you.” It was officially fish or cut bait time for the kid.

   “Gotcha,” he said and headed across the street. Did I mention I was starting to like this kid? Yes, I did. Pay attention. Take fucking notes if you have to. Oh, I got it; you make cute little bookmarks in your Kindle. 

   Five minutes later Jonathan came into view. Just as he came up to the table where the target was sitting, he looked back over his shoulder – and tripped. Well played. Anyway, sure as shit in a pigsty, the kid nailed the good doctor with the whole she-bang, cup, and all. 

   At first, the Doc didn’t react. He just sat there, looking down at his now red-stained blue shirt, Mountain Dew, Code Red from the looks of it. He grabbed a few paper napkins and wiped his face off. Then I got surprised, which doesn’t happen very often in my line of work. The Doc stood up and hit the kid with a well-placed right hook. Jonathan went down like a poled Herford.

   Honest to the gods, I started laughing. Yeah, I know – that’s a pretty dick move since I set it all in motion; so sue me. Now, the reason I was laughing was because I just caught a glimpse of the real man behind the face. It still doesn’t explain why I’m supposed to kill him, but it’s a good start. Seriously, who punches some scrawny pockmarked teenaged kid in a restaurant over a damn soda? I’ll tell you who does; fucking assholes, that’s who. 

I took a couple of steps towards Willingbrook before I caught myself. That sorta took me by surprise – again – there I was, about to rain hell down on that asshole and totally screw the Cosmic Pooch. That is something that would not play well at my annual job review, I can tell you that much. 

   Just then the Doc comes shooting out the front door and hangs a Ralph, heading west on Elm Street and away from the sound of a siren coming from the south. Somebody must have dropped a dime on the dick, you know, called the cops. Seriously, if you don’t know what “drop a dime” means, you’ve missed out on a LOT of life. 

   For the record, I’m not a total dickhead. After the Doc split I jogged on over to the Burger King to check on Jonathan. I caught a glimpse of him through the window as I rounded the corner for the front door. He was bleeding pretty badly. I’d have bet a grand that his nose was broken, from the looks of it. He made eye contact with me as I came in and gave me a whisper of a headshake to wave me off. I was impressed. He just got clocked and he’s got enough on the ball to keep me out of it. I hit the head. By the time I came out, Jonathan was being looked at by an EMT and there’s a LEO taking notes. Not the Zodiac sign, Nimrod. It stands for “Law Enforcement Officer;” apparently, you aren’t much of a Criminal Minds fan. Broaden your horizons, people; besides, a lot of the characters portrayed on CM would qualify for Reaper status in the real world. 

   I walked back over to the bench across the street and waited for Jonathan to come out. About 30 minutes later, he hit the curb I got up and started walking north up Second Avenue. I glanced back and Jonathan was following me, keeping pace, but not trying to catch up. Remember, I still owed him another hundred for the job. Yet there he was, not trying to run me down; not hollering at me to wait or any such bullshit. See, now you are starting to see what I saw in the kid; and why I am starting to like him.

   I found a bus stop at the corner of Second Ave. and Wallcock Lane. Yep, I said Wallcock. Anyway, I slid onto the bench and Jonathan plopped down about twenty seconds later. I actually didn’t laugh at his new “Raccoon” face, ya gotta give me something for that; or not.

   “You did very well, Jonathan,” I told the kid as I handed him my silk handkerchief, “very, very well.” I pulled out three more hundreds and slipped them in his pocket like before. It was quite gratifying to see the look on his face. “The extra two hundred is for the nose. I really didn’t expect the guy to hit you. Maybe I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t…my bad.”

   “What a fucking jerk,” Jonathan muttered as he dabbed at the blood that was still trickling around the bandage on his nose. He jerked his head up; a look of total embarrassment in his eyes, and said, “I meant him, not you.”

   I put my hand on his shoulder and gave him a little shake. “I know,” I responded. “That man is what I call a “DWE” – Dick with Ears.”

   That got a little chuckle out of the kid. It was fucking official. I liked Jonathan. I’m not even sure why. Hell, I don’t like anyone as a rule. I can’t. I got to be real good friends with Nero back in old Rome, and that didn’t end well as we all know. Sure, he was s couple bricks shy of a full load, but when he got to drinking, he was one hilarious motherfucker. Samuel L. Jackson would get it. Nero turned swearing into an art form. After Nero went sideways and burnt the city, I had to reap his soul. Not a lot of fun when it’s someone you know, let alone like. Eh, shit happens.

   “Are you gonna have that nose looked at?” I asked.

   “No, sir; it’s just broken, and not for the first time. It will heal and they can’t do anything for me except give me pain pills and I can handle it with aspirin.”

   “Alright, if you’re sure,” I said, “besides, it might give you some character.” I was grinning by then. No way a broken nose was going to improve that look; just sayin.

   Jonathan actually smiled. An honest to Zeus smile, too. It changed everything about him. He sat up straighter and started looking me in the eyes again. It was pretty fucking cool.

   “Where are you from, Jonathan?” I asked.

   He smiled and shrugged, “You won’t believe me, but I honestly don’t know.”

   I laughed. “How the fuck does someone not know where they were born?” It would seem we shared a common thread, which I will get too later.

   Still smiling he answered, “I started out in an orphanage, or at least that’s what they told me. It was the Cook County foster care system for me after I turned seven.” His eyes sort of clouded over for a minute. “Yep,” he said with a chuckle, “good times,” and then started laughing. 

   “I have no idea where I was born, who my parents are, what my heritage is or even if I have family somewhere that wonders where I am.”

   “They named me John Smith at the orphanage, mainly because one of the nuns said John Doe was a little rough for a kid to grow up with.” He laughed at the memory. “I chose the name Jonathan Winchester when I turned eighteen. I like the 30-30 Winchester best.”

   That got my attention and I interrupted, “Are you any good at shooting?”

   He grinned like the proverbial cat chewing on a canary. “I’m okay,” which, with the grin told me the kid was probably way past okay. I filed that away.

   I looked up and noticed it was quickly becoming evening. “I know you don’t have a place to stay, you told me that,” I said, “so I have a proposition for you.”

   “What’s that?” Jonathan asked, a hint of wariness creeping into his voice and posture.

   “How about you stay with me at the Holiday Inn,” I suggested.

   It was like I threw a fucking switch. The kid slid about three feet back and put his hands up.

   “No offense,” he said,” but I don’t like guys, ya know?”

   Jesus wept.

   He thought I wanted to bone him. Yep, I lost it, completely, right down to the hillbilly knee slap. “Jesus F. Christ, Jonathan,” I managed to get out; his face now a ball of confusion, “I have no intentions, plans, fuck that – it never crossed my mind to try and get me a little of that.” I went back to laughing and Jonathan started to relax.

   “Thanks, kid,” I said, “I needed that.” I was wiping tears from eyes and snot from my nose.  “I haven’t laughed that hard in a long damn time,” I added. “Okay, now that I got my ass pretty much back under control,” I spoke as I wiped at the tears, “let me clarify my intentions. I am offering you a room of your own, kid. I don’t swing that way, never have, and never will. Your ass will be as safe from me as if you were staying in a convent.”

   He was grinning by then, not to mention a little red in the cheeks. “Sorry, I just thought, well you know,” his voice trailed off as he tried not to laugh.

   “No sweat kid. It’s all good in the hood,” I said. “So, now that your rectal virginity is secure for the night, what do you think?”

   “I think,” he paused, “I think I could really use a shower and a bed to sleep in. It gets real damn old bathing in the river and washing my clothes by hand. Maybe they even have a Laundromat.”

   “That they do, my man, that they do,” I answered. “It’s settled. For the record, this is on me and you don’t owe me shit. You earned it.”

   “Are you sure?” he asked, still with a tinge of wariness. Fuck, I really like this kid.

   “Positive. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m going to anyway; I am one very rich sumbitch.”

   Jonathan just smiled. “Thank you, sir. I really appreciate this.”

   With that, I flagged down a cab. The driver took one look at Jonathan and said sheepishly, “I don’t want them homeless panhandlers in my cab; they tend to stink it up.”

   That pissed me off. So I took a deep breath, a really, really deep one. I inhaled for about three minutes – straight and steady. It’s a little trick I picked up from the dolphins one summer down on Padre Island. I’m actually inhaling and exhaling at the same time – it just sounds cooler than shit and can be rather unnerving. I finally let it out and leaned in towards the driver. I let him get a whiff of death; just a tad though. A human gets a good lung full of it and they are deader than a door-nail in about sixty seconds. Then I whispered in his ear so Jonathan couldn’t hear me. “You, asshole, are going to apologize to the young man, whose name is Jonathan. Next, you will get your sorry four-tooth ass out of this piece of shit and get the door for him.” He’s fixated on my voice. It’s very effective on the living. “To top it off, you are going to give him a twenty when we get to the Holiday Inn and thank him for blessing you with his presence. Are we clear?”

   The cabby nodded his head as his hand went for the handle. I stepped back and glanced at Jonathan who had no clue what was going on; he hadn’t heard any of it. The cabby walked around to the passenger side, opened the door, and did one of them British looking bows with a wave of his hand for the kid to climb in. Ten minutes later the process was repeated in reverse. The look on Jonathan’s face when the cabby handed him the twenty and thanked him was fucking A priceless.

Most days, it’s good to be the Reaper.

   I got Jonathan a room, some extra towels, two more pillows, three bars of soap, and two bottles of shampoo. Just for shits and giggles, I paid for a full night of porn. Hey, he’s a teenager and has probably never been laid by anything better than his left hand, so don’t judge me. (Like I care….I am laughing, yes, I am.)

   “That’s it?” queries Jonathan.

   “What do you mean?” I ask; a little puzzled to say the least, having covered that shit back at the bus stop.

   “I get my own room, just like that, and I don’t have to pay you back somehow”? The word ‘somehow’ sort of slithered out like a cottonmouth on its way to the riverbank. I got what he meant, and, for a moment I thought about fucking with him. The moment passed.

   “No, Jonathan, you don’t have to do anything more for me,” I smiled and winked.    “Besides, I snore like an Arkansas Razorback with sleep apnea, and you don’t want any of that. Therefore, now that we’ve cleared that up I will see ya in the morning, kid. I’m in room 326. Don’t bother coming to wake me up, just head on over to the Perkins and I’ll meet you there. No hurry; sleep in, watch some porn and make a night of it.”

   Jonathan just grinned and looked down. He’s honest to Zeus blushing like a schoolgirl; gotta be about the porn. “Thank you, sir,” he said, all choked up and shit.

I decided no bullshit right now; this is a “moment”. I put out my hand, which he slowly took. “You’re welcome, Jonathan,” I said with a smile. “Now, order some room service, eat, shower, and sleep. I will see you in the morning.” For a minute I thought he was gonna hug me. That would have ended poorly.

   (No, you don’t NEED to know what would happened if Jonathan had hugged me. You WANT to know. See, that’s one thing about humans that cranks me tighter than seventy vestal virgins. You people are ALWAYS getting your wants and needs confused. You want a shit-ton of ‘stuff’ when what your really need is just a little ‘patience’ and maybe, just maybe; you should WORK for your wants and be grateful when your needs are met. You know; roof, food, clothing, a job and maybe even a little family around the holidays. A lot of people don’t have their needs met, let alone wants. So fuck a bunch of you wanting to know what would have happened. All you NEED to know is “Nun-Ya”. As in, “It’s non-ya fucking business!” I swear to Odin I love that one; just wish I could remember who came up with it – I’d give their props right here in my little Souvenir de la Grande Faucheuse.

  Admit it, go on, it’s okay – you were hoping I’d translate ‘Souvenir de la Grande Faucheuse’ for you weren’t you? Uh-huh; thought so; not gonna happen Bubba.

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