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The rain was hard, heavy and morose, slashing against the restaurant’s window like an evil spirit desperate to get in.
Something was wrong.
The rain was wrong for one. It was the beginning of summer, and not winter. Another sign was the location. Here he was sitting in a reputable diner on Las Vegas Boulevard, but where were the large crowds of tourists that plagued Sin City year round?
He had gazed out of the window twice and on each occasion had seen perhaps one, maybe two cars and lots of rain. Was this even possible? There was no bumper-to-bumper traffic, no hordes of yellow cabs speeding toward mega casinos, no family vans stuffed with squealing brats trying to reach Circus Circus. The city was almost deserted, which in his book was highly unusual.
The last but most notable sign something was wrong was discovering who had brought him to the city.
Kannon Paddison believed his meeting would have been with a man, because usually it was men who hired him to kill someone. Instead, sitting across from him was a woman wearing a clown costume: painted face, two red targets drawn on her cheeks; the wig on her head was straight out of the seventies, too long with feathered bangs. Oversized yellow sunglasses covered her eyes. Her shirt was black and white polka dots, her pants some eye-hurting shade of blue.
She smiled and leaned eagerly forward. “Tell me what I need to for you to kill him.”
She flopped back as if his reply was unrealistic.
“Okay,” she finally said after letting out a long, drawn out sigh, her expression altering slightly. “A man I know calls him the baddest motherfucker that ever walked the earth. Forget what you’ve seen in movies. He’s the real thing. He’s like you, a contract killer. No one knows how many men he’s killed, but there are lots of rumors about him. Most of them are too farfetched to believe. From what I hear he never leaves evidence at a crime scene.”
“The baddest motherfucker, remember?”
“Five foot eleven. No taller.”
“Lean but muscular.”
“What’s his name?”
Her hesitation caused his eyes to darken and narrow.
“Padukshëm. It means…”
“Invisible in Albanian,” he finished in a tone so low it was a step above a whisper.
And then he leaned back in the patent leather chair and studied her. “You brought me here to kill Padukshëm?”
“You’re supposed to be the best there is in Las Vegas. Who would have thought there’s an underworld of contract killers? There are rumors about you, too. I hope for your sake those rumors are true.”
Something was up with this woman. Even the way she spoke told him she was playing a role. The bad words she used hadn’t been believable, but spoken as if forced. The longer she sat the more he felt her unease, her need to rush out of the diner, run home and bake a homemade cake instead of a boxed one like a regular woman.
He leaned closer over the table. “You wired?”
No one could fake fear, not the kind he now saw.
“Maybe I made a mistake,” she said and started to rise.
He stuck his leg further under the table, found her foot and pressed down hard with the sole of his shoe. Sitting as she was, her head held high and alert, she looked like a deer in the road just before it was mown down by an eighteen-wheeler.
Screw her face. He was now pissed.
“Padukshëm is a myth! A ghost story! Someone made up. He’s no more real than the fucking Chucky doll or Michael Myers.”
“He is real,” she fired back.
There was something in her eyes, perhaps anger or some other aggressive emotion. Whatever it was, it made her words almost believable.
“I know what he looks like,” she whispered, then searched the diner as if Padukshëm would suddenly appear. She could no longer sit still. The need to flee and escape was now much too strong.
Kannon hated that he also glanced around and saw nothing, but hated it even more when his gaze fell on hers and he realized she had noticed his nervousness as well.
He hated this woman. And the more he sat the more he hated Padukshëm, if he truly did exist.
“If you do this you’ll be the only one in your circle that was able to bring him down,” she continued. “Just think of what killing him will do for your reputation. You’ll never have to look for work ever again. It’ll come to you – find you. You’ll be a made man. Think of the money you can make. Not just for this job, but in the future. Only a coward would walk away from this.”
She leaned closer to him, her eyes fixed in a curious stare. “Are you a coward? Please, tell me you aren’t. I’ve sold everything I had and even mortgaged my home to pay you a handsome fee to get this done.”
For the first time since he sat, he relaxed. “How much?”
“More than we discussed. I need this!” She whispered, gazed around, then pinpointed her eyes on his, tightly. “A quarter of a million.”
Kannon scratched at his brow as a signal to his partner.
His partner was at that moment sitting across the dining room, watching his table carefully. His partner saw the signal, rose to her feet and headed to the women’s restroom.
“You have a picture?”
“I have everything,” she said, and began to lift her purse from under the table.
“Not here. Take what you have and leave it in the last stall of the women’s restroom. And then I want you to walk away. Did you bring the down?”
“Fifty grand instead of ten.”
“Leave it in the stall.” He stood to his feet. “You know what I’m getting ready to do?” he asked as his eyes scanned the dining room once more before settling on her with derision. “I’m taking my chances at the crap tables at Caesar’s Palace. I’m feeling lucky, thanks to you. After you leave the restroom, walk out the back door. You look back, I take the fifty grand and this meeting never happened.”
“You will do it, won’t you?” she asked, grabbing his arm as he meant to pass.
He lowered until they were eye-to-eye.
“Fuck Padukshëm! He’ll wish he was a myth after I’m finished with him. Have the rest of my money ready. Soon.”
He pulled a cigarette out of his pocket as he made his way to the diner’s door. Once he was on the sidewalk, he lit it and looked back at the table. The clown was making her way to the restroom. A large grin spread across his face.
He brought the cigarette to his lips, inhaled, then turned into the path of a .50 BMG cartridge. The bullet penetrated his forehead. His brains splattered on the windows behind him. His body dropped like clothes discarded carelessly to the ground.
For a few seconds there were no screams, no high-pitched wails of emotion, because no one had seen him die. It wasn’t until a pedestrian walked by and saw the blood that the alarm was signaled. It was then that chaos erupted.
As the clown climbed behind the steering wheel of her rental in the rear parking lot, she had no clue that the man she had hired to kill Padukshëm was already dead.
The call came in at one in the morning.
Paul McCain had been asleep for some time by then, his naked body stretched languidly on top of his king size bed. He heard the phone, but didn’t open his eyes. Instead, he reached for the bedside table, knocking over the half-finished glass of Belvedere; he grabbed the phone, brought it to his ear.
He said nothing – absolutely nothing; he only listened.
“Bad news,” the caller said, realizing he had answered. “Our target decided to take that trip to Las Vegas after all.”
McCain scrambled on top of his bed into a sitting position. His eyes were now open. He was fully awake. “You have to be shitting me.”
“I didn’t take any chances. I took two guys with me, one of them a lip reader that I use from time to time. She did it, Paul. It was as we suspected. She was making a hit. The target none other than Padukshëm.”
“Taken care of.”
McCain reached for the bedside table and switched on the lamp. “But you’re calling. It means something went wrong.”
“Paddison wasn’t working alone. He had the target leave whatever she had for him in the women’s restroom. Only a woman could have gotten to the documents that quickly.”
“Whoever this woman is she got away.”
“Son of a bitch!” McCain growled. His free hand wiped nervously at his mouth; his eyes were wide as he tried to sort things out in his mind.
“Should we tell him?” the caller asked.
“Do that and you can kiss our plans goodbye. Fucking eh! I can’t believe the target did this. What do you have on the missing woman?”
“Nothing at all.”
“Are you telling me we have a class seven enemy we know nothing about?”
“Exactly that. And just because she’s a woman, I don’t think we should underestimate her.”
“She’s a goddamn woman! What about the documents? You think the target gave this woman what she needed?”
“We’re taking action as if she did.”
“Goddamit! What was she thinking? We can’t tell Padukshëm. Not just yet.”
“We keep this a secret and he’s liable to kill us both on principle alone. We have no idea what this woman has, what Intel she’s been given, if anyone else is working with her…”
“It’s a risk we have to take.”
McCain leapt to his feet and gripped the phone even tighter. “I’m thinking about it.” And he was, but nothing was coming to mind. “I’m coming out there,” he finally said.
“A visit from you will make Padukshëm suspicious.”
“Then what else can I do?”
“I don’t know, but you better think of something quickly. He’s taking that new job in two days. You have forty-eight hours.”
The line went dead.
“Fuck me!” McCain groaned, tossed down the phone and reached for the glass of Belvedere only to realize that his nightcap had soaked into the carpet.
She was the woman who had gotten away.
Known as Jazzman the Punisher, she stood five-feet-ten and was two-hundred-and-ten pounds of muscles without an ounce of visible fat. Her chest measured fifty-three inches; her biceps measured an impressive twenty-four. At her best she could bench-press four-hundred-and-fifty pounds as if it were a Twinkie on a stick.
The most attention she ever received during her career hadn’t been for her accomplishments at bodybuilding tournaments, but of the media exposure of her extensive drug use that had gotten her banned from the IFBB. At the peak of her career, she had won two championships. Those had been the good days. Now she relied on an ancient occupation to supplement her income. She was a prostitute, one of the best Las Vegas had ever seen. The secret agency she worked for listed her skills as paddling, wrestling and erotic role-play, but only after Jazzman the Punisher made her clients beg mercilessly first. It was making them beg that Jazzman enjoyed most.
She had come out of the women’s restroom with the money and details of Kannon’s next kill when she saw the commotion at the door. She had seen people gathering with astonished looks as they gazed out at the sidewalk, and as she neared, she hadn’t expected; there was nothing that had gone off in her brain to warn it could have been Kannon the people were gawking at.
She shoved the documents and cash deeper inside the bag she was carrying and sat at the counter to order a drink. After she placed her order, the waiter had given a disturbing look, his eyes tight on the diner’s door. It was the first time she sensed something wrong.
She turned her attention back to the other diners and only then heard snippets of their conversations. Someone was dead. Not someone. A man. He was lying on the sidewalk with a cigarette still burning in his hand.
She stood slowly, then pushed her way through the crowd, and that’s when she saw him. Kannon.
The back of his head was like a rock broken in half. And instead of layers of sedimentary, what she saw were bits of white. Later she would realize the white was bone. There were also soft, gray gooey bits on him. The image was all wrong.
Her hand clasped over her mouth as she began to walk away from Kannon without realizing it, and then she lifted her eyes, suddenly, and saw a dark-haired man walk in from outside. While people were unable to take their eyes off of Kannon’s corpse, the man was eerily calm. It was the way he moved, without hesitation, which quickly got her attention. Jazzman watched as he bypassed the diners and made his way to the women’s restroom. What frightened her, alarmed her that she, too, was in danger, was the look in his eyes; they were cold, chilling.
Her eyes followed him across the room as she sat at the counter, except this time she lowered her head. She contemplated making a run for it, but thought against this when she realized someone else could be out there waiting for her.
The waiter brought her order of lemon water; she had wanted to toss it in his face. She wanted to scream, to yell out Kannon’s name, but had been too afraid.
Was his murder connected with this new job?
She got her answer when the dark-haired man came out of the women’s restroom. His eyes slowly scanned the diner, but he was only looking at the women. It was then she lifted the lemon water and brought it to her lips.
He’s looking for me.
Somehow he knew she had the details of Kannon’s new contract.
She gazed forward until she was sure he had gone, and then she jumped out of her chair and gave Kannon a glance as she flew outside to see where the dark-haired man had went. By this time the police had arrived to rope off the area with crime-scene tape. One of them pushed her to the side, and she allowed him, because she had spotted the man she was after. He was walking to the parking lot as if he hadn’t a care in the world. She wished she had a gun. If only she had one; she would have shot him right then and there. And then she got a better idea. Follow him.
She blended in with other diners wanting desperately to flee the scene. She climbed inside her car, started it, and caught sight of her target. He was an assassin. She knew this, which meant she had to be careful. She jotted down his license plate number and kept four or more cars behind him.
The killer led her to an affluent neighborhood in West Los Angeles. Jazzman watched intently as he climbed out of his SUV; her eyes tightened on him as he walked with an unhesitant gait inside the walls of an apartment complex.
One solitary question burned in Jazzman’s mind.
Why had the dark-haired man killed Kannon?
There was only one way to find out.
Inside a hotel room not far from where she left the killer, she poured the contents out of her bag, then spread the documents across the bed. One by one she went through each page only to discover she now had more questions than answers.
There was one thing that stuck out.
In any of the past kill requests no one had given as much detail as the clown. It appeared as if she didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Whoever this woman was, she wanted her enemy dead. The proof of this was in the details she provided: height, weight, tattoos, hair color, preferred shoe choice, the preferred color of clothes he wore, his home address, work address, his work hours, the makes and license plates of three cars, his country of origin and a restaurant he sometimes frequented. There were also handwritten notes, as if the clown, each time a thought occurred, wrote them down. Each note written in different ink and randomly placed on each page. Every single document was solely about him. There was no mention of a wife or children and friends. These things were usually offered up very quickly, which meant perhaps the clown didn’t know.
Who was she? A jealous girlfriend? A greedy business partner?
At the bottom of the stack were several pictures. Underneath the clown had written a name, Dardian Gjon Dreshaj.
Studying the pictures gave no further clues other than perhaps Dardian Dreshaj was extremely attractive, and that he was not the dark-haired man who had killed Kannon, although his hair was also dark.
As Jazzman shuffled the pages to store them again in her bag, her eyes caught what could have been her first clue. He’s a contract killer.
Could it be that Dardian Dreshaj knew someone had placed a hit on him?
The chances of this were slim and even if he had, how would he have known Kannon would acquire the job? This provoked another thought. If Dardian had known the clown was trying to kill him, why not just kill her? Doing so would have solved his problem.
He hadn’t known.
She left her hotel room, climbed inside her car and punched the address into her car’s navigation system. She drove to the address. A magnificent mansion loomed over the home’s security gate. He’s wealthy!
While taking in the property, Jazzman leaned toward the passenger window. Someone knew. Kannon hadn’t been followed to the diner, as she first believed. Someone had followed the clown. It would explain everything. Whoever followed the clown must have realized what she was up to.
Did this mean that the clown was also dead?
The more questions that plagued her mind the more ill at ease she became. Knowing that Kannon was dead, knowing that a killer was out there, the need to do something – anything – to avenge Kannon’s death forced her to switch off the ignition. There was no way in telling how long she sat before falling asleep. The next time her eyes opened, the sun was slowly rising. She stretched and turned her attention back to the gate just as an elegantly dressed woman walked into view. The woman was holding the hand of a little boy, perhaps no more than two. In her arms was a much younger child.
A wife then. And children. There was no mistaking it. This prompted Jazzman to guess that the clown didn’t know anything about Dardian’s personal life.
She pulled her cell phone out of her bag and took photos of the three as they neared a Rolls Royce parked on the drive.
Did it matter if the clown was dead? A quick deduction was all the proof needed that Kannon’s killer had killed him to keep Dardian alive.
Pulling a CZ75B pistol from the depth of her bag – a gift from Kannon – made the deed all the more sweeter knowing that Dardian’s wife and children would be killed with Kannon’s own gun.
Palmed, loaded and aimed. All the woman had to do was take another step. The first shot would be for her, the second and third used on the children. For you, Kannon.
The woman stopped suddenly, her head turning to look behind her as if someone had called her name. The boy gazed up with curiosity at his mother. All three of them were so close but yet so far. The gate was in the way for one; there were bushes that hid most of their body. A random shot would only alert Dardian that someone was after him. And someone was. Jazzman held him responsible for Kannon’s death. If it hadn’t been for Dardian, Kannon would still be alive. Dardian Dreshaj needed to pay.
As quickly as the woman had appeared, she suddenly disappeared.
Shit! Jazzman’s lips drew into her mouth. The moment was lost. The woman was gone. But there were other palliative options. Another surprise meeting at this address or the address he worked at. Either way Kannon’s last job would get done.
She started her car and put it in gear when she happened to look up. Across the street, two cars ahead, a man sitting behind the steering wheel of a dark sedan had rolled down his window to get a better view of her. In his hand was a camera. Had he been watching? Was the son of a bitch taking pictures of her car?
She slammed on the gas at the same moment she saw him drop the camera and draw a gun.
She did the first thing that came to her mind. She steered her car at his, then leaned her body toward the passenger seat and pressed down hard on the gas. The engine roared in defiance. Tires squealed unevenly beneath her.
Pop! Pop! Pop!
One of the windows shattered.
The son of a bitch is shooting at me!
The impact was savage. Jazzman’s head slammed against the windshield. Feeling dazed, her eyes peered up at the rear view mirror. The man from the car stood in the street with a cell phone pressed to his ear. One of his hands gestured wildly in her direction.
Jazzman sat up and stared at the mansion’s gate. Two men were running toward it as it opened, anxious to get out on the street.
He’s called in reinforcements!
She put the car in reverse and sped through the community. The rear of her car lifted and bounced when she finally made it to the main street. Something was wrong with the engine. It slipped and sometimes stalled. Each press of the gas caused the engine to hiss. It was only a matter of time before the car would die altogether. There was no other choice except ditch it and take her chances by foot.
The car struggled another block. Despite her foot pressing on the gas, it refused to go more than a few miles an hour, and then it slowed even more. Jazzman slammed on the brakes, stopping against the curb. She grabbed her bag and everything else that could lead them to her.
She walked away from the car, quickly, and stood on the sidewalk. It was just her luck a bus was pulling up to the corner. She flagged it down, and just in time. She barely climbed aboard, paid, then sat next to a window when she a car pulled in behind hers.
What kind of people are these?
She tried to sit comfortably, but couldn’t. Each time the bus stopped, she feared someone stepping inside and coming after her. These men weren’t amateurs. She hated to admit it, but they were ten times better than Kannon had been.
She reached inside her bag and, without taking out the photo, stared at the face of Dardian Dreshaj. Who are you and why are these people protecting you so fiercely?
She studied again the details about him, this time taking her time.
There were four pages of notes.
He’s the baddest motherfucker that ever walked the face of the earth. He’s a contract killer and goes by the name Padukshëm. No one knows for sure how many men work for him, but the men that do are also contract killers.
After reading this she knew she had to get off the bus. If Dardian’s contract killers were as good as they appeared, they would sooner or later assume she had gotten on the bus. She pressed a button to stop at the next exit and stood to her feet, but sat again when she saw what was happening outside the bus’s front window. A black SUV zoomed in front of it before the driver slammed on the brakes. This caused the bus driver to also slam on his brakes. Her body flew forward. She gripped one of the rails positioned in front of the side facing seats, as did other passengers. And then she sat, very quickly, because a man had climbed out of the SUV. She shoved the details of the contract as far down in her bag as possible, then lowered her head.
Her heart was beating a mile a minute. Flip, flop. Flip, flop. Flip, flop.
The bus door opened and a man stepped inside. She hadn’t wanted to, but couldn’t stop herself. She lifted her chin, and opened her eyes, and nearly fell over dead. He wore black: fitted long-sleeve black T-shirt covered over with a black Kevlar vest, black tactical pants complete with knee pads, black tactical boots, black gloves on his hands; a black hat covered his hair, and black sunglasses covered his eyes. He was a one-man swat team, except he wasn’t holding an assault rifle. Instead, in both hands were 9mm pistols. It was him. Dardian Gjon Dreshaj, the target the clown wanted dead. Standing in front of her was no doubt the baddest motherfucker alive.
Their eyes held as he studied her; his eyes then shifted on the men sitting in the front part of the bus. And then he flexed his neck at the same time he shoved both pistols into the small of his back. He didn’t say a single word. He simply walked toward the first man nearest him. His crunched fist struck down at the guy’s face in a downward angle, a brutal blow to the chin. His victim fell out of his seat to the floor. Jazzman screamed when she saw the guy was unconscious. Dardian then went to the next guy, gave the same brutal blow. Other passengers realized they would be next and made a run for it. Behind her, Jazzman could hear Dardian punching and bodies collapsing. He was targeting the men. Only the men.
He thinks it was a man who was watching his home!
She never remembered running so fast. She pushed a mother and child out of her way. A teenage boy pushed desperately against the rear door, but couldn’t get it open. Jazzman hurled her weight against the door. As soon as her feet hit the pavement, she didn’t stop. And neither did she look back, not even when she heard the sirens of a cop car.
He’s the baddest motherfucker that ever walked the face of the earth.
She was a believer.
She heard a volley of punches, and screams, rushing movements. By this time everything had happened so quickly that her mind played tricks on her to believe that nothing she had seen was real. She ran inside a strip mall, then inside a store. The employees ran to the door to see what was happening on the sidewalk.
She stopped running when she saw there was nowhere else to run. She turned, her body trembling as she watched the employees. They were talking loudly.
“Do you see this? There’s a man out here whipping everyone’s ass!”
“Whoa! It looks like he just knocked out a cop!”
“Omigod! Another car pulled up and two men are climbing out of it. They’re now throwing the ass-whipper into the back seat and driving off.”
And then there was laughter.
“Talk about a way to start a morning! Only in California. That looked like a scene from a movie. Do you see a camera crew nearby? Maybe it was a movie. I doubt seriously this was all real.”
One of them turned and gazed at her as if she had magically appeared.
McCain was beside himself with agitation. He had gone against the advice he had received from his call during the night and flown out to California the first chance he got. He had just walked out of the airport’s terminal; it couldn’t have been later than seven in the morning. His cell rang. He answered it. It took everything within him to stay calm.
“What do you mean he jumped on a bus and knocked unconscious eight passengers, the bus driver, and a cop? Why the hell would he do that?”
He had no time to rent a car and lifted his hand to hail a cab.
“Someone was at the house this morning,” the caller said. “We don’t know who. We didn’t see him. We think he came to watch the house.”
The night before McCain had received a call from Prek Dragusha, his company’s number two contract killer behind Padukshëm. At that moment he was speaking to Kevin Jackson, Harlow Industries’ IT manager and sometimes personal assistant to Dardian. McCain didn’t want to speak to Kevin. Kevin didn’t know what had happened in Las Vegas.
“Was he recorded from the cop car?”
“I doubt it,” Kevin answered. “The cop was inside the bus when Padukshëm knocked him out cold.”
“Shit!” McCain muttered. He knew he was no longer in New York when not a single cab pulled in front of him. “What’s wrong with your cab drivers here?”
“You’re on the West Coast. Cab drivers don’t hustle for dollars here.”
“Were there any serious injuries?”
“We got a watcher at the scene. Several ambulances have arrived. The men he injured aren’t walking off the bus. They’re being carried off one by one.”
“Son of a bitch! Have Prek call me,” McCain said and hung up.
He spotted a cab parked a few feet away. He lifted his hand. The driver had the nerve to roll down his window and motion for him to come to him.
“Unbelievable,” McCain muttered. He carried his bag to the car and climbed into the back seat. “West Hollywood. I’ll direct you how to get there. Get me there soon enough and I’ll give you a hundred-dollar tip.”
The cab sped away from the curb and into morning traffic.
McCain’s phone rang. It was Prek.
“What the fuck happened?” McCain asked.
“You fucking calm down, Prek! Padukshëm is on the loose and none of you were able to stop him. He knocked out a cop for fuck’s sake! Have you any idea how bad this is for business?”
“We can fix this,” Prek answered calmly.
His calm voice worked magic. McCain took in a deep breath, stared at the tall gray and glass buildings that made Los Angeles infamous, then let the breath out very slowly. “Start from the beginning.”
“There’s not much to tell. Someone went to the house. One of our watchers arrived this morning and spotted the car. He thought nothing at first, and couldn’t see inside because of its tinted windows. Aaliyah came out of the house. The watcher became suspicious when whoever it was started the engine after Aaliyah could no longer be seen. Our guy was doing his job, taking pictures and jotting down the license plate when the car struck his vehicle. He got off a few rounds...”
McCain closed his eyes. “Did she have the children with her?”
“Yes. Padukshëm was still inside. After hearing what happened, he thought someone from the past was paying him a visit. Every man on the bus became suspects.”
McCain gave instructions for the driver to make a right at the next light.
“You know how Padukshëm is. Mess with him and you’ll have a little mercy. Threaten Aaliyah and the entire world is suspect.”
“Did you tell him?”
“I’m still alive aren’t I?”
“Don’t tell him about Vegas. Not just yet.”
“This is a dangerous game you’re playing, McCain. Yesterday a contract was given. This morning, someone is watching his home.”
“You think it’s the woman?”
“We think it’s someone that’s working for her. Who else can it be? For two years nothing and now this. This isn’t coincidence.”
“Where is he now?”
“I imagine eating a bowl of bullets for breakfast. He’s back at home.”
“Did this person leave anything behind?”
“A car. We’re working on it. If we find anything I’ll make sure that you know before anyone else. Where are you?”
“On my way to Heidi’s. Don’t tell Padukshëm I’m in town. Not just yet. This is what you need to do. You need to convince him that the car belonged to a neighbor, and that everything is all right. Can you do that?”
“Only if you assure me that you know what the hell you’re doing.”
“You have my word,” McCain answered. “The real job starts tomorrow. We can’t deviate from that.”
Jazzman would run, walk and run again; there was too much pent-up energy inside her to calm down.
She was in serious trouble. The baddest motherfucker alive was out looking for her and if he found her, she would end up like Kannon.
Heavy traffic was on the street. From the corner of one eye, she saw a cab and threw her hand out toward it. The driver saw her and cut through two lanes of traffic to reach her. Jazzman ran to it and climbed inside. Now what? Her cell phone rang. There was a tremor in her tone as she answered. “Jazz here.”
“It’s Thursday! Where are you at?”
Shit! The man on the other end was Wesley Feer, and at times he was a mean son of a bitch. On the outside, he was machismo personified, but his appearance had nothing to do with his sexual desires. What he liked best was not getting punished, but to punish someone else.
“Something’s come up.”
“Six months!” he yelled. “And not once have you missed an appointment.”
“Cut the shit, Jessica!”
Never had she heard him this furious. Never in the past had he used her Christian name.
The cab was darting in and out of traffic as if the driver had been given an address.
“I’m sitting in our goddamned room, half-dressed with a boner the size of Mount Rushmore. If you can’t come to me, I’m coming to you. Where are you?”
He said nothing.
“Where am I?” she asked the driver.
The driver peered into the back seat. “We’re headed for the west side.”
“West Los Angeles,” she told him.
“The Four Seasons. Get a room. You better make this up to me when I get there or you’ll get way worse than what I’ve given you in the past.”
The line disconnected.
Wesley Feer was her best paying customer, and that title didn’t come without a heavy price.
“Any sex shops around here?”
The driver winked at her from the rear view mirror. “I know a place.”
By the time Wesley arrived, she stood in the center of the room dressed like a warrior from ancient times, her ensemble as black as the devil’s tongue. Black leather boots. Leather pants with no crotch that left her entire rear exposed. Strategically placed leather strips covered her shoulders and portions of her chest. Long silver chains dangled down the front of her. A long black whip was held in one hand. Wesley had gotten a key from the front desk and had let himself in. One of his feet came through the door and then he stopped walking once his eyes found hers.
She wasn’t in the mood to get him off. Not today. She sensed Wesley had read her thoughts because of the way he turned calmly to the door and locked it. And then he spun on his heels. The speed in which he moved astonished and frightened her. Jazzman dropped the whip. There was no time to run. Instead, her chin lifted in defiance just as one of his hands reached for her throat. Both of them were moving backwards, swiftly, toward the bed. “You better have a good reason. Didn’t I warn you? And then you give me that look?”
“Kannon is dead. Someone killed him. On the Strip. I followed his killer here, then almost came face to face with the baddest motherfucker that ever lived. I can’t do this, Wes. I don’t have time. I want Kannon’s killer dead. And I want the woman who hired Kannon dead. I need to find them.”
The mattress buckled under her weight as she fell on top of it. Two of the bed’s pillows bounced in the air and fell to the floor. Wesley climbed on top of her, pinning her down with his knees. He spoke very calmly. “I’ll help you fix your problem, but first you have to help me out with mine.”
“You mean you will do it?”
A chill ran down her spine as a smile spread across his face. Could it be she had found the baddest motherfucker’s twin?
“W-What do you want from me in exchange for the job?”
He answered by unzipping his Balmain jeans that cost him three grand off the rack. “Get undressed,” he said and rose to his feet. “Today you can play wifey. No role-playing. How about regular sex, if you’re capable of that?”
This presented a problem. The only person she had regular sex with had been Kannon. In her mind the wild sex that went with her occupation was a separate persona; it wasn’t truly her. She saved her real self solely for Kannon.
Wesley saw the look in her eyes, tightened his mouth and zipped his pants.
What other choice did she have? She couldn’t allow this opportunity to slip away.
“Clothes off,” he said in a husky voice. He was breathing hard, and audibly. She sensed this was the real him and not the usual role he played when the two of them were together.
“I want to see all of you. I’ve never seen all of you before. You were always in character.”
This was another problem; she had never fully disrobed with any of her clients.
She removed her boots, the pants and the leather strips from her shoulders and chest, and faced him.
Wesley took one look at her nudity, then doubled over with laughter.
As soon as she was lying on her back, Wesley gave her body a complete and thorough examination. The muscle definition in her thighs and calves was striking even while she was in a semi-relaxed state. Her breasts were huge round misplaced, misshapen orbs positioned lower than they should have been because of the hardened pectoral mass above them. Her aureoles were the size of quarters. She had a large visible clitoris, and vaginal lips that looked ready to suck him in.
He had liked her from the moment they met, attracted to her indestructible appearance. And now Kannon was dead. This could actually work in his favor. With Kannon out of the picture and Jazzman relying on him, he could finally have the control over her that he always wanted.
“Make me believe you truly want me to fix your problem.”
“How do I know you’re the man for the job?”
He threw back his head and laughed, then lowered his chin and allowed the features of his face to become very dark. “I’m a freak of nature. You should know that as much time we have spent together.”
Although he had given no evidence that he could do the job, and she had only heard half of what he said, Wesley saw her studying his eyes and, as she studied him, saw the moment she remembered their past visits, his wild and sordid behavior. She had fallen in love with Kannon because of his dangerous edge. Wesley saw that she was now beginning to believe that Kannon’s dark side was a dwindling flicker of light compared to his.
It was an hour later when he finally rolled off her. He stood to his feet, stretched languidly, then crossed the room, dug inside his discarded clothing and retrieved a pack of cigarettes. He lit one while keeping his eyes on her and sat leisurely in a chair against the wall. “What do you know about the people you want dead?”
She sat up on the edge of the bed and rubbed her new bruises. If what she had just endured could be deemed regular sex, she felt sorry for his ex-wives. “Why are you so rough?”
He brought the cigarette to his lips.
Instantly she saw that the question hadn’t fazed him. The look in his eyes, the expression on his face: darkness, someone without a soul, someone unable to feel others’ pain. The coldness that had come into the room suddenly, she wanted no part of it. It was hard for her to look at him, because looking at him, in her mind, was becoming fully aware that the person she was alone with was very dangerous.
“I have addresses for two,” she answered. “I have a license plate number. I have a phone number for the third.”
He stubbed out his cigarette and stood to his feet. “Let’s go for a ride.”
The car he had rented was a black Lamborghini that appeared low enough to the ground to scrape the street as he drove. It took them all of an hour for her to remember the address of the apartment building of Kannon’s killer, and a shorter time to retrace her steps back to the palatial home in Beverly Hills.
As he drove he sat quietly as she told him everything from beginning to end. She had watched him carefully to see his reaction to the baddest motherfucker she had met that morning. He showed no emotion whatsoever. She knew then that there was a devil inside Wesley Feer, and it would take a devil of a man to kill Dardian Dreshaj.
As they neared the mansion she began to sit tense, her eyes checking the street to see if someone was still parked against the curb to watch the property. She gazed at Wesley and saw he was doing the same thing. He pointed at a car, then parked against the curb some distance away and cut the engine. She saw another car not too far away. It appeared as if they had beefed up security.
“What did you say this guy’s name was?”
“He goes by the street name Padukshëm.”
“He’s clever,” Wesley said. His eyes zeroed in on the house. “His home is near the end of a cul-de-sac. Whoever drives past it would have to turn around and risk getting blocked in by the men watching it. Do you know what he does for a living?”
She shook her head, her eyes on the magnificent green foliage that blocked most of the mansion’s views.
Both of them watched quietly as both parked cars started and the drivers pulled away from the curb to get closer and investigate.
“Just like that?” Wesley asked, looking at her.
“I tried to tell you!”
“Hang tight.” He started the engine and pulled from the curb and pointed in the opposite direction. He didn’t speed away, but drove slowly.
“What are you doing?” Jazzman asked, unable to take her eyes off the house. “Someone’s coming out of the gate!”
Wesley glanced into the rear view mirror and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The tallest man he’d ever seen walked through the gate. He wasn’t holding a small pistol to hide his intentions from the neighbors, but a rifle that looked large enough to launch missiles.
Wesley picked up speed, but Jazzman noticed he still showed no fear. Instead in his eyes was amusement. She didn’t feel that he was driving fast enough, and without realizing pressed her feet down on the floorboard as if the gas pedal was directly beneath her. She wanted away from the mansion, and quickly, but said nothing because she felt her fate was in the hands of the men guarding the house.
Wesley lit a cigarette and drove as if he were simply out for a ride. He rolled down his window and hung his arm out of it. “This is what I think,” he said. She was looking in the rear view mirror. They weren’t being followed.
“I think killing Dardian Dreshaj is going to prove next to impossible. We’re not going to be able to get near him. He’s too well protected.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means, Jazzman, we have just seen for ourselves proof that he is one bad ass motherfucker.” He laughed, heartily, while sucking on the end of his cigarette.
They were now exiting the community and pulling along a major street lined with businesses of every kind.
“I want him dead!” she said.
“I don’t rightly know. He’s the reason Kannon is dead!”
“Kannon was a big mouth pussy. From what you told me he contracted out most of his kills.”
Her eyes fastened tightly on him. “Take that back!”
The Lamborghini pulled out of traffic and into the rear parking lot of a store. There was nowhere for him to park, because the parking lot was full. Behind it was a narrow alleyway with small bungalow houses, the kind that can only be found in Southern California. One of the bungalow’s garage doors was open. Wesley drove inside it. Jazzman sat up in her seat and gazed around. Did he know this house? She turned to ask this question, saw his face and leaned slowly against her door.
He kept his eyes on her as he turned off the engine and drew the cigarette from his lip and flicked it in a negligent toss on the garage floor near a cardboard box and some trash.
“What did you just say to me?” he asked in a tight voice.
He repositioned in his seat to lessen the space between them, his eyes still on hers. He was studying her intently. She could see that his mind was working a mile a minute.
“Back there. A few seconds ago. What did you say?”
She felt her heart flip-flopping as fast as it had on the bus. “W-What? I didn’t say anything. What are you talking about?”
He restarted the car and put it in reverse. “Kannon was a pussy,” he repeated and gazed at her instead of the alleyway as if he weren’t fearful of crashing the rental.
He wanted to see her reaction.
She didn’t give him one.
She knew he had gotten his point across when he pulled out another cigarette and lit it. He appeared calm once again. “I just came up with a plan. You want to hear it?”
“This Dardian Dreshaj, he’s in something deep to have this much security. I think we should move into the apartment building you saw the killer go to. We watch them, learn their habits. We do this right and we can make money. Lots of money. We find out where the clown lives and shake her down, too, if she’s still alive. If she had fifty grand as a down, it means she has more we can unload off of her. This is going to take time. It can’t happen overnight. If we jump too soon, we’ll lose our chance at easy cash.”
“And my targets?”
“Leave them to me.”
“If you can’t take Padukshëm, then take his wife instead. He should pay in some way.”
She didn’t like this idea, but she had no choice. Besides, she had a bad feeling about Padukshëm. “How much are you going to stick me for the job?”
“Nothing. Not money, at least. I’ll kill them for free.”
“What’s the catch?”
“The catch is I want the control over you that Kannon had.”
She gazed out the window. Not once had it crossed her mind to turn back and leave the cops to find Kannon’s killer. It was her job to bring him justice. It was justice that she was thinking of.
“I’ll do whatever you tell me.”
“We need to ditch this rental,” he said. “I’m sure the guys back there jotted down the plate number.”
They were coming up to a light when Jazzman lowered in her seat. Beside them stopped at the light was a white Rolls Royce Phantom. In the driver’s seat was the baddest motherfucker alive. Beside him sat his wife.
Jazzman did all she could not to look in their direction.
Wesley couldn’t take his eyes off the man. It was almost as if he were looking at something unleashed from hell. Jet black hair, dark skin, all black clothing; the man was looking forward. It wasn’t so much how he looked, but the aura that was around him. Just looking at him from this vantage was like looking at a mug shot. Wesley imagined that the driver had been arrested at the age of five and had been in trouble with the law since.
The man’s window was down; one of his hands gripped tightly on the steering wheel. Wesley saw he was wearing a watch embedded with a thousand pea-sized diamonds. Wesley had never seen a watch like it before, and knew no matter how long he lived, he would never see another one like it again. It was no doubt commissioned by an experienced jeweler, and perhaps the only one of its kind. Wealthy people liked having things ordinary people could never afford; it made them feel distinguished.
It was at that moment Wesley noticed the woman sitting beside the driver. It was almost as if she could feel Wesley’s presence, because she turned to him at that moment.
She was by far the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The softness of her eyes – they were bedroom eyes – and the shape of her lips; he knew he would never forget them. She had caramel skin, and long, jet-black hair. It bounced slightly from a breeze as she turned to him. She gave him a smile; it was small yet her lips curved into the shape of a sliced piece of fruit. Wesley felt his penis harden; it strained against the crotch of his jeans and made him slightly uncomfortable. He wanted this woman. No. He wanted more than that. He wanted possession of her, to do with her whatever he wished. He began to imagine what it would be like to be between her thighs. This single thought made him feel as if he were getting ready to climax.
The driver turned to him then, and Wesley saw it: a murderer, an efficient killer with no regard for human life. It showed in the depth of his eyes and the hollow expression on his face.
Both men held each other’s gaze, not realizing the light had turned green until the wife gestured. Wesley didn’t want to press on the gas. He wanted to stare at the wife some more. The man also didn’t press on the gas. He was too busy looking at Wesley. It was at that moment Wesley realized the man hadn’t noticed Jazzman.
Wesley winked at the driver and pressed on the gas. He looked into the rear view mirror and saw that the man had made a turn instead of following down the street.
He turned to Jazzman. Her face was entirely white.
“You know those people?”
Jazzman sat up with a start. “It was him. Padukshëm. The man the clown wanted dead.”
Wesley slammed on the brakes.
The car behind them burned rubber to avoid a collision. He honked his horn, loudly, then made a gesture with his middle finger before speeding off.
Wesley’s eyes were on Jazzman, accusingly. “If he’s on the street, why is there so much protection at his home?”
“They have children. I think the protection was for them.”
“Who was the woman beside him?”
“I think it’s his wife.”
She couldn’t read the expression on his face, but she had a keen idea of his thoughts.
She wasn’t surprised when he turned at the next street and backtracked to where they had seen the Rolls Royce.
“Did Kannon have any friends that would come to his rescue if he ever needed it?”
The gleam in her eyes caused the blood in his veins to shoot down to his thighs. What was this? Never had anything excited him more.
The Lamborghini sat idle in the street. Cars honked and veered around them. Jazzman’s hand shot out and caressed the curve of his chin. “Tell me you want to kill him.”
Wesley closed his eyes. The first image he saw was the watch. The second was the wife’s face. “I have to kill him.”
Jazzman pointed to the corner. On it was a hotdog joint. In the entire U.S. there are 225,000 payphones. Of that number 118,000 are in California. It was one of them that Jazzman focused on.
“We’re in luck. Kannon has two friends here in the city.”
The men Jazzman called, Jericho Haddocks and Kao Wang, weren’t much to look at. They arrived together, one average height, the other no more than a little over five feet. Wesley had imagined all contract killers would look the part: deadly. The two men looked nothing more than college roommates out visiting friends. Still, Wesley allowed them inside.
Kao was the first to speak. He was a little guy with a deep voice. “The best killers seem in public like everyone else.”
“There’s also less chance of being profiled by cops,” Jericho added.
“Where’s Kannon?” Kao asked.
“Dead,” Wesley answered.
Both men stared at one another.
“Killed minutes after accepting a new job. We think the man who killed him worked for the target.”
“He has a name?”
“Padukshëm,” Jazzman answered.
Both men gazed at each other again and rose to their feet.
“What is this?” Kannon asked. “Fucking pussies!”
All four of them had been sitting at a small table in the corner of the room. Kao now pressed both of his palms on top of it and leaned closer to Wesley. “Fuck you. Do you know anything about Padukshëm? What he’s capable of?”
Jazzman had begun to speak. There were lots she wanted to say. Wesley stopped her by giving her a vicious glare, his eyes tightening on hers. And then he turned to Kao.
“You’ll make more on this job than any you ever had. And you’ll be known as the assassins who killed Padukshëm. If that isn’t worth you at least listening to what I have to say, get out. I’ll do it myself. Receive all the credit. Me. Just a crazy, fucked up in the head common criminal.”
Jericho was first to sit back down. “Let me school you about Padukshëm. Two years ago he turned against the company that once hired him, because they pissed him off. If rumors are true, he killed them all and now he runs that company.”
“I don’t need you to kill Padukshëm. I’ll handle him. What I need you to do is help me go after the men that work for him.”
After hearing this Kao finally sat.
“There’s money here, guys. Lots of cash. The woman who hired Kannon is still alive. We called her not too long ago. She was willing to pay fifty grand down. If we complete this mission, we can split a quarter of a million.”
“And we don’t have to go after Padukshëm?” Kao asked.
“No. I was hoping to take you both to where the guy lives who killed Kannon. It’s him you’ll be after. If we can get inside the building, we can take a look around – perhaps find out which apartment he lives in.”
“For a split of the money I’m willing to do that.”
“No one knows what Padukshëm looks like,” Kao said with a sneer on his face.
“We do,” Jazzman confessed. She hurried from her chair across the room and returned with pictures. Jericho and Kao exchanged them between each other.
“Albanian,” Jericho said. “Just like everyone said.”
“He drives a white Rolls Royce,” Jazzman said.
“You up for a ride?” Wesley asked.
Neither answered. Simultaneously, they stood to their feet.
Luck was on their side.
A woman driving ahead of them held up the security gate to the apartment’s underground garage. As she sped off Wesley pressed on the gas and shot through the gate before it closed.
The garage was a single floor of tightly placed parking spaces. At the far end was an elevator. All four wondered if they needed a code once they were inside. The building seemed heavily secured.
“We’ll go check,” Jericho offered.
Both men climbed out, and as they did, they checked the weapons in the small of their backs. Jericho did a swift scan and saw security cameras mounted near the ceilings in several places. Kao was looking for live security. A guard of some sort. There wasn’t any.
Both stepped side by side and close together as they made their way to the elevator. The plan was simply to check. Nothing more. If they didn’t need a code, they would return to the car and get Wesley and Jazzman to ride up with them. Hopefully, on the main floor, they would find the mailboxes. Some buildings still listed their residents’ names on them. As they walked a man dressed all in black stepped out in front of them.
Jericho and Kao slowed in their movements. During the drive Jazzman had told them what Kannon’s killer looked like, and the man in front of them, from behind, fit the description. It was then Kao looked back at the car the man had gotten out of and saw it was a white Rolls Royce. He gestured to Jericho by nudging him in the side.
And then the man turned around, suddenly, with his right hand down by his side and his left positioned toward his right hip.
It was Padukshëm.
He was studying them, and then his eyes narrowed.
“Your first mistake is walking too heavily. I heard your shoes. You hesitated only after I stepped in front of you, then hesitated again, I assume after you noticed my car. You shouldn’t know who I am or what I drive. My question is why the hesitation?”
The motion was quick.
As Padukshëm spoke, Jericho and Kao thought of the right moment to draw their pistols. Seconds later there was pain, and then they each felt nothing. Collapsing on top of each other, throwing knives stuck out of their necks closer to the right side. The knives had been thrown with such force the tip end of the blades penetrated their spinal cords.
There weren’t many men who could have thrown a knife with such accuracy.
In the same motion he’d thrown the knives, he swiveled on the balls of his heels and disappeared behind parked cars.
Jazzman and Wesley, although fearful, because they had seen everything, tried desperately to see where he had gone.
When she couldn’t spot the badass motherfucker, she lowered in her seat and began to breathe deeply.
Wesley soon joined her.
Both were low in their seats. This made them hard to spot through the windows, which was a good thing.
Three cars down Padukshëm scanned the garage for a sign of further threat as he held a cell phone to his ear. “Erase the last twenty minutes of the security feed in the garage. All cameras. Then send cleaners down to clean up a mess.”
As quietly as he could, Wesley opened his car door, pulling Jazzman out behind him. Both got on their knees and crawled. Each time they heard a noise they froze where there were until they felt the danger had passed. They kept close to the wall until they reached the security gate. Once past it, they didn’t look back.
I hope you enjoyed the first chapters in the second book of the Dardian Dreshaj series. To make a purchase simply click one of the links below.