Two years ago, when I started to sense a change in Tom and his friends, I’d come over here and went house hunting. After two weeks or searching I’d found a small, brick house, on King Street that had an eight foot tall red, brick wall cutting it off from the hustle and bustle of the restaurants and clubs. It’d taken several major bribes and a use of a false name to get the agent to sell the property to me but I’d gotten it and then went to work.
Over the next six months I quietly built up weapons, bullets and bought a Ducati; all items that were placed in the garage of the house. By the time I was exiled to Achernar, I’d put enough equipment in there to fight a small army and because everything had been paid for with cash, it was completely untraceable.
I enter my security code and then let open the gate and let myself in. The landscaping company I paid to keep things up did good work. No one looking from the outside would ever suspect no one lived here and that it was nothing but a weapons cache for a hired assassin.
The Ducati gleamed under the overhead lights as I entered the garage and then made my way towards the far end. Black and silver, its strength and beauty are what lead me to buy it all those years ago-and its matching twin on Achernar-but it’s not what I’m after right now.
A door on the side leads to a small stairway to takes me down below the garage’s floor. Once I reach the bottom, I snap my fingers and the lights click on and I wait for a couple seconds so my eyes can adjust before starting to look around.
While my cache would seem large to an uneducated observer, its small compared to what Alex could get his paws on. All I have stored here is three pistols identical to what I have, five assault rifles, and a couple of sniper rifles, a katana and few knives. What I do have plenty of though, is ammunition and that’s what I’m mostly interested in at this moment because what little bit Archer gave me in Richmond won’t last long in case of a fight.
I take a few minutes to load several magazines with either normal 9mm rounds of phosphor bullets before I put them into the inner pockets of my coat. No doubt the man I was going to see would have more firepower with his bodyguards, but I couldn’t afford to carry anything else and hope to get past his security. That didn’t mean I couldn’t stick a rifle and some ammo into a spot I had built into the Ducati’s fiberglass body, but what good would that do me if a gunfight started in the restaurant?
The Ducati starts up the moment I push the start button and then I use my computer to send my security code to the door and the gate before slowly pulling out of the compound. It would take twenty plus minutes to ride from here to Penn Quarter, which would give me plenty of time to get myself together and ready for what was to come.
I swear to God, I’m going to fucking kill Lacey when I get my hands on her!
Of course none of this would’ve been necessary if Janice and Alex hadn’t taken this job on. They both know I wanted a break…but then who the fuck am I trying to kid? My ass was going stir crazy having to stand around and do nothing while the heat died down from the political hit, so I’d’ve leapt at it myself if the bitch had come to me directly.
But, as some people like to say, that’s water under the bridge now. We took it on, Lacey played us, and here we all stood and make no mistake, my ass isn’t the only one on the line. Janice and Alex are in as much danger as I am because they also agreed to take on the ‘protection’ job, which meant I had to not only bail my nuts from the fire, but theirs too.
Christ, I want to stop the world and get the fuck off!
Ten minutes later reach the exit ramp from US 1 to the I495 beltway and I open up the throttle on the Ducati. The V-twin responds instantly and the bike leaps forwards and I start to race through traffic on my way towards the mixing bowl. Now I know what you’re thinking: why am I driving wildly through traffic if I want to keep a low profile? Well, I have an answer for that: while I’m moving faster than traffic, it’s not earth shattering higher and I’m making sure my moves aren’t too risky, which keeps the attention to myself lower than you’d think and still gets me back to Darbytown quicker.
You see, I can’t afford to waste much time because if Boss Banderas keeps his usual schedule, he’ll be arriving at Fiola twenty minutes from now. That gives me just enough time to make it through the mid-day traffic, park the bike, and get inside in time to catch him soon as he sits down. See, this is the time when he’s the most relaxed and willing to talk, which is what I need him to do.
The mixing bowl is its usual cluster fuck, which doesn’t’ surprise me in the least to be honest. They’ve been constantly working and reworking that interchange since the 20th century and the damn thing is still fucked. Why in the hell the Virginia state government couldn’t get a simple problem like that solved in nearly four hundred years was enough to give me a headache. Makes you wonder what the hell they’ve used all that tax money for, doesn’t it?
Once I hit I395, the traffic thinned slightly and I start making up the time lost getting through the interchange. After spending a year living in Greenmist, these traffic nightmares remind me of why I hated Darbytown in the first place. Yeah, the place might be my hometown but that didn’t mean I liked it here. It just ended up being where Dad and Mom settled down due to his military job with the Pentagon.
That reminds me, I’ve never told you anything about Mom have I? It’s easy for me to forget her since she died when I was eight. She too was military, in fact that’s how she met Dad, and was in intelligence. I know what you’re thinking: she was a spook, but that wasn’t true. From what Dad told me before he died, she was more like an intermediary in many ways. The spooks get the info, the analysts figured out what it meant, and then she delivered it to the field commanders and worked hand in hand as their connection to the spooks. So, in other words, she had probably the most important job of the three.
A shuttle accident.
That’s what the Pentagon called her death during a combat op on Zagot Six. I call bullshit because too many people claimed to have seen a SAM launched at the craft only seconds before it crashed. Also, a low level shuttle crash doesn’t shatter a craft to the point where there’s no piece of debris larger than a basketball either. But, how can you fight the government when they want to keep something secret?
There you have it: why I grew up in Darbytown in a short, concise explanation. This place has plenty of memories, some good but mostly bad, and in many ways is borderline emotionally overloading to deal with. At this point, I just want to find Lacey, stop her, clear the organization’s name, and get the hell out of here-and the quicker the better.
Chinatown is its usual hustle and bustle of activity when I ride through. The friendship arch has always been one of my favorite things in town and judging by the number of tourists walking the sidewalks, I’d say others felt the same way. It was too bad that Banderas didn’t like Chinese food because I sure as hell could go from some Happy Family right about now.
One reason why I have always preferred a motorcycle over a car is that it’s easy to park. While other vehicles needed large spaces to fit in, which are at a premium in Darbytown, the Ducati didn’t and that allowed me pull up the restaurant and park out front.
No doubt Banderas, if he kept the same schedule, would be surprised to see me. If Lacey’s family knew who I was and that I’d been banished from Earth, then he’d’ve been informed also, which meant the meeting to come would be very interesting indeed.
Two men are standing by a limo as I extent the kickstand and shut down the motor. Judging from their hand tailored suits and the small bulges due to their weapons, I’d say they were two of Banderas’ men. With any luck they won’t notice who I am and I’ll enter the restaurant unhindered.
Neither man makes a move to stop me and I flip my hair at them as I passed by. They didn’t need to worry, because the last thing I intended was to hurt the boss. To do so would allow the Marano clan to grow strong enough to take over the city and I’d die before I let that bastards reach that level.
Banderas, much as the name suggests, is of Spanish descent and he’s known to be both a highly intelligent and fiery Don. People who’ve crossed him haven’t lived long enough to regret it, while those that are loyal to him receive a largesse that would make a King blush. He also treated the members of his syndicate better than anyone I’ve ever run across, which explained their undying loyalty to him.
I spot the Don’s head of salt and pepper hair soon as I enter the room and I angle my way towards him. Three men appear from nowhere and they move to stand between me and Banderas, effectively cutting off my advance, while the two men seating with the Boss eyed me. No doubt they were wondering who the hell this teen girl was who made a beeline for them.
Banderas motioned to his men, who then stepped back enough to let me pass. They weren’t going to move far enough away to allow me to make a move to kill their boss, but they weren’t foolish enough to disobey either. Not that it really mattered, to be honest, because there was enough firepower there to put my ass in an early grave three times over.
“Mareth,” the Boss’ voice was deep and smooth as silk. “It’s been a while.”
“It has indeed, Don Banderas.”
“Last time I checked, you were on Greenmist as an independent contractor.”
“That is correct.”
“Why are you here on Earth?”
“I suspect you already know the answer to that, sir.”
Yes, I know you’re wondering why I’m keeping my sarcasm and language in check. Well, when you’re standing in front of one of the strongest men in the city and one that could kill me with the snap of a finger, you try not to antagonize him. In fact, the best thing to do if you have to deal with a Don is to be as submissive as possible.
“Actually, my dear girl, I was hoping you could tell me why the Alliance Security Forces are all over my turf.”
“I need your help, sir.”
“My help? Someone with your skills and connections needs my help? I find that surprising.”
“I need to find Lacey Marano.”
“I see. Do you have a contract on that little zorra?”
“I wish. This is personal, sir.”
“Interesting. Take a seat.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Banderas picked up his wineglass and took a long swig. “So, what’s so personal about this? Did you know Boss Marano?”
“No, sir, it’s a lot more complicated than that and will explain your security problems.”
I start to explain to Banderas what’s happened from the moment Lacey arrived at Alex’s to that moment. Much to my surprise, the Boss just sat there, taking it all in, and simply nodded his head from time to time. Unless he’s a shitty actor, the man hadn’t a clue about what happened.
“That’s not good,” he said once I finished.
“You can see why this is personal,” I said. “Otherwise both I and the organization will be forever linked to terrorists. That’s terrible for business.”
“That’s putting it mildly.”
“So, Sir, I really need your help.”
“What’s in it for me?”
“What’s in it for me if I help you?”
“Beyond making sure that little bitch is dead?”
“With the elimination of Lacey Marano and the ones in the family backing her, their syndicate will be severely weakened. That’ll put you in a position to be able to take over their territory and thus control most of Darbytown.”
“I see. Mareth, for an assassin you have a keen mind.”
“Meh,” I said before shrugging. “I’m well educated, sir. It really comes in handy in my business.”
“It does indeed.”
“Can you help me?”
“I have a high-ranking connection in Alliance Security coming to a party at my house tonight,” Banderas said. “I want you to be there and I’ll introduce you two.”
Goddamn it, I thought, I’ve got to go to a fucking party? Can someone kill me now…
I work hard to keep the disgust from showing in my voice. “Thank you, sir.”
“Once you’ve gotten in contact with him, then maybe they’ll get off my back.”
“We can hope,” I said. “But no guarantees.”
“That’s the best I can do right now.”
“It’s better than nothing.”
“But, I will see if I can’t track down Lacey for you. What she’s done is bad for business.”
“Won’t get an argument from me.”
“The party starts at eight, Mareth. I do believe you remember the way?”
“I’ll make sure my guards are expecting you. And do come unarmed this time. It’s rather insulting that you feel the need to be armed around me…”