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This is the first novel that I have written and it was orginally written for National Novel Writing Month. I hope people find this piece to be entertaining a suspenseful.
Anyone who says that the worst thing after a night of drinking is waking up next to a stranger and having no idea how you got there is lying. Maybe not intentionally but they are. That feeling when your eyes are sealed shut because your old makeup has settled on your face during the night and the hand of a stranger is on your waist. You can’t remember anything besides what's happening now and the only clues are the hundreds of messages from your best friend asking if you really went home with your ex last night. Nope, there are things far worse than that.
In my case, It’s waking up after a night of drinking next to a stranger, having no idea how I got there and also having no idea why they’re dead or why I’m soaked in their blood.
So far, it seems to be significantly worse than any other one night stands that I've heard about but that's just me.
When I first started to come around, I thought that I was just really sweaty. I thought that I was in my own apartment and I had forgotten to crack the window to cool the room. My clothes were sticking to my skin and the air smelled sharp and metallic. You could only imagine the pleasant surprise when I realized it wasn't sweat but blood. Smears and pools of hot, sticky blood.
My instincts instantly intensified as I fought to remember what happened last night but all my memories were like burnt photographs, fragmented and hazy. I couldn’t tell the difference between what was reality and what I may have hallucinated. To be honest, I didn’t even remember drinking at all.
The man next to me was staring up at the ceiling, his face fixed like he was still watching himself being murdered. His eyes had already started to fog over and his skin was like that of a porcelain doll, which suggested that he had been dead for a while now.
I peeled the sticky sweet blanket off of my body and slid off of the damp mattress. I was wearing the clothes that I had worn to work on Monday. A lavender blouse and a dainty pencil skirt that was way out of my league. My watch told me that it was Wednesday now. That meant that I had almost 48 hours of time that I couldn’t account for. Not a good sign.
It was easy to tell now that I was in a hotel room or at least a very poorly decorated home. My money was on a hotel room. The walls were a stale yellow and the bedspread had an unflattering floral pattern. The blinds had been drawn shut and the door in the corner had been deadbolted closed. I could only hear a hum outside which suggested that there was a train or the Interstate nearby.
After checking myself for injuries and finding none, I turned my attention back to the man. I didn’t recognize him, yet I had a feeling that I had seen his face before. He was fully dressed in what was obviously a pricey suit that had been torn apart by the stab wounds. They were thrusted all the way down into the spaces between his ribs. I estimated that there was about 12 stab wounds that were accompanied by smaller scratches and opaque bruises.
After I had made a good assessment of the situation, I walked to the bathroom and flicked the light on. My hands were quivering as I struggled to turn the faucet on. I turned the knob until the water started to burn and I began to wash my numb hands. The blood slowly filtered off my skin and stained the edges of the sink. I calmly picked up the hand towel and dried my hands.
I know that I didn’t do this. Not because I wasn't capable of killing someone, which I am and I have on several occasions, but because I wasn’t this stupid. This type of gory, impulsive and violent murder wasn’t my style. Rule number one of being an professional assassin was to be clean. Don’t make a mess and don’t leave evidence behind. Whoever did this was either a amature or wanted to be caught. Or more specifically, they wanted me to be the one caught.
Whoever was responsible for this, really had me in quite the precarious situation. I could already hear the wail of sirens in the distance, meaning that they even planned tipping off the cops to the exact minute. I only had two options. I could burn my clothes and flee the scene but the sheer amount of dead skin cells, hair and other DNA samples that I’d already left behind would defeat the purpose. That would take time and wasted time was not something I could afford. I could stay behind and act hysterical, like I had accidently killed him in self defense. Play the role of a scared, innocent girl who got taken advantage off. That would just be degrading and it was a given that I would be taken by the police for questioning. I did not have time for making up a story and lying to police when, more than anything, I needed to get the hell out of Dodge.
Impulsively, I decided that running would be the best choice. That would give me at least a week to get as far as I could before the authorities would come looking for me. Granted, it would be nearly impossible for them to hunt me down. As far as the public records were concerned, I died over 20 years ago in a boating accident. However, I'm bound by an illegal contract not to talk about that.
I took my clothes off and slipped into one of the cheap robes that the hotel provided. Running around in a bathrobe would be the definition of inconvenient but fleeing from a hotel room in blo
ody clothes didn’t exactly scream incognito either. There was no way to know if my captor had gone as far as planting witnesses right outside the door. I had to assume the worst case scenario and that meant blending as much as possible at whatever the cost.
Curiously enough, my now blood spattered car keys were waiting for me on the nightstand. I was smart enough to be skeptical of the coincidence but I didn’t have the time to question what could just be dumb luck. I needed to leave, now. I unlocked the front door and stepped outside into the brisk morning air that chilled me to my spine in the flimsy robe. It didn’t surprise me to see that my car was there waiting for me. Whoever was responsible had played their cards right. They know that when the police checked the security tapes, my viciously red Honda Civic would stick out like blood on a white pillowcase.
My bare feet slapped down on the pavement as I crossed the parking lot and unlocked the car doors. I thrust the key into the ignition and the engine caught on the first try. I did not let myself think as I shifted gears into reverse and rocketed out of the parking lot without ever looking back. I kept my eyes pinned on the taillights of the car in front of me when I was stopped at a light and the fleet of police cars flew by me. I did not start breathing until they had passed and I was on the main road.
I was certain that nobody would have sabotaged my car. The way I see it, whoever kidnapped me and left me here had plenty of chances to kill me. I was unconscious and vulnerable for almost two days. If they wanted to kill me, I would have been dead and decomposing in a ditch by now. That meant that they most likely wanted to take me down by pinning the blame on me for the murder. It was a lot riding on just a hunch but that is what made me so good at my job. My hunches were always correct.
The sun was starting to come up now and that meant that it was early enough that I would miss the morning rush hour. I found my sun glasses unscratched and right where I left them just a few days before. I slipped them on and turned on the radio to help me think. It was a dull sounding man talking about the economic projections for this next year which was fine by me. I needed someone else's voice to drown out my own screaming thoughts. When I looked back in the rearview mirror, I only saw the glassy eyes of the dead man staring back at me.
Whoever was responsible for this was had almost gotten the best of me. Heck, if they would have upped the dosage of the drug they had given be by just a few mililiters, I would have been caught. I did not take too kindly to people who thought that they could outsmart me. I had escaped this time but that was a small victory at best. In my experience, if people really wanted you to disappear, then they were fiercely determined to make that happen. They could make it happen and make it look like an accident.
As the skyscrapers of New York City came into view, I didn't allow myself to think. I didn't let myself speculate on who did this because any inferences I made now wouldn't be dependable. While I did consider myself an extremely objective person, being covered in someone else’s blood would skew even the coldest human’s judgement. I needed someone I could relay all this information to before it left my memory. I needed someone that I could trust because at this point I had no idea who might be responsible so therefore, everybody was the enemy.
Daniel. He was the only one that I could trust. I flicked my blinker on and turned down onto his street.
I remember the first day I had met Daniel. It was my first day of formal training at the Academy and the room was crowded full with at least a hundred other kids. Nobody knew what to expect because those who managed to make it out of the academy, didn't talk about what went on during their time. It smelt like sweat from all the high strung nerves and only a few people whispered anxiously to each other. These kids were supposedly some of the brightest that the world had to offer but it didn't take a scientist to know that nearly all of them didn't have what it would take. The majority of them would end up leaving or doing the desk jobs.
I wasn’t nervous at all. Unlike most of them, I had been raised in the Academy and this place was my fragile home. I already knew everything there was about the art of killing a human. For me, this was just going through the motions to get the certificate that would allow me to start going out into the field for assignments. There was only one other person there who was like me and that was Daniel. Up until then, we had no reason to speak to each other but we soon learned that if we wanted to succeed here, we would be better together than pinned ageist each other.
As predicted, Daniel had been the only other member of my class that made it to graduation besides myself. That automatically made us the top assassins of our year. By then, our partnership was unbreakable and there wasn’t a single other team out there that could get a job done like we could. He was the only person on this Earth that I would trust with my fragmented life and he trusted me with his.
I managed to find a parking spot that was close enough to his building. A miracle considering it was a fairly busy part of the city. If I got the timing right, then nobody would have to see me. Sure enough, there came a time when nobody was passing on the sidewalk and that was my chance to slip inside unnoticed. I pushed in the front door and slid into the elevator without a single soul knowing I had been there at all.
When the elevators opened to Daniel’s apartment, it was empty. Everything was perfectly in place and it was clean. This wasn't unusual for him but normally even I couldn't sneak into his apartment without him knowing immediately. He would always be waiting for me at the front door and we told each other when we went out of town. Maybe it was because I was already paranoid but this didn't seem right and my senses went on high alert. I put my hand on my hip to go for my gun, just to remember I was still wearing the stupid robe. I took a deep breath before I stepped out and started making my way to the kitchen. I felt vulnerable and I needed a weapon. Luckily, I knew where Daniel kept his emergency stashes of fire arms.
I came up to the edge of the counter where I knew he kept a knife strapped underneath it. I kept my back to the wall and sure enough, the blade was there. I silently pulled it out of its stealth and stood up straight again. Now that I had protection, it was time for recon. I took a quick survey of the room before I made my way to hallway.
My blood froze when I heard someone moving on the other side of the wall. I slowly made my way towards the doorway and kept my knife ready. Who ever was in there must have heard me too because they stopped moving. I could tell that we were both just waiting for the other to come around the corner. If I went first, then I would have them backed into the room and the odds were in my favor. I mentally prepared myself before I swung around the corner with every nerve in my body feeling like it was on fire.
I was greeted by the barrel of a handgun and my natural instincts had me slam the back of the knife into the hand of the intruder. I heard them yelp and the gun spiraled across the room as I prepared for a second attack now that they were disarmed.
“Jesus Christ, Nicole,” said the now high voice that I knew all too well. I blinked a couple times and tuned out the adrenaline long enough to actually see who the captor was. As luck would have it, it was Daniel. He was now bent over slightly and cradling his undoubtedly bruised hand. I immediately felt guilty but I was relieved to see that it was only him.
“Dammit Daniel, I thought you were an intruder.” I admit frustrated as I put the knife down on the book shelf and let my heart rate slow down. He was still staring at me looking astonished and alarmed so I glance behind me to make sure that there was no one was there. “Do you have a girl over or something?” I ask taunting him as I take in the fact that he was only wearing boxers with a shirt and his hair had not yet been combed.
“No,” He said without embarrassment as he straighten up and shook out his hand. He glanced over me taking in the sight of the robe and my skin that was tinted brown now from the dried blood. He wasn't smiling.
“I didn’t hit you that hard.” I tell him and that’s the closest he’d ever get to an apology. I turn around and start walking back towards the kitchen but he grabs my shoulder. I yank my arm back and turn around to face him.
“That's all you’re going to say?” He said obviously being pretty upset about something that I did. I wasn’t quite ready to admit that I still couldn’t remember anything so I waited in the tense silence for him to explain.
“You know, I don’t really care what you do in your free time but next time tell someone when you decide to skip town. I covered your ass and told the Academy that you were following a lead in Fiji,” He told me before gently letting go of my arm. “I thought you would have at least told me,” He said finally lowering his voice back to its normal pitch
My stomach wrenched and I started to feel sick. Even Daniel didn’t know where I had been these past couple days. That meant that I didn’t have much hope for a viable alibi. My worry must have shown on my face because his his angry expression melted into one of concern.
“You weren’t just skipping town, were you?” He asks me, his voice even softer this time and I knew he would feel guilty for yelling at me. Between me and Daniel was a complex network of communication in which we didn’t need words to tell each other how we felt or what we thought. I knew his face better than I knew my own and that is a small part of what made us nearly invisible. It also meant that I could never hide anything from him. I slowly shook my head.
“I didn’t, or at least I don’t think that I did.” I reply lowering my eyes as I walk past him and back into the room. I sat down on the corner of his bed but I wasn't relaxed. I knew he would berate me later for staining his sheets but right now I didn’t care.
“Have you ever not remembered how you killed someone?” I ask him cautiously approaching the subject as I keep my eyes trained on the wall. I didn't want to see his reaction in case it would affect my judgement. I knew he could be just as stone cold as I was but I still needed to stay as objective as possible.
“Never. You wouldn’t either.” He said simply. He was waiting for me to go on but I didn’t want to.
It wasn’t true that all assassins were heartless killing machines. While we were fairly gifted at shutting off our emotions when we needed to, with every kill came a new wave of guilt that weighed you down everyday of your life. Most people don’t make it out of the Academy not because they don’t have the proper skills but because they are too good of people for the job. Daniel and I weren’t good people but still, you never forget the face of someone whose life you took.
“I don’t remember anything that's happened in this past week. I’m not sure of anything I've done but this morning I woke up next to a dead body, Daniel. I woke up in a locked hotel room in a bed with this man and I was covered in his blood.” I say shaking my head as if I could try and erase the memory when I could still remember the metallic taste of his blood in my mouth. I waited for him to speak.
“Cause of Death?” He asked keeping his voice calm which I appreciated.
“He appeared to have been stabbed in the abdomen. I didn’t have time to check for poisons.” I admitted as I realize how foolish I had been to forget something like that. I didn’t even check to see if the man had an ID or anything else that would have been critical. I had been weak, I let my own fear rule over me. I knew that's what Daniel was thinking too even if he didn’t want to say it.
“What about your car?” He questioned as he started pacing. He was thinking about damage control. His eyes were narrowed at nothing and his face was slightly contorted in thought.
“It was waiting for me in the parking lot, keys and everything.” I mused as I held my keys up. “Now it’s parked in a back alley by Maple street.” I reported as I ran my fingertips over the one star shaped key chain that I had. He walked over and stared down at me.
“I hope you’re not too attached.” He said as a mild attempt at humor. “I'm going to take it to the junkyard, it's what's best.” As much as I didn’t want to loose my car, he was right. Keeping the car would be like lighting a beacon for the police. Car registration was usually the first database that they checked. I resentfully noded and tossed him my keys.
I didn’t realize that I had been in a sort of trance until Daniel threw a clump of clothes at me and I flinched.
“You need to shower, blood stains aren’t a good color on you.” He said and he managed to get me to smile before he left the room. The last thing I wanted to do was waste time showering when I had a murder to solve but I knew better than that. Daniel was out buying us time by getting rid of the car so I had time to breathe. It would be lethal to let my impulses get the best of me.
I stood up and felt the cold tile press against my naked feet as moved into the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror and I was appalled by my own appearance. My hair was stuck to my own skin in some places and I had a hard time believing that some of the blood wasn’t my own. I felt dirty, violated and in that moment wanted nothing more than to feel the hot pulsing of the water washing away all that was bad about me.
After showering, I changed and crawled out to the living room where I sat on the couch waiting for Daniel to come back. I must have dozed off because I didn't wake up until he was already back and reading the paper in the chair next to me. I lifted my head up with a groan as I rubbed my eyes.
“Good, you’re up.” He said before he gestured with his foot to what I assumed was a cup of tea for me waiting on the side table. I didn’t care much for tea ever since this time when a lady in New Hampshire tried to poison me with it but I liked the warmth that it gave. I settled with just holding it in my hands for now.
“Is the car gone?” I ask as I was still struggling to wake up which I assumed was a side effect from still having the drug in my system.
“What car?” He said without looking up but I could see a smirk playing on his lips. I rolled my eyes in a joking way before I nodded as I was pleased with this news. The less I knew about what happened to it the better.
“What about the newstations? Have they alerted the public yet?” I asked as I pulled my legs under me to sit cross legged.
“Not a word, which got me thinking. If they haven’t released the name by now that probably means that whoever was killed was a pretty big deal.” He said before looking at me and I knew what he was asking. I closed my eyes and thought back to the face that I woke up next to. Despite how quickly I ran out of there, I did remember important aspects of the guys face.
“Dark hair and Dark eyes.” I said confidently. “No taller than 6 foot and a stocky build. He was wearing a suit, looked like Zegna but I'm not sure. That alone tells us he had money to burn and money usually means power.” I said rattling off the facts to him. My keen sense of observation made me very capable of being able to pick apart a person's physical appearance in seconds. I could tell what kind of person you were with just a sideways glance.
“And, chances are that somebody would notice when they stopped going to work. I’ll start looking into the missing persons database and I’ll see which billionaires accounts have gone quiet recently.” He said reading my mind. I watched as he picked up his computer and his fingers began to fly across the keyboard. The Academy has been around long enough that our tech teams had hacked into and gained access to anything ever stored on a computer. From a target's social media account to the President’s personal email, we could pull up pretty much anything we wanted without them even knowing it. Granted, even we had our limitations. Special permission was need from the Director himself if you really wanted to go digging into the government's secrets. We were all fully functioning adults yet even we still had parental controls on our devices.
I waited in silence, listening to the clicking of keys and waiting for Daniel to find something. I longed to be able to help and take care of this myself. It was starting to make me uncomfortable to be treated like a vulnerable child. What I needed was to get back to my apartment and get back into my own clothes at the very least. I needed to go soon before the police locked my apartment up for investigation. While I was confident that they wouldn’t be able track my DNA without a direct sample from me, they still had me on camera. I had spent my life covering myself in a shield of alias and fake addresses but even that couldn’t keep me hidden forever. Someone from somewhere would recognize me on that film and sell me out for their own 5 minutes of fame.
“I’ve got something.” Daniel suddenly said and I straightened up. Despite feeling wobbly, I stood and came up behind him. On the screen was a the bank account records of a man named Jonathan Harvock. There hadn’t been a single transaction made since Monday which lined up all too well with my own time line. I felt my hands start to sweat as I remembered that name now and I remembered what his face looked like before he died.
I remember coming into my office and seeing an orange envelope sitting on my desk waiting for me. If it wasn’t for the seal of the Academy in the corner, I would have gotten suspicious. I let my guard down and felt my heartbeat speed up at the thought of another case. As I walked over, I lazily let my bag and jacket slide off of me and came to take a seat at the mahogany desk. The envelope felt cold in my hands as I picked it up and slid my fingers under the flap to break the seal. A sound that started to become an omen of death to me
I reached over and turned my desk lamp on to light up the otherwise completely dark room. The light cast a yellowish glow down on the manilla folder that fell out of the envelope. I looked at it cynically as this wasn’t a normal case file. A normal case file would at least have a profile of the target and hundreds of pages filled with other pointless information. It told you anything and everything there was about that target whether you wanted to know or not. From what they had on their morning coffee to how much money they owed the government. This folder was different, it contained just a piece of standard white computer paper. No header or any other indication that this was anything special. The only thing printed on it was a name.
“He was my target for this week.” I told Daniel keeping my voice steady. “That was the man that I was in charge of killing. I remember now that I had planned on doing it last night too. Daniel, this is bad.” I said becoming angry at myself now. If this was my fault, I would be disgusted with myself. In no world would it have been acceptable for me to kill someone like that, it was inhumane and straight up unprofessional.
“Come on, I know you didn’t do it.” He said shaking his head as he set the computer down and started to walk away.
“You don’t know that. I could have easily been drunk or something. You have to acknowledge that.” I rose my voice as I didn’t understand why he was immediately excluding me from the equation. I was the number one suspect in this case and he needed to realize that. Murder was still murder even if you didn’t remember it.
“Breathe Nicole. It's not going to be any help if you’re hell bent on blaming yourself.” Daniel said his voice getting firm now as he glared at me. I narrowed my eyes back at him until the moment of tension passed. He lowered his eyes back to his computer and I went back to sulking on the couch.
“He has a penthouse not too far from here, if you care to pay it a visit?” He asked, his voice returning to it usual collected and calm tone. I nodded stiffly and I stood up.
“Let's go then, but we need to stop at my apartment first. I am not going to run down the streets in your old Batman t-shirt.” I said doing my best to convey to him that it was not negotiable. I felt a new surge of energy pulsing through me as I was ready for action. I couldn’t pity myself.
It was my fault I was in this situation and I could accept that but I refused to receive the consequences of my mistakes. If I was guilty, then I planned on having to pull off one hell of a disappearing act. However, first things first, I needed to make sure the blood was on my hands and not someone else's.
“This is bad.” Daniel said as he started pacing through the shattered remains of my apartment. We obviously weren’t the first people to have the idea of coming here and whoever got here first really made a mess of my place.
“That’s the understatement of the century.” I mused being irritated and still in a state of shock. I stared at my front door and there was no sign of forced entry. No evidence of a lock pick or a crowbar being used here or on any of my windows. I was at odds for how anyone could have gotten in without me wanting them to. It wasn’t any secret that I had one hell of a security system. It was necessary considering I kill people for a living and other people tend not to like that. However, I had plenty of confidence in my skills that I could sleep comfortably with little more than a standard lock on my door. I could have an intruder disarmed and pinned to the ground before they had time to take a second step inside.
Oddly enough, it was The Academy that required that their agents have a hefty amount of security on their homes. It took a lot of resources to train a human how to murder so it was probably The Academy's type of informal insurance policy. The only way anyone could have gotten inside would be if they had my key or if I let them in myself. I couldn’t tell which was more unsettling.
I started to take assessment of the room. The pillows and cushions were thrown off of the couch and laid scattered around the room. Every drawer had been taken from their frames and vigorously sorted through. However, what struck me as strange was the fact that nothing had been broken. Even my crystal vase was still resting on the side table, sparkling and unfazed by the destruction that happened around it. I knew from experience that trashing an apartment is an act of passion. A person becomes so caught up in the emotion and the anger towards that person that they lash out on anything in reach. That was not the case here. If someone had intended on doing this as a way of trying to hurt me then things would have been broken. More than likely, someone had come in here with the intentions of looking for something. It became obvious that they were in a rush too otherwise they would have had the common courtesy to put everything back in place. They would have wanted to lead me to believe that my apartment hadn’t been ransacked in my absence.
I naively started to think about what anyone would be looking for here. Everything of mine that was worthy of keeping was tucked away in numerous safety deposit boxes all around the world. It wasn’t until I was looking at the holes in my walls where they had tried to see if I hid anything between them that I started to realize exactly what it was that they took. I fought the urge to vomit as I pushed past Daniel and into the hall. He recognized that I was on the trail and abandoned the papers he had been collecting to follow me into my bed room.
In that moment I knew what they took. Even before I came into my bedroom and fell to the floor, I knew that it would be gone. I was hardly surprised to see a gaping hole in the floor where the wood had been torn up by a crowbar. It was nestled by the foot of my bed and was just big enough for someone to reach their hand inside. I wasn't even disappointed to find the small compartment empty because I had expected it.
“They took it, that's what they were looking for. Dammit.” I cursed angrily as I hit my fist into the floor out of frustration. I welcomed the pain as punishment for my own stupidity.
Daniel had caught up to me and was hovering over my shoulder as he peered into the empty hole as well. I watched as his face hardened from being hopeless confused to gravely angry.
“Don't you dare tell me that they took your ID.¨ Daniel said sternly as we both stared into the empty hole. I nodded and watched as he took a step back and ran a hand through his hair. He was trying very hard not to get upset with me.
I kept staring down into the empty space but no amount of staring would bring my ID card back. Every agent from The Academy was issued one upon graduation. It's how we tell who's real and who could be an impersonator. It was exceptionally helpful when dealing with foreign affairs. It was useless to the common person but it could be close to deadly when it was in the hands of someone who knew what they were doing. Most importantly, it gave access to The Academy's database and that was only a small sliver of its power. That large swell of information that held the world's darkest secrets was accessible by the swipe of a card, minus the parts of that database that even I'm not allowed to see but even those could become accessible with the assistance of this card. Carrying around something like that would be too dangerous if someone wanted to take it so nearly every agent had a hiding place. They were mostly hidden in obscure places that nobody would think to look which is why I hid mine under the floorboards of my room. It was both easily accessible and hidden in plain sight. I kept it stored in an old box for cigarettes as an extra precaution.
¨You hid your ID. . . Under your bed? Like actually under your bed?” He said with a voice of controlled anger as he started pacing. I nodded again as I watched him skeptically, waiting him to say something.
¨Nicole, that’s where teenage boys hide their dirty magazine, not where you keep your ID card.” He said with an exasperated sigh and I halfheartedly rolled my eyes. After growing up with Daniel, I had become used to him and his lectures. I think he felt that if he could explain to me what I did wrong that I would somehow do better next time. I didn’t understand but I think it made him feel like he was doing the right thing.
“Look, I’m sorry. I’ll admit that maybe that wasn’t my best idea but right now I'm going to pack up a few of my things. The password to my safe is the Queen’s birthday, can you go get my paperwork if it’s still there?” I said forcing myself to move past it. I couldn’t dwell on my bad choices in a situation like this. I think Daniel understood that but I could tell that he wanted to say more on the subject. He somberly nodded before he started to make his way towards the door. He was halfway out before he turned back around to face me again.
“You know, I always thought that you would have kept your’s buried by your parents.” He said so quietly that it was barely distinguished from a breeze, but it was loud enough that I heard him. Anger that I hadn’t felt before immediately erupted to the surface of my skin as even nerve in my body burned with the sudden wave of hatred.
“And why would I do that?” I snapped at him raising my voice as I abruptly stood up. “You know full well that they mean nothing to me and I meant nothing to them.” I relentlessly berated him as I closed the gap between us. He knew better than to bring them up when I was around and I got the feeling he only mentioned them to torture me for my mistake.
I wasn’t surprised to see a flash of pain in his soft eyes. He nodded sadly before turning away again and finally leaving. I stood alone in the tattered remains of my room and I took a deep breath. Daniel believed in family and he wanted me to too. He believed in sentimentality, companionship and love. He didn’t understand how I could hate my parents when I’ve never really met them. He still had faith in the idea that your family was supposed to love you unconditionally. Something that was easy to believe when your parents were living and breathing in the room next to your own. Meanwhile, my parents had managed to ruin my entire life by the time I was 5 years old.
I was filling up my duffel bag with my nicer clothes and the few personal items that I owned. I then heard a faint tapping that sounded like a knock on the door. I stood up and tilted my head because I wasn’t sure if I actually heard it but then it came again. Firmer this time.
I met Daniel in the front of my apartment by the door and he was just as weary as I was. It was odd for someone to be knocking at my door but I wasn’t completely out of the ordinary. For probably the first time in my life, I found myself hoping it would be a missionary telling me how I could find the Lord in three easy steps. I signaled to Daniel to let him know that I had it covered and he disappeared back around the corner.
I undid the deadbolt and pulled open the door. Standing there in front of me was a group of three police officers and not the normal run of the mill officers that usually dabbled around the streets of New York. These ones appeared to be their peak physical condition and there hair was cut close to their heads, special agents more than likely. The one was standing in front of the other two and he was the first to speak.
“Nicole Rossi?” He asked getting right to business as the the short and balding officer to his right passed up a sheet of paper. It was thin enough that I could see through the back and I could tell it was a picture of me so I nodded. Now was not the time to be caught in a lie.
“That’s me. Is there a problem?” I asked innocently as I started to twirl a piece of my blonde hair around my finger. It seemed to efficiently distract the two officers behind him but the one in front of me seemed unswayed. He had cold, hard and dead blue eyes.
“Nicole Rossi, You’re under arrest for suspicion of 1st degree murder of Jonathan Harvock. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you do or say can be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney,” He started to say as he reached for my arm and started to pull out a pair of handcuffs. The other two officers started to come up behind him in case I put up a fight.
Normally, I pride myself at being able to make dependable and efficient decisions. I could usually trust that my impulses were correct. However, even I will admit that the decision of what I decided to do next was poor to say the least.
When he touched my arm, panic bells started to go off in my mind and my fight or flight instincts started to take over. When he was about to tell me that the state would provide me with an attorney, I put all the power I had into my fist and railed him across the side of the face. It was enough of a surprise that his grip loosened and I was able to jerk my arm away.
The other two officers immediately whipped out their guns and locked them in on me. They moved faster than I suspected but I still had the head start. I hurdled over a fallen bar stool and dipped into my bedroom. There wasn’t enough time to try and scale down the side of my building. I’d have to fight my way out of this one.
I felt the familiar acidity of adrenaline as it tore through my muscles and I clenched my fists. The short and bald officer came around the corner first and I greeted him with a swift knee to his gut. It was enough to make him double over and I used the back of my hand to smack the gun out of his hand. My knuckles rattled in their sockets when they hit the gunmetal and I could already feel the bruise coming on. He staggered back but was nowhere near being unconscious. A loud grunt in the other room told me that Daniel was trying to take care of the other officer. That meant that we were out numbered by one but as luck would have it, he was nowhere in sight. If he was smart then he was fleeing to the squad car for back up.
The officer had recovered by now and was coming at me again. He did not seem nearly as confident without his gun in his hand but that wasn't stopping him. He easily out weighed me by at least 50 pounds but that was not my concern. When dealing with someone who was unquestionably stronger than you, you had to use your head. It was the only way. The right strikes in the right spots could give you the advantage.
I took a shallow breath before I threw myself at him. I went for a punch in the soft area between the middle portion of the chest and his abdominal muscles, effectively knocking the wind out of him with my small fist. He swung for me again and I narrowly ducked out of the way. He maybe stronger but I was more experienced. I could tell that his blood was boiling now and the look in his eyes was nearly feral.
I confidently went to kick him in the rib cage but he had recovered faster than I had expected. I took a nasty blow that clipped the side of my face. It sent me spinning. I slipped on what felt like a stray pillow and fell to the ground as the stars started to dance on the edges of my vision. I started to taste the blood in my mouth.
“Game over, Sweetheart.” He taunted with an amused chuckle as he started to pull out his own pair of handcuffs. I remained still and let him get near me but I had no intention to surrender so soon. I kept my face turned from him and cradled it with my hand to give the best impression of being hurt. He let his guard down and that was his last mistake. At exactly the right moment, when he bent down to drag me up, I thrust my elbow into his temple and put all my strength behind it. It was possible that it hurt my elbow more than it hurt him but nevertheless he crumbled to the ground. Not dead but unconscious for the time being.
“Don’t call me Sweetheart.” I said whispered cynically to his limp body as rose to my full height and turned away. I did not hear any sounds from the other room so I took that as a good sign that Daniel had taken care of the last officer. I stepped over some of the remaining mess and made my way back into the living room. Daniel was nowhere to be seen.
I almost called out for him when I heard the steely click of a gun’s safety turning off behind my ear. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end and it felt like the air pressure of the room suddenly became suffocating.
“Drop your weapons. Hands where I can see them.” My mind instantly connecting the gravelly voice I was hearing to that of the officer that I had assumed went for back up. The one with the dead eyes. I did not move for a few still moments but then I felt the barrel of the gun as he pushed it into the back of my head. I didn’t have any weapons so I slowly started to raise my hands up to be in line with my head. My mind was reeling, desperate to find a way out of this. The unfriendly slap of cold handcuffs on my wrist told me that I was just about out of options. He wrenched my other hand down behind me but still kept the gun pressed into my back.
I could still try to run, yes, but I wouldn’t get too far before he’d catch me. There was the fire escape but I wouldn’t be able to open the window in a timely manner with my hands bound behind me. I could probably slip out of the handcuffs but at the end of everything, the officer was the only one with the gun. My hope was dwindling but I couldn’t let myself give up. I allowed myself to appear relaxed as he started to lead me towards the door.
There was gunshot that made my ears ring and my head spin. For a nauseating moment, I wondered if I had been shot, but realized that I was not feeling any pain. The officer’s hand that had been tightly gripping me just moments before had lost it’s tension and slid away. I knew before turning around what had happened.
“Are you alright?” Daniel’s quiet voice spoke to me as I slowly stepped away from the body and faced him.
“I’m fine. Nice shot.” I comment gravely as I stared down at the officer on the ground. He wasn’t dead yet but he would be soon. That enticing scarlett liquid oozed from him and began to stain my carpet. I faltered as I recalled the hotel room and how much blood there had been there. I stepped away from him to avoid getting blood on my shoes.
“But, you know better than to kill a cop.” I said to Daniel as I was slightly surprised by his rash actions. It wasn’t like him to ever attack someone who wasn’t a target. I couldn’t really complain because he did save me from being seized by the police.
“That man is not a cop.” He said leaning over the body and pulling the gun he held of of his cold dead hands. “The other two officers both had Glock 19s. Standard issue guns for any officer in the New York Police Department. They’re real officers.” He paused for a moment as he held up the dead man’s gun. “This isn’t a standard issued gun from NYPD. Not from the FBI or CIA either. A real officer wouldn’t be allowed to carry anything that wasn’t standard issued.” He pointed out and I realized he was right. The gun that he held was far more sinister than anything an officer would be allowed to carry. This was the type of firearm that I’ve only ever seen on the black market.
“Let’s get out of here then. I don’t think the other two officers will be too terribly happy when they wake up.” I declare before I start to move past him to go get my bag. Before I can pass, he gently brushes a hand against my arm.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” He asked again. I nodded once more.
“I’m okay, I promise.”
The foyer looked and felt more like the entrance of a 5 star hotel than it did an apartment complex. Plush chairs lined the walls and a spherical bouquet of hydrangeas and roses acted as the centerpiece of the entire room. It was beautiful to put it simply and it didn’t make me miss my quick and dirty apartment on the other side of town. If I made it out of this mess, I seriously had to consider upgrading my housing situation.
Now, we didn’t exactly have a plan for how we were going to get in but some of our best work was done on the fly. Planning was too meticulous and time consuming. The best thing to do was to act like you where exactly where you were supposed to be. Like the Gods themselves had aligned the universe so you could be there in that moment. Radiate so much confidence that people feel obligated to obey, but you know, when that didn’t work, always come prepared with an envelope full of cash. Pretty much anyone could bought, charmed or seduced into giving you what you wanted.
“Excuse me, Sir.” Daniel said once we were in range of the doorman working the front desk. He cleared his throat. “We are here for Mr. Harvock’s place this evening. ” He stated in a voice that implied he had been in this position hundreds of times. I watched as his hands seemed all too comfortable with adjusting the cuffs of his dress shirt. The doorman eyed us suspiciously so I flashed him a smile and leaned up against the counter.
“Mr. Harvock is not in today, away on business. I’ll tell him you stopped by.” He said without asking for our names before he returned to reading through a pamphlet. He was obviously used to dealing with phonies.
“Well don’t tell us what we already know.” I say losing my smile and trying to look irritated. “We know Mr.Harvock isn’t here and that’s why he is letting us use his penthouse for the weekend.” I say with a huff as I pouted and turned my attention to Daniel. “You told me that you had everything planned this time. That they would be expecting us.” I said allowing my voice to go an octave higher as I put my hands on my hips. I was doing my best to assume the role of a women who had been spoiled all her life and expected that everyone else would bend to her every whim. Daniel quickly put a hand on my shoulder to subdue me and angled himself towards me to give the illusion of a private conversation.
“Darling, let me handle this.” He whispered to me but it was loud enough so that the doorman could hear what we were saying. I crossed my arms and made a snooty sound in the back of my throat. He shifted his focus back to the doorman, he no longer looked like he was in the mood for being polite. “Jonathan had assured us that this wouldn’t be an issue. He called ahead and our names are on the list.” Daniel said with his voice brimming with irritation as he started jamming his finger into the counter to emphasise his point. The doorman glanced back and forth between us again before just rolling his eyes. I could see him mutter something to himself as he reached into one of the desk drawers and drew forth a key.
“I’m going to need to take your names. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience, Sir.” He retorted and I could tell that it was a line that he had rehearsed. I assumed that he has had to deal with a whole city full of these types of people and had learned that it was best not to argue. He slid the key across the counter and I took it in my hands. The metal was cold and I tried not to think about how it could have been only a day ago that Harvock was standing here holding this same key.
“Robert and and Penny Peterson.Try not to forget it next time.” Daniel told him sternly before he placed a hand on my back and started leading me to the elevator. The elevator door chimed before opening and we stepped inside. As soon as the doors closed, he returned his hand to his pocket and I snorted with laughter.
“Why Robert and Penny Peterson?” I asked him with a little smirk as I moved the opaque sunglasses that I was wearing to hide my face and eyes, to the top of my head. I leaned forward to press the number for Jonathan’s floor.
“They’re close acquaintances of Harvock. Equally successful. Him and Peterson have gone in on a couple investments together. They normally live in Chicago but I figured the story would check out if it needed too. They are known to travel quite a bit this time of year.” He explained with confidence and I’ll admit that a part of me was impressed. Every alias he ever chose always seemed to have a buyable story behind it which was critical, but also risky. Every time you used somebody else's real name you risked the fact they could come walking in. Believe it or not it has happened to me before and it is has accounted for some of the most awkward and stressful moments of my life.
“Well done.” I commented as the doors spread open to the penthouse. As expected, the place was extraordinary but not in a beautiful sort of way like the lobby was. Everything seemed very hard and metallic. The walls were a steely grey that contrasted to the dark wood floors. There were several decorative mirrors hanging as accents on the walls and abstract sculptures lurking in dark corners. Everything seemed to be one good doorslam from falling over, like the house had been waiting for us to arrive.
“I’ll take the right , you go left. Yell if you find anything.” I tell Daniel before I turn to head into the closest room which happened to be an office. The motion activated lights flickered on as soon as I stepped all the way inside. I made sure the door closed behind me so no one could sneak up on me again. I reached into the purse that held everything I needed for a bit of breaking and entering. I pulled out a pair of gloves and slipped them on to my hands. Then, I got to work.
I started for the desk drawers first to see the things that he deemed most important as to keep them right by his side. I pulled on the handle of the drawer and it was locked, not unexpected and not a problem. I pulled out my lock picking kit. Most locks that you found in the general public's home were very easy to unlock if you knew what you were doing. Needless to say, it only took a minute before I was elbow deep into his important files.
It was mostly papers pertaining to the businesses that he had invested in. Financial charts, sales projections and monthly quotas for everything that he owned. Although my knowledge on economics was limited, there was nothing out of the ordinary. If I had time for a closer investigation than it was likely that I’d find evidence of fraud or embezzlement but that wasn’t what I was here for.
I locked the desk back up and moved on to the filing cabinet in the corner. This one wasn’t locked and it was a lot of the same things I had found in the desk drawer. There were so many white sheets of paper with miniscule sized fonts that it would be impossible to see what they all were. I felt overwhelmed knowing that the answer could be in front of me but I didn’t have time to find it. However, I reason to believe that this file cabinet wasn't hiding anything. People didn't tend to keep their valuables in their home offices or flimsy filing cabinets. Especially people who could afford vaults and saves to keep their valuables. The rest of the home would be a better place to look for protected items.
I heaved the cabinet closed again and went back to the desk. There was nothing under the computer or any of the other trinkets that he had on his desk. As a last ditch effort, I peaked behind the framed pictures on the wall but once again, nothing. Once I was confident that I wasn’t missing anything, I made my way back to the main part of the penthouse which was the joint living room and kitchen. Daniel wasn't waiting for me in the entryway so I assumed that it meant he was still searching. I debated taking a seat on the stiff looking couch but then I thought better of it. I considered myself too logical to be superstitious, but I didn't like the idea of lingering in the former homes of dead people. Especially those that I may have killed. I decided just to pace around the house and examine the art pieces. I heard a door open and with it came the arrival of Daniel.
¨Did you find anything?” I asked him hopefully but the look on his face told me that he had not. I sighed feeling temporarily defeated. There had to be something that we were missing. If I was somehow connected to this man, then there had to be evidence of that connection somewhere. Unless Jonathan was as skilled as I was at covering himself, which I highly doubted. I closed my eyes and let my mind open up. I think about everything that I knew about Jonathan which wasn't much.
¨Lets try the bookcase.” Daniel said bringing me out of my fantasy of thoughts.
¨Are you expecting there to be a secret passageway triggered by the pulling of a book?¨ I asked him in a sarcastic tone but I started running my hands over the shelves and tugging on books anyways.
¨You know as well as I do that they are more common than one may believe. It’s worth a shot¨ He responded with a chuckle and then we went back to working in silence. I was starting to think that I was at a dead end when I pulled out a book that was bulging outward in the middle. I took it all the way out and held it upside down and ran my finger through the pages. That's when a worn plastic bag slipped out and fell to the floor. It was small bag like the kind you might find in a child's lunch but it held a white powdery substance inside. I snached it up before it could leave a trace on the floor.
¨You didn't strike me as a cocaine kind of girl.¨ Daniel said taunting me. I was almost too intrigued to roll my eyes at him. Almost. I used my nail to open the baggie before I dipped the tip of my finger inside. I ran the sharp gains between my fingertips before I lifted my it to my tongue to taste it. I was surprised to be greeted by a sweet and mellow flavor, not anything bitter or chemical. It was like walking into a biker bar and finding out that it had been converted to a bridal shop.
¨It’s not cocaine, smart ass. It’s sugar.¨ I shook my head as even I couldn't believe it. Daniel took the bag from me and tasted it from itself. We were used to finding pinches of cocaine hidden in people’s homes but this was a first for me at least.
“I doubt he was a closet baker.” I said to him as I made my way to the kitchen that looked mostly unused. I went to the sink where I took the bag back from Daniel and began to empty it’s contents into the palm of my hand. I let the grains of sugar sift through my hand until I felt something solid land in my hand. Bingo. When I had managed to clear away the remaining sugar, what was left was a ordinate gold locket without a chain.
“I have heard that sugar has amazing preservative qualities with metal.” Daniel mused as he leaned against the counter and looked at the locket.
“No it doesn’t.” I told him with a sideways glance as I carefully inspected the locket, wondering where he would get that idea from.
“True, but I wish it did. At least that would give us a better explanation for why anyone would keep a locket cryptically hidden in a baggie of sugar and stashed inside a book.” He said as I passed the locket to him and he began to fiddle with it. He pried it open and inside it was what I thought was a picture but turned out to be a very small piece of paper. On it, where words written in blue ink that bled together, making it difficult to read.
“It’s a meeting place. 456 W Belmont Road. Monday at 9pm” He reported before he passed the paper to me. It was so worn from being folded and unfolded that the draft could have carried it away. I flipped it over a few times and held it up to the light but there was nothing else.
“Check to see what the address is.” I told him.
“You severely underestimate my own competence, I’m already on it.” He said and I looked over to see that he was already typing the numbers into his tablet. I waited as patiently as I could manage for the results.
“I have a nasty feeling that you’re not going to like this.” He said as he pushed his hair back with a spare hand.
“You’re probably right, but go ahead. Make my day.” I told him as I put my hands on the counter and waited for him to speak.
“It’s the address to the motel where you woke up and Harvock was found dead. ” He said being straightforward and ripping off the bandage.
“Well, that’s perfect. Probably isn’t a coincidence either.” I thought about how Monday was the day before I woke up too. Whoever was responsible for this may have led Jonathan straight to his death and most likely, he had willingly gone.
“Why keep a something like that in a locket and in a fake bag of cocaine though?” I said moving past my initial shock. It all just didn’t seem to make any sort of sense. I wasn’t used to being thrown off by these sort of things.
“Beats me. The only thing I can think of was that he believed the date was important and didn’t want to forget it. Most people would know better than to try to hijack or mess with a man’s cocaine so in a strange way, it was the perfect disguise.” Daniel suggested as he loosened his tie a bit. I could tell that this didn’t sit well with him either. I wanted to stay and see if there were any more baggies but there wasn’t any point too. We had already searched everything, it was the only one.
“Come on. Let’s get out of here before anyone comes to check up on the house.” I stated and I waited for him to nod before I headed to the door.