Due to busy schedules, baby chickens, and a variety of other factors, I’m late (again) getting a blog post up. I decided to give up another sneak peek–this time, though, it’s not for Martyrs. This is the first section of the first chapter of the novella I wrote almost four years ago in my novel writing class.
Hopefully you enjoy it! I promise to get back on track soon!
(P.S. Also, note that this text is technically four years old. It may not match the quality you see in the Martyrs excerpts. You’ve been warned!)
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The house was absolutely silent. Rebecca Cross stood waiting by the open doorway, black gloved fingers delicately thumbing a steel blade. Not a soul stirred. A gentle breeze from the open kitchen window cooled the air. The window had been left open before Rebecca had gotten there. In fact, the window had been left open every night for two weeks. Rebecca had been sure the home’s owner would have noticed before now, closed it, and forced her to come up with a cleverer way to break in. He had not. Getting into the quiet, lonely house had been as simple as slinking up the side wall, popping a screen, and slithering through the gaping frame.
Laird Simmons did not seem like a particularly interesting figure. Rebecca wondered who would want him dead. Then again, she shouldn’t care. She was simply doing her job.
Still, it had been two weeks since Laird’s file had taken over all of Rebecca’s priorities. Printed in bold, red ink at the top of his picture were the words, “Extremely Dangerous.” In fourteen days, Rebecca had yet to be impressed.
He lived an average enough life. The house was small, decorating minimal. The cabinets in the kitchen were mostly empty. The fridge held nothing but week-old milk and leftover Chinese takeout. So far, the home hadn’t been able to tell her anything following him around his daily life could not. There was nothing exciting about this Laird Simmons. He worked at the neighborhood convenience store from noon to ten, four days a week, and as far as Rebecca had seen, that’s all he did. Drug addictions were null. Alcohol too. She never caught him slinking around dark alleys at obscene hours or talking to shady, trench coat characters. The only suspicious act she’d witnessed involved a bottle of prescription pills, which he took seemingly at random intervals throughout the day. However, a quick glance through his bathroom yielded a boring conclusion: Cymbalta.
Rebecca didn’t understand. This man had to be the single most unexciting target she’d ever been assigned. She had to wonder if the “Extremely Dangerous” had been a misprint. Or a joke.
At thirty-three, and having seriously been involved with this sort of work for the greater part of fifteen years since her father’s murder, there was not much Rebecca Cross had not seen or done. Her blade had been the end of many: drug dealers, mob leaders, wife stealers. The Syndicate operated on an extensive field. Work was a plenty.
Or, it had been. In the past year, America and pulled out of Iraq and the War on Terror had come to a close. For the rest of the country this was a cause for celebration. For Rebecca and the Syndicate, though, times were hard. Without a war fueling scandals and scares, the demand for their services had taken a sharp decline. In times of peace, an assassin’s job danced on a very thin string.
The Syndicate must have been getting desperate, Rebecca figured. Why else would they send one of their top assassins after dog chow like Laird? The assignment looked minimal. There were two jobs the Syndicate typically turned down: matters of domestic self-interest, such as wives wanting to off their husbands or fathers looking to get rid of pesky in-laws. These jobs paid very little and offered almost no reward. Petty business could reflect poorly on the Syndicate. There was a certain matter of principle they were expected to keep.
The other kind of business they left alone was political. A client wanting to kill a senator, mayor, or other public official best bring his or her business elsewhere. The government, unlike most of the parties the Syndicate was willing to attack, did have ways to track them down. It was far too risky. Not to mention, Rebecca knew that many of the jobs they took were for the government itself. Though it may have been proud, the Syndicate was not stupid. No job gave quite the pay off a government job did.
The case of Laird looked more like the former. He had no strange habits and had exhibited no shifty behavior in fourteen days. Laird seemed to do nothing but eat, sleep, and go to work–literally. He woke early, around eight, wandered his house until work at noon, and made it home at ten after on the dot. From the file Rebecca had been building on him, she had identified him as a young thirty-something male with either an anxiety issue or depression, or both. Part of her was always hoping he would spontaneously do something unexpected, like set someone’s house on fire or at the very least kick a kitten. So far, there had been no such luck. It looked like Laird was probably nothing but a bitter ex-husband who refused to sign divorce papers. Better off dead.
But that wasn’t important. Rebecca had to remember her place. She hadn’t climbed this high in the ranks for nothing. There had to be some reason Laird’s name was sent to them. There always was. So Rebecca went back to waiting for her target to get home, toying with the knife in her hand. This was not the time to waste wondering. She had work to do. After all, tonight, a life ended. She would see to it.
After two weeks of following him around, keeping as his shadow–always present but never seen–Rebecca felt she had this job as good as done. She had been in the house for over and hour and a half before Laird was meant to be home, scoping the scene. She had to make sure, just in case that “Extremely Dangerous” part decided to rear its head in less public places, she was not walking into something she was not prepared for. So far so good. She was not surprised in the least.
Rebecca looked at the clock above the stove and paused. Ten after. She remembered checking her watch before she moved into position at ten. She had erased any trace of her presence there, though it shouldn’t matter when Laird would get no more chance than to hang his jacket on the hook by the door to notice anything amiss. Rebecca had put everything back into proper order and pulled the dark mask over her face. Only the white skin in an oval around her pair of eyes showed skin. Her dark hair was pulled into a tight braid, wrapped in a black stocking. Her hands gloved, feet smooth and unimpressionable as to leave not even the slightest trace of a footprint. The only piece of non-black material on her entire person was the silver crest between her brows. A scorpion: the symbol of the Syndicate.
This death would be named a murder–when it was discovered in a week. Perhaps longer. It seemed likely no one would swing by to check on Laird for quite some time. He had no friends or family that he saw on even a semi-regular basis. He was, for all intents and purposes, alone. After his death, no evidence would be unearthed, and his name, along with countless others, would fall into the cold file. Or, as was the joke at the office, the “Syndicate file.”
Sorry Laird, she had thought, pulling her blade out and inspecting its edge. She’d need to get it sharpened after this strike. It was losing its luster. Nothing personal.
Her preparations made, she sat and waited, watching the hallway for the light from the front door to open. That had been twenty minutes ago. Twenty long minutes. Rebecca was not one to complain over the circumstances of the kills she was hired to make, but this caught her attention for an entirely different reason: the sheer oddity of it. Other targets were spontaneous, unpredictable, so the time and place of the actual assassination could never be clear cut and set. It was part of the excitement–an excitement Rebecca rarely revelled in anymore after ten years. However, her blood pulsed now. She glanced at her watch again. Twenty after. Ten after was when Laird typically walked through that door, turned on the hallway light, grabbed himself a glass of milk, and went to bed.
Twenty after. Laird hadn’t been late in fourteen days. Not once.
Something behind Rebecca creaked in the night, and she spun. The knife whipped around from her hip to the left side of her face, the blade held down against her forearm. Paranoia–Jesus, Rebecca. She was getting irrational.
All the same, her instincts told her to keep her guard up. She flexed her free hand, the bones in her fingers cracking quietly into the silent room.
The thing creaked again. Rebecca sank back down against the wall to make herself as small and invisible as she could. A shadow in a separate hallway wavered and swayed, the motion beckoning her forward. Rebecca took a tentative sidestep, a black cat with her spine arched and fur standing on end. It took her less than a minute to wander the perimeter of the kitchen to the wavering shadow, but the time felt surreal and drawn out. A breath too-long withheld.
Another creak made every muscle in Rebecca’s body freeze. She was nearer to the back hallway now. Her throat tight, she craned her neck to the left as far as she could. A creak. She took a step. The sight of the backdoor opened half an inch and the screen door beyond it swaying eerily in the night breeze would have been enough to relax her nerves if she hadn’t noticed one crucial detail.
She’d checked every entrance before coming in the window.
The backdoor had been closed.
She barely had time to register that something had gone horribly, incalculably wrong. Some unseen, strong arm wrapped around her middle as a broad hand pressed a cloth firmly against her mouth. It smelled sweet and thick, a honey-chemical, and she knew her game was up. She gasped and struggled for only a minute before she could do no more than conform. The fumes overtook her mind, and the last thing Rebecca saw as she faded out of consciousness was the silhouette of a man gently reclining her back onto the linoleum floor.