2013 GOLD MEDAL WINNER for ACTION from
International Book Awards Readers’ Favorite
AWARDED 2013 BEST MYSTERY COVER DESIGN for CRIME
by VENTURE GALLERIES
Copyright © 2013 by Jennifer Chase
All rights reserved.
Published by JEC PRESS
* * * * *
“After thoroughly reviewing the evidence of this case, the court has determined that there’s insufficient evidence to proceed.”
Low muffled cries filtered throughout the courtroom.
Judge Christensen peered over his reading glasses at the defendant and his high-priced attorney. Disdain was evident in his voice inflection with the distinct syllable emphasis on the word in-suf-fi-cient.
He took a stilted breath and continued, “Timothy Devlin, you are released from these proceedings, and free to go.”
The young man grinned and eagerly shook his attorney’s hand. He stood up, dramatically turned to the courtroom gawkers, and raised his hands in a cheesy victory salute. His sinister grin turned into a full-faced smile. It was obvious he loved every minute of the attention he garnered. He had beaten the system with the help of his pit-bull lawyer.
A commotion broke out in the courtroom galley among onlookers. A few angry voices boomed above the escalating noise, “Rapist! Rapist!” and “Evil shouldn’t be allowed to go free!”
Murmurs, gasps, and cries continued to echo throughout the courtroom. It made it difficult to differentiate statements between the angry words and oppositions.
The prosecutor tried to compete with the crowd’s outbursts as he stated to the court, “With prejudice your honor.”
“Noted,” replied the judge. He stood up. “Clear the courtroom now!”
Four sheriff’s deputies moved from their strategic vantage points to guide the men and women from the courtroom. It took a few minutes, but they accomplished their arduous task.
Assistant District Attorney Joshua Richards bypassed most of the crowd, skirted out of the courtroom, and did not pause to hear more critiques about his job performance. There were a few additional shouts of profanity and evil doom-wishers before the only remaining occupants were the defense counsel and the defendant.
The noise level instantly ceased to that of an abandoned classroom.
Chad Bradford slipped the rest of his court notes back into his designer brief case, still with a look of smug satisfaction on his face. That made fourteen rape cases acquitted in the past six months. It didn’t matter that this case was pro bono; more high profile cases with a heavy price tag would soon follow. His smile still radiated as he slipped the lucky gold pen back inside his jacket pocket.
Everything that any halfway decent attorney needed stared right into their faces; they just had to know where to look, and how to slant it to their advantage. It was simple. He had the best job in the world – power, money, and an endless supply of sex.
Who could ask for anything more?
A cell phone buzzed from inside his pocket. Quickly he retrieved it, and the text read: Baby meet me – u won’t be sorry
“You off to celebrate?” The newly freed defendant asked.
“Maybe for an hour and then it’s on to the next case,” reflected Chad. “You going to be okay getting out of the courthouse without being mobbed? I could have a deputy escort you.”
“Nah, I’m outta here.” The young man smoothed his hair, which seemed to stoke up his smirk once again. “It’s been real.” He shook Chad’s hand again and then sauntered from courtroom.
Chad took a moment to breathe as he gathered his thoughts on some of the upcoming cases currently sitting on his judicial plate. He had an interview at Soledad Prison with a serial rapist charged in seven cases, and the victims kept mounting; it could be as many as thirteen by the end of the week. Without DNA evidence, the case did not scare Chad in the least, but amped his adrenaline with a new manipulative courtroom challenge. He would have his private investigator Zig Rodriquez gather dirt on all of the female complainants. By his estimation, the district attorney’s case would soon crumble and blow away in the wind. He would play the criminal justice system and win once again.
His cell phone buzzed again.
This time the text message instructed Chad to an address in the downtown area. It made him smile. A quickie in the afternoon was what he needed to refocus his energy.
He left the empty courtroom.
* * * * *
Chad eased his sleek black BMW up to the curb and kept the engine idling, his GPS directed him to an abandoned location. He stretched his neck precariously as he leaned across the passenger’s seat and peered out the window, trying to get a better vantage of the dilapidating building.
The business had been an independently owned hardware store throughout the late eighties and into the mid-nineties, but remained vacant ever since. They couldn’t compete with all the super stores and Internet sites monopolizing the consumer market.
The storefront windows, which once housed large displays, were now boarded up with heavy plywood and swathed with flyers of lost items and pets, work at home scams, and black and red graffiti emblems from local rival gangs. Adjacent storefronts, torn down five years previously, had only chain link fences marking their once existence.
The only other car on the back alley was a rusted Toyota truck missing the back tires and driver’s side window. Some of the flyers had scattered along the broken sidewalk and continued to tumble down the street. The breeze kicked up another notch as more litter blew along the pavement.
“What the hell?”
Chad looked around and double-checked the address once again from his phone. He was at the correct location, at least according to his phone application.
He dialed Abby’s number and it went immediately to voice mail. He listened for a moment to hear her sexy voice apologizing for not being available before he ended the call. It must be some kind of kinky game.
Well okay, I can play too.
He finally turned off the car engine and sat a moment, before he disengaged the door locks. This place would definitely take his mind off work. He could use some down time with a little adventure to feed his soul. He hoped that no one would jack his car in the meantime.
Chad opened his door and stepped out, he still monitored his surroundings, but it was quiet and deserted. He shed his suit jacket, grabbed his brief case, and put everything into his trunk, except for a small handgun he casually dropped into his trouser pocket. He didn’t want to be another crime statistic, and this was one instance being a lawyer could get him killed.
As he walked back to the front of the car, he caught a brief refection of himself in the window, and it always amazed him that he was so handsome with dark brown hair and a medium muscular physique. No wonder Abby found him so attractive, and many others for that matter.
“How the hell do I get into this place?” He muttered to himself.
Chad secured his car alarm with a gentle push of a button from the gold keychain.
Nothing had changed on the quiet street, no one appeared, no slow moving cars checked out his expensive ride, and no homeless people materialized from tucked away locations in the alleyway asking for spare change.
It was dead quiet.
One of the sections of the chain link fence was broken and forcibly curled backward, as if a huge wind had transformed it. He decided to scope out the building and easily squeezed through the metal barrier.
Pieces of trash, old rotten food, various sized recycling cans, and weathered cardboard littered the empty lot, but didn’t mask the unappealing sweet-sour stench.
Chad tried not to inhale too deeply as his stomach churned the more he thought about the snaking filth all around him. He hoped that the interior of the building was clean and sanitary, as he unconsciously wrinkled his nose and pursed his lips tightly together.
He made his way around to the back of the building, carefully examining each step in order not to soil his Italian, handmade loafers. A metal door caught his eye. It led directly to the alley and it appeared strangely out of place. The doorknob glistened bright silver, sparkling clean, without smudges or fingerprints. It imbibed the late sunlight and expelled a star shadow trail with long sliver points, reflecting around the alley.
The high-tech door stood out against the run down building. There were no available windows, just more disintegrating pieces of plywood bolted onto the building, layer after layer, from the years of neglect.
Chad swallowed hard as his mouth went dry, licking his lips in nervous tension. He blinked his eyes several times to try to stop the slight dizziness that crept into his view. It made the door and the crumbling building vie for his attention.
He stared at the doorknob for what seemed like an hour, but in reality, barely five seconds had passed. Finally, with his right hand, he reached for the grip and twisted. It turned easily in his grasp.
He let go and backed up two steps, still staring at the closed door.
Something deep inside told him to retrieve the .22 from his pocket.
It could be so easy to leave and return to his car, but an unseen force pushed him to move forward, if not for some great sex, then at least out of fundamental curiosity.
Chad was out of his element and he liked the feeling of being in control of his destiny in a foreign setting, and never knowing what could jump out at him. The adrenalin surged through his veins, down his arms and legs, and pumped in unison with his heartbeat in an orchestras’ tempo. It kept perfect time.
Chad grabbed the door handle, turned it, and pushed the door inward. A whoosh sound from the suction of the tight weather stripping dulled the ordinary outdoor noises. A crazy heartbeat now hammered in his ears. He felt the small gun in his left hand, smooth, precise, which made him feel invincible, like a superhero in an action movie.
The door automatically closed behind him with barely a sound.
The long corridor was almost completely dark, but low lights appeared from the molding along the bottom of the walkway. The windows were now part of the building, and not even a crack of daylight shone through the haphazard boards.
“Abby?” Chad announced.
He was surprised that his voice seemed weak and small. He wasn’t expecting to play hide and seek in an old building, and now his nerves had transformed into anxious energy.
A thought suddenly occurred to him, this place would make a perfect location for a surprise party. His birthday was next week. That welcoming thought soon faded. He licked his dry lips, moved his chalky tongue, and he realized that his palm left a sweaty residue around the pistol.
“Okay, you got me.” He tried to sound casual. “I followed the bread crumbs.”
Silence greeted him.
Chad glanced down and noticed that the floor looked clean; it was as if someone had meticulously swept it, and he thought he could smell a hint of industrial floor polish. Odd, he considered as he continued to move forward, deeper into the building.
The corridor led into another part of the structure through a double wide doorway, which once housed a holding area for inventory merchandise as well the main hub for shipping and receiving.
His eyes adjusted to the darkened rooms.
Several plain brown boxes sat in the far corner.
The two heavy doors slammed shut with such an incredible force that made Chad jump, goose bumps instantly raised on the back of his neck and down his arms. He quickly moved toward the closed doors, but there weren’t any doorknobs or handles to open them.
“Okay, you can come out now.” He didn’t care that his voice sounded nervous.
“Mr. Bradford” A calm man’s voice with disturbing clarity filled the room.
Chad spun around, but there wasn’t anyone in the room with him. The voice seemed to materialize from nowhere, and yet everywhere.
“Mr. Bradford, do you know why you’re here?”
“What is this? Who are you?” He kept turning slowly expecting to see someone enter, but no one did.
“It’s your sentencing.”
“What? I don’t understand…”
“You have sinned and now you must pay the price.” The voice changed to a higher pitch.
“You’re out of your mind! Open the doors now!” He remembered that the gun was in his hand. Jabbing it out in front of him, he moved it in jerky motions from corner to corner.
“That isn’t going to save you.” The eerie voice narrated like a parent reprimanding a naughty child.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” Chad moved around the room, even though there wasn’t anywhere to go.
“It’s no joke.”
The monotone inflection of the voice wormed inside Chad’s head, and deep within his core. He knew it was human, but he pictured a futuristic robot presiding over him.
“I said open the doors now!” The lawyer demanded.
“Do you know how ridiculous you look? You’re weak and pathetic. You had much more confidence spewing lies in the courtroom.”
Chad felt his heart pounding faster as he gasped for air. It was years since his panic attacks had surfaced, due to work related stress, but now in the darkened room that familiar dread of anxiety crept back into his body.
“C’mon Mr. Bradford, you know exactly why you’re here.”
Chad waved the gun to each dark corner and squeezed off two shots, bullets zinged around the room. He realized that there were small speakers in each corner where the phantom voice emitted. He aimed the gun and fired several more shots at those general areas, but the blasts only managed to hurt his eardrums.
Chad dropped his empty gun on the floor. “What do you want from me? You want me to apologize for my job? Is that it?”
“Your greed spreads more filth. You covet, commit adultery, and most of all… you knowingly defend rapists and murderers.”
“Oh, so I’m guilty. Guess you just skipped over something called the Constitution, due process, and innocent until proven guilty.”
“You have free will and you’ve chosen your sins… so now you’ve sealed your fate.”
“Who are you?!”
“Hey, I’m talking to you!” Chad kicked his gun and the weapon slid across the floor to a couple of stacked boxes. “Coward!” He managed to say. “Show yourself!”
In desperation, Chad tried to find a way out of the room. He ran his fingers over the doors and down the walls. There weren’t any gaps, cracks, or hardware that would allow him to pry it open to escape.
Chad caught the distinct odor of smoke and spun around to face the boxes. The cubed cartons began to burn. A small flame ignited from each of them and cast a macabre light around the room. He could see wires and small plastic boxes, along with what he counted to be six small speakers.
“Let me out of here!” Chad beat his fists on the doors, but it barely made an audible sound. The doors were steel reinforced and heavily insulated.
Within minutes, smoke filled the room, and floated effortlessly in ghostlike apparitions.
Chad coughed and gagged.
He dropped to the floor and slowly crawled to one corner. He tried to breathe in a normal manner, but gasped for air in between violent fits of coughing.
After three minutes, he faded into unconsciousness and slumped against the double doors. He never heard or felt the explosion that obliterated the one room in the old hardware store.
The carefully orchestrated burn completed its job.
The intensity of the blaze ripped apart Chad Bradford’s bones, and it included a quick decapitation, which left few charred human remains.
The fire had burned down to a smoldering, smoky remnant before the fire department arrived on the scene.
Saturday 2300 Hours
The black SUV sped down the dirt road in the middle of the night, bouncing left and right from each uneven dip in the broken pavement. The gravel and dirt battered the undercarriage with a high-pitched sputtering noise. Dust encrusted the windshield distorting the view ahead, but the neglected street conditions didn’t slow the urgency of what was at stake.
Emily Stone rode shotgun, solemn, spine straight, with an unwearied attention. She stared straight ahead at the rushing road, but her mind remained only on the two nine-year-old twin sisters abducted from a neighborhood playground only three days earlier.
Anxiety rolled through her mind, but she didn’t externally show it, not even to her partner. Her biggest fear was arriving at the rural compound too late. It was something that she would not allow herself to contemplate in her covert pursuits – ever.
She worked tirelessly to piece together the clues from the playground, family members, and the surrounding camera technology, which eventually prompted her in the right direction. The rest was pure intuition and dogged experience.
“How many more miles?” Emily asked, tapping her fingertips nervously on the armrest.
“Rolling up to sixteen-five.” Rick stated as he turned his head to look at his impatient partner.
Emily double-checked her cell phone again on the directions – it was approximately nineteen miles to the location. She knew that the rural site wasn’t marked on the digital map and that they were relying solely on technology updates, and some much welcomed luck to find the exact location.
“Maybe we should have alerted authorities?” She said.
“Em, your instincts are always right on. The police would have stormed the location in military formation and both of those girls would be dead before they even got out of their cars. The best plan of attack is to find and rescue the girls, and once they’re safe, then call in the local cops.” He looked at her. “It’s been our protocol and it’s worked well.”
She looked at Rick’s profile and admired his tough exterior and dark good looks, but she knew that he felt scared too. He gripped the steering wheel with purpose, biceps strained, and his jaw remained set in stone. He was her rock in these types of searches. His eyes kept a serious watch on the road as they took an unsuspected tight right turn.
The SUV skidded precariously. She felt it would tip to one side, but the rear of the vehicle swung back and forth in the loose gravel, and then found its proper groove on the road once again.
“Mile eighteen-four.” Rick announced.
“Look for some kind of back road or path.” Emily instructed.
She turned her attention out the passenger window to the overgrown trees and giant bushes for some type of road they could access unseen. They hadn’t passed any homes or barns for more than fifteen minutes. They were completely alone, in a rural territory of central California, and only had one chance at a surprise attack.
“There!” He said.
Emily looked to the left past Rick’s view and saw a narrow roadway with a single, rusted chain across it. If you blinked, it would have been easily missed in the darkness.
Rick cranked the steering wheel to a hard left, guiding them into the driveway, and abruptly stopped.
“Got it.” Her hand grasped the door handle and she gave a quick tug.
Emily jumped out of the car. She hit the ground running and easily unhooked the chain and pulled it out of the way, as Rick maneuvered their vehicle through. She attached the barrier once again before jumping back into the car.
The cut-through appeared to be a county access for water and drainage, but it hadn’t been used in quite some time. It was overgrown and the SUV barely eased through the pathway, as branches scraped down both sides of the vehicle.
Rick extinguished the headlights and inched to a snail’s pace.
Emily’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness as the roadway narrowed to a dead stop. They couldn’t pass the thick obstacles to continue any farther. Safely tucked away, the SUV left no visible view, both from the road and from the air.
Rick killed the engine and unhooked his seatbelt. “This is it, we go the rest of the way on foot.”
Emily had already squeezed her small frame out of the passenger door, pushing branches away from her face and body. She moved to the rear of the vehicle. Opening the hatch, it revealed carefully organized boxes in color-coordinated sections. Dark green were guns and ammo, black were all types of knives and cutting tools, dark blue were extra batteries, walkie-talkie headsets, an endless supply of heavy-duty zip ties, and all types of flashlights.
“Ready?” Rick asked softly as he double-checked his weapons.
“Wouldn’t be here if I weren’t.” Emily secured a Glock 19 in her hip holster and rolled up the right leg of her jeans where another small holster waited for a smaller caliber pistol.
For the first time since they had left their home that evening, Rick smiled. His handsome face lit up, which accented his dark eyes. “Maybe we should’ve asked Jordan to come along?”
Emily playfully rolled her eyes and said, “He’d be pissing and moaning about the scratchy bushes and biting bugs.” She laughed as she inserted a loaded Beretta into her ankle holster. “Jordan is a brilliant profiler, but he’s a pain in the ass in the field.”
Rick quietly continued to ready himself for the challenging hike ahead.
Emily didn’t mind the idle chitchat because she knew that any one of these covert missions could be their last, whether it was a dangerous rescue, stakeout, or a crime scene investigation.
Light banter between the couple helped to relax the situation. Death was just seconds away and precise focus was the key to any successful rescue mission. She quickly put any fatal thoughts out of her mind and continued to arm herself.
From experience, Emily now made sure she had at least one hunting knife at her disposal. It was easier to handle and conceal than a firearm. She slipped the seven-inch blade into a sheath on the outside of her right thigh against her dark jeans.
Rick handed her a small hearing device that fit snugly into her ear and hooked the receiver just inside the neck of her long sleeved t-shirt. Emily secured the communication device. She stopped and stared at him for a moment. She never knew exactly what to say before they ventured into the unknown.
Emily shut the SUV’s hatch.
Rick checked his portable GPS. “Let’s go. It’s about three-quarters of a mile.”
The couple proceeded northwest from their vehicle into the dense brush, Rick taking up the lead. They moved steadily, but slowly, in order not to make any unnecessary sounds or alert the kidnappers that they approached. They kept their flashlights low and just out in front.
The countryside was uncomfortably quiet. Not a single noise from any night dwelling critters filled the night, and not even the wind rustled through loose leaves and branches.
The air was cool and unusually dry, but Emily felt a trickling perspiration on her scalp that meandered down the center of her back. She anticipated several scenarios in her mind as she crept ahead, but knew if they kept their wits and stuck to the solid plan that everything would work out.
It seemed that they trudged through the thickets for an hour making considerable progress, but Emily glanced at her watch and only twelve minutes had passed.
Faint voices cut through the quiet night.
Emily and Rick stopped and listened, barely breathing.
For a moment, it seemed that the human sounds came from all around them. The rural landscape played unexpected tricks on the ears as the sound bounced along the ridges.
Inching forward in a crouch posture, the couple moved slightly to the left and up an incline to try to gain a vantage of the property. Through the overgrown bushes and approximately two hundred yards away, two men stood smoking cigarettes, engaging in a casual conversation.
Emily wriggled her body lying on her stomach as close as she dared in order to watch the men. She spied through a pair of mini infrared binoculars and immediately saw the handguns tucked into their waistbands.
One man, unshaven and his body adorned anti-sematic tattoos, lit up another cigarette and took a long puff. His expression hardened by years of criminal activity, and he had the definite imprint of prison experience upon his face. The other, shorter man appeared to be ex-military with tightly cropped hair, tidy clothes, and a posture that lent itself to years of obeying orders.
Behind the so-called guards were three manufactured homes trucked along the property, two of which were small and seemed to be a place that housed supplies, and one main house or headquarters. The larger house remained dark, while a dim light illuminated in one of the smaller buildings.
A radio played somewhere inside the compound. Two radio voices chattered and the sound was eerie as it echoed around the landscape like a strange dream.
“We’re in the right place.” Emily whispered and handed the binoculars to Rick. She continued in a quiet tone, “I get the feeling that there’s one more.” After pausing a moment, she continued. “Maybe the boss is offsite somewhere else?”
He nodded and continued to study the land and overall layout.
There was only one way in and out by a single dirt road. A partial barbwire enclosure in between farm-like fencing was the only barrier around the property. It was still quite a hike back to the safety of the car, and it worried Emily.
“No sign of the girls – at least from here.” Rick whispered, clearly frustrated. “One truck, two guys.”
“Wait until they split up?” Emily suggested.
“I think we can enter the camp from that farthest corner.” Emily pointed in the general direction. “Let’s move.”
Rick pushed his body up slightly and away from their initial view of the property. He followed Emily through some tough, winding vegetation until they reached the camouflaged location for entry. They kept their flashlights off, which made it more difficult to push through the brush. As luck would be on their side, the rotten wooden fence had an opening just big enough for a single, averaged-sized person to climb through.
The sound of a gunshot broke the dead silence.
Saturday 2345 Hours
Bile flooded his mouth. He choked back the repulsive liquid, clenching his jaw as the fluid scorched all the way down his esophagus. His stomach churned and felt like a hollow, burning cavern preparing to erupt. There was nothing to worry about; he had killed countless times before, more than three hundred, and mostly repulsive victims of their own circumstances.
By society’s standards, he was a clear-cut psychopath. It was easy to fulfill the psychological label, deprived of any remorse or sincerity, and exhibiting antisocial behavior from the most criminal standpoint – at least that was what so-called civilized people believed.
Still, his long career of killing had now turned his heightened excitement and adrenaline into a mild stomach discomfort of irritable bowel syndrome. Nothing slowed down his work or ambition, and he managed to keep his concentration no matter what occurred.
He knew more about the human behavior and what made people tick than most highly trained psychologists with their PhDs, just by studying the subjects carefully, looking for their weaknesses, strengths, and fears. Emotions and feelings revealed insight from people’s common expressions. It was all in how they carried themselves and how they interacted with others. The subtle moves were not perceptible by most, but to a trained killer, it was painfully obvious. The human condition was not that difficult to figure out. You just had to know where to look.
Intensified perception was key.
He watched and waited.
The subject’s fate was in his hands now, along with the help of a high-powered rifle and lightening accurate scope. He liked to be up close and personal with his kills. Nevertheless, tonight for some reason, Mr. Bishop wanted it to be different.
The cool, damp night chilled him. His right hand stiffened, which caused him to straighten and curl his fingers in a slow, painful manner. That familiar clicking noise in the joints only proved to annoy him even more. The increasing chill of the night air wreaked havoc on the muscles and tendons in his hands, arms, and hips.
He watched through the eyepiece as the short man moved from his kitchen to the living room dressed in a sloppy, stained t-shirt with some 1980s band logo, and baggy sweat pants. His slovenly appearance reflected the same feeling he had for his young victims when he repeatedly violated them.
The portly man absently wiped his hands on the front of his shirt as he reached for more food from a bright yellow mixing bowl. Like a well-rehearsed machine, he shoved his hand into the container and filled his mouth, crumbs falling down the front of his already soiled shirt. He continued this procedure nonstop.
It did not matter that the target was the brother of a well-known senator. All jobs were the same – take out the target.
Then, the heavyset man moved from easy view and stayed away from any of the windows for more than half an hour.
It was now time for the plan.
The killer had to move quickly; otherwise, he would risk someone seeing him in the neighborhood. This contract was to be fulfilled immediately and with strict instructions – no questions, no mistakes, or easy clues for the cops to piece together. Forensics my ass, he thought as he quickly broke down the rifle and left the property.
The street remained quiet and deserted. It was not the typical suburban road, each home had a minimum of an acre, and many houses could not see all of their surrounding neighbors. One home in particular was in bank foreclosure and provided a perfect hiding place.
The methodical assassin casually took his time returning his rifle into the trunk of his four-door sedan that he conveniently borrowed from a nearby dealership. Nothing would ever be traced back to him and, even if they saw his face.
The cops would not be able to identify him from fingerprints due to years of excessive cutting and peeling of the skin on his hands. His fingerprints were probably on file somewhere in the big uncoordinated database called the government melting pot. It really did not bother him. He had joined the Army at seventeen after running away from his foster home, too many years ago to count, but that was where they had found him.
As he quietly made his way back to the home of his target with an untraceable handgun, a familiar twinge within his gut greeted him again. This time, it was anticipation. He slipped on a pair of snug fitting gloves just for comfort from the cold.
He was excited like the old days and the eagerness of the kill filled him with joy. He stood at the side door to the garage where it was impossible for anyone to spot him or hear his movements. A long row of unkempt hedges further helped to block him from any potential collateral complications.
The side door was locked.
A basic tumbler deadbolt proved only a slight distraction and a loss of a minute or two. He could kick the door in, but did not want to leave any more clues than necessary. Within seconds, the assassin inserted the slim tension tool into the bottom of the keyhole, while he used another apparatus with an uneven tip. It only took a little bit of pressure with an in and out motion, and he easily unlocked the door.
The garage interior was warmer than outside, but smelled of old, dirty clothes and mothballs. A few boxes were stacked chaotically at the far corner. He walked to the door leading into the house, which was unlocked. He slowly opened the door, the heat from inside brushed past him with a sickly stagnation of filth and garbage. He could see through the darkened kitchen into the messy living room.
A faint sound originated from a television somewhere else in the house.
With purpose and a relaxed ease, the assassin walked toward the hallway. He continued forward as the sounds became louder.
The bedroom door was slightly ajar. A flash of light flickered around the doorframe and down the hallway at an odd angle from the TV. It became clear that a homemade movie played on the television of a crudely taken video of the molestation of a young child.
The killer stood for a moment at the doorway – the horror of the video did not elicit any reaction as he then looked to the child predator. The heavyset man, now stripped of his baggy sweats and underwear, slept like a baby on top of his bed with the yellow snack bowl at his side. Eyes closed, softly snoring, and a barely audible whimper from some pleasing dream was the only aspect that represented any human identity.
Walking to the bed and standing over the sleeping man, the assassin retrieved his gun from under his jacket. There was no silencer because this hit was to look like a suicide. The cops would not look any farther into the case of a registered sex offender and a three-time acquitted child molester that decided to take his own life.
A few seconds passed before the assassin shoved the pistol into the man’s mouth slightly at an upward position. He looked into the wide-open, shocked eyes of the bastard, and easily pulled the trigger.
Brain and bone matter spoiled the pillow, linens, and headboard. Blood slowly pooled around his head and almost instantly seeped into the mattress. His eyes open, glazed, as the life ran out of them.
Carefully taking the pedophile’s right hand, the killer slipped the man’s index finger through the trigger and his palm around the grip. He stepped back and let both the gun and hand fall limply to the side.
The scene looked perfect, just like a suicide. The one gunshot sound would not alert anyone in the neighborhood. He took a small digital camera out of his top pocket and snapped two frames, one portrait angle and the second a landscape view.
It was the proof of death.
He knew the cops would never take the extra time to have the fat man’s hand tested for gunshot residue.
Forensics… what a useless crock of shit.
The hit man mindfully backed up from the bedroom and retraced his steps to the hallway, watchful not to disturb or leave anything behind. His energy drained and the killer suddenly felt tired because his newest assignment did not evoke any inspiration.
He walked slowly down the hallway when he heard a low guttural growl.
The snarl grew louder with a bark in between heavy breaths.
The assassin turned and saw a brown and black stout dog at the end of the hallway. The canine’s eyes flashed an amber glow. It was difficult to tell the exact breed, most likely mixed, but the dog weighed at least fifty pounds, and meant business.
This was the exact reason why he painstakingly surveyed all of his targets for any potential complications, before he completed any contract to prevent needless problems.
The dog inched his way closer, hackles pronounced, and spine low to the floor.
It was either, run or stand firm; either way, the assassin was not going to make it safely out of the home before the animal sunk its teeth into his body. The only weapon he had to protect himself was lying in the bedroom next to the dead pervert.
The dog gave one last growl before it charged.
To Purchase a copy of DEAD BURN: