Chapter 1 – Angel
“I knew you would eventually figure out a way to get me into bed again,” I said with a sidelong glance at the midnight-haired beauty lying on her stomach next to me.
She made a dismissive sound in her throat as she adjusted her position but I could see the near corner of her mouth twitch in what was the beginning of a grudging smile.
“You forgot the handcuffs this time,” I pointed out as I adjusted the scope on the new .308 she had handed me two days earlier. I too was lying on my stomach atop the bed that we had slid near the open window of our darkened hotel room.
There was no screen on our window and the removal of two screws allowed us to open it wide enough for our needs. The drapes were parted just far enough to give each of us a view of our subject and the stifling breeze competed with air conditioning.
“You’re not drugged this time either, I must be getting soft,” she mumbled as she scanned the windows of the distant building with her own scoped rifle. Her rig was of a larger caliber and had more powerful optics; I would have expected nothing less of her.
We had spent long, hot hours in the desert sighting in those rifles and becoming familiar with them. She was clearly a natural and I was jealous.
“When you get soft…,” I began with a quip already forming in my brain. “Wait. They’re leaving.”
Through a window in the other building, I saw a dark-haired man in a black suit take a young woman by the arm and lead her toward the front door of a posh apartment. Her head was bowed and her movements mechanical. She did not resist his guidance. Her shame and hopelessness were unmistakable even though her facial features were a blur to me at that distance.
We hadn’t needed any night vision equipment to witness what the girl had endured the previous evening after that same man in the black suit had delivered her to the apartment. The more casually dressed man that had accepted the delivery left the lights on as he used the girl repeatedly without regard to her feeble attempts to stop him.
We did not hear his laughter as he broke the girl and I was spared a close up view of his face. Lorena had not been so fortunate. Her scope was powerful enough to take her right into the same room with him. The muscles in Lorena’s jaw were probably sore from the grinding she had given her teeth as she watched.
The festivities tapered off around 2AM. Angel, as we had designated our target, had not even bothered to restrain the girl as he slept. There had been no need after he sated himself.
The girl had never moved from the little ball she had curled into on the floor beside the bed when he finished with her. Lorena and I took turns standing up on our bed to get high enough to see her laying there. Even after Angel had awakened and trundled off to the bathroom, she had not moved.
Just as we began to fear that the worst had occurred, Angel reappeared through the bathroom door to almost gently kick her into consciousness. The man in the black suit showed up again just a short time later and forced her back into her discarded dress and shoes before leading her toward the front door.
Angel was moments from being alone.
Lorena shifted again, making the rigidness in her body unmistakable. “He’ll get on the treadmill in a few minutes. It’s his routine.” Her jaw muscles started working again. “We send the rounds on the count of three.”
“Hang on. Is that one-two-three-shoot or one-two-shoot?” I asked, hoping to ease the tension in her just a bit.
“Jesus Christ, Tom. Do you ever stop with the damned jokes? This shit we’re about to do is serious,” she scolded. She took her face away from the eyepiece to fix me with a hard stare. “If you had made a joke last night while he was,” she paused, “while he was doing what he was doing, I would have cut your dick off.” She returned to peering through the scope.
“You know I wouldn’t have made a joke about that. But why do you always go there? It’s always a dick threat with you. I think your fascination with such things just shows how much your inner straight girl wants to come out and play.” I smiled as I watched Angel through my scope. I knew she couldn’t leave that comment alone.
The grunt caused by the pointed toe of her boot impacting my left calf elicited another upturn at the corner of her mouth. There was no warning and she hadn’t even had to look away from the scope. She was a natural at more than sniping.
Even in the gloom of the hotel room, I could tell through the bed springs that my joke had taken some tension from her. Or maybe she just really enjoyed causing me pain. It was a coin flip either way as far as I could tell.
“So?” I grimaced, trying to ignore the knot in my calf.
“So what,” she stated without making it a question.
“Is it shoot on three or shoot after three? If we’re going to work together, we really should figure this stuff out before the bullets start flying.”
“Go to hell. And it’s on three,” she growled without conviction. Her breathing had become easier and her jaw muscles no longer stood out like cords.
“Let me count. My bullet needs to hit first,” I said, all humor gone from my voice.
The treadmill that we expected Angel to mount was a good ten feet from the window of the workout room in his apartment. From our vantage point, we could see into that room, his bedroom, and his well-appointed living room through separate windows. There were several other rooms to the corner apartment, but they faced a different street.
I had never been inside that apartment, but Lorena had. How she got in there was a question I didn’t ask because I knew she would not answer truthfully. She and I both realized that it was enough for me to know that the windows were of the normal variety and not bullet resistant.
Bullet-resistant glass would have altered our plans completely. Regular window glass was still enough to render a shot ineffective. Standard window glass is hard to the point of being brittle. When mounted in a framem it can alter the course of what should be a fatal bullet even from a high-powered rifle.
My bullet had to hit the glass before hers. I had used my bad jokes to break the tension in Lorena after her night of watching the humiliation of a teenage girl. Her shot would be better for it. My bullet would break the tension of the intact window in Angel’s work out room. Again, her shot would be better for it.
This wouldn’t be the first time Lorena finished something that I started. It would, however, be the first time that I was a knowing participant.
“Go for the torso,” she said, “I have the head.”
Her radio chirped. “The gift is in the mail,” came the bored sounding voice through the static. She keyed the mic twice to acknowledge the message. We heard two additional clicks from another listener.
“Who came up with these codes?” I asked. “Maxwell Smart?”
“As usual, I have no idea what you are talking about,” she said as she steadied her breathing.
“The geese fly high,” I commented as I snugged the rifle stock to my cheek. I could sense Lorena doing the same.
“Forget it, Ninety-Nine.”
Once his company was gone, Angel stepped onto the treadmill and started punching buttons on the control panel.
“Ready?” I asked unnecessarily.
“Ready,” she said flatly before keying the radio’s mic again. “Trumpets. Now!” she hissed. The sound of a loud truck horn blared through our open fifth floor window. I suppressed a nervous giggle at the ongoing code.
I took half a breath and held it before whispering, “One-two-…”
I increased the pressure on the trigger and the rifle jumped in my hands. The silencers did an admirable job of diminishing the sound of the combined shots with the truck’s horn as background. Still, there was nothing silent about two sniper rifles going off within a split second of one another. The concussive blasts shook my innards as the open drapes swung wildly from their rods. My ears rang only slightly.
There was little chance of anyone hearing those muffled shots since all the adjacent rooms, including the ones across the hall, had been occupied by members of our team and were now empty.
I knew we all carried fake identification and credit cards even though I had not been introduced to any of the other participants. I doubted that anyone on the team knew more than two others. I only knew Lorena because she had recruited me.
I settled my cheek back onto the rifle’s stock and focused on Angel’s workout room window. It was gone except for a few stubborn shards clinging to the frame.
Angel was gone too.
“I don’t see him,” I said as I stood up on the bed.
“We got him,” Lorena said without inflection, “I saw arterial spray when he went down. It’s all over the wall.”
I brought my rifle up to look from the higher angle. I could see the floor of the room now. Angel was laying there, his white t-shirt turned mostly red. There was no movement. I couldn’t see his head and was pretty sure I didn’t want to.
Lorena keyed the radio mic and said simply, “Fallen Angel.”
“I want the good scope next time, Chief,” I said in my best 1960’s spy voice and lowered my rifle. “I can’t see shit with this.”
“I don’t completely trust you with guns anymore,” she said, rubbing her left ear to send an obvious message.
“That’s not fair,” I said as I sat back down on the bed to unscrew the silencer. “I only nicked your ear and that was with a handgun, not a rifle. Get over it, Butch, it’s been months and didn’t even leave a scar.” My hands shook from adrenaline.
She unscrewed her silencer and started breaking down her rifle with practiced ease. “You were just here to break the window. If you hit him, you got lucky. I got the better rifle because I’m a better shot. Plus, I kill what I aim at. Every time. You are one for two.”
Her tone was unnaturally light and mocking, the only sign of nerves she allowed. Her hands did not shake.
“Two for three,” I corrected her as I tried to calm my heartbeat.
“The last one before today didn’t count, you didn’t even shoot him. You probably just bored him to death.” She snorted the snort I once found knee-shakingly alluring. “Hurry up, we have four minutes to be downstairs.”
She finished turning her rifle into an unsolved puzzle thirty seconds before I finished mine and each went into their respective suitcases. Once the bed was pushed back into place and the window closed and secured again, there was no evidence we had even been there.
“This isn’t right,” I remarked, looking around the room.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, her tone turning serious.
“The bed. It’s too neat. We want to make sure they wash the sheets to get rid of the gun shot residue. You know that even the expensive places skimp on the laundry.” With that, I tore back the sheets and cover and threw half of them onto the floor. “There, that looks more convincing.”
“You just want the housekeeping staff to think you got lucky,” she accused. “Pig.”
“It would be you getting lucky and, besides, a rumpled bed looks less suspicious than a made bed after a couple spends the night in a hotel room.” I gave her a self-satisfied smile.
“Fine,” she said, throwing up her hands, “on the rumpled bed part. As to who would be the lucky one, well, in your dreams, Porky.”
“Snappy repartee is such a huge turn on,” I said, walking toward the suitcases.
“Gloves,” she prompted holding out a plastic bag. I pulled mine off carefully and dropped them in. “Don’t forget your cowboy hat,” she added after she put her own gloves in the bag and donned her Stetson.
I opened the hotel room door with my sleeve, scanned up and down the hall casually, and held my hand out to her. “Let’s go, Snookums.”
She took my hand with a shake of her head and we headed to the stairs. “Call me ‘Snookums’ again, Asshole. I dare you,” she whispered into my ear as we walked. Her surprisingly strong fingers ground my knuckles against one another. I forced myself to keep smiling.
Any hidden security cameras we had not accounted for would simply show a happy couple playfully flirting with one another after a night of bliss, most of their faces blocked by large western-style hats.
An elevator might show up quickly or take forever but the stairs were a known quantity. We descended and walked through the lobby unhurriedly. The heat hit us in a wave as we stepped out onto the street. We were just another couple visiting Houston.
A white sedan pulled up within thirty seconds of us exiting the building, the trunk lid popped open as it came to a stop. The suitcases went in and I slammed the lid. Lorena had already opened the rear passenger door and made her way inside. I followed and did my best to look casual.
No words were spoken. The driver knew where we were going and he had his own schedule to keep after that. Looking to the rearview mirror, I recognized our chauffeur from having passed him in the hotel hallway the previous day. He’d had a room across the hall from ours.
According to the plan, he had also pulled a stolen delivery truck onto the street and blasted the horn on command before abandoning it.
After several minutes of navigating the late morning traffic, he stopped at the side entrance to a parking garage and we collected our bags from the trunk. He did not offer to help. I didn’t think he even glanced back at us as he pulled away.
On our way in I said, “I can’t wait to have a smoke.”
“Not in my car,” she said as we trudged up the stairs hauling our bags. She wasn’t even breathing hard and I hated her for it. Temporarily, of course.
“It’s not even your car. You stole it!” I huffed.
“But it’s my hair and my clothes. My girlfriend hates the smoky smell. You’ll wait.”
“We’re staying at another hotel tonight. She’ll never know. Besides, I have seen you smoke before,” I protested. She knew what I was talking about. She had played along with my bad habit when she spied on me prior to initiating me into the organization.
Her look said that the subject was closed but she made herself even more clear. “Stop being a whiny little bitch.”
“Alright,” I gave in, “but give my balls back when you’re done with them, ok?”
Hours later, after we had checked into our next motel room and I was busily chopping up our fake identity cards, her phone rang. It was a burner and almost totally untraceable. I watched her nod her head as she listened—she only asked one question: “How many?” She closed her eyes and gave the caller a business-like, “Thank you,” before snapping the phone shut.
“So?” Her demeanor had me concerned.
She let out a relieved breath. “We got them. Three locations. Seventy-eight women in all, including the girl from last night. No casualties on our side. Hugh got nicked but not bad. No witnesses left on their side. Black Suit didn’t even fight, he just ran. Hugh took him out.”
“Good. I hated that guy almost as much as Angel. What happens to the girls?” I asked.
“They’re in trucks on their way to Colorado. They’ll get to go home or get new identities, their choice. Most won’t want to go home,” she said, sinking into a chair and kicking off a boot.
“How do you know that?”
“I know,” she said glumly. “They’re not the same now. Home just won’t fit anymore.”
I decided to take the opportunity to get some details about our organization while she was in an informative mood. “How is Tuttle going to pay for all that?” I asked, getting up from my own chair.
“Angel had more than eight million in off-shore accounts. Half a million in cash between the three locations. It’s covered.” She winced as she rubbed her foot.
“Bad guy. Big haul. He deserved it,” I observed.
“There are more Angels out there using more people. It never ends. Kill one and another one pops up. Today, though, we did ok,” she said, dropping the second boot and staring at an unseen object on the floor. If she were any other woman, I would have been afraid that she was gong to burst into tears.
“Could have been my bullet,” I offered while stretching my back that was trying to seize up after a night spent behind a scope. Now that the adrenaline was gone, I knew that her mind, like mine, was turning to the process of dealing with what we had done.
“Probably not,” she murmured. “You took a body shot. You don’t get the kind of spray I saw from a body shot.”
She was right. I knew it weighed on her and I knew that sympathy would not be welcomed. “You’re not going to go all girly on me are you?” I chided.
“Fuck you,” she replied, sitting back in her chair to show she was in complete control of her emotions. “I do want a drink though.”
“You kiss your girlfriend with that mouth?” I laughed.
“Until your wife gets tired of you. Does she like girls too? I bet I could make her like girls,” she said with innocent eyes.
I shook my head. “Fine. Stop. You’re creeping me out now. Mini-bar?”
“What the hell.” She forced a laugh. “We’re not paying for it.”