Verifiable intelligence, p.1
Verifiable Intelligence, page 1
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Mr. Wonderful Lies
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P.O. Box 66
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Copyright © 2012 by Kaitlin Maitland
Edited by Melinda Fulton
Cover by Mina Carter
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First Etopia Press electronic publication: August 2012
The weave of the cheap industrial carpet bit into her elbows as Dayne army-crawled between the towering shelves. Dust from long forgotten books tickled her nose, but she refused to sneeze. When she finally had a view of the unfolding drama, she settled in to watch.
“Well now, it’s good that everyone seems willing to cooperate.”
The gunman’s rough voice triggered a faint memory. The deep chuckle reverberated around the cinder block walls of the branch library. A chill slid down Dayne’s spine, and she resisted the urge to shiver.
What business did a gunman have in a library?
Through the slatted bottom of a computer station she watched a set of tree trunk legs in fatigues stride from the front of the building toward the children’s section. The weapon that she carried in a shoulder holster at all times was suddenly deadweight. She could take him out. The shot was simple. It would’ve been easy to scoot in and jockey for a position, but that wasn’t her style. She didn’t get involved in things that weren’t her business. It was one of the first three cardinal rules of survival. However, her curiosity was killing her. What would an armed man in fatigues want in the children’s section of a small public library in Missouri?
Stuffing her long reddish brown ponytail under her collar to keep it out of her way, Dayne crouched and moved stealthily around the computer stations. She passed several terrified people on her way. Putting her finger to her lips, she moved on to the end of the aisle.
Where the Adult Nonfiction section met the Teen Fiction section there was a kiosk of paperback books and a long set of low shelves that held an assortment of periodicals. She slunk behind the shelves and made her way to the end. By peering around the edge, she was able to get a glimpse of the action. More importantly than that, she could hear what was happening.
“Which one of you brats is Ryan Stafford?” a rough voice demanded.
Nobody spoke. The petite librarian seemed frozen in the task of putting her reading glasses on her face. Parents huddled with their children. A baby whimpered, only to be hurriedly shushed by its mother.
“All right.” The unmistakable sound of a bullet being chambered reverberated around the room. “I’ve got a full clip in this weapon. Ryan Stafford is ten years old. There are only about six of you that look that age. I’ll just start picking you off one by one. I don’t give a damn if Ryan’s alive or dead when I take him. If nobody wants to tell me who he is, I’ll just take all of the corpses with me.”
Dayne pulled up the sides of her black duster and leaned farther around the shelves. She was dying to see how the adults were going to react to this casual threat. The various manifestations of survival instinct fascinated her. People had some of the damndest ways of handling things.
The mother of the crying baby leapt to her feet and pointed at a dark haired boy. The kid immediately tried to shrink his big-boned frame behind a study carrel.
“He’s there! Just take him and leave the rest of us alone!” a young woman near the boy cried out in distress.
Terrified murmurs rippled around the room, followed by muttered curses and accusations. The gunman turned, and Dayne got her first good look at his features. Her breath caught in her chest.
There was no mistaking the gunman’s identity. King was one of the most sought after mercenaries in the world. He was roughly the size of a grizzly bear, with a temper to match. Dayne’s practiced eye immediately took in the details. Dirty brown hair curled out from under his black wool skullcap. He still had the long narrow scar on his left cheek. A feral grin showed the gap where he was missing two teeth on the upper left side of his mouth. He held a Glock .357 sidearm, his finger twitching eagerly on the trigger. Extra clips bulged in every pocket of his cargo fatigues. His worn pair of standard issue combat boots were size twelve, and he towered over everybody else in the building at six and a half feet tall.
King grasped the collar of Ryan Stafford’s shirt in his ham-fisted hand. The ten-year-old twisted in his grip, blue eyes wide. Wavy black hair fell across the boy’s forehead. Bigger than the other kids cowering around him, his body had the look of a puppy not yet grown into its legs. In his jeans, sneakers, grubby T-shirt and St. Louis Cardinals jacket, he seemed like any kid who’d come to the library on a Tuesday after school.
Dayne’s gaze narrowed. What made this boy different? Who wanted him and why?
“You’re Ryan?” King snarled.
Dayne’s lip twitched. The steel in the boy’s voice was impressive. He was scared but he was trying hard not to show it.
King swung the kid up over his shoulder into a fireman’s carry. Turning gracefully for a man his size, he headed for the door. When he passed the reference desk a large-boned woman in her fifties sprang into action.
Dayne stifled a groan when the head librarian moved in front of King, arms akimbo, challenging the seasoned mercenary. What was the stupid woman thinking?
“I’ve already called the authorities!” she said. “I cannot let you take that boy!”
King paused to
Adrenaline lanced through Dayne’s body when King trained the Glock on the librarian’s forehead. She could stop him. Her hand reached beneath her duster for the Sig Sauer P226 .357 she carried at all times. She could keep King from taking the boy. She could stop him from killing the librarian. She would expose herself for what she was.
The hand she’d clenched around the butt of her pistol relaxed. Her entire identity would crumble. Her life would be shredded…again. She’d have to run. She’d have to start over…again. Who the hell was she to mess with other people’s lives anyway?
The shot was deafening. Muffled yelps and full-throated screams bounced around the cinder block walls. Dayne’s nostrils filled with the coppery scent of blood. The librarian’s body crumpled to the ground with a soft shuffle.
King carelessly sidestepped his victim and walked right out of the library. The last thing Dayne saw were Ryan Stafford’s wide blue eyes pleading silently for help.
* * *
“He just came out of nowhere!” a young woman said through her sobs. “I don’t know what he would want with Ryan! He’s only lived with me for five months. He’s my nephew!”
Dayne listened with interest as Ryan’s aunt gave her garbled account of the abduction. The local police were doing their best to calm those who had witnessed the horrific shooting but they weren’t used to handling such things.
So if the blubbering lady was his aunt, who did he really belong to?
Dayne was still crouched behind the shelves, unnoticed by anyone. She wasn’t intimidated by the police. She’d had run-ins with the locals before and found them to be blissfully ignorant. It was one of the things that had lured her to the town to begin with.
Ofallon was considered the fastest growing town in Missouri. Not only did it offer quick access to the huge metropolitan St. Louis area, it was a town that was growing faster than law enforcement could keep up with. Strangers came and went on a regular basis, and nobody noticed. She now had to wonder if someone else hadn’t seen the potential of hiding something in such an innocuous place.
She found a spot behind some shelves and stood up. Edging around the chaotic scene, she walked purposefully toward the front doors. Nobody gave her a glance. She was just one more woman in the crowd.
She relaxed when she slid behind the wheel of her truck. The lifted black Chevy Silverado was her one vanity. Thankfully it didn’t stand out that much in the area. None of the major modifications were obvious to the untrained eye. With the dark tinted windows, nobody could tell there wasn’t just another typical Midwestern male in the driver’s seat.
Turning the key, she brought the powerful engine to life. Reaching over, she adjusted the computer screen mounted overhead. Using a fiber optic mouse built into her center console, she made a few inquiries on the usual intelligence networks.
Dayne Castille, former small time arms dealer, was currently living a career as a paid assassin. She was a one-woman crew, but she never underestimated the importance of networking. She popped into several loops and kept an eye on chat topics on the drive home. Generally the gossip was at its juiciest right after abductions like this occurred. It didn’t matter if it was gossip or fact. There was no such thing as coincidence. Every manipulation was only a piece of a larger pie. That was the only absolute in her life.
Dayne’s residence was more of a display than a home. It had taken months to shape the property into a balanced work of art. Her well-maintained façade was located in a middle class neighborhood, where she was not the only single resident. Her lawn and shrubs were trimmed once a week by a landscaper. The exterior of the home placed it directly in the middle of the value range. Everything about the design made it blend in perfectly. The interior of the ranch style house was the same. Knowing absolutely nothing about the tastes and style of middle class Midwestern American families, Dayne had hired an interior decorator. A maid came twice a week. All were completely oblivious to the goings on in the basement.
Anyone who casually strolled downstairs would see a partially finished basement. There was a large flat screen television, a plush sectional, and a set of end tables. A tiny half bathroom completed the official basement level. Behind the false wall Dayne had designed a larger room. This was her office. This was where she worked. And now, when she had a puzzle to work out, it was where she went to think.
Dayne frowned at the computer screen as she swung back and forth in her posh leather chair. Ryan Stafford. It was a total dead end. The kid’s identity was a sham, she could feel it. Yet when she dug a little bit, everything looked totally legit.
“Parents dead, killed in 2000 in a car accident on I-95 outside DC,” she murmured. “Only child. Official guardian listed as Ms. Shayla Stafford. She was the aunt at the library.” She chewed one manicured nail down to the cuticle. “So she said you’d only been here for five months…where did you live before that?”
Dayne dove into the information highway with voracious appetite. She’d always been a software junkie. Her hacking abilities had saved her backside more times than she could count. New identities, ghost bank accounts, passports; she could do it all with a few clicks.
She cross-referenced school files. Ryan Stafford attended Dardenne Elementary School in Ofallon, so Dayne hacked their system and found his records. Using that information, she started following a winding paper trail of elementary schools in fourteen different states.
“Somebody didn’t want you to be found,” Dayne commented as she hacked yet another school database.
After thirty minutes of finding vague links she locked onto something promising. In 2001, after his parents’ death, Ryan Stafford had registered at Kennedy Elementary School in Reston, Virginia.
“Ryan M. Stafford…” Dayne muttered to herself. “M is for what?”
Opening six windows in less than ten seconds she found the name of Ryan’s guardian. She wasn’t surprised when there was no mention of a Shayla Stafford. Instead, the guardian was a man. His name was listed as J. Stafford. A tiny box on the registration form specified the relationship between guardian and child. J. Stafford was Ryan’s brother.
“Brother?” Dayne was intrigued.
Forty-five minutes and six hacks later she had her answer. The identity of J. Stafford had fallen away completely beneath her tenacious probing. Ryan Stafford was actually Ryan McKay. Ryan McKay was the much younger brother of Jace McKay.
Hooking her socked foot on the edge of the desk she spun herself in circles. She closed her eyes and contemplated Jace. It wasn’t exactly a difficult task. The big sexy bastard was sort of hard to forget.
Tall, broad, and built like a professional athlete, Jace couldn’t have been called handsome. But dangerous applied nicely, and Dayne had always found dangerous far more attractive than handsome. Being around him was sort of like riding a roller coaster you couldn’t get off of. And that effect alone was enough to make her avoid him like the plague.
She dredged up the memory of her last encounter with Jace. It wasn’t a pleasant one. She had been at the wrong end of a 9mm Smith & Wesson, the sweat already trickling down her back and pooling at the base of her spine. While she’d been preparing to make excuses for her career choice to St. Peter at the gates of heaven, Jace had appeared, seen her predicament, and eased his sexy as hell lips into a mocking smile.
His arrival on the scene hadn’t made her feel any better at the time. The big smooth-headed bastard wasn’t a friend and wasn’t an enemy. In fact, they had a habit of getting in each other’s way. Assassins were only paid if they brought down their mark. If someone else got the proof, they got the cash. Jace was there to steal her contract, not to pull her out of a tight spot. But he’d saved her life instead of walking away. And no matter how twisted the situation had been, Dayne owed him a little for that. The wisest thing for him to have done would’ve been to shoot her an
The doorbell jolted Dayne back to the present. Glancing quickly at the closed circuit screen, she groaned.
“Of all the idiots to show up at my door…”
She watched the man on her doorstep shift from side to side and then ring the bell again. Apparently he wasn’t going to give up. Sighing in disgust, she placed her Sig carefully in the desk drawer. As much as she wanted to run upstairs, fling open the front door and wave the gun in the man’s face…it wouldn’t have been wise.
“Is there something I can help you with, Oliver?” Dayne kept her voice polite.
Oliver’s five foot eleven inches leaned casually against her doorframe. He gave her a suave smile. His thinning light brown hair and green eyes were enough to make her want to vomit. The idiot did not know when he was being intentionally brushed off. She had been trying unsuccessfully for months to let him know that she wasn’t interested. So far he was dense as solid rock.
“Well, Sheila.” Dayne cringed at the sound of her alias. “I was in the neighborhood…”
“You live in the neighborhood, Oliver.”
“Yeah, I know… I was driving by your place and just thought I’d stop and see if you wanted to go out tonight. It’s time you started getting out more, Sheila. You can’t let your ex-husband’s cheating put you off all men forever.” Oliver waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
by Kaitlin Maitland have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes