Accidents Waiting to Happen (5 page)

Ignoring him, she said, “I saw your adventure on TV the other night.
 
Road rage is such a terrible reflection of society these days.
 
You must have been very lucky.
 
I thought you couldn’t swim.”

“I can’t,” he said sharply.

“So what saved you?”

“Fear,” he said flatly.

“Very impressive, just shows you what an incentive fear is.
 
I was surprised not to see you interviewed with that lovely wife and daughter of yours, but you never were a fan of publicity.
 
How are they?”

“What do you want, Bell?” he said, changing the subject.

“Straight to business, eh, Josh?
 
No, how are you, Bell?
 
Long time no hear, Bell.
 
What have you been up to, Bell?” she snorted.
 
“How you’ve changed, Josh.
 
I remember you talking to me for hours.
 
You loved to talk.
 
Sometimes you’d talk too much and we know where that got you.”

“I haven’t got all day.
 
What is it you want?”
 
Josh chose anger to disguise his fear.

“It’s not what I want but what I can do for you.”

“And what can you do for me?”

“I can protect that life you hold so dear.
 
For five thousand dollars, I can guarantee that your dirty little secrets don’t reach the ears of your family—or Dateline for that matter.”

“I paid you.”

“Yes, I know, but the cost of living is always increasing and money doesn’t go as far as it once did.”

“We had an arrangement.”

“We did, but you thought it required a one time payment and so did I.
 
Alas, we were both wrong,” she said with a sigh.
 
“Now all I need is another payment, which I might add is substantially smaller than the original sum.
 
So, you should consider you’re getting a bargain.”

Josh definitely didn’t think Bell’s sales pitch was a bargain.
 
It was another shakedown and he hoped this wasn’t the start of many such requests.
 
“And will this be the last payment?”

“Honestly, Josh, I don’t know.”

“What if I don’t pay?”

“Well, something unfortunate could happen.
 
I’m sure you can guess what that would be.
 
But you don’t have to decide now.
 
I’ll let you think about it and I’ll call you in two days.
 
It’s so good to hear your voice again and it’s been wonderful speaking to you.
 
I would say give my regards to Kate, but I can’t see you doing that.
 
Ciao, Josh, it’s been real,” she said in an over-peppy, grating manner.

Josh said nothing and held the phone to his ear until he heard the burring of the dial tone.
 
Bitch!
 
He couldn’t believe it was starting all over again.
 
He thought he had paid for his stupid mistakes.
 
He’d fucked up once, then again, only to prove that two wrongs didn’t make a right.
 
The sour taste in his mouth from the river became stronger and he thought he was drowning again.

Josh’s crimes had been significant.
 
He never thought it would come to prison, but it would if the truth ever came out.
 
He thought he’d done everything necessary to cover his tracks, but it hadn’t been enough.
 
He stretched across his desk and brought the replica model of his Cessna C152 closer to examine its detail.
 
Will they let me keep this in my cell?
 
He dropped his head into his hands.

The phone rang again.
 
Startled, Josh’s head shot up.
 
He stared at the phone like it was a hand grenade with the pin missing.
 
On the fourth ring, cautiously, he picked it up.

“Hello,” Josh said.

“Mr. Michaels?”

“Yes.”

“Hello sir, it’s Officer Dale Williams.
 
My partner and I came to the hospital two days ago.”

Relieved it wasn’t Bell back on the phone, Josh’s heart slowed to a near normal pace.
 
He got up from his desk and settled into the swivel chair.
 
“I remember you, officer.”

“I wanted to give you the latest on the investigation.”

“Have you found him?”

“No, sir.
 
We haven’t come up with anything.
 
There were no witnesses and there’s no physical evidence at the scene other than your tire tracks.
 
There isn’t really anything for us to go on, unless you’ve remembered anything new or know of anyone who would have done this.”

Josh hesitated.
 
Could Bell have masterminded the attack?
 
Was this a warning to let me know what will happen if I don’t play ball?
 
He fought the urge to blurt out everything—his mistakes, Bell’s blackmail.
 
He wanted to make amends for what he had done but feared the consequences.
 
He knew Kate would never understand.
 
Somehow, he didn’t see Officer Williams as the priestly type who would let him confess his sins and hand out contrition in return.

“Mr. Michaels,” the policeman prompted.

“No, officer.
 
I don’t know of anyone who would want to harm me intentionally.”

“Well sir...to be honest I can’t see us finding anyone.
 
There’s so little for us to go on,” the young policeman confessed, a little embarrassed.
 
“Personally, for what it’s worth, I think you came across some psycho.
 
You should count yourself lucky that things turned out so well.
 
You wouldn’t believe how many cases like this we get.”

“Thank you for your honesty, Officer Williams.”

“Sorry I couldn’t do more, sir.
 
If we find out anything, we’ll contact you.
 
Goodbye, sir.”
  

“Thanks.
 
Goodbye.”

Josh put the phone down.
 
What are they thinking about me?
he wondered.
 
Did Williams and Brady think it was an accident caused by two idiots fucking about on the roads or did they think he fell asleep at the wheel and dumped the car in the river himself?
 
With his run of luck he wouldn’t be surprised if they charged him with reckless driving.
 
A headache climbed in behind his eyes and settled in for the long haul.
 
The morning hadn’t gone well.

 

Chapter Four

 

 

The professional opened the door, took the “Do Not Disturb” sign off the hook on the back and hung it on the knob outside.
 
The motel room was clean, but lacked character or personality.
 
It was a clone of the rooms to either side of it, typically furnished with two double beds, a television, closets, a desk and assorted hotel toiletries.
 
The room had been his home for the past week but it looked as if he’d yet to check in.
 
The maids rarely found any signs of disturbance to the room.
 
The waste paper baskets were never used, the beds never looked slept in and the towels were always neatly folded after use.
 
The only evidence of his existence was the locked aluminum briefcase and suitcase.
 
He liked the kind of strong and resilient luggage that couldn’t easily be tampered with.
 
He didn’t like people knowing what he did.

Removing the briefcase from the closet, he placed it on the bed.
 
He dragged a chair over to the bed and sat down.
 
Adjusting the combination locks, he snapped open the case and removed the files, spreading them across the bed.
 
He scanned for something he’d missed, something he could use to his advantage to complete his task, to kill the targets.
 
The files had arrived in the usual manner, delivered to his Boston post office box without his name on them and no return address, as instructed.
 
This was more than the fiftieth such
care package
he had received over the last two years.
 
However, this was the first time a package contained data on two targets in the same city for simultaneous termination.
 
He didn’t like the situation.
 
Sacramento was a small city where murders were not that commonplace.
 
It would be possible for someone to link the incidents if they dug deep enough, so it was important the deaths appeared totally unrelated.

Of the two targets, the older one, Margaret Macey, should be the easier to dispose of and he had a novel idea for her elimination.
 
Putting her file to one side, he picked up the other.
 
Opening it, he leaned over in his chair, examined the photograph and frowned.
 
This target had survived his first attempt.
 
Josh Michaels hadn’t drowned in the river.
 
It was a screw up that drew attention.
 
He would have to be more accurate with his next attempt.
 
He would dig a little deeper into Michaels’ life before he exposed his position.

He had spent the first week watching his prey, seeing what they did, when they did it and whom they did it with.
 
Michaels had offered him an opportunity when he left for a business trip.
 
The professional had followed his target to Bakersfield.
 
Seeing Michaels preferred driving on the deserted roads gave him the opening he was looking for.
 
He knew he would be chancing his luck on the open road when not all the conditions were under his control but he liked his chances.
 
An “innocent” road accident for Michaels on his return journey would be the order of the day.
 
Except it was Michaels’ lucky day that allowed him to survive.
 
According to the television report, Michaels had swum to shore but his file stated he couldn’t swim.
 
He hoped the rest of the information in the file was correct.

Thinking about his mistake, he cursed himself under his breath.
 
He had to tighten up his act.
 
Having drawn attention to himself, he was vulnerable and that was unforgivable.
 
Mistakes were not his trademark and mistakes would get
him
killed.
 
He closed Michaels’ file, sat back and let his mind drift.

The hit man liked his work.
 
He found it challenging and he had a talent for it.
 
Killing people was something he was good at but the challenge didn’t come from the killing.
 
It came from making the kill look like an accident.
 
The concept was his employer’s brainchild—he regularly needed people killed but couldn’t afford any suspicion falling upon him.
 
He would think long and hard about what kind of accident suited each of his assigned targets to satisfy his employer.
 
He kept news clippings of unusual accidents that he could reconstruct or improve on for his assignments.
 
He took great care to make his kills look like accidents, although occasionally he did commit motiveless crimes if the case warranted it.
 
In his opinion, a motiveless murder was just as hard to solve as a well-planned accident.

However, it took time to set up the kills to make them look like accidents.
 
Too much time in his employer’s opinion—he wanted quicker and quicker turnarounds these days and the caseload had significantly increased in the last twelve months.
 
Obviously, a quicker kill meant less preparation so the quality of the assassination couldn’t be guaranteed.
 
If his employer wanted quick kills, he could do that but it would look like murder and murder meant investigations.

He thought of himself as a craftsman rather than a ruthless killer; a member of a dying breed in a world of mass-produced lifestyles.
 
The greatest compliment he could receive was to watch the nightly news and hear it, or read the newspaper and see it—the words “unfortunate accident” in conjunction with his target’s name.
 
Any monkey with a good aim and a cool nerve could take out a mark but it took real intelligence, class and attention to detail to kill someone without anyone realizing it had been a contract hit.

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