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Authors: Greg Rucka

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Bodyguards

Critical Space

BOOK: Critical Space
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Greg Rucka
Critical Space

Now my name it is Mulvaney

And I'm known quite famously

People speak my name in whispers

What higher praise can there be?

Richard Thompson,

Cooksferry Queen

Critical space: it's all that stands between you and death... Code-named Drama, she is a lightning-fast death machine -- a hit-woman sought by intelligence agencies around the world. Drama kills as easily as she breathes... And the last time she met Atticus Kodiak, they barely escaped each other alive. Atticus has a reputation as one of the toughest bodyguards in the business, and is used to calling the shots. But all that changes when he is forced to take on Drama as a client. From New York's Russian enclaves to the Swiss Alps and the Carribean, Atticus becomes Drama's only hope for survival as she tries to outrun her bloody past. But once immersed in Drama's high-stakes, covert world, Atticus breaks a cardinal rule -- he gets to know Drama as a woman rather than as a client -- and it's a bond that could cost them both their lives.

This is for Nunzio Andrew, who was there when Alena was born. Thank you for all the stories already told, and for all the ones to come.

Acknowledgments

Gratitude and thanks to the following people for helping with the creation of this work:

First and foremost, The Triad -- Alexander Gombach, Gerard V. Hennelly, and Scott Nybakken. From samples of
dit da jow
to weapons selection and expertise to holding the stopwatch while riding the Staten Island Ferry, you truly are the best men I could have had for the job. The Three Stooges had nothing on you guys, and yes, that was a
huge
rat.

Special thanks to my agent, David Hale Smith, who encouraged the risks and never flinched at the results, and who spurred me forward when I wanted desperately to go back. I couldn't ask for a greater advocate or friend.

Particular attention to the following people: Daria Carissa Penta, who once again stepped in at the right time with the right words and a critical gaze, and who showed me what a
pas de deux
is all about; Matthew Brady and Steve Woodcock for their chemical and pharmaceutical knowledge, and for taking the time to not simply assist in research, but to guide it, as well; Sara Bellamy for assistance with the peerage and The Season; Rick Burchett, for enduring rants, raves, curses, and for listening almost as well as he draws.

Quick nods to: Dr. Jessica Parrish, Dr. Han Sin Shi, Max Kelleher, Nick Barrabas, Yuri, and Lev.

This work could never have been possible without the enthusiastic and unflagging support of several individuals who have asked to remain anonymous. A special thanks to all of you.

Finally, to Jennifer and to Elliot, who kept me grounded while allowing me to fly.

Prologue

It was, she realized later, an audition of sorts.

Then, however, it was simply a murder. The calculated death of a target named Oksana Zurkowska.

The way she described it, I could imagine the details she omitted from her story. I filled it all in, the texture and the color, the sound and the smell. I could see the institutional washroom, feel the fog of steam from the showers, hear the drip of water onto the gray tiles of the floor. The clouded mirrors, sheets of polished metal rather than silver-backed glass. The porcelain sinks along the wall stained with rust brought up from the pipes. The smells of bleach and mildew and soap clung to the walls and ceiling, and the condensation rolled in beads to the floor, trickling to the drain in the center of the room.

She told me it was bright and sunny that day, but for some reason all I see is a shade that falls listlessly to the floor from high transom windows never opened to the outside. I see it in winter, oppressive and bitterly cold, but, as best as she could remember, it was spring.

The stalls had no doors, so she hid in the one farthest from the entrance, standing on the bowl, her feet on either side of the seat. It didn't matter that the concealment wasn't total. Oksana always used the sink nearest the entrance, she knew. Even if it was being used, Oksana would wait. Oksana liked that sink; it had the best water pressure of any in the building.

She waited for Oksana to close the door and start the water, hearing the pipes rattle and knock in the old walls. She listened, and when she heard the sound of the brush scrubbing teeth, she moved.

It was, she told me, like sitting in the back of an empty and dark theater and seeing oneself on the screen. She understood her motion and intent, and yet there was no attachment to the action. She was moving, she was acting, and she felt nothing at all.

She remembered that she found that curious.

Oksana Zurkowska, brushing her teeth, was taken entirely by surprise. The first blow drove her against the edge of the sink, crushing the air out of her. The second hammered her forehead against the tile at the base of the metal mirror. So did the third, and fourth, and fifth, until blood was coming off the wall, mixing with the foam of the tooth powder and water floating in the sink. Oksana hardly made a sound.

When she felt Oksana's head alter, felt the skull stop resisting the blows and finally yield to the pressure, she stopped and let the girl fall.

It was like shattering an unusually tough pumpkin, she told me.

On the floor, Oksana's left arm was still moving, jerking from side to side, as if pulled by a puppeteer's string. Then that stopped.

The sound of the water filling the sink came back to her. She reached out and shut off the tap, and the water stopped, and she saw herself reflected in the mirror. Blood had streaked the pitted surface, and then she realized that it had streaked her as well. It was on her hands, on her shirt, on her face.

She stripped and set her clothes by the radiator, so they would stay warm. Then she got into the shower, standing motionless beneath the water as it took its time changing from ice cold to scalding hot.

She wasn't feeling much of anything, she told me. Mostly, she just wanted to get the blood off herself. She remembered trying to decide what she would do about the shirt, that she had resolved to throw it in the furnace and to take a replacement from Oksana's own closet. They all wore identical clothes in the orphanage and she doubted anyone would notice anything except that the new shirt would be too large on her.

Oksana, after all, had been a big girl, ten years old.

She, on the other hand, was only eight, and small for her age.

Part One
Chapter 1

The ashtray didn't surprise me as much as the quality of the throw behind it.

Perhaps when Skye Van Brandt was still in high school, before she was "discovered" and turned into one
of People'?,
Fifty Most Beautiful Faces for two years running, before she'd netted two Oscar nominations and one Golden Globe award, maybe she'd pitched softball or even hardball at some point in her youth. Not that her youth was over: the woman on the other side of the hotel room was only twenty-two.

At least according to her publicist.

Skye was beautiful. Her hair was long and blond, just a shade too dark to be strawberry, and her large eyes were deep and soulful and tailored for close-ups during love scenes. Her lower lip was just a little pudgy and lopsided, and it gave her a perpetual almost-pout that reviewers described with words like "irresistible" and "wanton." Her dental work was perfect. She was one of those people who remain stunningly beautiful no matter what they're doing, be it smiling or screaming.

She was screaming at me right now.

"God dammit, Atticus! Take my bags!"

For the third time, I said, "I can't do that, Miss Van Brandt."

Skye dropped the suitcase in question and stormed my way, to where I stood just inside the front door. We were in the sitting room of the Presidential Suite at the El Presidente Hotel in El Paso, Texas, which meant that Skye had a lot of ground to cover, and that I had plenty of time to get out of her way. I didn't bother. To my mind I was doing the job I'd been paid for, doing more than it, in fact. It was now mid-morning of Day Eight on what was supposed to have been a six-day location shoot. I'd been hired to provide Skye's personal protection while on location, two thousand dollars a day, plus a stipend from the studio. I was, for the time being, Skye Van Brandt's bodyguard.

Not her valet.

The job, like so many other things in my professional life, was bullshit, for show and nothing more. But it was still a job, and I took it seriously, and there was no way I was going to pick up Skye Van Brandt's overpriced Tumi luggage and carry it to the lobby at her command.

She stopped three feet from where I was standing, hands on her hips, that wanton lower lip jutting a little more in her fury. For all her grace and beauty and presence on the screen, she was a tiny woman, nearly a full foot shorter than my six feet.

"I'm
paying
you! You do what / tell you!"

She jabbed in the direction of her bags with an index finger as if gouging at someone's eye. There were three bags -- one garment, one small duffel, and one larger duffel with a shoulder strap. All were black leather, all bulging with clothes, scripts, cosmetics, and the witch's brew of new-age elixirs and homeopathic medicines Skye used to keep herself fueled.

"Take them downstairs to the car," she ordered.

"You know I can't do that," I said. "I have to keep my hands free. Wait until the bellman..."

"God dammit! What fucking word don't you fucking understand? Pick up my fucking bags!"

I waited until she was done and catching her breath. Then I said: "No."

Skye Van Brandt raised her right hand and I figured she was going to slap me, but then she spun off and stomped away, swearing louder. The way she swore reminded me of my Army days, and I wondered how
People
might've altered their rankings if they heard Skye Van Brandt shrieking things like "shit-eating goatfucker" and "fart-breathed ass-miner."

When she passed the executive desk with its fax machine and multi-line telephone and leather-bound hotel directory, she grabbed the ashtray on its corner and flung it at me without pause or warning. The ashtray was small, cut glass, and surprisingly aerodynamic. I had just enough time to turn my head, and then it hit and bumped me out of the world for a moment. For an instant I felt like I had been knocked down a well, and I was surrendering to gravity when somehow I managed to arrest myself, leaning back against the wall until I was sure I wouldn't collapse.

Blood was coming off my forehead as I straightened, blinding my left eye. I felt thick and sluggish, and it took a while to get my hand up and my glasses off to clear my vision. Each time I swiped, more blood came to replace it. I put my glasses back on and tried to focus on my principal.

BOOK: Critical Space
11.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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