Authors: J.A. Konrath,Ann Voss Peterson,Jack Kilborn
Tags: #General Fiction
A CODENAME: CHANDLER THRILLER
Ann Voss Peterson
The world’s deadliest assassin just met her match…
She’s an elite spy, working for an agency so secret only three people know it exists. Trained by the best of the best, she has honed her body, her instincts, and her intellect to become the perfect weapon.
Before special operative Chandler was forced to
, she executed the most difficult missions—and most dangerous people—for the government. So when she’s tasked with saving a VIP’s daughter from human traffickers, Chandler expects the operation to be by the numbers…until she uncovers a secret that will endanger the entire population of New York City, and possibly the world.
J.A. Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson
“If an obstacle blocks your path,” The Instructor said, “pick it up and use it as a weapon.”
I threaded through foot traffic crowding the sidewalks of Michigan Avenue, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, a shopping bag from Nordstrom draped over one arm. But despite the new dress I’d just bought and the window displays announcing spectacular August clearances on sandals, I wasn’t in the mood for shopping.
Turning on Ohio Street, I strolled west, assuming the attitude and body language of just another shopper heading back to my car after a grueling morning spent searching for the best bargains the Windy City had to offer. The air smelled of hot pavement, car exhaust, and more pleasant aromas drifting from a nearby Starbucks. Two women approached me on the sidewalk with cell phones pressed to their ears, not taking notice of each other, let alone me. An older man emerged from a hotel, suitcase in tow. Cars sped by on the street, an endless, honking race of stop and go. Nothing out of the ordinary.
I turned north on Rush Street and paused at the window, as if admiring the motorcycle jacket in the display. Scrutinizing the reflection of the street behind me, I searched for anyone abruptly changing their travel pattern as a result of my stop. Once I was satisfied I hadn’t been followed, I continued along the sidewalk, ducked into the self-park next door, stepped into the elevator, and hit the button for the top level.
This was only my second mission with my new handler, an electronic voice over the phone I knew only as Jacob, and we were both still feeling each other out. So far his choice of drop site was not a point in his favor.
Dead drops made me uneasy on a good day. One in a closed in space with few exits—such as a public parking ramp—made me downright paranoid. But while I could turn down an assassination if there was some reason I felt I couldn’t carry it out, picking up this package wasn’t optional. Although the government agency I worked for didn’t officially exist, it knew I existed. Getting on the wrong side of the powers that be by balking at something as simple as a pick-up wouldn’t help my longevity.
The elevator door slid open, and a wave of humid, exhaust-filled heat assaulted me, smelling worse than the nearby Chicago River. I scanned the steep rise of parking spaces, noting the hulking shape of a Humvee taking up several spaces at the end and wondering how anyone had squeezed that thing into the narrow, twisting parking garage. A minivan and three sedans rounded out the rest of the vehicles on this level, with many empty spaces in between. None of the vehicles appeared to be occupied. A quick stop-and-squat to pick up an imaginary coin on the tiled floor gave me the line of sight to prove no one was hiding behind any of them.
I stepped out of the elevator and around the corner.
A teenage kid who looked as if he’d slept under one of the cars stood on the other side of the trash can where I was supposed to find a McDonald’s bag, his pants draping so low on his hips that half his boxers were showing. He clutched the fast food bag in his right hand.
“Hey,” I called, trying to sound casual. “That’s my bag.”
“The Mickie D’s bag. That’s mine.”
“It’s trash. I just picked it up from the ground.”
“I just set it down for a second. Please. It’s my dinner.”
He looked at me as if certain I was insane.
Great. He was just a kid. I didn’t want to have to hurt him. I dropped my Nordstrom’s bag in the elevator’s mouth, blocking open the door. “I’ll give you money for it.” I dipped a hand in my pocket and pulled out a keychain gizmo and wadded up bill.
A hundred. A bit much to pay for trash, but I doubted he had change. I held it out to him.
A suspicious look slid over the kid’s face. “What’s in this thing anyway?” He held up the bag, started to open it.
I pressed the button on the gizmo—a gift from Jacob—and four parked cars went into ear-shattering alarm mode, wailing and flashing lights, the racket echoing off concrete.
The kid looked around
Lunging forward, I went for his sternum with my left elbow while snatching the bag with my right hand. At the same time, I slipped my left leg behind his ankle, tipping him backwards and onto his ass as gently as I could.
“Sorry, kid.” I tossed the bill to him. “There’s a McDonald’s just down the street. Get yourself something fresh.”
I hit the button again and the alarms ceased. Eat your heart out, James Bond. Then I squeezed the bag to make sure it was actually the drop, not leftovers. I felt something hard inside—harder than Ronald ever cooked—and knew I’d scored.
The door had crushed my Nordstrom’s loot, but the car was still there. In a moment, I was on my way down to the ground level and out onto the street.
Piece of cake.
Out in the open air, I turned south and took a circuitous route back to the hotel I’d checked into two hours before, located a block east of Michigan Avenue on Ontario Street. I lived in the city, but when on a job, I often operated out of a hotel, the larger and more impersonal the better. That way nothing led back to my apartment and my name.
Not that my apartment or anything else was under my real name. In fact, my identity changed like the Chicago weather.
The only constant was my codename: Chandler.
After hopping an elevator to the third floor, I headed for my room, nestled in the building’s northeast corner. I unlocked the door, made sure the room was clear, and dumped out the McDonald’s bag on the bed.
A cell phone, a small collection of makeup, and a pair of fur lined handcuffs. I picked up the cell phone and hit the send button.
Jacob picked up on the first ring. “Yes?”
“May I speak to Cassie?” I asked.
“I’m sorry, she’s in Detroit on business. Would you like to leave a message?”
“Tell her to call her sister in El Paso.”
“So who was the kid?” Jacob asked when we’d finished the security verification dance. “Friend of yours?”
So Jacob had been in the ramp. Why didn’t that surprise me? “The Hummer? That was you?”
“Of course. Sorry for the unusual drop site, but I couldn’t leave anything to chance this time. Had to keep an eye on it myself.”
“You call that keeping an eye on it? The kid had it in his hands.”
“You were there to handle it.”
“And if I wasn’t?”
“Then I would have. Lucky for the kid, things didn’t go that far. So do you like your new phone?” Even through the voice distortion, I could detect excitement in Jacob’s question.
It seemed to be a phone like any other. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to like. “Um, sure.”
“Good sound, huh?”
“Sounds like you’re sitting next to me.” I thought about his presence in the garage. “You aren’t, are you?”
“Funny. It’s nice, isn’t it?”
“It’s a phone, so…sure. Nice.”
“It’s not a phone. Well, it is, but it’s so much more. Shock proof, waterproof, virtually indestructible.”
“Ahh, I get it. You’re still upset that I killed three phones on the Tunisian trip, aren’t you? A trip that turned out to be more of a war than a hit, I might add.”
“I’m over that. But for the record, I still think you were careless.”
“Is that why you felt you had to babysit me in the parking garage? Couldn’t this have been done in person, over coffee?”
“It isn’t that simple, Chandler.”
“I forgot. You’re not a field agent.”
“We each have our positions. You do yours. I do mine.”
“Yet there you were. Are you sure you don’t want to switch jobs?”
Silence stretched for several seconds before Jacob cleared his throat and continued. “The phone is also encrypted and much more, but you’ll learn the rest later. Guard it with your life. Keep it on you at all times, even in the shower. And answer it every time it rings. Understand?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll take care of the new toy. I promise. Now what I really want to discuss are the bracelets.” I picked up the pair of fur-lined handcuffs, letting them dangle from my index finger. “I’m guessing my target is a womanizer who likes to dabble in kinky sex?”
“Isn’t that true of most of the men I set you up with?”
“Two for two now. Come to think of it, you’re shaping up to be a lousy matchmaker.”
“If you think you can do better with Christian Mingle, be my guest.”
I sorted through the other items. “And what’s the deal with the makeup? Hinting that I should freshen up my look?”
“Depends on your definition of freshening. You’ll find syrup of ipecac in the lipstick tube and flunitrazepam powder in the mascara. All the help you should need to get your target alone and compliant.”
“So are you going to tell me who my target is? Or do I have to seduce and sanction all of Chicago?”
“Ever heard of a company by the name of Bratton BioTech?”
“They’re a defense contractor.”
“Let me guess, biological weapons.”
“Actually their stated aim is developing immunizations against biological weapons.”
“You say potato…”
“You might be closer than you know. Word is the CEO, Dominic Bratton, is in Chicago to pick up something deposited an hour ago in his safe deposit box. It’s in a bank on North Clark, put there by an employee. Recently Bratton’s been taking calls from people with connections in Russia, Venezuela, and Iran.”
“Where is this word coming from?” I usually worked alone, and I liked it that way. Spies were notoriously untrustworthy, and I didn’t relish the idea of putting my life in the hands of someone as devious as I was.
“Homeland Security. They have reason to believe he intends to hold an auction. Possibly tonight.”
I’d done a variety of dangerous things for my country, but since I despised catching even a simple cold, the prospect of dealing with some sort of biological weapon was not my idea of a good time. “What’s in the package?”
“The answer to that is above my security clearance. But I wasn’t told to take any special precautions, so that suggests data.”
I let out a relieved breath and waited for Jacob to continue.
“Bratton has reserved a private dining room at four and is scheduled to arrive at the bank at closing time, five-thirty. You’ll pick him up at the restaurant.”
“You don’t expect him to bring me along?”
“To the bank? No. To his bed afterwards? If you’re good at your job, he will.”
“You know I am.”
“That’s what I’m counting on.”
I wasn’t accustomed to receiving praise, I had to admit it felt good. My previous handler had been as humorless as a machine and not quite as complimentary. Maybe Jacob and I would end up working well together.
“You’re going to have to sell the death as a robbery, and the evidence needs to be solid enough that police won’t look any deeper.”
I picked up the pair of cuffs with my finger once more and gave it a twirl. “Sounds doable. Is that it?”
“He has a bodyguard with him wherever he goes.”
“You might have mentioned that first.”
“Nothing I can’t handle. Photo?”
“Sending. Along with a dossier on Bratton.”
A light glowed against my cheek and an image appeared on my phone’s screen. Bratton was a pug of a man, not fat but soft. A mop of reddish hair streaked with white topped his head. Mean little eyes peered from beneath thick brows.
“I don’t have anything on the bodyguard, but Bratton is paranoid for good reason, so assume he employs the best.”
“Across the street. He has a private room reserved for four-thirty.”
I peered through the window at the slick, glass building reaching into the sky. On the ground level, two copper lions stood sentry in front of the downtown Chicago location of the Capitol Grille.
With my objective in mind, I signed off, stripped down, and climbed in the shower to get ready for my happy hour “date.”