DREA DAMARA The Blinney Lane Series The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane Beyond Farwin Wood The Trinity Missions Chasing Vengeance Multi-author Anthologies In Creeps the Night featuring “The Blessing”
A Winter’s Romance
featuring “Lighting the Darkness”
Editor: Jamie Rich
NO DEATH FOR THE WICKED Copyright ÂŠ 2019 Drea Damara All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please write to the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the authorâ€™s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2018959722 ISBN: 978-1-64397-003-5 (Hardcover) ISBN: 978-1-948540-46-9 (Softcover) ISBN: 978-1-948540-49-0 (Ebook) For information, write: BHC Press 885 Penniman #5505 Plymouth, MI 48170 Visit the publisher: www.bhcpress.com
no death for the wicked
Trinity Headquarters, Zurich, Switzerland
hat do you do when life gives you lemons? Peering out of the break room, Caria pondered the question as a lemon seed washed into her mouth with the last gulp of her tea. “Wondered where you snuck off to Firecracker,” Dean Gaithers quipped, jabbing his thumb into her ribs as he strode through the door. The seed shattered as she ground it between her molars. Spitting it into the trash can, she slammed her cup down on the counter. The room had suddenly become too small for the both of them. Dean had that affect on a room. Her spidey-sense told her his eyes were already on her ass. Life had just tossed her another lemon. “What do you say we go blow off some steam over a few drinks?” Canting her head, she raised an eyebrow to maximum height. The mischievous look on his face was a red flag that his proposal wasn’t complete. Leaning on the counter, he gave her a once over before returning his gaze to her face. “And who knows? Maybe later…we could make some more steam.”
Her lip curled up. She zoned in on a place on his jaw that she wanted to introduce to her fist. Staring at his smug face, she realized she had the answer to her question. “I’ll be busy throwing up,” she said and headed out the door toward the sparring ring in the center of Trinity’s training room. “Well, when you’re done the offer still stands!” Dean yelled from the break room door. Grinding her teeth together again, she winced. There was no lemon seed to buffer her anger this time. Eyes locked on the sparring ring, she marched toward her salvation. What do you do when life gives you lemons? Beat the shit out of them and send them back to life in a body bag. The lemons life had given her were her newly fractured heart and soul. The only remedy she could think of was to give or take a beating that would make her mortal shell better accommodate them. If life had taught her anything it was that a battered shell can sustain even the bitterest fruit. It’s called survival. Breathing and circulation don’t give a damn about your feelings—they have a job to do. Her callous heart and lungs forged on ahead, no matter that she felt broken inside. Perhaps she wasn’t in enough pain to operate on auto pilot as they did. A good pummeling would surely jolt her system. Snatching up a pair of boxing gloves at the side of the ring, she watched Darren Krewolt spar with a recruit. A respite of peace washed over her, standing in the center of his domain. She smirked remembering how some of her co-workers called this floor of the building “the dungeon” where Darren oversaw the physical training of all the operatives at Trinity. Without a single window, it was as gloomy as a tomb—the only illumination coming from the soft yellow glow of industrial light fixtures above the ring. Along the concrete walls were classrooms, more aptly named prison cells. She’d spent her fair share of time in them when she was a new recruit, learning things like Trinity protocols, tradecraft,
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weaponry, cultural familiarization, and the worst—studies in eloquence. It had been tedious until she’d started her physical training with Darren. That seemed so long ago now. Her last several years as a Trinity operative had consisted of mission after mission. It had left her little time or reason for physical training, little time to visit Darren in the dungeon. She’d missed him. Lately, she’d been spending all of her time in the dungeon but it wasn’t with Darren. The attack that Luc Campone’s mole made on Trinity two months ago had destroyed much of the control room upstairs and killed over a dozen employees in the operations section. As soon as she’d gotten back from hunting down Campone in Belarus, she’d been given only two tasks—heal from her wounds and train new recruits. Heal? What in the hell was that? All she’d ever known was breathing and one foot in front of the other. Things happen and then tomorrow shows up no matter how you feel. Who had time for healing? She’d played her cards, however, to appease Gerry Strakner, her boss. After she’d rested all she could tolerate doing so at home, she’d marched into his office and hadn’t left until he’d given her something productive to do. Training new recruits certainly hadn’t been what she’d had in mind, but she’d accepted the assignment after he emphasized how badly Trinity needed new recruits. The destruction of the attack had set operations back and forced everyone at Trinity to fill ad hoc roles until things were back to normal. She knew she was partly to blame. She hadn’t let the mole in who’d planted the bomb, but she’d unknowingly supplied him with a key piece of information that helped him carry out the blast. Gerry had assured her neither he nor anyone else at Trinity held her responsible, but his behavior of late was making her doubt the truth to that reassurance.
The reconstruction of Trinity’s damaged upper level had been completed last week. Gerry’s office and the new operations section now had reinforced bullet-proof cubicles. Each operations support specialist’s desk now contained fire-resistant Nomex components and steel plates, capable of withstanding a blast in the event of another explosion. Gerry even had escape shoots built into hideaway walls so employees could drop down to the training floor for rapid evacuation. He’d cut no corners, working day and night since the attack. Somehow, he’d also managed to recruit a few more staff members to replace some of those who’d perished in the attack— people who were seasoned or skilled enough to juggle multiple-mission planning. As far as she saw it, Trinity was ready to be operational again, ready for her to be operational again. She had been patient, training recruits in the dungeon for the past few weeks, but she’d had to share that task with Dean. Standing now in the place where she’d been trained on eloquence, she knew she could put it better, but Dean was a dipshit who thought he was hot shit. She’d been kind to him for two seconds too long when she’d first arrived at Trinity years ago. She’d quickly learned he was the kind of person who should come with a warning label, one that read: Always in heat. Stay back one hundred yards or your leg will be humped. She had tolerated him and the restlessness she felt from being stuck at headquarters because Gerry told her he needed her help with the recruits. She was proud to be contributing a useful skill, proud to be helping Gerry out when he needed it most. However, her pride had fled when she ran into Evan Rilco last week. Shoving her hands into the boxing gloves, Caria ground her teeth, as she thought about the encounter. If she hadn’t gone upstairs to visit Jancy Dupriex she wouldn’t have crossed paths with Evan. She happened upon him checking in with his mission support specialist for an upcoming assignment. Evan—back on mission sta-
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tus! She’d about lost her mind. She’d been asking Gerry for a mission for the last two weeks, and each time he said he didn’t have any. The second Evan headed down the hallway, she stormed into Gerry’s office. “No missions, huh?” she snapped. Gerry rubbed his temples and she knew it was a ploy to avoid eye contact. Her fingernails dug into her palms when she heard him make an exasperated sound. “I assume we’re talking about Evan?” “You’re damn right we are. You going to tell me he’s just running to the grocery store for you?” “We talked about this, Caria. Your mission is to heal.” “Heal? Evan got a concussion and second degree burns in the attack.” “Were we talking about you or Evan?” She wound her arm around like a baseball pitcher winding up. Something in her shoulder jarred inside where she’d been shot in Belarus. Channeling her pain into the look of hostility she bore down on Gerry helped her complete a fluid and convincing motion. “There. Healed. Done. Satisfied?” Gerry’s goatee morphed as he pursed his lips. “I wasn’t finished, smart-ass. I let you train recruits, didn’t I?” “Let me? Wow! Yeah, with Dean Gaithers. How gracious of you,” she said, folding her arms. “I’ve had to rinse my ears out with scotch every night to disinfect them from the disgusting things that pervert says to me.” The look he gave her bordered repulsed and dumbfounded. Did he really not know? He’d had a lot on his mind since the attack. And to give him a little credit, she’d been on back-to-back missions prior to this. He probably hadn’t ever seen her and Dean interact much before, but there was no room for sympathy in bargaining. “Do you want me to talk to him?” “Fuck no!”
“Then how do you want me to handle it?” “Get me the hell out of here or I’m going to break his neck.” The velocity of his sigh would make you think she was asking for the world. She bit her tongue and waited. “I don’t have anything yet that I need you on. Just be patient.” Patient, she reflected as she watched Darren connect a powerful jab into the recruit’s ribs. She’d been patient. She was still being patient, but seriously, what the hell was going on? The longer she spent in the dungeon, the more she found herself dissecting Gerry’s behavior of late. He’d gone from babying her to avoiding her. She respected the hell out of Evan. He was a solid operator, always sound in his judgment. But why was he back on mission status and she was banished to the dungeon? By banishing her to recruit instructor, Gerry had to be either punishing her or saw her as a liability after the attack. One thing was certain. There was something he wasn’t telling her—she could feel it in her gut. She’d found out lately that there had been a lot of things he hadn’t told her. Luckily, her loyal friend, Jancy, was also Gerry’s right-hand woman at Trinity. While Gerry kept her in the dark, fortunately, Jancy always tried to keep her in the loop. After she got back from Belarus, the biggest bombshell Jancy had dropped on her was that mastermind behind the attack on Trinity, Luc Campone, had actually founded Trinity with Gerry. He was the bastard she’d tried to stop from replicating a plague-like virus in Belarus. How could a man like that have had anything to do with creating an organization that was committed to eradicating evil? Jancy told her that Gerry and Campone had met in Vietnam and later worked together in the CIA. Not long after they left the agency and founded Trinity, Campone double-crossed Gerry by absconding with a large shipment of weapons and drugs that Trinity operatives had commandeered to hand over to the US government. He slipped away in the night with enough bounty to earn him a pretty profit for what was only the beginning of the less than noble path
NO DEATH FOR THE WICKED 17
he took. He mustn’t have trusted Gerry not to seek revenge and so had planted a mole in the ranks of Trinity just waiting for the day that Gerry or his people got too close. Damn Caria’s luck that she had been the one to stumble across the wretched man after all those years he had been off the radar. She’d poked the bear and the bear had poked back. It had set a course of events in motion that had gotten good people killed—too many, and she had been living with their ghosts ever since. It would remain the stuff of legends in Trinity that she had crossed paths with Campone. She didn’t want to be a legend. If Gerry had only told her about his past, let her know who Campone was, she could have put a bullet in Campone’s head the second she’d seen him in Belarus. It would have saved a lot of people at Trinity… and one person in particular in Belarus. She didn’t want to think about it anymore. She was sick of thinking. Tightening the gloves at her wrists, she looked up at the fight in the ring. Darren sucked punched the recruit in the ribs, causing the younger man to sputter and double over. Holding her glove up to her cheek, she yelled, “Hey, Hot Chocolate! Why don’t you try that out on me?” After a few more jabs to his victim, Darren strode over to the ropes with a proud rigidity in his strut. The sweat on his face and bald head glistened under the fluorescent lights. He waved off the recruit as though his arm was heavy. The battered man wasted no time hobbling to the other side of the ring, where he escaped through the ropes like some decrepit broken creature. Darren’s bright smile broke through his pristinely trimmed goatee. His face always lit up when she threw a saucy moniker at him as though he didn’t receive enough compliments. She couldn’t understand why. His physique would put other fifty year olds to shame. Resting his sinewy forearms on the ropes, he pried off his gloves. “Miss Milosc. Who do I have to thank for the honor of your presence in my humble domain today?”
“Darren, my darling, I don’t need to be forced to seek the pleasure of your company.” He let out a laugh and chucked a glove at her feet. With shapely biceps accented by his red tank top and his shaved, balding head, he looked like the American actor Delroy Lindo. Why such a handsome man was unmarried other than to his thankless job was beyond her. His laughing, honey-brown eyes caught hers as he let out, “Oh. It’s gonna be like that, huh?” She spared him a sour look. He knew her and the sarcasm she hid behind too well. She stopped fastening her gloves when she saw him take off the one that remained on his hand. “Well, get in here then, but you can leave those off,” he said, gesturing to her gloves. A tingle of excitement prickled her neck and she smirked. Bare-handed? Now they were talking! That’d crush those damned lemons. “Oh, no!” Darren said, wagging a finger at her. “I’m not scrapping with you. You sick little devil. You know not to come in here unless it’s to work on something you’re not good at.” It was too good to be true. She grumbled under her breath, ripped her hands out of the gloves, and lobbed them at the floor. The sound of Darren’s chuckle floated above her as she climbed inside the ring. She felt the floor reverberate as he paced around the ring, amping himself up. All she wanted to do was blow off some steam, not get a lesson. Bare-handed scrapping would have been the perfect remedy for that, but apparently he wasn’t in the mood to humor her. She proved to him long ago that she was an excellent boxer. Her neighbor, Costas, had taught her the sport when she was just a kid, against much protest from her mother. She’d spent every free moment of her childhood sparring with his four sons in their boxing club down the street, learning Greek curse words. In the Army, she’d learned jujitsu. After Gerry recruited her into Trinity, Darren had added tae kwon do and judo to her rep-
NO DEATH FOR THE WICKED 19
ertoire, but she had never learned to appreciate judo as much as Darren would have liked. She was fast with quick reflexes. She was, however, a woman and a small one, coming in at around a hundred and forty pounds. Darren never stopped emphasizing the need for her to learn how to take down larger opponents whenever he had the chance or that her life could depend upon it someday. Taking an unenthused stance in the ring, she found Darren’s amused eyes looking at her I’m-not-happy-about-this face. Judo it was going to be. “You ready?” he asked. She didn’t miss the taunting tone he laced into the question. “Do your worst,” she grumbled. Holding her arms akimbo, she sidestepped as did he. Soon they were circling each other like two hungry predators, eyes locked. “Where’s your mind at?” Darren broke the silence. “It’s here.” “We’ll see about that.” He came toward her from the side and tried a throwing move. She pivoted, but found herself caught in a grapple. Grunting under his massive strength, she managed to slip from the hold only to end up in another. “Come on! You know what you need to do!” he warned. “I know, damn it!” She pivoted and tried a leg sweep, but missed, catching the back of his knee with only her toe. Fine. She’d flip him instead. Freaking Darren and his stupid judo. Pivoting to the side, she dropped her knee and pulled him down with her, but as soon as he started to budge, he yanked her back up and shook her in their grapple. “No! No Sutemi-waza!” he yelled, scolding her sacrifice technique. It was supposed to make an attacker think he’d pinned the victim, but the victim would then come back with a grappling move once on the ground. She often fumbled with leg sweeps because men
were so much heavier and larger than her, so she resorted to bringing attackers to the ground, much like in jujitsu. It wasn’t the first time Darren had scolded her for being so predictable, but she still had yet to shed the habit. It was why she loathed judo. She wasn’t good at it and who had time for things they weren’t good at? “But I’m good at Sutemi-waza!” she snarled through his hold around her neck. She tried another leg sweep, but he didn’t budge. A clean strike to his lower rib cage gave her some satisfaction. It must have pricked a nerve because he taunted, “Fine! Go ahead.” “No!” Darren let out a strained chuckle as he held her, pinned in his grip. “No? What? You think ‘cause I know you’re gonna do it, I’ll get out of it?” “Screw you, Darren!” Beyond the ring she heard laughter. Great. They had an audience. From the corner of her eye, she saw her recruits, Dean, and a few others watching the match. Heat crept across her cheeks. This was supposed to have been therapeutic, not humiliating. She slipped an elbow loose and struck Darren across the middle. His grasp loosened enough that she was able to turn her back to him. With all her might and frustration she threw him. He didn’t go over top of her, as was the appropriate outcome of the move, but she was able to at least fling him off to her side. He was simply too heavy for her to execute the move properly. The gasps she heard from their onlookers as his massive frame crashed to the ring floor restored her pride. She righted herself and brought a hand down to mimic a final, fatal strike to his neck. Before she could complete the gesture, Darren planted an elbow on the ring floor and rotated his hips. His scissor-kick, hammered one of his legs into the back of her knees. Like a paper doll, her legs flew into the air. She landed flat on her back, knocking the wind out of her lungs, her head slamming against the
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floor. Lying there, catching her breath, she stared up at the lights. Darren seemed content not to move either because he remained lying where he’d fallen. Pain radiated through her hips from her sore backside. She panted, taking solace that at least he wasn’t going to say anything about their draw. “Leg…sweep,” he enunciated through heavy breaths. She pinched her eyes shut and grimaced. Solace…gone. He was right, though. Her neck cracked when she glanced to the side of the ring. Happy to find that everyone had dispersed, she rolled her head to the other side and found Darren’s patient eyes looking back. “Why won’t he send me on a mission?” She no longer cared if he knew why she’d come looking for a fight now. Darren gave her a kind smile, the fatherly kind he doled out when they weren’t trying to fake kill each other. “That’s top-floor decisions. I only make dungeon decisions.” “I’m better. You told him I’m better. Didn’t he believe you?” Something still ground in her shoulder from time to time, but she’d hidden that well enough from him. “Maybe he wants you to have a little bit of a life. What’s wrong with hanging around here for awhile? You still got that dog you dragged home?” “Yeah. Sasha.” She loved that dog and not just because it reminded her of Alecof, the handsome Russian who had saved her life in Belarus. Sasha was the most loyal thing she had ever seen in the world. He didn’t question. He just loved her and waited for her every move, just as he had with Alecof. Did Sasha remember that she had come to mean something to his former master? Is that why the wolfhound had automatically transferred all of its love and loyalty to her when Alecof was killed? She liked to think so. It brought her some comfort, as though the dog’s feelings were somehow an extension of Alecof ’s from beyond the grave. “I don’t…I don’t think I want a life.”
Darren’s forehead creased. Why had she admitted that? She pulled her gaze from his piqued stare to the lights. “Everybody wants a life. Everybody’s got hobbies and needs some peace now and then.” She let out a heavy breath and sat up. “This job is my life, Darren. I don’t have any family. You guys are my friends. I don’t know anyone outside of Trinity. I shop at a different grocery store each week out of operational habit.” This brought a laugh from Darren as he sat up and she was forced to join in. “It’s not funny. Do you know how hard it is to find what you want? Why can’t all the grocery stores be set up the same way? It’s ridiculous.” “Wait, wait. Is that what’s got you down? The layout of the grocery stores in the greater Zurich area?” She rolled her eyes and rubbed her neck. “I just feel like Gerry doesn’t trust my abilities anymore since that Belarus job. I told one of my recruits he has to figure out how to get whatever he wants from people, but I can’t seem to do that with Gerry.” “Well then…seems like you’re on the wrong floor. This is the training area. On occasion, when I see a sad pretty face,” he scratched his chin, “the emotional counseling center.” She swatted at him, but he held up a finger and continued, “But not! Not the office of Gerald Strakner, head of Trinity operations, the man with the missions.” “Oh, why didn’t I think of that? I’ll just go ask him…again!” She got to her feet and held out a hand to help him up. “Hey, it’s no different than down here in the dungeon. If one tactic doesn’t work, try another.” She stepped through the ropes and balanced on the edge of the ring. Looking back with a thoughtful expression, she held up an index finger. “So you’re saying I should leg sweep Gerry? Gee, thanks, Darren!” “Ha! Don’t even try to pin that on me! There’s probably laws against elder abuse here too.”
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She threw him a smirk and hopped off the edge of the ring. With a stiff hand, she gave a mock salute. “Mr. Krewolt. I thank you, as always.” “Don’t be a stranger.”
Caria pulled her motorbike into the garage attached to her lakeside home. She killed the motor and winced as she pulled the helmet off her head. Her skull still smarted from the whack against the ring mat. Hopefully Darren wasn’t paying for her blood thirst as well. Sasha’s soft whining came through the door that led to her kitchen. She unlocked it and the big white, fluffy dog jumped up on its hind legs. His front paws planted square in the middle of her chest, tail wagging. His tongue hung out the side of his mouth as he breathed in her face and whimpered. “Hello, handsome,” she cooed in Russian. “You get the rope. I’ll get the wine.” He dropped back to the floor and hurried away to do her bidding. Caria palmed a half full bottle of red wine off the kitchen counter and walked into the living room of her open floor plan. She veered around the couch—the only piece of furniture she owned besides her bed. The patio door squealed as she forced it open and stepped out onto the deck. The crisp February air hit her face as she looked past her short strip of yard, which met Lake Zurich, to her little boat. The craft bobbed next to her dock, looking lonely and untouched. Darren’s words roused her thoughts. Everyone’s got hobbies. When was the last time she’d taken the boat out and actually enjoyed it? Now was the time, if ever, since she was stuck in Zurich. Sasha certainly enjoyed acting like an explorer, standing perched at the helm. Something nudged her leg. She found him staring up at her with his dirty rope toy clutched in his mouth. A quick toss over the balcony railing, she watched him race down the deck stairs after it.
As he bounded across the yards, startled birds flitted through the air. She stepped back inside and dropped down onto the couch. The suffocating feeling of being enclosed by the walls hit instantly. She searched for something to capture her attention, but it was difficult to do in an empty house. She scanned the piles of books on her fireplace mantle. She’d read every one of them, some of them twice. Pushing off the couch, the wine began to warm her insides as she walked to the mantle and turned on her MP3 player to break the silence. Returning to the deck, she left the patio door cracked to listen to her distraction and took a deep breath of the chilly air. Sasha pranced around the yard, shaking his rope between clenched teeth. Occasionally, he would stop to sniff something or mark a tree, but then would return to his rope-shaking. The cold stone of the balcony wall seeped through her leather jacket where she leaned on it, watching Sasha trot down to the dock. The dog nearly blended in with the layer of snow that covered the ground. What a depressing month. Everything was still as death, waiting for spring to awaken it again. She knew it was the wrong outlook to have. Most people would beg for a prime piece of lakeside real estate like this even in the winter. Maybe if she stared at her view long enough, appreciation would settle in one of these days. Lord knows she’d tried as the last two months had dragged on. When she got off work, she played with Sasha and took him for runs. The strength in her leg was nearly back to its pre-bullet-wound stamina. She read as many books as she could muster. Foreign language manuals and terrorism studies; however, they didn’t hold her interest the way they used to, her thirst for knowledge gone of late. Her other new pastime was drinking wine, as slowly as she could. It would be the beginning of a bad habit if she drank it any faster. That was how she had spent her evenings since Belarus. And Alecof…she thought about Alecof.
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Maybe she should buy more furniture. She might think about him less if she had more clutter to distract her. How much stuff does someone have to buy to drown a memory? She took another sip from the bottle and surveyed her empty living room through the patio door. A chill ran down her spine, as she stared at the fireplace. She’d spent many hours sitting next in Alecof ’s rocking chair next to his fireplace. She could still see it clearly in her mind. Maybe a rocking chair would look good next to hers. Closing her eyes, she could almost smell the scent of his clothes, remembering how he’d sat in that chair, gently checking on her wounds. The sound of Edith Piaf ’s “Les Amants D’un Jour” floating out of the speakers broke her thoughts. She sputtered a disgusted noise and turned her back on the haunting melody. Heal. Heal, she reminded herself. She leaned on the balcony and hugged her forearms closer to her, the neck of the wine bottle hooked between her thumb and index finger. Below, Sasha was burying his nose in the snow, inspecting some type of animal burrow. Her breath emitted like fog as she stared at the silvery water of the lake under the dull winter sky. Unwittingly, the bittersweet French words of the tune translated in her head. Why had she had to teach herself French? Her heart quivered in her chest like it was a lump of dough and Edith Piaf was kneading the agony of emptiness into it with her heartbreaking story. “What a horrible fucking song,” she muttered. Her throat tightened. She tried to swallow but couldn’t. Every sweet memory of Alecof replayed itself like a movie. It was happening again. God damn it. At least she’d made it a few minutes longer since walking through the door this time before falling apart. Never had she felt so comfortable and happy with a man. How could moments that had been so delightful now fill her with a dull ache through every internal inch of her body? Why couldn’t they keep their former power? Now, when she thought of his soft sandy
hair, his beautiful smile, his abundant kindness and compassion, it made her nauseous. Whoever said that it was better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all was a fucking narcissist. How was this better? Her heart felt like it was going to implode. Poor Alecof had been perfectly content living in solitude in his remote little cabin with his dog and then she showed up and screwed up his world. He would be alive if he had never met her. She should have died out in the woods instead of him finding her and nursing her back to health. And then she’d let him go after Campone with her. Why hadn’t she tied him to a chair and gone without him? All the things she could have and should have done differently tormented her again, just as they did every night. Then her cycle of grief ended where it did each evening—in shame. Alecof was the one who was dead and here she was feeling sorry for herself, bemoaning her own agony. The worst part of it was that she couldn’t help it. She had to know how to function again. Life as an operative was a hollow thing, but what gnawed at her now was a cruel hollowness. There was a black hole in the center of her that beckoned for more of her being to sink into the depths of despair. A broken heart has no shame. It doesn’t care if it asks the mind or the sanity to follow it into the abyss of misery. She mumbled the words of the taunting song until she broke down and wept, haunted by visions of a future with a beautiful man that she would never have. The wine bottle slipped from her fingers and fell to the ground. She couldn’t hold anything up or back anymore. With her head sunk onto her arms, she let hot tears flow down her cheeks and pressed her throbbing eyes into the cool leather of her jacket. How long did she have to feel like this? It wouldn’t bring Alecof back, wouldn’t change anything that had happened. What else could she do? She kept going to work each day, doing everything possible to stay busy. She tried letting herself feel her emotions when she first came home from Belarus, but had been an even bigger mess
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then. She had to get out of this house, out of headquarters, out of the limbo she was stuck in. Darren was right. Everyone wants a life, this just wasn’t hers. Operations were her life. She needed a mission. A mission was all-consuming to the mind. Training recruits left her sitting alone with her thoughts as she waited for them to complete a task. She could no longer afford trying to hold it together at headquarters during the day. If Gerry saw her like this, he’d ground her indefinitely. Something nudged her leg, stirring her from the onslaught of her tears. Sasha pressed the empty mud-and-snow-covered wine bottle against her jeans, his teeth showing around the neck of it. She gasped a pathetic laugh through the slobber of weeping that had collected in her mouth and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. “Good job.” She took the bottle from him and scratched behind his ears. When his tail stopped its chipper wagging, she squatted down next to him. He seemed to sense her every mood. She wasn’t even good company for a dog. “I’m sorry, Sasha. I’m going in there tomorrow and if Gerry doesn’t give me a mission, you’re going to have to tear his legs off for me.”
Vitebsk, Belarusâ€”six weeks earlier
erry Strakner walked down the hospital hallway and took in the ambiance of the Belarusian facility. It was a far cry from the modern-equipped hospitals in America and Switzerland, but he had seen worse in less developed countries. He didnâ€™t leave Switzerland often, having to stay close to headquarters as his duties demanded of him. Even the dismal surroundings of the hospital fascinated his curiosity at the chance of seeing new scenery. It reminded him of the facilities in Poland, Russia, and Germany during the Cold War with their old dot-printer EKG machines and antiquated gurneys. He smiled at the thought of not feeling so old around the outdated equipment. If this equipment was still serviceable it served as proof someone of his sixty years was as well. Room 306. He stopped and glanced up and down the hallway, out of habit. Medical staff moved about the floor, oblivious to who he was and why he was here. Refraining from knocking, he turned the door handle and entered the dimly lit room. An old man who looked comatose sat in the bed nearest the door, his dry mouth open, sucking breaths through a ventilator. Beyond a partition cur-
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tain, he could see a set of sheet-covered feet illuminated in a pool of sunlight from the window. Gerry walked past the curtain to the end of the bed until he was able to see the patient. He looked down at a face he had only seen once, some years before. The young man with the long straggly black hair, who it belonged to, didn’t look so young anymore. There were dark circles under his puffy eyelids. An IV needle stuck out of his arm, its dripping fluid the only movement. There was a substantial growth of dark whiskers on the man’s face that hadn’t been there the last time he’d seen him. He remembered that face well enough to notice it also bore more scars than it did on their last meeting. He stared humbly down at the man who lay sleeping upright in the bed. He’d done it. He had kept the promise he shamelessly requested of him and more. He had kept Caria alive and managed to kill Campone. Admiration washed over him as he stood before this broken semblance of a man who lay alone in the dismal little room, its walls peppered with cracking plaster. Not a soul in the building had any idea what this man had accomplished two weeks ago, let alone in the many years prior. And here he lay, forgotten by the world. Gerry shook his head, swallowing a lump in his throat. Back in America, teens idolized pop stars and actors, comic book heroes and football players. There would never be glorious posters of this battered Russian donning any walls. Gerry had the utmost pride in his operatives at Trinity, but this man was a breed apart. This man didn’t work for money. He didn’t likely have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, wherever he called a home, if he even had one. Gerry had spent much of the last two weeks after Campone’s attack on Trinity, checking on the welfare of his own people in a Zurich hospital. There had been little he could do for them but offer comfort. He knew the least he could do was visit one more patient, no matter that it was in another country. No distance was too far to
travel to thank the man who had saved his only child. It didn’t matter that Caria knew nothing of it and never would—neither the saving part nor the daughter part. When he’d first gotten ahold of Caria’s personnel records, his heart had nearly stopped when he read her birth date and the name of her mother—Emilia. He hadn’t missed the resemblance upon first meeting her, although she had dark-brown hair like him and not Emilia’s golden-blonde. He never would have guessed that Emilia had a child—their child. Why hadn’t she told him she was pregnant? Maybe she hadn’t known at the time, not that there had been much time the way he’d gone about things. He had been sent to help instigate the Polish Solidarity movement in the 1980s. Emilia worked for one of the Socialist Party offices in Gdańsk. Her Russian ethnicity made her a trusted employee even if she only took the position for the financial benefit it would bring her family. Looking back now, he knew he recruited her as an asset as much for his unexplainable feelings toward her as her access to relay party information to the movement. He had been so damned young and foolish. When several of the movement leaders were rounded up, he finally divulged his association to Emilia. It was something no operative was supposed to do. He hadn’t cared at the time. He was in love with her. His only thought had been to get her out of Poland before the assassinations started. He still remembered the look of hurt in her eyes, the look of wonder that she knew nothing about the man with whom she had spent so many intimate nights. He broke all of her trust and her heart by telling her he would never see her again. It was the only way to get her to leave—to keep her safe. As a last gesture, he arranged sanctuary for her, hoping one day she’d figure out that it had been orchestrated by him. Maybe it would allow her to forgive him, not that it mattered. He never should have gotten involved with an asset.
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Against his better judgment, he searched CIA and State Department records he could access to find out what had happened to the assets that were smuggled out of Gdańsk. He never found where she’d been sent and had figured it was for the best. In hindsight, he hadn’t tried very hard. He had imagined she was probably a different person—living a better life under a new identity. Milosc—he identified the surname on Caria’s personnel records straightaway as a contrived name. How ironic that Emilia had chosen it. It meant “freedom” in Polish. It was the reason he never found her when he searched the records so many years ago. She changed the alias name she had been given and quickly moved out of the sanctuary living quarters. She hadn’t wanted to be found. Sometimes he wished he could have seen her just once more so they could have celebrated what they’d accomplished in Gdańsk, what she had helped to make possible. The workers at the Gdańsk shipyards, where he had been working under an alias at the time, had been critical to instigating the fall of communism and ultimately the end of the Cold War. The rest of the Eastern Bloc fell like dominoes after that. The information Emilia had provided him had helped to achieve that. Had she ever realized the role she’d played in history? He’d never know, just as he hadn’t known she gave birth to a child eight months after he had her snuck out of Poland. There were a lot of things he would never know. When Caria was going through her in-processing at Trinity, he’d taken one of her blood samples from the lab to investigate his suspicions. Although it had confirmed his parentage of her, he would never know what it was like to truly be a father. He had missed it—he had missed it all. He knew it was selfish, but when he learned from Caria that she never had a father figure in her life, he had been grateful. Who knows what kind of father he would have been. He probably would have still chosen his career with the CIA and then Trinity over substantial family time, but thank God no one else had filled his shoes. It was wrong to think such a thing, but he wouldn’t have been able
to stand it, if someone else had gotten to play the role he hadn’t. The damnedest thing was that, somehow, Caria had turned out just like him. The younger, more foolish version of himself had fancied that Emilia was his true love—seeing how Caria turned out only reaffirmed that belief in his old age. The woman he loved raised their girl to be just like him. No regret could burn more than that. Recruiting Caria into Trinity had seemed logical upon first meeting her in Iraq. After finding out who she really was, it became imperative. It was best, however, to let her live with whatever story Emilia had told her about her father. There was no way he could make up for thirty-some lost years. By recruiting her, he at least had been able to get to know her as an adult and make sure the crazy girl stayed alive. He knew he would make a better boss than a father. At least, that’s what he’d thought until her last mission. The one he’d sent her on that had landed her in Campone’s sights. She’d lost something in Belarus, and he’d nearly lost her. His thoughts died away at the sound of a pained cough from the patient’s throat—the only other person in the world who knew he had a daughter. The man’s hand with the IV stint rose up and pressed against the thin hospital gown over his chest. His eyes fluttered open, causing a flash of pain on his face as though the simple movement hurt him. Gerry waited patiently as the light gray eyes focused on him. In a hoarse voice, the man called out, “Halab?” Gerry felt the corner of his mouth turn up at the sound of the moniker the man had given him years ago when they met in Halabja, Iraq. “Hello, Skavinsk.” “How did you know I was here?” Skavinsk rasped in his thick Russian accent. “We traced your phone before it went dead and I sent someone to verify if you—” He didn’t want to admit that he thought Skavinsk might have gotten killed. He didn’t have to say it, though.
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Skavinsk nodded and then raised a feeble arm, pointing at the sling holding up one of Gerry’s. “Campone get you in the blast?” “Not as bad as Caria got you from the looks of it. I’m sorry that…that she…” He tried to find an appropriate explanation. He nearly choked on his tongue when Caria told him she had stabbed a Russian attacker in Belarus. She didn’t know that Skavinsk wasn’t a threat or that he knew him. She’d thought Skavinsk was working with Campone and by appearances he had been. Skavinsk waved a dismissive hand. “No. I was the enemy. I would have done the same.” All Gerry could do was nod, appreciative of the man’s acceptance of the circumstances. “Besides…you warn me she would try to kill me.” The corner of Skavinsk’s mouth ticked up. Thank God he found some humor in it. “I wish the circumstances hadn’t been so complicated. I know I had no right to ask you to do what you did, Skavinsk.” “Halab? Why you let her do this? I mean, is she daughter to you with one of your spies or something?” Gerry chuckled in spite of himself. He hadn’t had time or reason to explain to Skavinsk the circumstances of his relationship with Caria, nor had he ever needed or wanted to tell anyone. But if anyone was worthy of an explanation, it was Skavinsk. Gooseflesh formed on his arms, revealing the story aloud for the first time. “Her mother was one of my assets years ago when I was with the CIA. I was young and…well,” he turned to the window and looked out at the city below, “I didn’t know she was pregnant when we…parted ways. I met Caria by accident in Iraq a few years after I met you actually.” He smiled at the memory. “She was in the Army then, a young headstrong chief. She caught me red-handed just like you did, nearly tried to kill me. You know, you’re the only two people who’ve ever caught me in a situation I couldn’t get out of?” He looked back at Skavinsk who appeared to be listening with curiosity and a hint of a smile on his pale face. “Twice in the span of a few
years. I decided to retire from field work after that before I mucked up anything else and left all my people without leadership.” “Well, only wise man know is time to quit,” Skavinsk offered and struggled down a sip of water from a cup at the bedside table. “Thank you for the compliment, but I don’t think I deserve it.” “You never reunited with this woman…the mother?” He waited for Skavinsk to return the cup to the table. It gave him time to gather the breath he needed. “No. She died. Cancer. When Caria was in college. Caria joined the Army after that.” “So she came to work for you after you met her?” Gerry arched a brow as he made his way back to the end of the bed. “You wouldn’t be asking me this with thoughts of revenge in mind, would you?” Skavinsk scoffed, bringing on a coughing fit. When he recovered, his watery eyes met Gerry’s again. “Halab. Why you ask me this? I let her stab me.” Skavinsk threw both hands up for emphasis at his weakened state. “I respect her. I never see woman like this before. I am sorry though...that I had to shoot her. Was Campone who ordered it...to slow her down. You just lucky it was me he asked to do it.” Gerry grinded his teeth and filled his lungs at the man’s confession of the events. Damn right, he was lucky it had been Skavinsk. Coming to see him had been worth the trip, if only for that knowledge. He had no idea Campone had ordered the shoot. If it had been any of Campone’s thugs other than Skavinsk, Caria would probably be dead. The foolish girl! He’d tried to warn her not to get close to Campone. It had been as he’d suspected. Once she saw a potential target she went in for the kill like an angry hawk without assessing all the threats. He was going to have to clip her wings or she’d end up on the “wrong side of the dirt” as they used to say in his old childhood neighborhood. Grasping the end of the bed frame, he leaned on it with his good arm. “What will you do now?”
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“I go back. There’s still Campone’s left-hand man, Antoine. He probably like worm and get his way into everything Campone was dealing with by now.” He sorted out the improper nuance until he grasped Skavinsk’s meaning. “Why don’t you come in with me? We could use someone like you to take out a lot of people like that. You’d have more support, more resources. You wouldn’t have to bed down with these guys year in and out like you have been.” Skavinsk raised his brows. “You offering me job, Halab?” That made him laugh. “Yeah, I guess I am.” “Thank you, but I think is good time to be in Argentina when I leave here to see what Antoine will plan next. Besides, I work alone for long time now. I probably no good at taking orders.” “Ha! Neither is my daughter, and she’s worked for me for almost a decade.” Daughter. The hairs on his arms stood up from vocalizing the word. He wasn’t used to being able to talk about it. “Well, Halab, I think about it.” “You do that. The offer will stay open, but regardless, let me know if you need anything when you’re down there in case this Antoine doesn’t greet you with open arms.” Skavinsk smirked. “He dumped me on curb outside of hospital. That is big professional courtesy in their business. He must have some use for me.” “Who says there’s no honor among thieves?” He walked over to the side of the bed and shook Skavinsk’s hand. They each clasped their free hand over the top of the handshake. The silence between them said more than any words could. “You take care of yourself, Skavinsk.” “You too, Halab.” Just as Gerry was about to pass by the curtain, Skavinsk’s raspy voice called out, “Halab?” He looked back and waited for the man’s query. “You should tell her.”
The words punched him in the heart and the muscles in his face sagged. He knew what the man was implying. To make matters worse, Skavinsk added softly, “I would want to know.” “I’m afraid after all this time, I’d end up like you if I did.”
As Halab walked out of the room, Skavinsk let his head fall back against the pillow. The brief conversation had spent his energy. He was in much better condition than last week, when he’d first been admitted. Caria’s blade had punctured a lung and nicked his heart. Some people might think it odd that he’d just tried to do a favor for the woman who stabbed him by encouraging Gerry to admit parentage to her. He knew what it was like to grow up without a father. He knew what it was like to not be able to speak to those who were still living. It had troubled him when his twin brother Yuri had remained in Chechnya and taken up the fight against Russia. They had gone so long without speaking before Yuri died. How many things had been left unsaid that could have changed the course of history? Yuri might not have tried to hand him over to the Chechnyan rebels, might not have killed himself in his guilt over betraying him. He wouldn’t have had to assume Yuri’s identity to get close to the murderous radicals who had duped his brother into thinking they stood for a free Chechnya. God, that would mean he might still be in the KGB today. He would never have met all the degenerates he’d dealt with over the last fifteen years, linking up with groups like Campone’s just to find a way to destroy them from the inside. Secrets could completely alter a life. Hopefully, Halab understood that was his sentiment when he’d offered the advice. Every man has secrets. Still, a child deserves to know who their parents are. So…she’d made it home. Halab knew she’d been shot so they must have reconnected. The bafflement that the man had come all
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this way to see him still hadn’t subsided. It was the kindest gesture anyone had done for him in a long time. He had owed Halab a favor, maybe not one as dangerous as the one he’d performed, but Halab didn’t owe him anything because of it. He looked down at his sheet-covered feet and stretched his toes. Stretching one’s toes shouldn’t be this exhausting. He was as weak as the day he was born, but he was alive. Now that the worst of the pain was over, he was learning to be grateful. Caria had stabbed him and he’d shot her, but they’d both come out alive. He was as surprised as Halab that he’d actually pulled it off. Now, he needed to get well and get back to Argentina before Antoine got too deeply involved in anything else without him. Trust was difficult to earn among the kind of people he affiliated with these days. The longer he was gone, the less Antoine might think he needed him around. He and Antoine had been Campone’s top men. Hopefully, Antoine would see that as an asset rather than a threat. As soon as he had his strength back he would go to Argentina and make it known that he was available to carry on with Antoine where he’d left off with Campone, as a loyal henchman. Antoine had thought enough of him to bring him to the hospital, even if he had only dumped him on the curb. He chuckled at the thought. How he would have loved to see the look on Antoine’s face when he’d come back to the mill in Belarus to find all of Campone’s men dead. He was still curious to find out who had intended on buying the virus Campone had been replicating. Only Antoine might know that information now. Although there was no longer a virus for the would-be buyer to get his hands on, thanks to Caria, he still wanted to meet the man who was willing to pay for it. That kind of evil deserved an introduction with someone like Skavinsk. With a tired breath, he closed his eyes and swallowed at the dryness in his throat. He had to get well and quickly. He was just so tired. How much blood had he lost? How long had he lain out there
in the snow before Antoine discovered him? He tried to remember, but all that came to mind was Caria’s face when she stabbed him. He needed to sleep. Maybe when he woke up, he would have a little more strength. He could take a turn about the room to push himself toward recovery. Yes, that’s how it was going to work. For now, just a little sleep. His thoughts drifted back to the snowy countryside and the sight of the blue-eyed woman walking toward him. He still remembered her pleading words to that Russian he’d stopped from killing her: “Don’t leave me. Please, don’t leave me.” He let himself forget they hadn’t been for him as he’d lain nearby, bleeding in the snow. He did the same again and the tenderness of the effect they had on him was enough to lull him back to sleep.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Drea Damara grew up in Illinois working on her familyâ€™s farm. Raised in a home of seven with only one television, she spent her free time reading and roaming the woods. She set writing aside to join the Army and later returned to the Middle East, conducting similar work as a civilian. Drea enjoys writing in multiple genres and is currently at work on her next novel.
In this gritty spy novel, agent Caria Milosc returns to Trinity soon after the attack that almost destroyed the organization. Faced with a h...
Published on Aug 19, 2019
In this gritty spy novel, agent Caria Milosc returns to Trinity soon after the attack that almost destroyed the organization. Faced with a h...