PART 3

ELLE KARMA

Chapter 1

 

The question hangs there in the air. It’s quiet and uncomfortable and no one seems to want to be the first one to speak. After a couple moments I can’t remember if they’re waiting for me to talk or not. Finally I take a breath.

“I think-”

“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Elle says flatly.

I look up and meet her eyes. She looks at me cold, stoic and unfriendly.

“Shouldn’t what?” I ask.

“Think.”

“Elle,” Allie cuts in.

“No Allie,” She says. “I’m serious. If I was you Mal, I wouldn’t think about anything. It seems to me that your fucking thinking is what got us into this fucking situation in the first place. Maybe thinking isn’t your strong suit.”

I let out a deep breath.

“I need to talk to Mica,” I say.

Elle lets out a laugh like a bomb going off.

“You most certainly do not,” she says with a forcefulness I’ve never heard from her before.

“Elle,” Allie starts again, but again Elle cuts her off at the knees.

“No way Allie. No way! We just got out from under that bitch.”

“Does it feel like you’re out?” Allie asks bluntly.

Elle stares at her, anger smouldering in her eyes.

“She burn down our home.” Elle says, the forcefulness having left her voice. Now she sounds pleading, vulnerable, frightened even. “She sent people to our home to kill us. More than that. To kill everyone. She’s mad at Mal so she tries to kill innocent people.”

“What?” I say. “What are you talking about Elle.”

“They blew up our building Mal. Our building. We’re not the only ones who lost everything. I can’t believe I have to remind you of that. Other people could have died. Other people lost their homes.”

She was getting frantic again.

“You may have been the target Mal, but what they did, how they did it. They could have killed a lot of people.”

“That’s true,” I admit and suddenly there’s something needling around in my brain. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something that itches. Something that feels wrong. Something about what Elle said makes me feel, somehow off. I start rolling it over, trying to isolate it. “That’s true,” I say again.

“I’m still not so certain it actually was Mica though,” Allie says.

“Seriously Allie?” Elle says baffled. “After everything you’ve told me about Mica and what she’s done. What she’s had you do,” she says throwing an open hand in my direction. “All of that and now you’re saying she isn’t responsible for this?”

Allie has an apologetic look on her face.

“So what then? If it’s not Mica than who? Who Goddammit? Com-Ed? Did you forget to pay the fucking electric bill Mal?”

“Elle,” I say, but she won’t hear it.

“No, oh my God no! No to both of you. I can’t take this anymore. You’re both hopeless. I don’t know if you’re delusional or just stupid, but I can’t do this. I- I just can’t-”

Elle is standing now, pacing the room and dragging her nails through her long auburn hair like stone plows through spring soil. Her eyes are frantic and her body is shaking like she just came down with sudden onset Parkinson’s Disease.

“I forbid it!” she shouts at me. “Do you hear me? I fucking forbid it. I should be divorcing you right now. Fuck! I’m a prosecutor, I should be turning you into the police right now.”

She stops moving and plants herself in the center of the room. She takes a deep breath and lowers her voice to a soft growl.

“I love you, for fuck knows why, but I do. So I’m not leaving you, and I’m not turning you in. Yet. I’m giving you a chance to make this right. To fix this and fix our lives, but that chance is predicated on you never ever, fucking ever, seeing Mica again.”

She stops. She gulps down air and lets her body relax a little. She looks, for a moment, like one of those plastic and string figures that collapses when you squeeze the base if you squeezed it just a little bit.

Allie and I sit motionless staring at the wild eyed creature standing in front of us. Elle straightens herself up, smooths out her hair and finds a way to center herself. She cocks her head and puts on a shallow plastic smile.

“Do I make myself clear?” she asks calmly.

Allie and I nod without making a sound.

“Good,” Elle says. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get a tube of cookie dough.”

Elle turns, runs her hands over her suit, rolls her shoulders slightly, cracks her neck and walks out the door. A moment later we hear her car start in the driveway and disappear down the road.

Allie and I are still sitting motionless and silent in her living room.

“Malcolm,” she says finally.

“Yeah?” I say without looking at her.

“You need to go see Mica right away.”

“Yeah,” I agree.

“Right away.”

“Yeah.”


Chapter 2

 

Elle drove with intensity. Her foot lay like a stone on the gas pedal and her arms jerked wildly at the steering wheel and gear shift lever. The car cut through the city on diagonal streets then wound around it’s edge on the long waterfront drive. She kept the speed up and took every shortcut available to move herself towards her goal.

And what was that goal? Well right now she wasn’t entirely sure. Her world was in shambles. Her marriage was a mess, her job at risk, and even her life itself in jeopardy. The solution to it all was unclear. Even trying to think about it made her slip into an anxious sweat. Ultimately she didn’t see any way of closing this business, not without someone ending up dead.

Malcolm, the police, they both thought that the explosion at their building had been intended to kill. Malcolm saw himself as the target of a savage mob boss determined to end him for trying to get out of the organization. The cops thought it was Malcolm trying to, who knows what. Their line of thinking was less clear, but what else could you expect from wet behind the ears suburban cops that never had to look into anything more complicated than a stolen ten speed bicycle. Perhaps they thought he was trying to kill her.

“Ha!” she laughed out loud.

That was absurd. Malcolm may have been a killer, but he was no murderer and the distinction is as wide as the Pacific Ocean. He could no more have killed Elle than he could have sucked his own cock, and she had made many efforts to assure he’d never have to think of trying either.

The idea that the explosion was intended to kill either of them was equally absurd to her, but she was a prosecutor and was trained to look at things differently. If it had been city cops, city detectives, investigating the explosion they would have been able to tell right away that the bombing was more of a message than an actual attempt. People with the cunning and ability to set off a bomb like that don’t make mistakes. They knew that Malcolm wasn’t in the building when they set it off. They knew he was out, but nearby. They knew he would see it.

All that aside though, this was not the time to try and put together answers or plan for the future. Right now her focus wasn’t on trying to resolve the problems, she wouldn’t be able to do that alone. She would need help, guidance, advice, and ultimately instructions. No, what she needed now was comfort. Comfort and protection. What she needed now was home.

She swung the wheel hard and the car shrieked and fishtailed onto a narrow street just a few blocks from the nicer of the two ballparks in the city. It was dark and lined with cars on both sides. She gunned the engine and let her German luxury car sail over the speedbumps in the road. She swung it again pointing the nose down an ancient concrete ally that was mostly crumbled to gravel now and slammed on the breaks.

She sat, the car still running, between two medium sized brick apartment buildings and let herself breathe. She closed her eyes. She pictured a warm quiet place. A place of safety and comfort. A place where she could cry, scream, let out all her anger and frustration. A place to recollect herself and find the strength she would need to take on the next steps.

She looked out the passenger window at the red brick wall of her father’s building. She imagined his kitchen all amber in the soft incandescent glow of forty watt lightbulbs. She imagined the comforting smells of something savory in the oven and a glass of plummy red wine in a glass in her hand. The reassuring feeling of her fathers large hands on her shoulders and his deep gravely voice telling her it would all be okay.

She cut the engine and stepped out of the car. She composed herself again and walked around the building to the front door. This building, like every other one on the block, had four floors and a sublevel. Each floor had two flats except the sublevel which had three studios. Next to the front door was a row of eleven small black buttons, each with a small white card next to it with a name scribbled in handwritten blue ink. She scanned through them, found the button labeled “D. Lorah” and pressed it.

 

Chapter 3

I sat silently at the bar sipping a neat bourbon and spinning my wedding ring on my finger. It’s an aimless habit and I think most men do it. Most married men. When they have something troubling on their minds. I have such troubling things. Things that are hanging on me, gnawing at me, drowning me in angst and unrest.

Two days ago I had a job. It was a bad job and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like what it made me do and I didn’t like how it made me feel. I didn’t like the person I had to be when I did it, but it was a job and I imagine that a lot of folks, regular people I mean, I imagine they don’t all like their jobs either so I try to keep a little perspective on the matter. I had a shitty job but it came with financial security, stability, and personal safety. I also had a dead sexy wife who was successful, rich-ish, and for reasons unknown, crazy about me. Things were okay. Not perfect mind you, but okay.

But now here I am, drinking at a bar I’ve already been kicked out of once this week waiting for a person who may or may not want me dead, and being investigated by the cops for a crime that I legitimately did not commit. Sure, I may be responsible for it tangentially speaking, but I didn’t actually do the thing, ya know.

And the worst part of it is, I’d love to shake my head and act like I can’t figure out how any of this is happening, but I can’t do that. I know the score, and if I had two working brain cells I could have seen it coming. I knew when I walked in that morning that no one quit Mica. No one did that job then just left and went and did whatever. I knew it then so I can’t act surprised now.

But that’s the rub. I do feel surprised. Something about the way Mica let me go that day, the way she looked at me. I really thought that was it. I really thought I was out.

Then the bomb. Something sits wrong with me about that too. Something about what Elle said. It could have killed a lot of people. Even if I was the target, it *could have* killed more. Innocent people. That wasn’t Mica’s style. My jobs have always been laid out very specifically, very planned out. The details were worked out for me; timelines, locations, even methods. Always planned with the lowest impact on the outside world. Never a witness to silence or an innocent bystander. Never a single piece of collateral damage. Never once a person hurt that wasn’t the intended target. Never a person who didn’t have it coming.

But that’s not true. The Phillips Kid. My last job. Elle had said he was a witness. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was a witness to his sister’s attack and he was going to testify against the assailant.  Mica had sent him after an innocent kid. That wasn’t like her, and neither was the bomb.

I’ve used a lot of methods to kill a lot of people. I’m not proud of that, and if I could change my life and take it all back I would. If I could go back to that moment when I was nineteen and let that disgusting shitsack in that tower of roaches kill me dead, I would take that chance in a heartbeat. I’m not proud of the things I’ve done. I justify it by telling myself that these things need doing, but deep down I know it’s not true. I know that killing a bad guy is exactly the same as killing a good one and the games we play to tell ourselves it’s not are just that; games. I know it’s all crap and that I’m no better than a toilet, but that said, in all the years and all the times I’ve killed, I’ve never killed with a bomb.

I’ve shot people with all manner of guns. I’ve stabbed and cut men and women. I’ve smothered and strangled and poisoned adults and even teenagers, and when the situation called for it, I’ve beaten men to death with my bare hands, but I’ve never, not ever, blown someone up. Neither has anyone else working for Mica as far as I know. I’ve never really given it much thought until now, but when I think about it, it’s true. I’ve never been asked to use an explosive of any kind before and it seems so clear why.

Bombs are messy and they attract attention. Gunfire is loud, people notice it, but they run away from it. No one hears shots fired and runs to see what’s happening. An explosion though, when people hear that bang and see that fireball, they all come sprinting to see what’s burning. Worse than the attention though is the mess. You never know what’s going to happen with a bomb. You have to be far away when it goes off, far enough at least that you don’t go up with it. Distance robs you of control. You can’t control who you hit. You never know who’s going to be walking by when it’s time to set the damn thing off. You don’t know if your target is going to be with somebody else. It’s true for cars, offices, houses, and especially appartments.

Mica would not have set a bomb. Mica would not have risked hurting others, and Mica would not have sent me after that Phillips kid. Not on purpose. Not knowing who he was. That’s two events in two days. Two times that someone has died or almost died under circumstances outside of Mica’s M.O. I’m starting to think these two things are connected. Unfortunately the only person who can confirm it is unavailable at the moment.

I feel a light hand on my shoulder and I jump.

“Whoa there tiger,” Mica’s soft voice says.

I turn and see her back in her usual uniform. Barefoot in soft denim bell bottom jeans and a loose fitting cotton shirt that’s hanging off one shoulder.

“Didn’t I already kick you out of here yesterday. And didn’t I just bail your ass out of jail today and tell you to get the fuck out of Dodge? You’re not very good at following instructions Malcolm.”

I lean back in my bar stool and take the rest of my drink in one swallow.

“Who is Kelly Phillips?” I ask dryly.

Mica’s face hardens and her body stiffens up. She leans back against the stool behind her and lets out a long sigh.

“Shit,” she whispers.

I nod, and she pulls herself up on the stool and leans in towards me.

“Mal,” she says seriously, “do you have a smoke?”

 

Chapter 4

Her father’s home was nice, but not what she’d grown up in. She was eight when her parents had split up and her dad had moved out of their home and into a small studio apartment. Elle could remember those days, the tension in the home and the endless fighting. Her mother had said terrible things about him after that, awful things that Elle had never believed.

Her father had always tried to be a good man. He had never know his father. He had left him and his mother when he was only three years old and his mother had had to work two or sometimes three jobs at a time just to keep them fed and clothed. Don had vowed from childhood that he would be better. That he would help people and take care of his family at any cost. He had passed up football scholarships at prestigious universities so that he could go to the Acadamy and become a police officer. He had dreams of working his way up in the force to a position of leadership so that he could change the organization, make it more focused on serving the people and helping out in poorer communities. All he had ever wanted was to make the world a better place.

It was ironic, she thought as she sat in his warm but sparce living room, that helping someone out, someone who couldn’t help themselves, was how it all fell apart for him. She remembered that night. She rememberd how he wept and how her mother shouted. She remembered her mom’s anger when he left the force, and when she found out what he was doing and who he was working for. She remembered how she called him a coward and a fraud and forbid him to see his own daughter. It wasn’t until much later, when she learned the whole truth, that she understood and saw her father for real for the first time.

Don walked into the room carying a tray with two glasses of red wine and a plate of Triscuts and soft cheese. He set it down on a low coffee table in front of Elle and handed her one of the glasses. She smiled softly in appreciation and took it, setting aside her small clutch purse.

He lifted a glass for himself and walked across the small room to a high backed leather chair and sank himself into it like an old habit. They sat like that for a while, silently sipping their wine and inspecting each other as if from a long absence. Elle shifted in her seat and pulled her legs up onto the sofa.

“It’s good to see you sweetheart,” Don said finally.

Elle looked him in the eyes, then diverted her attention to the floor.

“Yeah, I miss you dad.”

“I miss you too,” he said. “But coming here is a bad idea. You know that. What if she found out? What if- what if Mal found out? How would you explain that?”

Elle was already nodding her head.

“I know,” she said. “I know, I know, but-”

He stared at her with sympathy and understanding, but with an undertone of disaproval that only a parent knows how to weave in.

“I didn’t know where else to go. I don’t know what to do. Everything’s gone to shit and I don’t see any way out of it.”

Her father nodded his head and sipped his wine. There was another pregnant pause before he leaned back in his chair.

“What happened with the bomb?” he asked.

Elle straightened up and put her feet back on the floor. She set her glass down and picked up her purse. She stood and began pacing the space, her finger absently rubbing at the gold clasp fastener on the clutch. Her father set his glass down as well and folded his hands in his lap.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Elle said harsher than she intended to. “I don’t know.”

“That was supposed to be a contingancy, a last resort,” he said exactly like a father reprimanding a daughter.

“I know dad!” she snapped. “You’re not hearing me. It wasn’t me! I didn’t do it!”

He leaned forward with a frown.

“You didn’t set it off?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to say.”

Don tilted his head in thought.

“Was it an accident?”

Elle shook hers in the negative.

“No! It was called in. Called in on a cell spoofing Mal’s signal.”

“But who else knew it was there? You didn’t tell anyone you planted it? Who even knew it existed?”

Elle was still shaking her head.

“That’s just it dad. No one. Who would I tell. It’s just you me and her.”

Don let out a long sigh. He wiped his face whit his palms and put his hands on the arms of the chair.

“So then you think it’s her? You think she was trying to kill him?”

Elle shook her head.

“No. No dad, she doesn’t make mistakes. If she wanted him dead he’d be dead. She never misses.”

“So?” he said drawing out the voul.

“So, I think it was her, but I think it was a message. I think it was a message for me.”

Don squirmed.

“You think she wants you to kill him? That doesn’t sound right. She’s never asked you to do anything like that before, has she?”

Elle shook her head.

“No, not Mal. Well, not just Mal. I think she wants the whole thing shut down. The whole group. I think she’s closing up shop.”

Her father looked at her skeptically.

“You mean-”

Elle nodded.

“Did she actually tell you this?”

Elle sat back down. She was rigid, nervous, her knees pressed tightly together and her hands white knuckled around her small purse.

“A long time ago,” she said. “Before Mal, before anything really. Well anything involving me. Sometime in high school I think. She didn’t say anything explicitly, but she told me a story. It was weird and I didn’t really understand at the time, but it stuck with me. Then later on, when she brought me into the, well, whatever, sometimes I’d think about it and it started to make a little more sense. It wasn’t until yesterday that I really understood though.”

Elle lowered her head and went quiet. She was very still.

“This story,” Don said. “It was about you killing Mica?”

Elle looked up at her dad with tears in her eyes. She shook her head.

“No,” she said.

The gun went off and the small blue clutch fell to the floor open. She felt the recoil move up through her wrists and elbows and disperse into her shoulders and back. The acrid smell of gunpowder filled the space and her father fell forward out of the now blood soaked chair and onto the floor.

Elle wept. She sat on the sofa sobbing. Feeling the sharp pains of shame and regret stabbing at her heart and lungs. She wept until her eyes burned and her bones ached. Then she wiped the tears from her face and the prints from the gun. She laid the small revolver on the floor next to her father’s body, then took out her phone and opened the camera.

She sent a text message, then she walked out the front door of the building and into her car and drove towards the lights of the city.

 

 

Chapter 5

It was three o’clock in the morning when her car pulled off the street into the abandoned lot. The rain had stopped a few hours ago, but it was still eighty-five degrees outside and it left the air heavy and soup like. There was no moon, and the floodlights that normally lit the parking area outside the restaurant had been turned off after closing leaving the woodsy parking lot feeling more like a clearing in some ancient Asian forrest.

She stepped out of her car slowly. One foot on the wet pavement, then a considerable pause before the next. She stood up and leaned against her machine a moment before closing the driver’s door softly and making her way through the muggy early morning air. She wasn’t being cautious, though she was a cautious person, but there was no need for additional care here. This was a safe place. Safe like home is safe. Safe like family.

She wasn’t moving slowly out of fear, or prudence, but out of sheer exhaustion. It had been a long night. A night of physically and emotionally draining work. Her job was hard and it took a lot out of her leaving her body aching and her mind foggy. Normally she would just go home. Climb into bed and let the sweet tide of sleep ease her muscles and cool her brain. She would wake up in the morning refreshed and ready for the new day’s challenges, but tonight she couldn’t. Tonight she had to deliver something to her boss. Normally this could wait until morning, but tonight she felt it had to be now.

She cut through the thick swampy air, sweaty and sticky feeling to all the world like she was walking through sand. At the huge double doors she dug in her pockets and found her key, a heavy cylinder with teeth at one end and an ornate decoration at the other. She stuck it in the brass plated key hole and gave a firm turn to the left. A heavy leadened clunk came from inside the thick wood door and the heavy slab of mahogany released and hung loose in front of her. She grabbed hold of the black cast iron handle and swung the considerable door open.

The first thing she noticed was that the alarm was not set. There was no bothersome chirping asking for her to enter a four digit alarm code. She took a moment to compose herself, wiping sweat from her forehead and running her fingers through her long dark hair. She rolled her neck and shoulders and let her body crack and pop and straighten out. She rubbed her face and eyes with the palms of her hands and took a long deep cleansing breath. She licked her thumb and wiped a smudge of blood from the pinkie fingernail of her left hand.

That’s when she noticed the second thing. The lights were on. Normally at this time everyone was gone and the place was silent and dark, but no, the lights were on and she could hear muffled voices, and over at the bar there was a young woman sitting alone. She was pretty, pale, and young. She looked like she was in her mid twenties and had unsettling blue hair the hue of clouds over the sea before a storm. She was poised, sitting on her stool with perfect posture and sipping a dark red wine from and oversized glass. She was distinct, the kind of person you wouldn’t forget, which was disturbing because she felt like she’d seen her before.

After a moment of sludging through the cloudy archives of her memory she gave up and set herself back to her task at hand. She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a flat black leather wallet. She opened it and stared at its contents, then snapped it shut and made a B-line to the back room where Mica would be. As she pushed through the beaded curtain that hung between the main dining room and Mica’s office two things happened. First, she heard the sound of a barstool scraping across the tile floor on the other side of the restaurant, and second Mica’s eyes went wide as saucers.

In the room were four people. Mica stood behind her floor level desk looking shocked and even a little frightened. Across from her was Don Lorah, Mica’s bodyguard, and two women she’d never seen before, or wait, maybe she had. One she was sure was a stranger, fit but curvy with dark black hair and black horn rimmed glasses. She stood back farther in the room, concealed mostly in the shadows. The other felt familiar, tall and slender with the figure of a 1950’s pin up girl. She wore a narrow black skirt and white blouse with white vertical stripes. Her hair was auburn and fell preternaturally across her shoulders. She was confident looking, powerful even and very very unnerving. The gears in her mind churned and turned looking for the connection and then-

“Oh! Kelly, what are you doing here?” Mica stammored. “This is, uh-“

Click

“Faraday?” Kelly said confused. “State’s Attorney Faraday?”

Mica went white.

The woman glared at Kelly.

“Nice to make your acquaintance,” Faraday said.

Kelly felt a hand on her shoulder and another grabbed the wallet from her right hand. She spun to see the blue haired girl standing behind her.

“That’s Lexi, my personal, personal assistant,” S.A. Faraday said in way of introduction.

Kelly took another step into the room and Mica gave a slight shake of her head, a gesture that made Kelly’s already palpable anxiety worsen by a matter of degrees.

The blue haired girl, Lexi, handed the wallet to Faraday who opened it and gave a whistle of surprise.

“Very nice work, uh, Kelly is it? Very nice indeed. I’m impressed, especially given that I specifically asked that this job be handled by Mr. Karma.”

Kelly looked at Mica who was staring back with wide eyes that betrayed a sense of fear that Kelly had never seen in her boss.

“I do kind of wish you hadn’t found this though,” Faraday said tossing the wallet onto Mica’s desk. It landed open displaying a flat gold shield adorned with an eagle and a blue and white Identification card.

“You’re just supposed to put them down, not take their tags.”

Kelly’s mind started working. Pulling in blood and adrenaline that cleared the fog and brought sharpness of attention allowing it to make calculations even in her tired state. She wasn’t supposed to be here. Not tonight. She wasn’t supposed to see this meeting. This group of people, meeting in this place, there was something wrong here, something off.

She inched closer to Mica and examined the room anew. The Faraday woman stood across from them dressed exactly as you would expect a State’s Attorney to be dressed. Behind her was the dark haired woman she didn’t recognize. She looked to be in the same basic uniform as Faraday. To her right was the blue haired Lexi with a silver ring through her lip and wearing black jeans, combat boots, a white t-shirt and black leather jacket. Her right hand stuffed unnaturally in the jacket’s pocket. To her left was Don wearing the same black suit they all wore. He had his hands stuffed casually in his pants pockets and his jacket open letting his Beretta handgun hang out in his shoulder holster. He looked calm and stern. The stoic picture of power without an ounce of fear.

Kelly was afraid though, and so was Mica. That much was clear, but it felt wrong. Kelly had never seen Mica look frightened. Not ever. And why would she? Everyone feared and respected Mica. Mica was a badass, and even if she wasn’t she had Don. Don would never let-

Kelly froze.

She looked over the room again.

On one side was Mica and her.

On the other side Faraday, the mystery woman, the Lexi girl and-

Kelly stepped closer still to Mica. Now they were shoulder to shoulder.

“Why did you come here Kelly?” Mica said softly.

Kelly didn’t say anything.

Faraday took a step forward.

“Because she thought you’d want to know that the person you sent her to kill tonight was an agent with the F.B.I.”

No one moved.

“She thought you’d want to know that because she didn’t know that you already knew it. Right Kelly?”

Kelly turned and looked at Mica dumbstruck.

Mica stared back at the woman with a cold expression of pure hate.

“It’s easier, we’ve found,” the woman said, “to get you all to do what we need you to do if you think you’re the good guys.”

Kelly stepped away from Mica.

“Kelly, I’m-“

Kelly waved her off.

“If it helps any, in the big picture, you really are. I assure you. You just don’t see the whole picture.”

Kelly choked on her breath and backed up.

“So, we have a little problem here,” Faraday continued. “I needed to get this agent out of the way. Really, he was becoming a nuisance. Big picture here remember. It was Mica’s job to get that done. It’s always been Mica’s job. I don’t much care how she does it. If she want’s to bring in you grunts to go out and do the dirty work that’s her prerogative, but ultimately it’s her job. That’s our arrangement. Mica’s job, Mica’s responsibility, and Mica’s secret.”

Kelly stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets and backed herself against the wall.

“But now there’s you,” the woman said. “Now you know too, and you know what they say about two people keeping a secret?”

Kelly nodded.

Then the room exploded.

 

Chapter 6

“My lawyer’s in the car,” I say as we walk through the kitchen to the back door of the restaurant.

Mica laughs at this. She runs her fingers through her long red hair and shakes it out like a movie star.

“Are you considering legal action against me Malcolm?”

“No,” I say. “I’m just letting you know that she knows where I am and who I’m seeing. If I was to disappear or anything, ya know.”

She pushes open the emergency exit which swings wide without a sound despite multiple signs warning that an alarm will sound. She leads us out to an open air garden area walled in by a huge cedar privacy fence. It’s small, four ten by ten raised garden plots criss crossed by paths of black riverstone. Over the paths are wires dangling chinese lanterns glowing dimly red and yellow.

Mica walks us to the back corner and sits on the low garden wall under a flaming red japanese maple tree. She gestures for me to join her and I do.

“Got that smoke?” she asks.

I reach into my coat and produce a pack of Pal Mals and a lighter. She takes them and lights up immediately. She takes a deep long drag and holds it in for a long time before releasing the cloud of silver smoke into the air. We sit together silently for what seems like ages. We share a glance here and there, spend some time staring at our shoes and Mica smokes the cigarette I gave her down to the filter. When she finally squeezes the dim cherry off the butt and into the stones at our feet she turns and looks at me sadly.

“Malcolm,” she says. “Who do you think I am?”

I’m taken aback by the question. It’s shocking to me in a way I wouldn’t have expected. It’s a question I’ve asked myself a million times, and in all those times never come to a satisfactory answer. There are stories obviously. It’s a question everyone asks and everyone has their theory. It’s like asking who is John Galt. Mica Kole, sure, did you know she’s the great great granddaughter of Al Capone? No, I heard she’s a disgruntled former director of the F.B.I. Nope, she’s more than that, she’s the immortal personification of the wrath of God. The Old Testament God. The god of the Hebrews sent to punish the world for it’s sins. You hear these things. All of them, I swear. You hear them in crack dens, and whore houses, and tent cities in the park. You hear them, but you don’t really believe them, or at least I don’t.

To me all Mica has ever been is a boss. She’s the only authority figure I ever took seriously in my whole life because she’s the only person I was ever actually afraid of. Parents, teachers, even the cops, they couldn’t really hurt you. Not really, but Mica, I never doubted for a minute that she would kill me dead if I ever crossed her even once.

I lean forward, my elbows on my knees with my hands clasped between them and I sigh.

“I don’t know. Honestly, I have no idea. I think I have less of an idea now than I did before, which trust me, wasn’t much. You could be anyone, any one of the things they say about you. None of them would surprise me now. Hell, I’d probably be least surprised if you did turn out to be the fuckin’ Angel of Death.”

To this Mica nearly chokes on her own laughter. She turns to face me crossing one leg under the other, looks straight into my eyes and suddenly relaxes. Her shoulders drop and her hands fall into her lap. Suddenly she looks more human than I’ve ever seen her. She could be anyone. Just a girl you pass on the street. She could be someone’s sister. Suddenly she looks young and beautiful and vulnerable.

“That one is my favorite too,” she says.

I wince. Seeing her this way has the opposite effect than I would have thought. It makes me nervous; uneasy. It puts me on guard. It’s as if the ground I thought was solid rock just turned out to me paper thin ice and I’m terrified that if I move I’ll fall through and drown in dark arctic water.

“I am not the arm of the lord,” she says with an air of disappointment. “I am, at best, the left toe of Saint Jude.”

I frown.

“I’m sorry, I’m not- well, I’m not anything I guess. I’ve never been to church.”

She smiles sadly.

“I’m nobody Mal. I’m middle management in a company that doesn’t exist. I’m a slave to an idea that wandered off it’s path a long time ago, and I can’t do anything about it. I can’t quit because if I do, all the people that I am protecting will be punished for it. All the people I care about will die.”

I turn to face her holding my breath, waiting for the right words to come to me. I loosen my tie and undo the top button of my shirt. I run my fingers through my hair and bite my lower lip.

“Mica, who’s-“

“Kelly Phillips?”

I nod.

Mica lets out a long and tired sigh.

“Kelly was like you. She was one of my soldiers. Like you she had a troubled youth and like you one of my people found her and brought her into the fold.”

I notice my mouth is hanging open in shock and quickly close it.

Mica nods.

“She did the same kinds of jobs you did. There’s more of you than you know Mal.”

“And you-“

Mica shakes her head.

“I didn’t,” she says. “And therein lies the problem.”

My brow wrinkles and I shift my weight.

“I love you guys,” she says wistfully. “You don’t know it, but I do. It’s why I put the money aside for each of you. I want each and every one of you to reach the point where you can’t stand what you’re doing anymore. Where each of you comes to me and demands out. When you become the kind of person who knows that this is wrong and wants a life that’s right.”

My brain somersaults in my skull. I’m lost. I stand up and begin pacing back and forth in front of her trying to find my center of gravity.

“The problem is, I’m not in charge. That’s what you have to understand Mal. I’m a pawn on the board, not the queen, and the person moving all the pieces; she doesn’t care about anyone.”

I stop and look at her, panic painted on my face.

“What do you mean you’re not in charge? Who is? Who’s running this shit show?”

“I can’t tell you that Mal. For your own safety I can’t tell you that.”

I laugh.

“My safety? Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Mal-“

“And Kelly? Is that what happened to her?”

Mica doesn’t move.

“What, did Kelly figure it out? Did she get a glimpse behind the curtain? And then what? You had her killed for that?”

“No!” she shouts. “No, it wasn’t me! That’s what I’m trying to tell you Mal. The person above me made that happen.”

“But it was you that sent me after her brother. You sent me to kill an innocent man.”

Mica looks at her feet, then up into my eyes.

“Yes,” she says.

“I just don’t understand,” I say. “How did this happen. I mean how did you get here? I mean, Jesus. Who could get to you like that? Yeah! Wait! How did it happen? Why didn’t you just send Don to fix…”

I trail off.

Mica stares up at me.

“Don doesn’t work for you.”

She nods.

“Don doesn’t protect you, he watches you. He’s not a bodyguard he’s a babysitter.”

She just stares back blankly.

I walk over and sit back down next to her.

“Well you have me,” I say. “And who else? How many more? Let’s get them. Let’s get them all and let’s go after whoever it is that’s controlling you. Why don’t we tear the whole thing down?”

Mica gives me the same sad smile.

“I don’t know who I can trust Mal. Until someone wants out, like you did, until they say they don’t want any part of this anymore they may as well work for her.”

I look up.

“Her?”

Mica shrugs.

“The Woman. That’s what I call her.”

I gaze at her.

“Kelly wanted out?”

She smiles.

“I don’t know. I think so. I think she had figured it out. She came to see me, but she walked in on a meeting. Once she knew for sure, once The Woman knew she knew, there was no way she was going to get out of it alive. She tried. She shot up the place something good, managed to get out of here, but-“

“They followed her,” I say.

She nods.

“Found her at her brother’s place. She was packing a bag. They beat her so bad Malcolm. They beat her just about to death. Then her brother walked in. They emptied a clip at him but someone he got away. That’s when she called me and told me to have you take him out.”

I reach out and put a hand on her shoulder.

“You can trust me,” I say. “Me and Elle, and I’ve got a very strange but also very sharp woman in my car that wants to help us.”

She shakes her head.

“There’s nothing to be done Mal. You just need to leave. Leave your car here and run. Just run as fast and as far as you can. If you can get out of the country, that would be even better. Just you. Just you Mal. I made my bed a long time ago and now it looks like it’s time for me to lie down in it.”

I stand up and look down at the broken soul of the woman I used to work for. Suddenly I feel a sense of strength wash over me and I straighten up with an eagerness of purpose.

“No,” I say.

She looks up at me.

“Nope, sorry. I don’t work for you anymore. You don’t give me orders. Now, I’m going to figure out who is behind this and I’m going to put a stop to it. It would be considerably easier if you were with me on this, but with or without you I’m not going anywhere until the whole fucking thing is a burning pile of rubble at my feet.”

“Or you’re dead,” she offered helpfully.

“Yeah, that’s right,” I say, my confidence faltering for just a moment. “Or until I’m dead.”

She looks at me with a more terrified expression than I’ve never seen on anyone before, then it melts slowly away and the steely eyed resolve that I’m used to seeing on my boss returns. She stands up and puts a hand on my shoulder. There’s a long silence between us.

“Then we need to go see Adam,” she says.

 

 

Chapter 7

When I climb back in the car Allie is sitting, relaxed in the passenger seat, sipping a coffee from a thermal mug. She has the radio playing music that was popular twenty years ago and looks to me like she doesn’t have a care in the world.

I shut the door and say, “Hey.”

“Hey,” she says back nonchalantly. “How’d-“

The back drivers side door opens and Mica climbs in. She shuts the door and buckles her seatbelt.

“All set,” she says.

Allie looks back then forward, there’s a brief pause, then she sprays coffee across my windshield. She coughs, chokes almost and turns around in her seat. She gapes at mica, then turns and stares at me.

“Allie,” I say. “I’d like you to meet Mica Kole.”

Allie freezes. Slowly her face melts into the warmest of smiles and she turns back around to face Mica. She extends her hand back over the seat.

“So very nice to make your acquaintance,” she says.

Mica smiles and shakes her hand.

“Absolutely. My pleasure entirely Allie. I’ve heard so many great things about you.”

“Oh stop it,” Allie says charmingly. “You’re making me blush.”

She waves off Mica’s compliment and turns back to face me.

“Malcolm, would it be possible to speak to you outside for a moment.

I sigh and turn my head to look at her. She mouths the word ‘outside’ without actually speaking.

I roll my eyes and open the car door. I step out and lean against the vehicle and wait. Allie steps out and quickly starts walking away from the car. After a few strides she stops and looks back at me. She waves her hand quickly three times at me to suggest that I should follow her. I stick my head back in the car.

“Sorry Mica, I’ll be right back.”

Mica smiles.

“Take your time,” she says.

I close the door and follow Allie into the dark. About thirty feet away she stops. I follow suit. She smiles at me, though it’s hard to see in the dark.

“Yes?” I say.

“Hey,” she says in a chipper voice. “How’d the meeting go?”

“Alright,” I say. “I think we’ve got a plan now at least. We’ve got to get some supplies, but then we’re going after the ringleader of this whole shit show. This is all such a mess, and I know that none of it will hold up in court so don’t even remind me of that little nugget, but the legal battle is going to have to be separate. Ultimately, I didn’t do what they are charging me of, but proving that may require me to face up to the things I did do. I don’t really know how you’re going to defend me against that, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. My main focus now is tearing down this whole messed up organization.”

Allie is nodding.

“That’s great. Good to hear,” she’s saying in a sing song voice that suggests she’s not really listening to me in the first place. “Quick question. Are you fucking insane?”

“It’s okay Allie,” I reassure her. “Mica is with us on this. She’s a victim here too. Just like I was, she’s under someone else’s thumb. She’s not the one pulling the strings; never was. This whole time she’s just a slave like me.”

Allie stares at me with a dumb look on her face.

“Oh my God Malcolm,”

I let out a sigh.

“Do you think I’m fucking stupid?” she says. “I know that. I know there are people above her. That’s people by the way Malcolm. Not one person. People is plural. That’s my point. You can’t trust her because you have no idea if she’s acting on her own motives, or the motives of the people controlling her.”

I grunt and throw my hands up.

“I don’t know anything Allie. Shit. I only just met you today, but you’re here with me too. I’ve got nothing left Allie. Nothing left to lose. I’m trusting you, and I’m trusting her too. So you can come and be a part of it, or you can walk out now, but either way I’m going back to the car and I’m going to put an end to this fucking insanity. Now. Fucking tonight!”

Allie stares at me for a moment, then shrugs, smiles again and starts walking back to the car. I stand motionless watching her leave again. Finally she shouts back over her shoulder without stopping.

“Okay. Jesus Mal, are you coming?”

   
When we get back to the car Mica is wiping coffee off the window and dashboard with old Taco Bell napkins I keep in my glovebox. She steps out of the car and gives us a timid smile.

“Everything okay?”

“Oh sure,” Allie says. “Just a little lawyer client chat. You know how it is.”

Mica looks at her unconvinced.

“Oh, one thing though,” Allie adds. “If you do decide to betray us, try and just kill him. I’ve just got so much stuff to do next week.”

Mica looks at Allie like a crazy person and mutters, “Uh, yeah. Sure. No problem.”

“Phew, thanks so much,” Allie says with exaggerated gratitude.

We all climb back in the car and I rev up the engine to go.

“Adam won’t be at his office at this time of night,” Mica says. “We’re going to have to go to his house. I don’t have a way to contact him there and let him know we’re coming so you might want to let me be the one to knock on the front door.”

“That’s fine,” I say. “But I want to swing by the motel first and get Elle-“

I’m interrupted by both of the women in my car shouting.

“No!”

 

 

Chapter 8

   

There was a list. Seven addresses in and around the city. It had been texted to Elle earlier that day, while they were at Allie’s place, just before they found Malcolm playing with those stupid puppies. That’s all it was, seven addresses. There were no names attached, no explicit instructions spelled out, just the list of seven addresses from an unknown cellphone.

Elle knew what it meant. She didn’t need to have it explained. She knew what it was even before she started reading it and she knew what she was supposed to do. These were the addresses of the people in S.A. Faraday’s organization. These were the people that Elle was supposed to eliminate tonight.

“In eight hundred feet stay straight onto Sheridan Road” the vaguely feminine voice of Elle’s GPS said.

She was on her way to the third address on the list, a house in Roger’s Park on the far north side of the city. She didn’t know who lived there, or how they were connected to Faraday, but she knew they were on the list and it was her job to make them gone.

The first two addresses she knew. The first one was hers. It was the apartment that she had shared with Malcolm. It was gone now, blown to pieces by a bomb she set, but someone else detonated. That explosion, that night, that was the beginning of the end. That was when the pieces of this whole charade started to fall apart.

She was pretty sure that the explosion was a message, not a mistake. She was fairly certain that it was intended to tell her that it was time to start cleaning things up. Things had gotten sloppy and mistakes were being made in the outer echelons of the group. People putting things together that they shouldn’t, including her husband. He had begun to figure out that he wasn’t doing what he thought he was, at least not always, and he was beginning to suspect that he might not be doing it for the person he thought he was.

He was getting suspicious and he was getting brave. Brave enough that he walked into Mica’s office and quit. People didn’t do that. Faraday had worked very hard over the years to make sure the people Mica brought in believed that she was a monster and that they could never get out alive. For the most part Mica let that impression stand, she let Faraday run her exactly the way she ran her soldiers, but what Mica couldn’t do was follow through. It had been a problem with her from the very beginning. It’s the reason Elle’s dad had gotten sucked into this company in the first place. When push came to shove Mica couldn’t pull the trigger. So when her people came to her, when Malcolm came to her and wanted out, she let him go. She let him walk away and start a new life.

That’s why they blew up her building. Faraday wanted to let Elle know that enough was enough. It was time to end it. It was time to get rid of all the deadwood and start over from scratch. She was telling Elle it was time to kill Malcolm. The list confirmed this. There it was, right at the top of the list, their apartment. It was gone now, but the message was the same, she had to kill Mal. He was first on the list.

First on the list, but he’d be the last one she took care of that night. She needed time to prepare herself for that job. Malcolm may have been a killer, but she wasn’t, not by vocation at least. Her role in the organization had been administrative so to speak. Intelligence perhaps. Her job was to keep track of Malcolm, to know his every move and every thought. Her job was to be his wife.

The truth was that she’d actually grown rather fond of him over the years. At first when S.A. Faraday had told her that she wanted her to keep close tabs on him she had been fine with it, but when that became dating him, and then marrying him, well she was less agreeable to that. Marrying a man just to spy on him seemed disturbing, disgusting even. Letting him touch her, letting him kiss her, letting him fuck her, that was more than she thought could be reasonably asked.

But Faraday wasn’t reasonable. She was single minded and determined and she demanded the same of her personnel, and Malcolm was charming. He was very charming in fact and within a few weeks of sharing a bed with him on not so subtle threats of death or worse from her boss she found that she was warming to him. By the end of their first year together she had found that she genuinely liked him.

She would never go so far as to say she loved him. That was a bridge too far. She liked him and didn’t mind her role of playing house with him, and fucking him, when she had to, well it was better than a bullet, so she found she could even enjoy that, or at least she could fool herself into thinking she could. Still, he was a co-worker and nothing more. They served the same agenda and had the same boss, even if Malcolm didn’t know it.

The second address on the list is where she had just been. It was her father’s apartment. Her dad had worked for Faraday for as long as she could remember, and though he had expressly forbidden it, she knew from an early age that she would too. She was brought up to be in Autumn’s army, the pavement being laid from her childhood.

That Faraday Woman, as her mother had always called her, had begun contacting Elle secretly when she was only ten years old. By then her parents had already split up and her mother had made it clear that it was almost entirely because of Faraday, or rather her father’s inability to put his wife and family before Faraday and her mission. She’s why he quit the police force, she’s why they lost their health insurance and pension. She’s why he was always working late and coming home stressed out. She’s why her dad cried at night, alone in the dark when he thought everyone else was asleep.

Elle knew now, with thirty years of hindsight, that it wasn’t that her father chose Faraday over them, it was that he never had that choice in the first place. He would either do what he was told. Go where she told him to go, scare who she told him to scare, and sometimes even kill who she told him to kill because if he didn’t, not only would she kill him, but she would kill the woman he loved and his only daughter. Her father let his wife, whom he loved dearly, leave him and take his daughter to save their lives.

The other five addresses were anyone’s guess. They could be five more soldiers like Malcolm, or other kinds of service providers. One of them could be Faraday’s attendant Lexi Lefevre, the blue haired ice queen that was never far from Faraday’s side. She would be a challenge. She was smart and strong. Cunning problem solving skills and athleticism that surprised most people. On the surface she was Faraday’s porter, but the general belief was that she was more like a bodyguard and that she was not a person to be trifled with.

One of the addresses could be Mica Kole herself. Elle wasn’t sure she’d ever been to Mica’s actual home. In fact if you had asked her a few hours ago she would have said she assumed that Mica lived at the restaurant, but now, well, it only made sense that one of these was her home. If Faraday’s intention really was to gut the entire operation and start over, Mica would have to go too.

Of course Elle had no way of knowing for certain that that’s what was happening. She had never been told it was, nor had she ever asked, it was just an assumption. An assumption made based on a story. A story she’d heard twenty-five years ago.

 

When she was sixteen years old and a junior in high school Elle had been made captain of her school debate team. It was an honor that she’d worked hard to achieve and she was very very proud of it. She wasn’t in athletics, but she bought a letterman’s jacket anyway so that she could display the big “G” that stood for the school’s name and the pin that indicated that she was a captain.

Debate in school is different than most people think. You aren’t casually arguing a notion back and forth with a snarky opponent. It’s not like presidential debates you see on television. You have to talk fast, auctioneer fast, micro-machines guy fast. You have to talk fast and you have to list facts. It’s a crazy skill set to master and she was just that, a master. She worked with her other team members and held coaching sessions every day after school, but the truth was that while she was a star in the sport, the rest of her team were average at best.

She was leaving a competition in the suburbs one weekend when she ran into That Faraday Woman in the parking lot. This happened a lot. Faraday would just show up places and pull Elle aside for a little chat. Little life lessons like she was some sexy Yoda and not green. It happened frequently enough that Elle had stopped being surprised by it.

“Elle,” The Faraday Woman shouted from a row over in the parking lot.

Elle looked up and let out a short breath.

“Ms. Faraday. Hi there, what are you doing here?”

Faraday walked over to Elle’s car and leaned over the roof in a casual manner and smiled.

“I came to see you speak. You’re good.”

Elle smiled shyly and said thank you.

“No, I mean it,” Faraday gushed. “You are really really good. Your teammates a little less so, but you are really amazing. You should go into law.”

Elle blushed.

“Really though, that team of yours needs… well it needs something.”

“I know,” Elle said.

Faraday shifted positions and gave a wry smile.

“Can I tell you a story Elle?” she said.

Elle looked at her watch then shrugged and shut her car door. She leaned against the car as well and looked across the roof at That Faraday Woman.

Faraday took a breath.

“So, there was this sailor, I say sailor but really he was a pirate. Ya know, Jack Sparrow type. Back in the time of the East India company. So he was a pirate, but not the captain. He was the first mate and he worked really hard and followed all the orders the captain gave, but eventually it wasn’t enough for him.

“Now pirates, they don’t have a lot of upward mobility as it were. You pretty much live and die for your captain and that’s the most you’re ever going to have, but this fellow, we’ll call him Michael, he just couldn’t settle for that. So one day Michael goes into the captain’s quarters and blows his head off with an old ball and powder pistol.

“Ya see, he just up and kills the captain of the ship. He then marches all of the other crew onto the deck and tells them what he’s done and informs them that he’s the captain of the boat now. But ya know what he does now?”

Elle stares for a moment, confused by where this is going, then shakes her head.

“Right, so the new captain, our guy Michael, he gives the crew members a choice. They can stay and work for him, or they can get off at the next port and go their separate ways. He gives them a choice. So, ya know, most of them stay, but a few of them decide they want to leave. So a day or so later they arrive at some port in the Caribbean and the one’s who chose to leave, they get off the boat and walk away.”

Elle looks surprised.

“Not what you thought would happen right?”

“No, not at all,” Elle says.

“So,” Faraday continues. “The next day the ship sets sail with the remaining crew. When they get out to sea Captain Michael calls the crew out on deck and thanks them for choosing to stay with him. He then takes out his scabbard and kills each and every one of them and throws them overboard. They all died, except, in point of fact, one of them. He spared a single ship’s mate. A thirteen year old boy. He said, ‘you’re young and no not what loyalty means yet, but I will let you live and you will be my first mate, and together will said these seas and I will teach you what it is to be a man.'”

Elle looked stunned.

Faraday smiled.

“And?” Elle asked.

“And? And they did. They sailed together for years and years and built a new crew and the boy was his first mate.”

Elle frowned.

“Anyway,” Faraday said. “Good performance today. Just gotta do something with the rest of the team.”

She patted the roof of the car and turned and walked away.

Elle was profoundly confused and bewildered. She didn’t understand what the point of that was. She couldn’t fire any of the kids from the team, and she wasn’t going to kill anyone. It was one of those stories, one of those moments that are so baffling that you may never understand them, but you never forget them either. It haunted Elle for years, that story. She would think of it at the strangest times, and never at any point did she understand what it meant, until now.

It meant it was time to kill the crew. It meant that no one who knows where power comes from can respect that power for very long. It meant that when people start to understand how, or why the Captain is captain then it’s time to get rid of that crew and find a new one. It meant that Elle was the child and it was her job to clean house and then she would take her place as second in command. She wouldn’t have to live with a man she didn’t love or work at a job she wasn’t passionate about. It meant that her’s would be the name that was feared and respected.

Elle pulled into the driveway of a small brick and siding townhome. She popped open her glove box and pulled out a small pink SCCY CPX-2 9mm pistol. She pressed the magazine release and slid out the clip. She counted ten rounds and slid it back up into the grip. She pulled back the slide, chambered a round and climbed out of the car.

 

 

Chapter 9

 

It’s a hard conversation to follow. Both women talking at the same time. Talking over each other sometimes and finishing each other’s sentences at others. The details are all smeared and overlapping, but the broad strokes are that Elle is not who I think she is.

“Don’t you think it’s odd Mal?” Mica asks. “Strange I mean, that you never met her parents.”

“They passed away before we met,” I say. “A house fire.”

“No, they didn’t actually,” Allie says.

“What do you mean they didn’t?”

“Look Mal.”

“No, you look! I’ve been married to this woman for five years. We share everything. We share a bed. We share our whole lives! We-”

“And when did you share what you actually do for Mica?” Allie asks.

I stare back incredulously.

“Well?” she says.

“You know when,” I say. “You were there.”

“Exactly.” Allie says. “You think you have a monopoly on secrets? You think only you could be that sly? Malcolm, you just told her today, but she’s know the truth all along. She’s known since the day you met her. She’s actually known longer than that.”

I stare back blankly.

“It’s true,” Mica says.

I turn and look at her with disbelief.

“Wait,”

Mica looks back at me with sad eyes.

“Are you saying Elle works for you?”

I turn and look at Allie.

“Does she? Does my wife work for her?”

Allie shakes her head.

“No,” Mica says. “Elle doesn’t work for me. She works for my boss.”

“Here we go again,” I sigh. “Ya know Mica, if we’re gonna work together on this, you’re going to have to let me in. I’m going to need to know who we’re fighting. Who you work for. Who’s running all this? Who does my wife work for?”

Mica stares back at me. She looks frightened and unsure.

“Mica, I need to-”

“Faraday,” Allie interrupts.

Mica’s face goes white as death. Her eyes dilate and she jerks to look at Allie.

“How’d you-” she starts.

“She works for Autumn Faraday Mal. Mica, Don, your wife. They all work for the Cook County State’s Attorney. Do you get it? Do you understand how big this is? Do you see why we have to be so careful?”

I choke a little on my own spit and gape at Mica. She gives a sad nod and turns to look out the window.

I look back at Allie.

“How do you-”

“Jesus Mal, I tap your phones. How do you think I beat your wife in court so Goddamn always. She’s a good lawyer Mal, I tap your phones. All of them. Your cell, Elle’s cell, your home phone. Everything, well, except her office because it turns out it’s hard to get an illegal phone tap on a government phone line.”

I feel like I’m drowning.

“Mal,” Mica says without moving.

“Yeah,” I say.

“One more thing.”

I sigh.

“Somehow I doubt that very much.”

Mica looks at Allie who nods her approval.

“Elle’s not the person you thought she was, but not just because of who she works for and what she does. She’s actually not the person you thought. Her maiden name. It’s not Smith, or Miller, or Jones or whatever it was she told you. Your wife’s name is Lorah. She’s Elle Lorah. Your wife is Don’s daughter.”

 

Chapter 10

 

The red door swung open and Elle stepped out of the house onto the small cement stoop. Her heart was pounding and the night air felt cool and refreshing. She took a long deep breath and focused on the starry sky above her. Her body was high as a paper kite on adrenaline and she needed to come down before she made her next decision.

She saw it all the time in court. Over and over, criminals that might have gotten away with it but for making bad choices in the heat of the moment. Detailed plans that got changed mid execution because of emotions or a foggy mind. They’d get sloppy and make mistakes that got them caught. Mistakes that they could have avoided if they had just taken a moment to regroup and calm down.

She walked back to her car and climbed into the driver’s seat. She took a pack of tissues out of the center console and wiped the tiny droplets of blood off her face. She looked at the tissue getting damp and red and felt the panic swell up and then pass and her heart began to slow.

There had been two of them in the house. An attractive man in his early thirties wearing an expensive looking grey suit with a paisley collar and a modern looking haircut; and a girl, mid to late twenties, in shape and wearing brand name workout clothes. They were in the kitchen eating some kind of takeout off the granite counters and sipping a pale yellow white wine. They both looked up in confusion when Elle had walked in the room. Then, quickly, the girls expression changed to fear while the man’s changed to anger.

Elle didn’t know which of them was the target, but since they were both here they both had to go. Which to do first posed itself as a question for a split second before the answer shouted in her face. The man would be a tougher fight if it came to blows. Better to risk a tussle with his partner than to have to go hand to hand with him.

She raised her little pink pistol and put a quick bullet through his windpipe. He dropped to the ground and blood sprayed in heavy streams across the counter, cabinets, and hardwood floor. Elle quickly re-aimed and put another 9mm round through the side of his head. His body went still and Elle turned her attention to the girl.

She was screaming and tears had already run her mascara halfway down her tan cheeks. Elle raised the gun and without pausing to aim squeezed the trigger twice. The glass cabinet door behind the girl shattered spraying shards of frosted glass and an assortment of herbs and spices across the room. The girl bolted, charging forward towards Elle, looking as if she was going to shoulder check her on the left. Elle knew she was trying to make it to the door down the hall, and she wasn’t going to let her make it there. She tracked her movement down the sight of the gun and just as the girl closed in on five feet from Elle she pulled the trigger and blew the girl’s head clean off.

The body dropped like a bag of flour and sprayed blood across Elle’s face and clothes. On the floor it gushed crimson across Elle’s feet soaking into her shoes and between her toes. She lowered the gun and used her left thumb to wipe the liquid off her eyes.

Now she was using kleenex to get the sticky stuff off her hands. She picked up her phone to see what was next on the list when the screen lit up and the caller I.D. said ‘Malcolm’.

“Hello darling,” she said after swiping the green ‘answer’ button across the screen. “No love, I’m still at work. I have a few items I have to cross off my to-do list before I can leave.”

She listened to Malcolm’s voice on the other end of the line.

“No Hun, I won’t be too late, and actually I do really need to see you tonight. I’ll see you back at the motel in two hours.”

Malcolm spoke again and she made a sour face.

“No Mal. No, it’s really important. I need to see you.”

She let out a loud sigh.

“Malcolm, if you are not at our room in two hours you may not be married in the morning. You understand?”

Silence.

“Okay?”

Malcolm agreed.

“Okay then. See you soon.”

Elle hung up and went back to her text messages. She found the next address and punched it into the GPS, then pulled out of the driveway of the house and headed back to the main drag. The address she was headed to was deep on the south side of the city.

Thirty-five minutes later she pulled her car up to the curb in front of a battered and dirty concrete box that served as low income housing. She reloaded the gun and hopped out of the car to head into the building. At the front door she found the entrance locked and a long panel of buzzer buttons next to the doors. She scanned through the buttons until she found what she was looking for.

307 – A. Pilsen.

The shallowest of grins spread across Elle’s face, and she reaches out and presses 306.