Codename, p.1F. Paul Wilson
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F. Paul Wilson
A Repairman Jack/ Codename: Chandler Thriller
J.A. Konrath & Ann Voss Peterson
Her codename is Chandler. She's a spy for a secret government agency. Trained to be the best of the best, no man is her equal.
That is, until she meets Repairman Jack.
Travelling to the Big Apple, Chandler isn't told what her mission is. Only that it's a big one. Forced to scavenge for weapons, she meets up with New York's #1 vigilante, and sparks fly.
But Jack and Chandler have more to deal with than each other. When a blackmail scheme turns into a terrorist plot, it will take their combined efforts to save the city.
Or die trying.
PLUM ISLAND, NEW YORK
The choice had been easy, really.
Hunkered down in a clump of salt-stunted sumac, Colin Farquart watched the main lab building burn, the flame's glow prisming through his dirty eyeglasses. The helicopter still hovered overhead, invisible in the night sky, only the faint whump-whump-whump of blades evidence of its presence.
Farquart didn't move. He wouldn't. Not until the night was still and silent, but for the lap of the waves on Long Island Sound.
Not until he was sure she was gone.
She'd killed the doctor. She'd killed the staff. She'd destroyed everything they'd dedicated their lives to achieving.
But she hadn't won.
Farquart had escaped, and he hadn't escaped empty-handed. Because of his efforts, the life's work of great men wouldn't die along with them. Because of him, progress would soldier on.
The choice had been easy, really. Stay and try to help the others and die, or flee and save what was most important.
Farquart hadn't hesitated.
And if, by some miracle, he managed to get off the island alive, he wouldn't hesitate in the future when the chance arose.
The chance to make a real difference.
The chance to change the world.
He stroked the canister and waited.
Waited for his time.
NEW YORK CITY
Julio was behind the bar when Jack walked in. Lou and Barney were ensconced in their usual spots, sipping their bar drafts and sucking on their ciggies. The smoking ban was a couple-three years old but Julio hadn't got around to enforcing it yet. A ballgame played on the TV with the sound off. Julio wiped down the bar while everyone else watched the set.
"Go Mets!" Jack said.
As expected, Barney glared from beneath the brim of his Yankees cap and said, "Up yours!"
Julio tossed the bar rag into the sink. "Whatcha havin'?"
"Pint of Courage." Jack was in the mood for some amber tonight.
"Better enjoy it while you can," Julio said as he filled the glass. "Rumor is they're gonna stop shipping it to the US."
"'Swhat I hear. Gonna be pushing Newcastle instead."
Jack took the glass and sipped. Newkie wasn't bad but couldn't hold a candle to John Courage.
"Hey, I'm gonna meet someone–"
Julio pointed past Jack. "Already here. Over by the Jukebox."
Jack liked to get here first, but what the hell. He wandered over to the skinny, twitchy guy in the dark blue suit. Fortyish, so thin he'd barely cast a shadow. His face was all angles and his chicken neck had too much room inside the collar of his white button-down Oxford. He was sipping a white wine.
"You supposed to meet someone here?"
The guy gave him a quick up and down. "Yeah. You're gonna what – take me to him?"
"Nope. I'm it."
"Really? I was expecting–"
"–someone bigger, taller, thicker, meaner looking?"
He blinked. "Well, uh, yeah, I guess."
"You're not the first. You can pass. No hard feelings."
"No-no. I heard good things." He stuck out his hand. "Matt Harper."
Jack shook it. "Jack."
"Just Jack. Let's go over to my table."
"You have a table? Must be a regular."
The guy pointed to the bullet hole in the juke box. "Then maybe you can explain this?"
"Somebody murdered it. One .357 Magnum in the heart. Boom. R-I-P."
Jack remembered the night. Lou, the world's greatest Meatloaf fan, had played Bat Out of Hell one too many times. Tommy's friend from LA finally lost it – pulled out a huge Colt and blew it away. Julio was still searching for a suitable replacement.
The guy leaned forward and looked at the song titles. "Not a moment too soon, considering all the fossil rock in there."
"Yeah, we're looking for something that'll play Bad Day on an endless loop instead."
"Hey, I love that song."
Why am I not surprised? Jack thought.
Bad Day made going homicidal over a song understandable. In the first two lines, Daniel Powter rhymed most and lost. Inexcusable. And it was everywhere.
Jack led him to his table against the rear wall.
"You know the owner?" the guy said.
"Tell him as a friend that he needs to get better wine. This could be the worst Chardonnay I've ever tasted."
"That's strange. He holds regular tastings."
True – to find the worst tasting wine on Earth.
Harper sipped and grimaced. "He needs to educate his palate."
Educate his palate… Julio was going to love that one.
"We're not here to discuss wines, I gather. You said on the phone you had a problem needed fixing."
A delicate problem, he'd said.
The guy leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Actually I'm going to fix the problem. I just need someone to make sure I walk away in one piece."
Oh, hell. "I'm in the fix business. I don't do security. Plenty of ex cops around for that. Do a better job than I can."
"I'm aware, but the last thing I want is a cop, ex or otherwise. This is a delicate matter."
"So you've said. How delicate?"
Jack shrugged. Blackmail happened every day. Very delicate implied someone with a high profile.
"Anyone I know?"
"Everybody knows him. That's why I need someone who's, you know, off the books and wants to stay that way."
Jack got it: Someone under the radar wouldn't shoot his mouth off because that meant exposing himself.
"I'm told that's you," the guy added.
He'd listed two references over the phone, both of them former fix customers.
"Who's the blackmailee?"
"I can't say. It doesn't matter. I'm going to pay someone a lot of money for a videotape and I just need to make sure he won't take the money and run."
"Do I have to tell you that videotapes can be copied?"
He sighed. "I know. The victim knows, too. But he has no choice."
"This could be just the first of many payments."
"I know, I know."
"So I have to ask: You wouldn't be thinking about my doing anything to put a stop to this, would you? Because you should stop thinking that right now."
A shadow fell over the table. Jack had noticed Lou approaching but had expected him to veer toward the men's room.
"Gotta little bet going with Barney," he said as he jabbed his index finger toward the guy. "I seen you before."
Harper's twitchy demeanor become full-on flustered. "What? Who, me? No."
Lou's eyelids were heavy. By this time of night his blood alcohol level had reached a steady state and he was on cruise control.
"In fact, I seen you plenty of times. And every time I see you I think to myself–"
"As opposed to thinking to someone else?" Jack said.
"Yeah. What? Shut up, Jack. Anyway I think to myself, that's Classy Freddie Blassie's guy – that's the Pencil Neck Geek."
Jack had to admit Lou had a point. The guy swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing like a Granny Smith in his pencil neck.
"Where have you seen him, Lou?" Jack had a genuine interest in the answer.
"You're one of Bloomberg's guys."
The guy flushed. "I'm afraid you're mistaken, sir."
"Bullshit. I watch a lotta TV and every time the mayor's behind a microphone, I see you behind him with your head peeking over his shoulder like a candy apple on a stick."
"No. Sorry. You're wrong."
Jack didn't watch a lot of TV, and the sight of a politician on the screen – especially Bloomberg – triggered an instant channel change, but this guy's reaction said Lou's words had hit home. So Jack chimed in.
"Come to think of it, I've seen you with Bloomberg, too. Better 'fess up or I'm walking." He quaffed the rest of his Courage and started to rise from his chair.
"Wait-wait! Okay. You win. I'm one of his aides."
"Knew it!" Lou said. He turned and wove his way back toward the bar. "Barney! You owe me a Dewar's!"
"Shit," the aide muttered. "I told you it was delicate."
"You also told me a phony name. What's the real one?"
"I liked the fake one better."
"How appropriate. Because that's what we are – finished." Jack jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "There's the door."
"No, wait. Listen. Please–"
"I don't like Bloomberg. He's got this nanny mentality where he thinks he knows what's good for everybody and you're gonna do what's good for you or goddammit he's gonna fine your ass and lock you up. First he bans cigarettes–"
"The news apparently hasn't reached this place yet."
"–and now it's trans fats."
"They're both bad for your heart."
"Which everybody knows. But his constituents are adults who can make their own decisions. 'Land of the free,' Rasmus. Which means free to make dumb decisions."
"Not when they affect–"
Jack held up a hand. "No debate. If someone's gonna embarrass Bloomberg, fine with me. Maybe it'll distract him from meddling in everybody else's life and tend to his own. You know where the door is."
Rasmus didn't move. "It's not the mayor. It's his daughter."
Jack said nothing. He hadn't known Bloomberg had a daughter. Knew all he wanted to know about his personal life, which was nothing.
"His second daughter is two years younger than Paris Hilton and–"
"Is this going where I think it's going?"
The Paris Hilton sex tape had been the talk of the town – the whole damn world – three years ago.
Rasmus nodded glumly. "Yes. She was young, foolish, an heiress like Hilton… I guess she felt almost obliged… anyway, look: She thought she'd erased the tape but apparently her boyfriend kept a copy. His apartment was robbed, and soon after that some stills arrived at Gracie Mansion for the mayor's eyes only. His daughter confirmed they were from the tape. A line of communication was opened, a sale was arranged, I've been tasked with closing the deal."
Jack drummed his fingers on the table.
Rasmus shifted in his seat. "Whatever you think of Bloomberg, put that aside and think of this young woman. She's not a publicity hound – I'll bet you don't even know her name."
"Not a clue."
"See? She's not looking for an acting career or a recording deal, all she wants is to live her life out of the spotlight. If this tape gets out, her privacy is gone forever."
Privacy… that hit home.
"I dunno… gonna need to think on this a bit."
"I need to know tonight, because the sale goes down tomorrow… like less than twenty-four hours."
"Give me your number. I'll call you later."
Rasmus scribbled a number on the back of his card. "That's my personal cell. Why can't you tell me yes or no now?"
"Can't rush the decision. Besides, I've got something I need to do."
I felt naked.
Not the good kind of naked, like taking a shower and scrubbing off the gunpowder after a hard day's work. Or skinny dipping in Lac Brutet in the Vallée du Clou. Or having sex, with an acquaintance, or a random stranger, or even an enemy. In those situations, being naked was exciting. Empowering.
Now I just felt vulnerable.
The black pantsuit I wore, Giorgio Armani purchased months ago at Neiman Marcus on Chicago's Magnificent Mile, didn't hide the feeling. The ankle boots, black leather Gucci, didn't mask it, either. Ray Bans, Coach clutch with specially modified spaghetti strap, three hundred dollars' worth of Victoria's Secret supporting me, and I still felt naked.
The bad kind of naked.
And I'd continue to feel naked until I was armed.
LaGuardia hadn't changed since my last trip to NY, twenty months ago. Still busy, seemingly half under construction, and loud. My flight from O'Hare had been mercifully brief. I travelled First Class, like all good spies should, but unlike my literary counterparts I avoided the booze and stuck with tomato juice. No checked luggage—I was only expecting to be in town for the night and didn't want to wait for my bag—but I wound up stuck in a forty minute taxi line, and it took another hour for said taxi to fight its way to Manhattan. By the time I'd reached the Empire Hotel on 63rd, afternoon was sliding into evening.
I'd never stayed at the Empire before, too much of a risk to sleep at the same place twice, but a quick assessment revealed it to be like most four star hotels in Manhattan. Attentive doorman. Posh lobby with fresh flowers. The bar on the main floor already filling up though it wasn't quite dusk yet. I took an apple from the bowl at check-in, and stuck my key card in my boot next to my cell phone. Rather than go to my room, I walked back outside and headed north on Broadway.
Time to get my guns.
April in the city; starting to get warm, yet still holding a fresh feel that would fade with the summer heat. The air smelled faintly of car exhaust, and restaurant scents of varying ethnicity wafted over me as I walked. Buildings were high, and so were a few of the people I passed.
The city felt different since my last visit. Harder. More remote. And I realized that to some extent, I had dreaded coming back.
It seemed strange that a place could be so busy, so teeming with humanity, and yet give me such a deep sense of isolation. It wasn't the feeling itself. My entire lifestyle revolved around isolation. But recently, the brief moments when I was less alone took on a significance they never had before. I wanted to experience them fully, remember them, hold on to them. And there were few places where that sentiment hit me harder than here in New York.
As I mulled all of this over, I took a meandering route, once doubling back as if I'd forgotten something, stopping several times and pretending to window shop when I was actually reconnoitering. What some called paranoia, I called training.
And staying alive.
Just past Lincoln Center, I took a left on 66th and, a few double-backs later, arrived at Shapes
I tugged on the door handle, but Shapes, supposedly open 24/7, was locked tight. I'd been spending so much time checking for tails and scanning for danger that I'd missed the OUT OF BUSINESS sign displayed on the glass.
Besides the weapons and money in my locker, I had changes of clothes, a first aid kit, amphetamines, and other items that were de rigueur for a government assassin on a secret mission. The contents of the locker were the reason I'd traveled so light. I had forty dollars in my wallet, and another four hundred sewn into my clothing, but that wasn't enough to get me a good weapon, especially on short notice. I hadn't been informed about my mark yet, but my handler, Jacob, had called this a puddle jumper. Code for a quick hit, in and out within twenty-four hours. Though I was lethal bare-handed, I didn't want to attempt a job without a gun.
So I dug through my clutch, found my bobby pin case, and removed two odd-shaped pins. I had some of these sewn into my clothing along with the extra cash, but my purse afforded easier access. Using one pin as a pick, the other as a tension wrench, I made quick work of the deadbolt and let myself in.
The alarm immediately went off, as expected. In this neighborhood I figured I had around twenty seconds before the cops showed, depending how close the nearest patrol was.
I only needed fifteen.
It was dark inside, but easily navigable with the Fenix LED flash I had in my purse. I strolled past the front desk, dust motes in my beam indicating the space had been vacant for weeks or more, and made my way to the locker room.
All the locker doors stood open. Emptied.
Double shit. Christmas had come early for whoever had pocketed my $10k in cash, Beretta, Seecamp LWS, Protech balisong knife, and other gear I'd stashed.
The alarm still clanging, I headed straight for the Emergency exit, walking into a hallway. Shapes was one storefront in a much larger office building, and a rent-a-cop with big pecs and a tin badge zeroed on me and began to strut over. He had a radio on his belt, along with an ASP baton, but he must have figured his large muscles were all he needed to deal with the little lady who set off the alarm.
Codename by F. Paul Wilson / Horror / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes