Authors: Michelle McGriff
â¦an unexpected turn of events.
By Michelle McGriff
Writing is an action word. As writers, we should be constantly moving, advancing, growing. As a growing writer, stretching is what we do best. We reach out past comfort zones and commercial norms to find new and exciting stories to deliver to readers. In doing that, we only hope that our readers are ready to receive, what we feel, is a gift to them.
is such a gift. It's new and fresh and hopefully leading to a new turn in my writing. Throwing together my love of edgy romance (meaning: on the edge of not being romantic, haha) with a little suspense, I have now added a bit more “outside the norm” topics. I am by no means crossing into the paranormal genre with the story. I would say that it's closer to fantasy or sciâfi. Yet, it's got a realistic story line with characters who show up from my previous works. This story again attempts to answer my ongoing writing question: “What if?”
In order to see this story to completion, I again called on my friends for support, and I would like to thank them here. I would like to thank national bestselling author Shelia M. Goss for always being there for support and sisterly love. It's your insomnia that has kept me going strong, even across the time zones. To new author Jennifer Coissiere, for sharing her excitement over the process with me. It's new writers like this who keep me reminded of why I'm doing this. It's for the love.
Speaking of love, I want to always thank those I love: my friends, my family, and the one man who is all that rolled up into one. He is my muse, my counterpart, and the smile I wear each day. I'd say he's what keeps me writing but that wouldn't be true. Maxine Thompson keeps me writing. Thank you for cracking the whip! Thank you, Carl Weber, for publishing my books; I hope you continue to grow as a company so that we can continue to grow our audience. Thank you, Natalie Weber, for your choice in editors; my books never looked and read so good.
Thank you all. Now, please, enjoy this story, and don't forget to let me know what you think.
Contact me: [email protected]
One of Sicily's finest hotels
People are only late to places they don't want to be. Wherever you are, you should want to be there, or why bother to go?
His name was Stone and, despite the coolness resonating from his name, he was passionate about everything he wanted to do. As he glanced at his watch, he saw again that he was not late.
The pretty front-desk clerk caught his eye as he passed under metal detectors. In the main lobby, the discreet metal detectors scanned visitors as they walked underneath them. This wasn't common knowledge, but he was ready for it. Smiling at her, he gave her a slight wink.
“Have a good day, sir,” she said in Italian, her soft, sweet voice stroking his ear like silk. He returned the well wish in Italian, giving her a seductive nod, which she accepted with an even wider grin.
Passing the hotel's restaurant, he noticed tables in the stone-walled dining rooms set for the second meal of the day. Crystal wine glasses reflected the sparkle of the candlelight. He could smell the homemade breads, including the familiar scent of his favorite bread. It was made with carob flour. He could only imagine it perfected with a deliciously fresh ricotta mousse. His salivary glands went instantly into overdrive. He couldn't wait to take care of Tripoli so he could get back down here for lunch.
Antonio was a crooked mobster. Everyone in Italy knew that Antonio Tripoli could not be trusted. He did not follow the mantra of “honor among thieves.” He played both sides of the lawâbadly. Why his government hadn't “taken care” of him was a mystery.
The Phoenix wasn't one to wait on the government to do anything, let alone take care of something. He'd found someone willing to pay him to do the jobâright now. Moreover, Phoenix wasn't particular about which side of the law wanted the job done, as long as the bid was high enough.
The Phoenix was their leader. Stone was simply his right-hand man. Never questioning his command, Stone led a small team of elite and talented assassins to do the Phoenix's bidding. This job was set for three o'clock Euro time. It was now 2:59
. According to the Phoenix, being late was unacceptable when doing something you wanted to do.
Of course, Stone wasn't sure anymore if doing this was what he wanted. Not anymore.
His name, Stone, was one he lived up to, even at the young age of nineteen. He was fearless.
And why not?
What is there to be afraid of?
The thoughts brought a crooked grin to his handsome face as he approached the hallway. There he read the directory, seeing which one of the four elevators would take him to the private floor that housed the penthouse. He could have guessed, but stopping here made him appear touristy. Blending in was important when getting ready to assassinate someone.
In reality, the killing of Antonio Tripoli was not to take place here. They were to kill his men, and then take him back to their leader who, Stone knew, had planned to kill him without too much time wasted. A little interrogation and data gathering for those who were paying for the job, and then Antonio would be left for the Phoenix to dispose of.
Why they were to do this particular job this way, Stone didn't know, nor did he care. He just knew it was time consuming and he already was bored.
He'd brought three of his team here today. They were to be already in place by now, upstairs at the penthouse. He'd not received any distress calls or alarms via his receiver, so he could only assume things were going as planned.
Despite the ease of this mission so far, Stone had a bad vibe that had covered him since awakening this morning. Perhaps it had been the dream from the night beforeâthe dream about the birdâthe bird that rose from the ashes.
The elevator doors opened with a quiet shush. The music inside was subdued and barely audible. Stepping in, he hesitated before using the key that would allow him access to the private floor. Two large men moved into the elevator next, standing on each side of him. It was obvious they were strapped. Stone could smell a gun. It was one of his senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and metal detection.
They were clearly Tripoli's strongmenâhoods, shields. These men worked for Tripoli. Standing around six four or five, they looked like wrestlers from late-night American television.
Who are they trying to fool, pretending to need this elevator for purposes other than mayhem?
Stone thought now while examining his ambushers.
Big and Dumb, that's who they are. Probably by name,
Stone mentally concluded.
The men spoke to each other in Italian, nevertheless, Stone understood what was being said. “How should we kill him?” one asked.
“Does it matter? He is a little niggah. We shall simply snap him like hard bread.”
Not this day,
There was going to be violence here.
Stone yawned. He was getting tired of all this shit. All he wanted was to go home. He wished this was going to be his last assignment. He was through with all this. Right now, he wanted to be sitting out on his deck, watching his double drifting by on a plastic pool toy. He could see it in his mind's eye. He always saw himself as if on the outside looking in. Despite the found thought, he knew he had no such deck, and that pool was only an American suburbia dream he'd had. He dreamed of going to America and starting a life there, a life that nobody would ever know about.
“It's such a nice month to go to America, don'cha think?” he asked them in English, working hard to disguise his accent. He'd been working on an American accent for months. He yawned again, waiting for the men to decide how to proceed.
Using the key finally, the elevator bypassed floors eighteen and nineteen, and opened on the penthouse floor. The three of them stood in the elevator as if not sure who would come clean with the true intention of this meeting.
“You guys are really boring me. I'm ready to get the hell outta here,” Stone said, again in English, after a few more moments of listening to their foreign exchange. “Oh, and I got your âkill the nigga'â¦okay?” he said to them now in their own dialect.
Thinking their words had been covert and not understood, the larger of the two men abruptly stopped speaking, seemingly shocked at the young man's boldness. “Oh, you do?” he asked in broken English.
Stone saw himself in the man's eyes.
A kid, dressed in this fancy suit and expensive shoes. No doubt resembling a boy playing dress up in his rich daddy's clothes. No respect for authority. Vain, beautiful, and more importantlyâ¦dangerous.
The large men, who had apparently known his purpose and followed him into this elevator to kill him, smiled wickedly while opening their jackets, exposing weapons as if to say, “We got you covered.” Stone simply nodded, smiling in return, and opened his jacket, showing the men he was unarmed.
“So, let's not,” he said, answering their unasked request for a showdown, and pushing the elevator door button as if deciding to cancel his visit to the penthouse floor.
“You guys wanna dance? I can visit your boss later,” Stone added, continuing in Italian.
The men laughed, as if eager to get the chance to beat up on this haughty “assassin,” maybe even put a bullet in the back of his head.
Suddenly, right before the doors closed, they parted slightly and then ripped open as Malik, a member of his team, burst through, tossing Stone a larger weapon than the one he had concealed for emergencies.
Never travel aloneâ¦
Stone grabbed the man's arm and slammed the cold steel of the 9 mm against the larger man's head. He could feel the tension in his body increase.
The other man, the smaller of the two, rolled around the floor of the elevator, nursing two bullet wounds in each leg from Malik's silencer. Amid his pain, he stared upward at Stone's barrel of silent death pointed at the larger man's head.
Stone looked down at him. He wanted to feel pity, but he felt nothing. His heart again had shut down. It was a sensation he always felt at moments like this.
This was too easy. These guys are really just too dense,
Stone thought then, hoping he wouldn't have to kill the two of them. He hated killing ignorant animals. But then again, if he didn't kill them, he'd have to take them home. The thought caused a wicked chuckle to leave his lips.
Malik reached into the elevator, grabbing the larger man from Stone's grasp and placing him in front of him as a shield, while the other man lay there watching them, apparently waiting to see if either would twitch so he might have a chance to reach his concealed weapon. He went for it, thinking he saw that chance.
No such luck.
Doesn't he know?
The Phoenix team never flinches.
The seconds ticked.
Turning his attention on him, Stone's weapon whispered the sound of the bullet leaving the silencer. Stone leaned closer to the now dead man on the floor, as if making sure he was really dead. He lay on his back, no longer holding his leg. He was dead.
“Hello, anybody home?” he asked in Arabic. “Nope, his lights are out,” Stone then said to Malik, filled with jest.
“Come on, man,” Malik whispered anxiously, still holding the other man in front of him. “Quit fooling around. You are always fooling around,” he fussed at Stone's untimely joking. Malik was from the serious land of South Africa and joking around was not what he liked to do while working.
He had a very serious nature even when not working, in Stone's opinion. “Yeah. Yeah. You're always so serious, Malik. You need to loosen up,” Stone responded quietly. “You only live once. You need to break some rules every now and then,” he added.
Mistaking the brief conversation between Malik and Stone as a break in concentration, the man Malik was holding as a shield slowly reached into the back of his jacket for his gun. He was going to shoot one of them, either Malik or Stone. That was sure, and surely a bad move.
Stone noticed his subtle movement. He shot him without hesitation. Again he thought about dumb animals, how they attacked out of fear only to meet the hunter's bullet. Stone hated when dumb animals were killed.
Malik scowled as blood spattered on his handsome face. Stone raised an eyebrow, shrugging helplessly as he handed him a hanky from his breast pocket.
“Enough of your shenanigans,” Malik growled, his frustration directed at Stone while snatching the hanky from him and wiping the blood away.
This brought an elongated chuckle from Stone as the blood only smeared along Malik's cheek.
Seconds were tickingâ¦
Down the short hall, they dashed now. Time was running out, for surely those inside sensed the invasion. Any good criminal could feel in his bones the end of a run. Maybe that's what Stone had felt that morning after that prophetic dream. The thought of the dream unfolding right now, without him fully understanding the meaning of it, disturbed him.
Kicking in the door to Tripoli's suite, Stone couldn't help but notice the French beauty standing there, dressed to the nines. She wore red, his favorite color. The dress was low cut, and her tight cleavage begged his attention. She looked to be one of Tripoli's groupies. But her name was Capriâshe was one of them.
Stone caught her with a flirtatious wink of his eye just before sending a bullet inches from her head and into the skull of the man who stood close behind her.
“Shit, Stone! Why do you always do that?” she exclaimed, ducking quickly. Retrieving the fallen man's weapon, she joined them as a partner in ridding Tripoli of his protectors one by one. The beauty was an expert marksman.
Tripoli backed his way to the door. Stone realized then he had not been taken care of as planned.
“He's getting away!” she screamed, pointing toward the door at the escaping Antonio Tripoli. She aimed her bullets around him, trying hard not to shoot him in the back. The object of the assignment was not to kill Anthony Tripoli this way. They were to take him back to their leader, the Phoenix.
Over his dead body was not supposed to be an option. The bullets didn't faze or stop him. He continued to run out the door.
Stone and Malik went after him.
Just as they stepped outside the door, an even larger man appeared. He was one neither of them had planned on. They had a head count of Tripoli's men, but apparently someone had been off in his math, as this man made six. They were only counting on there being five. The extra man's gun was aimed and ready.
“Damn,” Stone growled as his column clicked empty.
“Where'd you come from?” Malik asked him before the explosion of weapons exchanged. He shot the man three times, forming a perfect triangle in his chest.
Malik had his back. As usual.
Within seconds, Malik tore off for the stairs, clearly still in hopes of catching Tripoli, who had disappeared through the emergency exit door leading down.
The third partner was Stix. “Come on,” he yelled, stepping over the large body that lay at Stone's feet, the unexpected man Malik had shot.
Stix had been in the penthouse buying time with their female partner. Stone would question him later as to why he hadn't at least drugged Tripoli or otherwise gotten a better handle on this situation. Had he again changed the plan? Stix was becoming a problem.
Look at this mess,
Stone, instead of following, grabbed the dead man's weapon and stepped backward into the penthouse to assist Capri.
“She can take care of herself! Come on!” Stix screamed.
“Fuck that, Stix,” Stone barked, before rushing back into the room.
“You're a fool. You shoulda listened to your partner,” said the man holding the beauty from behind, while also coughing up blood. He had a gun pressed hard against the side of her head.