The night air was still. But on the grounds outside of Stanton Mansion, it was anything but.
Secret Service agents patrolled the mansion grounds of Senator Patrick Stanton, Majority Leader of the New Republic Party. The men and women that patrolled on foot close to the house wore navy blue trousers, white shirts, navy blue ties and gray blazers. The agents patrolling the outer perimeter on four-wheeled ATVs were clad in charcoal gray jumpsuits and combat boots. All of them were armed with pistols and each agent on foot also carried a short-barreled shotgun slung across his or her shoulder while the agents on vehicular patrol were armed with HK-MP5 assault rifles.
They walked with confidence. Who would dare come onto the Stanton Estate uninvited? If they did, they would quickly go back where they came from… or to Hell.
A man in a well-tailored, black sharkskin suit walked around the back of the mansion, checking the doors and windows. The man spoke and a red light flashed on his earpiece—”This is Chief Colby. How’s it looking out there?”
A man’s voice came through Colby’s earpiece, “This is Red Team Leader. All is safe and secure on the outer perimeter.”
“This is Blue Team Leader,” a woman’s voice followed. “We’re looking good on the inner perimeter, sir.
“Outstanding,” Colby said. “All’s well on the interior. The package is wrapped tight for the night. All’s quiet. Let’s keep it that way.”
But a figure concealed in shadow, just outside the mansion’s perimeter, watched… and waited.
* * *
Inside the sprawling mansion, Senator Patrick Stanton and his wife, Diana, slept peacefully in their king-size rice bed, their heads and necks poking out from under white, 1000-thread-count Egyptian cotton bed sheets.
On the floor below, their butler, Jeremy, sat in the library reading the classic novel, Meji: Book 2, while sipping bourbon from a Denver and Liely bourbon glass. He peered through the space between the thick brown velvet curtains at the Secret Service Agents walking past a row of bushes near the fountain several yards away then he returned to his book, just missing a bush stir, then rise, revealing a tall man in a ghillie suit.
The man quickly removed the ghillie suit, revealing a black, skin-tight jumpsuit underneath. His thin brown fingers reached into the ghillie suit and snatched out a black utility vest hidden within. With lightning speed, he slipped on the vest as he sprinted toward the mansion. He pulled out a sheet of yellow paper from a pocket on the vest and unfolded it as he ran.
A Secret Service Agent sauntered around the corner of the mansion, softly humming a tune. His eyes widened and his jaw went slack when he spotted the man just a few yards away.
“The Mailman,” the agent gasped.
The Mailman tossed the sheet of paper in the air then hurled a throwing knife through the top of it. The knife slammed into the agent’s chest, nailing the sheet of paper to his torso. The Mailman then kicked the pommel of the knife, sinking the knife deeper into the agent’s body and sending him flying into the front door of the mansion. The crash echoed through the mansion foyer and up the stairs.
Startled awake, Senator Stanton and his wife sat bolt upright in bed.
“What the hell,” Stanton whispered, staring at his wife.
He leapt out of bed and grabbed an old Louisville slugger baseball bat that leant against his nightstand. Diana reached under her pillow and slipped on the brass knuckles hidden there. The Stantons marched out of their room and charged toward the stairway. Jeremy met them there.
“Jeremy, what the hell is going on?” Stanton asked. “Where’s Chief Colby?”
“It appears there’s been a security breach, sir,” Jeremy said, his posh British accent thick. “I don’t think it’s wise for you and Mrs. Stanton to be out and about right now.”
“This is my house, Jer’,” Stanton said. “I’m not letting some burglar make me tremble and I’m not hiding in my bedroom!”
“It was not a burglar, Senator Stanton,” Jeremy said. “It appears someone is trying to enter through the front door, sir.”
“Follow me!” Senator Stanton ordered, scurrying down the stairs.
Diana followed her husband, holding her fist close to her chin like a boxer. Jeremy rolled his eyes and bounded down the stairs behind her, much more athletic than his gray hair would indicate.
Senator Stanton, Diana and Jeremy crept toward the door. The Senator took up a position on the side of the door. Diana stood behind him. Jeremy stood in front of the door, his knees bent deeply and hands out in front of him like a collegiate wrestler. Stanton raised the bat above his head.
“Open it,” the Senator whispered.
Jeremy looked at Stanton, his face a mask of fear. He shook his head.
Senator Stanton rolled his eyes. “Damn it, Jeremy, open the door,” he ordered.
Jeremy swallowed hard and then snatched the door open. He jumped back in fear as Stanton prepared to swing the bat.
The dead Secret Service Agent fell into the doorway and collapsed onto the granite floor.
Jeremy screamed like a teenage girl victim in a horror movie.
“My God!” Diana gasped, looking down at the agent’s corpse in horror.
“Damn it!” the Senator spat.
Chief Colby rushed into the room from behind the Senator. Senator Stanton snapped his head toward him.
“It took you long enough, Chief!” Stanton spat.
“My apologies, sir, but our communications were temporarily down,” Chief Colby said. “At last check, all was quiet.”
“But I spoke with you. You told me that there was a security breach,” Jeremy said.
Chief Colby shook his head. “Wasn’t me,” Colby said. “We only came running because we heard your wife scream, Senator.”
Stanton and Diana exchanged glances. Jeremy swallowed hard and tried to divert the conversation.
“Umm...Chief, what is that on the agent’s chest?” Jeremy asked, pointing at the corpse’s torso. “It appears to be held in place by that dagger.”
“Very observant, Jeremy,” Colby said with a smirk. “The One World Union is safe because of your untiring efforts and eagle eye.”
Chief Colby bent down and inspected the Agent’s dead body. He removed the sheet and perused the writing on it. He looked up from the body, his expression one of deep concern. Colby handed the sheet to Jeremy. Stanton looked from Colby to Jeremy.
“What?” the Senator asked.
Jeremy’s eyes widened as he read the sheet of paper.
The senator released a heavy sigh. “For God’s sake, read it aloud, man!” he shouted.
“It says ‘Minority Leader of the Real Party, Senator Harvey McCarthy, has issued this contract on the life of Senator Patrick Stanton, in accordance with International Law, set forth at the Beijing Conference of A.D. 2063’,” Jeremy replied.
“What?” Senator Stanton said, shocked.
“That son-of-a-bitch!” Stanton spat. He smashed a vase with the baseball bat, sending pieces of porcelain flying about the room. “That goddamned son-of-a-bitch! He put a fucking hit out on me?”
“It gets worse, sir,” Jeremy said. “The contract was served by the Bloodmen!”
Stanton’s face went pale. His left eye jumped and his top lip quivered.
“Bloo-Bloodmen?” Stanton stuttered. “Impossible! That bastard couldn’t afford to hire the Bloodmen. Not without party backing. Then the person who did this was the—”
“The Mailman,” Chief Colby chimed in.
“Oh, God,” Diana croaked.
Senator Stanton snapped his head toward his head of security. “What the hell are you standing around for, Colby? Get the hell out of here and search the grounds!”
* * *
The Mailman calmly walked away from the Stanton Estate as Secret Service Agents frantically searched the property. He slipped in his ear bud and spoke, “The contract has been successfully delivered. One casualty.”
“Excellent,” a voice said in his ear. “Come on in for debriefing.”
“I’m on my way,” the Mailman said.
He sprinted off, disappearing into shadow.
Among all the swanky hotels in the world, the Wyndsor, on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, was considered one of the very best, combining Hong Kong‘s cosmopolitan flair with the Windy City’s urban charm. A chocolate sommelier created custom sweets for guests, and even pets were pampered with an in-room dining menu and doggie massages.
The staff looked like they had been snatched off the cover of Vogue magazine; even the custodians and housekeepers. One of those beautiful housekeepers rushed into the employee’s lounge, her braids dancing on the black collar of her maroon shirt with each step. Her hard muscles moved under her shirt and black cotton trousers as she sat down at a desk to sign in on the laptop.
A lean man, immaculately dressed in a burgundy sharkskin two-piece suit, glided over to her, wagging his finger.
“Christina, you’re late again,” he said.
The woman shrugged. “At least I’m here,” she said, her Brazilian accent thick.
“Don’t get smart with me, Ms. Thang!” the man hissed. “I’ll have your ass back on a flight to Bahia before you can yell Carnaval!” He snapped his fingers.
The woman gave the man a hard-stare. He swallowed nervously. A smile spreads across the woman’s face and she kissed him on the cheek.
“Silly man,” the young woman chuckled. “That’s what I love about you, Victor... always joking... right?”
She locked eyes with Victor again. Her eyes were cold, even though she still wore a smile.
Victor took a step back.
Christina giggled and then skipped off.
* * *
Christina rode the elevator with only her cart of cleaning supplies to keep her company. She got off on the twelfth floor and pushed her cart to room 1215 then rapped on the door with her fist.
A pudgy Caucasian man, with white hair in a mess all over his head, opened the door a bit and peeked out.
“Yes?” he inquired.
“Housekeeping,” Christina crooned.
“No need, gorgeous,” the man said. “I’m fine.”
Christina winked at the man and gave him a sly smile. “You sure are.”
Not half as fine as you, chocolate drop,” the man said. “I guess my room could use a bit of tidying up after all.”
The man opened the door and Christina sauntered into the room, smiling seductively at him and pushing her cart inside with her round bottom.
“So, what’s your name, baby?”
“Brazilian or Cuban?” the man asked.
“Brazilian,” she said.
The man slowly ran his tongue across his thin lips. “Sexy,” he said. “My name’s Trent. Trent Baker. Pleasure to meet you, Christina.”
“I’m sure it will be a pleasure when you... meat me, hun,” Christina said, looking him up and down.
“You’re something else,” Trent said, blushing.
“Come here,” she said, beckoning him with a wave of her index finger. “Let me show you exactly what I am.”
Trent sauntered over to Christina, who pushed his shoulders, spinning Trent around until his back was to her. She began rubbing her hands up his butt.
Trent chuckled. “Ooh, kinky!”
Christina slowly worked her fingers up his back as she breathed into Trent’s ear. He moaned in ecstasy.
Christina reached Trent’s neck. She caressed it for a moment and then, suddenly wrapped her forearms around his neck, locking on a tight rear-naked choke. She squeezed, choking Trent into unconsciousness then let him fall on the bed.
“Sorry, lover,” Christina said. Her Brazilian accent was now replaced by a Southern American one. “I need your view.”
Christina reached under the cart and withdrew the parts to a sniper rifle. She quickly and adeptly assembled it and then stepped out onto the balcony. She looked through the scope down at the pool. There were several people swimming and more sitting by the pool. Jamela spotted her target, a middle-aged man with skin nearly as red as his hair. He was surrounded by five bodyguards.
Christina smiled. “Hi Dr. Billups,” she said cheerily. “Hi bodyguards.”
She slipped a small, white silicone bud into her ear.
“This is Jamela Rashon, confirming contract,” she said softly.
A woman’s rich alto voice came from her ear bud, “The target has not complied with the wishes of our client,” it said. “The contract is valid. Proceed!”
A moment later, Dr. Billups’ skull exploded and his limp body fell into the pool. People screamed and ran away from the pool. Jamela calmly broke down the rifle and put it back under her cart. She looked at Trent. He was beginning to stir.
“Thanks for a great time, Romeo,” she said, pushing the cart toward the door.
Jamela left Trent’s room then walked briskly toward the elevator.
Reaching the elevator, she pressed the button to go down.
After a short while, the elevator door opened. Victor stood on the elevator with four men in cheap suits. Jamela could tell from experience that they were police detectives.
Two of them grabbed Jamela’s arms as a third searched her cart. He pulled out the case and opened it, showing it to the fourth detective.
“Barrett M82, sir,” the third detective said to the fourth.
Victor stepped off the elevator, jabbing his finger toward Jamela. “That’s her,” he shouted. “Christina Santana. I knew she wasn’t right. I knew it!”
“Ms. Santana, is it?” the fourth detective asked, stepping toward her.
“It’s Jamela Rashon, actually.” Jamela replied.
The fourth detective glanced at Victor then looked back at Jamela.
“Well, Ms. Rashon, I’m Detective Sergeant John Roberts,” the fourth detective said. “I must, by law, inform you that you are under arrest for murder.”
“Damn, you got here quick!” Jamela said, looking at the detective impressed.
“We eat lunch here at this time every Tuesday,” Detective Sergeant Roberts said.
“Just my luck,” Jamela said. “Well, Sergeant, I can explain. I’m a Bloodman. The man I just neutralized was the subject of a legitimate contract.”
“A Bloodman, eh?” Detective Sergeant Roberts said. “Let me see your authorization.”
Jamela reached into her blouse and retrieved her documents. She tossed them to the Detective Sergeant. He looked over the papers and glanced up at Jamela, who was smiling.
“Your paperwork’s in order, but your method of assassination doesn’t coincide with the methods of the Guilds,” Detective Sergeant Roberts said. “So I’m gonna have to contact your Guildmaster for verification. If he corroborates your story, you’re free to go.”
Detective Sergeant Roberts pulled up his sleeve, revealing a rectangular video screen and keyboard that lit up under his skin. He began typing in numbers on the keyboard.
* * *
Two men sat in leather high-backed chairs, watching a huge television screen that spanned the entire length of wall in the conference room where they sat.
The older man was tall and handsome, with smooth, dark skin accented by a well-trimmed mustache, goatee and short, black hair. Although he was in his fifties, he stood tall and regal with the physique of a bodybuilder.
The other man was in his thirties, of a medium-brown complexion, with a head full of brown locks. He was as muscular as the older man, but even bigger and taller, but not quite as poised and majestic.
On the television screen, a woman dressed in a blue pencil skirt and white blouse stood in front of the mansion of Senator Patrick Stanton.
“In political news, Channel Two has learned that Senator Harvey McCarthy has served Senator Patrick Stanton a contract of assassination,” she began. “Although both parties refuse to comment on the situation, sources say that the contract stems from Senator Stanton’s refusal to negotiate on the Anti-Assassination Bill due for voting in two weeks.”
The camera drew closer to the woman reporting the news.
“What is even more astonishing is that Senator McCarthy has retained the services of the Bloodmen Guild. Some are questioning how McCarthy could have raised the funds necessary to hire such an expensive guild; a guild that is said to be the oldest and most efficient.”
The younger man turned off the television.
“This isn’t good, Master Kamara,” the young man said.
“We are doing our job, Stephen,” Master Kamara replied. “That’s all.”
“You know what I’m talking about,” Stephen said, frowning. “Accepting the contract on Senator Stanton was purely political. Everyone knows Senator McCarthy can’t afford us and the party would not provide the funds.”
“They will speculate, but they won’t ask outright,” Kamara said. “Stanton will meet with McCarthy and vote to maintain the Guilds.”
“This is dangerous, Kamara,” Stephen said. “You are jeopardizing this Guild by getting involved in this dispute.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, Stephen, this Guild is already in jeopardy.”
Stephen slammed his fist into his palm. “Don’t play me for a fool, Kamara! Pro bono contracts aren’t allowed, according to the Beijing Convention and McCarthy didn’t pay!”
“Don’t quote protocol to me, son,” Kamara said. “I am your Master.”
“That you are,” Stephen said with a nod. “But I’m a third-generation Bloodman. My grandfather was at the Conference. He founded the Bloodmen and my father—”
“Your father stepped down and made me Master of this Ile because I am from a line of African martial masters that stretches back to the days when the pyramids were still young,” Kamara said, interrupting him. “My knowledge far exceeds any Bloodman to ever sit in this most sacred of places and still, I carry myself as everyone’s brother... and friend.”
Stephen scowled at Kamara. “I wonder what the other Guilds would say about your actions.”
Kamara snapped his head toward Stephen. “What are you saying?”
The television screen blinked on. Detective Sergeant Roberts’ face appeared on-screen.
“Master Keita?” The detective asked.
Kamara nodded. “Yes. How may I help you?”
“I’m police detective Sergeant John Roberts,” he said. “I apologize for the interruption, but we have a situation here that we need you to help us with.”
“Go on, Sergeant,” Kamara said.
“Thank you,” Roberts said. “We have a woman here claiming to be one of yours. She assassinated a Dr. Peter Billups less than twenty minutes ago. Her papers check out, but we’re skeptical. She used a .Barrett M82 sniper rifle to kill Dr. Billups. I thought it is forbidden for Guilds to use firearms to fulfill contracts.”
“It is not our preferred method, but it is not a taboo,” Kamara said. “It is a compliment to your exemplary protection of your city that she had to resort to such methods. I presume the woman you refer to is Ms. Jamela Rashon?”
“She is indeed one of ours, Sergeant.”
“Thank you. She is free to go, then,” Detective Sergeant Roberts said. “She would like to speak to you before we sign off, though.”
“Thank you, Detective Sergeant Roberts,” Kamara said.
Jamela appeared on the screen, smiling.
Kamara greeted her with a warm smile.
Stephen rolled his eyes.
“Master, it’s good to see you!” Jamela said.
“I see you are staying out of trouble, as always,” Kamara said.
“Just doing my job, Papa,” Jamela said.
“In the future, try to do it according to tradition.”
“If you say so, Papa.”
“I do,” Kamara said. “Will you be returning home for Founders’ Day?”
“Forgive me, Papa, but you know how I feel about such things,” Jamela said. She lowered her gaze. “I’m not exactly a legacy.”
“Nor am I, child,” Kamara said. “But I am respectful of our heritage. You should do the same.”
“Will Malcolm be there?” Jamela asked.
“Yes, my son will be there,” Kamara replied. “He should be returning from Japan soon.”
Jamela smiled. “Then, I’ll see you on Founders’ Day!”
“Don’t just come for Malcolm,” Kamara said. “Come to see your future father-in-law! It’s been a while.”
“You’re making me blush, Papa!” Jamela chuckled. “I’ll be there to see you and Malcolm.”
The screen went black. Kamara turned to Stephen to see his ever-present frown.
“I don’t approve of her ways,” Stephen said, turning up his nose.
“She is a bit...rough,” Kamara said. “But she’s one of our best.”
“Will Malcolm really be here?” Stephen asked.
“Of course, he will; as soon as he is done in Nagano.”