This is one of 'em. The two-novella set featuring the early novellas of Smitty, my dark eyed wunderkind of a hit-man.
Yes, the novellas were published earlier in a collection of combined short-stories and longer pieces. But I've felt for a long time the two longer stories should be back-to-back showpieces in a separate offering. And then somehow pushed out onto the market more vigorously.
We've talked about Smitty before. How he came along in a serendipitous-like accident. How he seems to have made himself truly unique in a sub-genre filled with hit-man/assassin characters.
(Look back in previous posts. You'll find a number of discussions about Smitty. Along with a few short stories)
Today I thought I might share the opening chapter of novella number two in the collection. Called, A Killing Kiss, it's basically about the dark eyed man becoming . . . of all things . . . almost like a shinning knight in black armor. Yes, he actually does save a damsel in distress!
Hope you like it. Hope this might whet your appetite for both of'em.
A Killing Kiss
Through the gloom of the night he saw the flash of bright tail lights of the Mercedes as it slowed before turning off the highway and onto the paved county road. The black top road was miles outside the city. It cut a narrow swath through a thick forest as it wound its way around the bases of small hills and generally meandered toward the
In the darkness of the heavy four wheel drive pickup he was driving his thin lips pulled back into grim little sneer. Down shifting into third he slowed as the black top road approached and then rolled the big Ford F-150 onto the county road and sped up rapidly. Two miles ahead was a steep, narrow curve in the road he had chosen for the hit to go down. On one side the black mass of a steep hillside filled with trees crowded up against the road’s pavement. On the other side a ditch. Actually a deep creek filled with trees and underbrush on its steep sides and deep, fast moving water down at the bottom.
The perfect spot.
Ideal for what he had in mind.
The perfect resting place for victim number one.
The big Ford engine up front increased in volume as he pushed the vehicle well past eighty in an effort to catch up to the Mercedes. In moments the tail lights of the German luxury car came into sight. Inside the car he knew its driver would be suspecting nothing as the head lights of his big truck came up fast on its rear bumper.
Just another good’old boy heading down to the river to do some fish’n. Maybe fishin’ and sippin’ the suds some. Big boys and their big powerful toys. Always ran this road a little too fast–a little too recklessly.
Yes . . .
That’s exactly what Charlie Rich would be thinking as bright headlights lit up the rear view mirror on his windshield. Just another good’ole boy . . .
Except the front end of the big truck had a tubular steel pipe bumper system strong enough to smash through brick walls. So just as the giant machine smashed into the left rear fender of the Mercedes Charlie Rich had no time to react. The truck hit him with a tremendous blow–throwing the car’s tail around to the right so violently the big car began sliding out of control and heading straight for the drop off down into the creek below.
Tires screeching, Charlie sawing desperately back and fourth on the steering wheel in a useless effort to bring the care under control. But it was a useless gesture. With the big Ford engine of the pickup behind him screaming in anger poor Charlie had no chance. The right set of wheels slipped off the pavement and down into loose gravel. The sudden change was enough to flip the car on its side.
flew as the metal of the car skidded back onto the pavement. But instead of slowing down the nose of the
Ford pick up kept slamming into the car like an enraged black rhino–slamming
into the Mercedes with sledge hammer blows that continued to push the car
toward the edge of the creek embankment. Sparks
One final blow and the Mercedes titled dangerously for a half second on the edge of the creek . . . and then disappeared altogether in a blinking of an eye. Smitty screeched to a halt only inches away from the creek’s edge and threw open the pick up’s door and jumped out. In the darkness the tumbling roar of the Mercedes rolling and crashing through the underbrush and bouncing off the rocky walls of the creek filled the dark eyed man’s ears. A grinding, ripping, shattering series of explosive sounds as he stood on the creek’s ledge and looked down.
Ninety feet to the bottom and then . . . distinctly . . . the splash of the car diving, roof top first, into the swiftly moving deep stream. If the drop of ninety feet didn’t kill the overweight, wheezing mobster the fast moving water would. Charlie Rich didn’t know how to swim. If by some miracle Charlie survived the fall he wouldn’t have time to unstrap himself and climb out of the car. The water was frigid cold. The car was a smashed and twisted heap of metal. He made sure of that. No way to get out of the car easily. No way.
A grim little smile stretched across Smitty’s lips as he turned and climbed back into the Ford. Charlie Rich was a dirty little bastard who needed killing. The small time hood who liked to hurt people. Liked to inflict pain. He wasn’t a nice man. One of Jacob Menten’s henchmen, Charlie Rich had thoughts of taking over his boss’s operations. Becoming the boss himself. The boss–Jacob Menten–was dead. Dead from a massive heart attack. His organization was without a leader. A leader strong enough to keep the organization together. There was a void at the top and if someone didn’t step up soon and take over the organization was going to fold. And some other underworld kingpin would move in and take over the territory.
But not Charlie Rich. Charlie was out of the picture. Permanently.
One down. Five more to go.
Closing the door the dark eyed man pushed the gearshift up into reverse and backed up. It was time to leave. Time to start working on hit number two. Time to start working down the list. One at a time. Time to make Jacob Menten’s wife and young son safe. Safe from the wolves gathering to feast on the corpses of their leaders if something wasn’t done. Something drastic.
It all began a week earlier. A week earlier on a day that was a cold, gray overcast day in the middle of a cemetery. Underneath a big elm tree a small knot of men in women, most dressed in various shades of black, stood around a freshly dug grave and mutely watched as a large bronze colored casket was slowly lowered into the ground. In the middle of the gathering was a young woman dressed in black with a black veil over her face. Yellow hair, the color of ripened wheat, cascaded down past her shoulders. A startling bright splash of color in a sea of mourning. Tall, slender, almost like a Greek statue of Aphrodite herself, she stood in the middle of the mourners holding her month old baby close to her.
She was Jacob Menten’s wife. Charlene Menten.
Unbelievable gorgeous. And more–the mask of her
kind of beauty hid a brilliant mind. A
brilliant mind intellectually matched with the soul of a giving, loving, tender
mother. Marking her, unfortunately, a
prize beyond compare.
Encircling her were the six henchmen Jacob Menton relied on to keep his organization running smoothly. Charlie Rich. Harry Bosley. Will Marconi. Greg Tarkanian. Stu Sheppard. Mick O’Toole. Six strong, ruthless, greedy men who stood respectfully by the boss’s wife and paid their respects to the dead. Yet stood each eyeing each other and wondering how and when the first one would begin the process of taking over the business. Meaning . . . who would be the first to be knocked off.
From a distance, standing beside a large tree, he had watched the funeral service in silence. Watched the six men standing close to the beautiful widow. Watched as they lowered Jacob Menten in the ground. Watched as each of the six henchmen stepped toward Charlene with a few words of condolences and then moved away. Watched as, one by one, each of the hoods drifted back to their cars and drove away. Drove away leaving the woman and her baby standing alone by the heap of freshly dug ground of her husband’s grave.
Charlene lingered by the grave a few minutes more. Stood holding her baby in his layers of warm blankets and stared down at the fresh grave. And cried. Cried silently but forcefully. Tears flowing down her cheeks and ruining her makeup.
Eventually the weeping subsided. Eventually she tried to wipe the tears from her face. Eventually she took a deep breath, looked up at the gray overcast sky, and turned to walk back to the limousine waiting for her. Head down, carefully watching how she moved across the dead grass of the cemetery in high heels, she didn’t look up and see the man standing beside the open rear door of the limo until she stepped onto the paved road.
A thin man. Not tall. Not short. With a sharp, angular face oddly attractive. Wearing jet black shades covering his eyes. Dressed in a black, tailored and quite expensive suit. Handsome . . . yet, somehow . . . with an air of menace to him. Of violence kept under control. Barely.
“I’m your friend, Mrs. Menten. A friend of yours and your son’s.”
“Who . . . who are you?”
“Shall we get out of the cold? I’m sure the baby is beginning to feel uncomfortable,” the soft voice of the menacing man answered, opening the rear door for her and the baby.
Charlene Menten pressed the soft bundle of blankets closer to her and nodded, long blond hair rustling softly across her shoulders in the process. Sliding into the rear seat she moved over some, giving room for the dark men to slide in as well. When he did and closed the door the driver of the limo–a man close to her husband–said nothing but started the car up and began driving.
“He knows me, Mrs. Menten. Knows why I am here. Your husband didn’t trust too many people. But he trusted Otto. You can be sure of Otto’s loyalty. As you can of mine.”
“But who are you? Why are you here? How did you know my husband?”
Charlene Menten had a husky voice. A voice that captured your attention immediately. A voice he knew Jacob Menten could not have disregarded. Her beauty–her voice–would have, did actually, capture Jacob Menten’s heart the moment she spoke to him the first time.
“Most people know me as Smitty. I worked, shall we say, on assignment for your husband down through the years. On mutually beneficial business transactions more as partners than as employer to employee. Over the years Jacob began to trust me. As I trusted him. That’s why I am here. My last assignment he asked me to complete when the time came.”
“I . . . I’m confused. What assignment? When did Jacob talk to you last?”
A vague portrait of growing panic filling the green eyes of the beautiful woman beside him. He almost smiled. The smell of her perfume drifting to his nostrils. The luster of her dark blond hair almost making the interior of the car glow. Her voice. Her youth. An image of unattainable beauty sitting beside him. A woman of desires. A woman to be desired. Coveted and desired. A trophy waiting to be snatched up and claimed by the one strongest enough to take over the organization.
Unless. Unless . . .
“Jacob called me two weeks ago. Said he wanted me to do something for him. Said it was important. Made me promise. I agreed. And so here I am. Fulfilling that promise.”
“What promise?” she asked, a gloved hand coming up to pull back the thin black veil which had partially hidden her face. “What are you talking about?”
“Your husband knew he was going to die, Mrs. Menten. Knew someone within his organization was going to kill him. He didn’t know who. Or how. But he was sure someone was after him. So he made me promise him. Made me promise him that if he died within a year of our conversation I was to come to town. Come to town and find his killer. Find his killer and protect you and his son from harm.”
“His killer,” the beautiful woman’s husky voice repeated, her eyes widening in horror. “Jacob was murdered? You’re saying one of his friends murdered my husband?”
Smitty, dark eyes hidden behind the black wrap around shades, said nothing as the black limo moved silently past the hundreds of headstone of the deceased. But beside him the soft whimper of a woman quietly crying again–crying and trying not to at the same time–came to his ears. And in her arms the baby stirred and made the first little squeak of a hungry child.