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E. J. Robb Books

A Richard Steele Novel
E.J. Robb

MOVING UPSTAIRS QUICKLY and quietly, Mr. Gabriel stood by the door where the drone of the television could be heard inside.  He reached into his coat pocket and removed his .22 Ruger revolver and attached the suppressor. He turned the knob gently and opened the door a crack, seeing his target’s profile in the club chair facing the television, he entered.

“Hello, Gino,” he said as he slipped inside.

Gino Cavelli was startled and turned to find the Ruger aimed directly at his forehead. Mr. Gabriel’s tone and words were polite in spite of his intentions.

“What the hell…who are you? What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Even though Gino Cavelli had a deadly weapon pointed at his head, he didn’t seem particularly worried. There was anger in his voice, not fear. That told Mr. Gabriel a lot about the man. Clearly, the full meaning and seriousness of the situation hadn’t crystallized in Cavelli’s mind yet.

“Get the hell out of here.” Cavelli shouted as he rose from his chair.  The intruder cocked the gun, indicating that was the wrong move, and then pointed the barrel at the chair, indicating Cavelli should sit back down.

“Sit down. Now,” Mr. Gabriel ordered. Reluctantly, Cavelli complied. The man previously known only as Mr. Gabriel said,

“My name is Richard Steele. I’m here to fulfill a contract.”

“What contract? Steele? Hell, I don’t even know you. What’s going on?” Cavelli’s tone was a mixture of confusion and anger.

“What’s going on, Gino is that someone wants you dead. The fact that you don’t know me isn’t really relevant.” Steele was calm and could have been discussing last night’s baseball game.

“You don’t know who you’re fucking with.”

“You’re Dominic Cavelli’s son, correct?” No answer, just a hard stare. “I’ll take that as a yes. Papa Cavelli, as you are well aware, is currently a guest of the Lee County Federal Prison, in Virginia, thanks to his wide variety of criminal enterprises and unfortunate encounter with the feds. He has no chance of ever being on the outside again, which leaves one to wonder what will happen to his business. Do you know, Gino?”

“Get the fuck out of here.” He repeated, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”

“My apologies, Gino,” Steele replied with mock sincerity.  I thought I was dealing with Papa’s successor.  He excelled at being a drug kingpin and I know he enjoyed his hobbies in prostitution and loansharking as well. Rumor has it the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Am I wrong about that, Gino?”

“What do you want,” Cavelli hissed.

“Good question, Gino. Excellent. We’ll get to that shortly. But first I want you to understand that you made a big mistake. Your greed got the best of you when you got mixed up with the likes of Abdel Nadir and Joshua Holt. You started laundering money for them and that helped finance their terrorist activities against your own country. You made enemies on both sides of the justice system.”

Pausing to allow his words to sink in Steele continued. “The feds would love to have you out of the way since you’ve done such a bang-up job broadening Daddy’s enterprises. And the very people you’re helping will want you dead in the end, if only to tie up loose ends.” Steele let that sink in and tried to gauge Cavelli’s reaction. He seemed unmoved. “Does it bother you at all that innocent people will die because of you?”

“I don’t know you. And I’ve never done anything to you,” was Cavelli’s non-answer. “Talk to me, tell me what it is you want,” he said evenly.

“There’s nothing to talk about.” Steele’s eyes bored into Cavelli.

“I’ll make it worth your while.  How much for you to turn around and pretend this never happened?” The question was infused with an air of confidence that seemed completely unwarranted given Cavelli’s circumstances.

The man was an arrogant bastard and that really rubbed Steele the wrong way.

“Sorry. No can do.” Steele shook his head and continued staring at Cavelli, contemplating his next move.

“You look like a smart guy,” Cavelli tried again.

“Let’s talk this through and see if we can’t find a solution that serves us both. What can I do for you?” Cavelli’s tone now had an undertone that sounded a bit like desperation, though he disguised it with surprising effectiveness.

No, Gino was not like his old man. Dominic would have taken a run at Steele by now. The senior Cavelli would rather risk being shot than have someone threaten him.

After a long pause, Steele said “Wire a million dollars to this account number.” He tossed a slip of paper in Cavelli’s direction.

Just blackmail, thought Cavelli.  Good.  He would get this asshole his million and then use all the resources at his disposal, including many more millions, to extract his revenge.

“And if I do this, then what?” asked Cavelli. “You’ll just up and leave me alone?”

“If you do this,” replied Steele, “you will have a chance at redemption.”

Cavelli nodded slowly, weighing his options on how to play this. Steele was obviously resourceful – he had found Cavelli’s ‘secret’ location and managed to get past his hired guns.  He briefly wondered if the two men downstairs were dead, but didn’t dwell on it. The fact that this Steele, whoever he was, had managed to invade his personal space bothered him more than the money demand and he knew enough not to underestimate Steele’s abilities.

He had no idea what type of redemption Steele was referring to and he wasn’t really all that interested. Redemption smacked of ‘sorry’ and religion.  Cavelli wasn’t sorry for anything he’d done and religion never entered his mind.  It was just business. But it had been his experience that blackmail and greed bred more blackmail and greater greed.  For all he knew, this first million dollars was just a down payment.

Cavelli decided his best option was to play along. “Alright, I’ll wire the money. Then will you leave?”

“I will,” answered Steele. “But I’m warning you – don’t try anything or I promise you, you’ll regret it.”

Cavelli rose slowly from his chair and bent over to pick up the paper Steele had tossed at him. He moved to his desk sat down and began typing on the computer.  As he did so, he wondered again about Steele and his motivations. A contract killer would have shot him the minute he entered the room. Steele seemed to have an agenda that went beyond a simple contract killing and, in Cavelli’s mind, beyond this million dollars.

With one final, dramatic keystroke Cavelli indicated that the task was complete and looked at Steele expectantly. Steele had half expected him to try for a lower dollar amount or at least a delay of some sort and indicated as much to Cavelli.

“What’s a million dollars when my life is at stake? Perhaps you should have asked for more.” Cavelli delivered his words with an irritating smugness that rankled Steele, though he didn’t let it show.

Steele pulled out his smartphone with his left hand, keeping the gun trained on Cavelli with his right. After about thirty seconds, the phone chirped its new text message alert. Steele glanced at the message. Perfect. The money transfer was processed. Steele dropped the phone back in his pocket.

“Are we done now?” Cavelli asked impatience and irritation coming through in his voice.  Funny, Steele thought. Even with a gun on him he acted put out.

“Not quite. I still have a job to do. I never said the money was buying your life, you assumed that. The money was for a chance at redemption.” Steele leveled the weapon at Cavelli, who tensed up visibly, disbelief and hard-edged anger showing in his eyes.

“I paid you, you mother-fucker! You can’t do this!” He spat at Steele.

“Of course I can. I have a gun pointed at your head. Remember, I never said I wouldn’t kill you. That money isn’t for me. As I told you, it was a chance for you to get some redemption. That money will help combat some of the evil you and your illegal enterprises have promulgated over the years.”

Steele, ready to wrap this up and be on his way, asked Cavelli, “You’re Catholic, right?” He already knew the answer; just as he knew that ‘Catholic’ was a label that often had little to do with the way one lived day to day.  Cavelli didn’t respond.

“You’ve got about thirty seconds before I pull the trigger. If I were you, I’d use that time to get right with whatever God you pray to at times like this and hope for the best when you get to the other side.”

The truth was Steele found it just a little bit easier to live with himself if his victims had a chance to make their peace before the end. Steele believed that when he pointed his weapon at a potential target they suddenly found religion.  He believed that the old adage about there being no atheists in a foxhole rang true for everyone.

Gino Cavelli knew his end was near but he was not going to go down without a fight. Reaching under the desk, he grabbed the small pistol he had taped on the underside of the desk for just this sort of emergency. It was a small .32 but it made him feel more comfortable. He always liked to have a little insurance in case something went awry.

Gino was no marksman and the one shot he got off missed Steele by a wide margin. The next bullet was Steele’s and was perfectly centered between Cavelli’s eyes. He tottered on his feet momentarily, shock giving way to resignation, and fell forward, eyes still open, onto the mahogany desk in front of him.

The sharp, acrid smell of cordite from the gunpowder hit Steele’s nostrils, triggering a wave of memories. Memories of what and who he really was. Steele knew the housekeeper would be a wreck after discovering the guards, and then Cavelli, who would be in full rigor mortis by the time her shift began the next day.

Still, he had no regrets. He’d done the country a service by eliminating Cavelli. There was now one less danger to American security which, when he thought about it, was no different than the outcomes he’d produced as a sniper in the Marine Corps – targeting and eliminating threats. He knew that his reasoning would not make for a valid defense if he ever got caught but it was enough of a rationalization to allow him to sleep peacefully every night.

His Ruger revolver had the advantage of trapping the shell casing in its cylinder, no clean up necessary. He had also taken time to notch an ‘X’ onto the nose of the bullet before loading it. That small modification caused the bullet to fragment into several small pieces immediately after entering the skull. There would be no exit wound. It allowed for an efficient kill without the mess, and also worked as part of his plan of misdirection. It was difficult to do a ballistics match when there was no slug to recover.

He turned and walked out of the room, satisfied he had completed the first part of his mission.  Passing through the front entry, he peeked around the corner and saw that the guards appeared to be unconscious. Once outside, he shut the door, removed and pocketed his gloves, and strolled ever so casually down the beautiful street.

It was almost dark and the pedestrian traffic was heavier than when he had left The Plaza, no doubt the night-life crowd beginning to swell. Crowds were good, they helped you remain anonymous. He would head to the hotel, change clothes, remove his disguise and enjoy the steak with all the fixings he had been salivating over earlier.  Suddenly, he realized hunger was gnawing at him.

The Colonel, the planner behind all of Steele’s missions, would be expecting a briefing. Steele would call him in the morning after disposing of everything he had used for the job and getting a good night’s sleep.

Feeling good he had absolutely no reason to believe their mission had been compromised.

On the same Tuesday evening Steele and Cavelli had their date with destiny, Tom Finkle and Jake Barrows were biding their time in a back alley just next to the InterContinental Hotel, They awaited their unsuspecting prey. They were armed, though not heavily. Their collective size and strength, coupled with the diminutive stature and advanced age of their quarry, made it unlikely they would need to use their weapons. The objective was simple – capture, restrain and transport. Two against one, and a small one at that, didn’t pose any obvious challenges.

The alley was about forty feet long, with a secondary street intersecting at the rear, offering an efficient means of egress. Located behind the hotel and a block west, the two men were not likely to be seen by The Plaza patrons.

A few Marlboros later, they spotted him heading their way. They had calculated it would take about a minute for him to pass the alley entrance and they anticipated a quick grab ‘n go. When the man came in range, Finkle leaned against the wall toward the rear part of the alley and pretended to be sick. Meanwhile, Barrows came out of the shadows and beseeched the white-haired gentleman with the overcoat to help, claiming his friend was very sick. Finkle moaned and made all manner of retching sounds, causing the old man to stop and peer into the alley.  As he did so, Barrows moved behind him and put him in a forearm headlock.

Because of his size, it was easy for Barrows was to lift the gentleman up and pull him in toward his body. By putting pressure on the victim’s windpipe it was impossible for him to breathe properly, let alone cry out for help. Finkle abandoned his sick act and came to help his partner load the man into a van parked near the rear of the alley. Their orders were to treat him carefully and bring him in unharmed.

The abductors, having subdued their victim, bound his hands and placed a hood over his head. At that same moment another, older, slightly overweight gentleman in a fedora and matching black overcoat passed by the alley and heard the commotion.

Steele turned, looked into the alley and assessed the situation. He understood what was happening, but it posed no threat to him and being a Good Samaritan was not part of his plan. He locked eyes with Barrows briefly and saw distain and arrogance. But he didn’t slow down. He turned his head back so he was looking forward again and continued walking. In a few seconds he would be gone and out of view.

But some people just couldn’t leave well enough alone. As Steele turned away from the alley and its occupants, one of the perpetrators said, “Keep walking you old geyser. This is none of your damn business.” The tone and arrogance of the speaker caused the hair on the back of Steele’s neck to stand at attention. Shaking his head in disgust he knew immediately that he would take action. He also knew that reacting out of anger was a mistake, but he couldn’t stop himself, even if he’d wanted to. The Colonel had warned him off this type of response, but Steele had a bad habit of repeating his flawed behaviors. So, even though he kept walking, he already saw in his mind’s eye what would happen next.

In dangerous situations like this he experienced the equivalent of déjà vu on steroids. He was able to slow time down, analyze all his options and possible outcomes, and then clearly see the action he needed to take. He had first noticed this ability as a teenager and it had saved his ass many times over the years.

It was as if his mind moved at warp speed while the rest of the world was on pause. He had learned to trust wholeheartedly in this ability. He didn’t control the process as much as the process controlled him and if he allowed events to unfold based on this instinctual abnormality, he survived. If he fought it, he always got hurt.

Once Steele was out of sight of the alley, he did an about-face. He drew his weapon and silently crept back until he could see into the alley. The man who was bound had his head covered with a black hood. The other two men were trying to negotiate him through the rear door of a van. Steele’s hand gripped the Ruger, his senses keenly aware of everything. His general preference was to have a well-thought out plan, but he couldn’t deny the pleasure of the fight or flight adrenaline rush.

Steele took a few steps toward the trio, aimed the Ruger at the would-be captors and said, “Let him go.”

As the two men turned to face Steele, they found themselves staring down the barrel of a gun. The next sequence of events happened in ‘Steele time’. Everything just sort of froze and he could see every possible outcome at once. It was an unexplained phenomenon that had saved him in the past. It was something he had learned to rely on.

Without warning, he fired a single shot and shattered one of the perpetrator’s kneecaps. Barrows dropped to the ground and, even though it hurt like hell, he only let out a deep grunt and started moaning.

Steele pointed his weapon at Finkle. “Get your partner out of here, now.” Steele’s voice was soft, yet distinctly commanding. When Finkle didn’t move quickly enough for Steele, he fired a second shot that grazed Finkle’s ear. The spent slug ended up embedded in the trash pile at the end of the alley.

“I hope you don’t think that I just missed,” Steele said sardonically.

Finkle clambered over to his wounded partner and helped him hop his way into the van. He didn’t risk a glance back at Steele, he just slid behind the wheel and accelerated. The tires squealed and the rear door, which had been left open, swung back and forth as the van pealed out of the alley and seemed to be waving good-bye as the van disappeared into the darkness.

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