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Authors: Pro Se Press

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BOOK: Nobody Dies For Free
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I know. We all have our
jobs to do, Winter. For now at least, we can be on the same side.
Are you ready for bed?”


Do I have a
choice?”


No, and I’m keeping you
next to me for my own safety, but I won’t make you do anything you
don’t want to do. Sleep is all I have planned for us…unless you
have other ideas.”


We’ll see what happens,”
Winter said.

They rose from the couch.
Monroe turned off the television and issued another stern warning
to Winter to not do anything stupid. He went into the bathroom to
ready himself for bed and emerged a few minutes later to find her
standing there behaving like a child who knows the penalty for
disobedience. He let her go next, telling her where to find a spare
toothbrush. When she came out, she was as scantily clad as she had
been the previous time she had come out of that bathroom. They went
into the bedroom. Winter climbed into bed first, pulled the
blankets over her body.


This friend of mine,”
Monroe said, showing his gun one more time before slipping it under
the pillow, “will be sleeping with us. Don’t think you can get to
it before I do.”

He undressed and climbed in
beside her, leaving space between them, and shut off the light. He
rolled onto his side, facing away from Winter, with his hand
brushing the butt of the Glock under the pillow, just in case. He
let his mind relax, knowing himself well enough to trust his
ability to spring to wakefulness almost instantly if his bedmate
made any move to injure him or escape. He had just about drifted
off when Winter’s voice broke the silence.


Richard?”


Yes…” he said with a sigh
behind the words. It was beginning to feel more like an old married
couple’s routine than a pair of very ruthless people thrown
together by dangerous circumstances.


This Garrett Khan
business…”


What about it?”


This isn’t just one of your
missions, is it? There’s something personal going on.”


What makes you say
that?”


I’m good at reading men,
it’s how I got where I am now. And I can tell you’re trying very
hard to do this job professionally…but there’s something else in
there, beneath the surface, a certain intensity about to boil over.
You’re not just out to shut down an international criminal. You
really want to kill this specific man.”


Yes…I do.”


Why?”


He killed my
wife.”


Oh shit… Can I
ask?”


Fine,” Monroe said. “I
headed up a CIA operation in Paris which basically demolished
everything Khan had going on in that city. In retaliation, after a
long enough delay to make me feel safe, he sent a sniper to shoot
her as we walked into the Paris Opera. She bled to death on the
front steps of the place.”


I’m sorry,” Winter said,
and she sounded like she meant it. “I shouldn’t have brought it
up.”


It’s all right,” Monroe
said. “You didn’t know.”


What was her
name?”


Genevieve. She was born and
raised in France. I met her when I was assigned to Paris. I was
going to give up this stupid life of seeking and destroying, live
like a normal man, live to be an old man with an old wife and not
worry about nations destroying nations anymore. Khan took that away
from me. That’s what’s different about this job, Winter. Understand
now?”


Yeah,” Winter said quietly.
“I think we should just go to sleep now.”

Monroe said nothing else. He
let the night take him away.

 

***

 

Monroe woke to the smell of
coffee, opened his eyes to see daylight coming in through the
window, and heard the sound of someone moving around in the
kitchen. He could still feel the gun under his pillow.

He got up, pulled on jeans
and a t-shirt, shuffled out of the bedroom to find Winter Willows
pouring two mugs of steaming coffee. She was wearing one of his
shirts and his sweatpants, which were too big for her and looked
almost comical as all that half-filled fabric hung around her slim
body and the tips of her toes stuck out from under the cuffs of the
pants.


Good morning,” she
said.


Hello,” Monroe replied. “I
see you’ve made yourself comfortable.”


It really is a nice place,
Richard, once it stops feeling like a cell. Why don’t you go shave
and all the other stuff a man does to become
presentable?”


In a second,” Monroe said,
turning back toward the bedroom. “I’m taking my friend with
me.”


That silly gun again?”
Winter asked. “Is that really necessary?”


Yes,” Monroe said
adamantly, and he walked away.

He had just finished shaving
when Winter began to pound on the bathroom door.


Richard, your phone is
buzzing!”

Monroe yanked the door open,
rushed out, and grabbed the phone. Only one person could be
calling. “Good morning, sir,” he said.


Are you ready for this,
Monroe?” Mr. Nine asked. The way he said it made Monroe
anxious.


Let me have it,
sir.”


The bank account is South
American, but that’s no real surprise. A lot of less scrupulous
types funnel money through the countries down there. It’s that
email account which I think you’ll find much more interesting.
Unless the IP address is being run through some sort of loop—and
the technical experts I had look into it for me don’t think it
is—Garrett Khan is in Paris of all places.”


Paris…” Monroe had not
wanted to hear that. “But why would he be there, sir? All his
operations in France were shut down just as they were in London and
New York, all in that one day’s work. Is he rebuilding in
Paris?”


No,” Mr. Nine said.
“Nobody’s seen any signs of him investing in the Parisian
underworld again. But maybe that’s the reason why he’s chosen to
live there for the time being. Remember the old saying about not
shitting where you eat?”


Yes, sir. Who would think
to look for him in a city where he’s not suspected of much
activity?”


Precisely, Monroe,” Mr.
Nine agreed.


Can I go?” Monroe
asked.


Can I stop you?”


Only with a bullet, sir,
and maybe not even then.”


I’ll have a ticket sent
over within the afternoon then, Monroe. You can fly out
tonight.”


Make it two tickets, sir. I
won’t be travelling alone.”


Fine, and good luck,” the
chief said.

Click.


Get dressed, Winter,”
Monroe said as he put the phone down. “We’re going over to your
place so you can pack and grab your passport.”


You know, Richard,” Winter
Willows said, smiling, “I’ve never been to Paris, if you can
believe that.”

 

***

 

Mr. Nine had sent
first-class tickets. Monroe and Winter were in the air by eight
that evening, seated beside each other with Monroe at the
window.


I suppose you still have
friends in Paris,” Winter said.


Business friends,” Monroe
specified. “I don’t intend to call on the social kind. They can
stay in the land of memory.”


And you know the city
well?”


I spent five years there, I
should hope so.”

Winter nodded. As she did
so, she pulled forward a handful of strands of her long hair and
held it in front of her eyes for a moment. She had changed. After
stopping by her apartment to collect her things and before heading
to the airport, Monroe had insisted that they make one other stop.
Winter’s white hair was now a deep shade of almost-black and she
hated it.


I still can’t believe you
made me do this, you bastard,” she said in a whisper.


I’m sorry,” Monroe said,
but added a chuckle. “Professional precaution: you can’t argue that
you didn’t have a distinctive look, Winter. I don’t need you being
recognized the moment we step off this plane.”

Winter understood, but she
would not go so far as to agree verbally.


And I still don’t
understand why you had to drag me along with you.”


I wanted the company,”
Monroe said. “And now, Winter, if you don’t mind, I’m
curious.”


About what?” she
asked.


About you,” Monroe said,
“and how you wound up leading such a life.”

And Winter Willows opened up
to Monroe. She told him of growing up in a little town in Middle of
Nowhere, USA and discovering early on how a girl with the right
looks and the right smile could manipulate events in just the right
direction to suit her whims and how all that had gone to hell one
day when she woke up with pure white hair at the age of seventeen,
the result of some genetic quirk, the doctors had said. She was
treated like a pariah at school after the change and the spoiled
cheerleader routine no longer worked, so she ran away and found a
living as a fetish model where she could use her strange looks as a
weapon instead of an albatross. She climbed the ladder of the world
of weirdoes and went from taking orders to giving them, losing any
strict scruples she might have once had, becoming ruthless and
getting used to once more getting exactly what she wanted. She had
become one of Cyril Benson’s girls in Boston and stepped on a
hundred others to reach the top of the heap, earning the crooked
contractor’s trust and taking her place among the city’s elite.
That’s where she had stood until Richard Monroe walked into her
life at the Boston Crown Hotel. Now she was tied to him like an
exotic cat on a leash, flying off to Paris on a moment’s notice and
into the jaws of danger.


And you know what?” she
asked at the end of her life story.


What?”


I think I’m enjoying this
little escapade.”

 

***

 

The landing in Paris went
smoothly and Monroe and Winter were reunited with their luggage,
which made Monroe feel better since that meant he was armed again.
Once they were clear of the airport he fished the Glock out of the
bag and shoulder-holstered it under his jacket. They checked into a
decent hotel, left their bags in their suite, and were on the
streets of the city by mid-morning. Winter glanced around at
everything like a tourist for the first fifteen minutes and Monroe
let her look, finding the scene amusing. For him, their arrival was
bittersweet; so many of his memories were tied to Paris and he
could almost feel Genevieve’s presence, but he pushed
sentimentality aside and began to consider how and where they
should begin their hunt.

Inspiration struck and
Monroe hailed a cab. He and Winter got in and travelled for ten
minutes, getting out in a little area full of cafes, antique shops,
and other such small businesses. They walked a few more blocks as
Monroe got his bearings, and then stopped in front of a small store
with a vintage poster of Jimi Hendrix in the window.


Are we buying old records?”
Winter asked.


Visiting an old friend,”
Monroe said, “and maybe buying some information, although I hope
we’ll get it for free. You may want to put something in your
ears.”

Monroe pushed the door open
and they went in. The interior walls were lined with posters
similar to the one in the window and there were two aisles in the
middle of the shop with records separated by genre and artist. A
young female clerk stood behind the register counter, chomping on
gum and flipping through a magazine.


Can I help you?” she asked
in French.


No,” Monroe said in
English, “but Arnaud can.”


He’s not in,” the girl
said, switching languages to match the customer.


Yes he is,” Monroe argued.
“The floor is vibrating. Don’t worry, I’m an old
friend.”

The clerk pointed to the
door at the back of the sales area. Monroe went that way and Winter
followed close behind. Through the door, they found a small office.
The sound was almost intolerable. Led Zeppelin’s “The Wanton Song”
slammed its punchy riff at tremendous volume and a fat man with his
back to the door played clumsy air guitar. A messy gray mop of hair
flopped up and down on his big round head as he gyrated and his
sausage-like fingers raced to keep up with what Jimmy Page had done
in 1975.

Monroe laughed, although the
sound was drowned out by the music. He looked at Winter, who was
about to burst into giggles too. He glanced around, found the power
cord for the stereo, and mercilessly yanked it from the wall.
Blessed silence arrived.

The fat man whirled around,
dropping the invisible guitar, pulled a pistol out of nowhere—a
very real pistol—and had the intruders covered in the blink of an
eye.

But the alarm was
short-lived and the fat face broke into a warm smile, followed by a
loud burst of words, English but accented in a native French
tone:

BOOK: Nobody Dies For Free
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