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TWISTED MINDS

Title: Twisted Minds

Series: Twisted, Book 4

Author: Lew Stonehouse

ISBN: 978-1-60975-264-4

Product Code: BK0170

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 362

Release Date: March 2020

Cover Price: $21.95

Our Price: $21.95

 

 

 

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Book Jacket

 

After the brutal fiasco at the Lernan Academy, John Livingston Harvard and his good friend, Frank Carlotta, have returned to a peaceful and normal routine. The Coeptus Guild has been effectively dismantled and the few remaining members are scurrying like rats for any hole they can find in which to hide.

 

All is well, with the exception of one crucial item, Billy Ray Jenkins and the brilliant assassin’s need for revenge. With a meticulously laid out plan, he is certain nothing could possibly go wrong. But as all military planners know, everything changes after the first shot is fired. All bets are off as the deadly chess game begins.

 


 

Book Excerpt

 

CHAPTER

1

 

The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary;

men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.

Joseph Conrad

 

 

 

Billyray Jenkins slapped the dashboard of the car he was riding in and let out a bellow of laughter as he turned to face the driver. “That’s the funniest joke I’ve heard in a long time.”

The man behind the wheel smiled as he looked at his passenger. “Yeah, I got it off the internet.” The man slowed as he approached a gravel road. “Is this where I turn?” the driver asked.

“Yup! Like I told ya’ll at the bar, it’s quite a way off the beaten track, but it’s the best fishin’ hole I seen since I left my home state of Kentucky.” Billyray answered. He had actually been born and raised in the bayous of Louisiana but had worked hard to cover his heavy cajun accent.

The driver looked at Billyray and smiled once again. “Ya know Dave, I don’t wanna sound queer here, but in the two months since I met ya at that bar, you’ve become one of the best friends I’ve got.”

“Yeah, well, that’s only cause you cided to chuck society and become a hermit. Don’t know why you cided to talk to me.”

The driver laughed yet again. “Cause you wouldn’t leave me alone asshole. Usually when ya don’t respond to people talkin to ya, they leave ya alone, but no, not you.”

“Cause I sensed another loner like myself. Cept I was gettin mighty tired of bein a loner.”

“Well, I’m glad ya did Dave.” At Dave’s direction, the driver turned onto a narrow, rutted gravel road with tall grass on extending both sides for what seemed like forever. A small island of trees interrupted the sea of grass on the far horizon. The little road eventually left the ruts and the gravel behind but narrowed until the waving grass was sliding past both sides of the car. Finally, the sea parted to reveal a tree lined oasis with a small pond. It was encircled by towering trees that swayed in tune to the surrounding grass. There was not a sign of humanity in sight, not a road, not a building, not a power line, nothing. The driver spoke again. “Hey, I think we’re here. It’s not very big.” he commented as he pulled up to a humble body of water that wasn’t much bigger around than a large swimming pool.

“Yeah, I know, but it’s fed by a small stream and this is the deepest part for a long time. Figure the fish must come here to breed and be cool in the summer. Why don’t ya’ll go take a look while I get the poles outta the car.”

The driver nodded without commenting as he got out and walked to the edge of the water. He stood looking down as he evaluated the possibilities. It was a very peaceful setting. He scanned the area. “Sure is desolate out here. How the hell did you ever find this place?”

“Told ya,” said Billyray as he approached the man from behind, “I love ta fish and I gotta nose for good places.”

The driver nodded as he began to turn around. “Okay, let’s give it a tr...”

The man never finished his sentence. In fact, he never heard the barely audible, “phittt, phittt, phittt,” as Billyray pumped three slugs from a silenced .22 into the back of his head. He didn’t realize that he first dropped to his knees before falling forward, his head almost but not quite hitting the water. He didn’t feel it as Dave/Billyray turned his body over and fired another slug into his forehead.

Billyray shoved the pistol into his waistband, and returned to the car. He removed a small plastic bag and walked back to the corpse. Using a silicon putty that he had to mix, Billyray carefully covered the ends of each of the fingers with the gooey substance and waited for it to dry. When it was, he carefully removed the putty and placed each casting into it’s own box marked with the location of the finger from which it had come.

When he had completed this task, he grabbed the dead man by the collar and dragged him over to a depression located in the tall grass surrounding the pond. The depression was located on a steep incline and he arranged the body so that the head of the corpse was downhill of the feet. After collecting the man’s wallet and keys, he turned the driver over so that he was face down and retrieved a large knife from a scabbard attached to his belt. Billyray bent down and with one quick motion, cut the man’s throat, severing the carotid artery and the jugular vein with one swipe. After wiping the blade of the weapon on the clothing of the driver, he stood up. “There ya go buddy. Can’t have ya bleedin all over the place now can I?” he muttered as he slipped back into his Cajun drawl.

It felt good to be himself for a moment. Not only had Billyray learned to talk without his natural accent, but he’d learned to imitate laughter. He was not a mirthful man. In fact, Billyray was quite devoid of the usual host of human emotions. Most people who met Billyray had one of two responses. Instant fear, without really knowing why, was the most common. Further study would have revealed that it was the cold, unfeeling eyes that was at the core of it. Billyray might walk by you, he might kill you, he might rape you, man or woman or even animal, it didn’t really matter. Some primeval warning system, written into the code of the human psyche to protect them from ancient predators, that was what was awakened when both men and women looked into the eyes of Billyray Jenkins and that was why they ran in inexplicable fear.

That is, if they knew what was good for them. Of course, there were always those who chose, through ignorance or sheer stupidity, to challenge him. They were all taking dirt naps now with the exception of two men and Billyray had elaborate plans to take care of them.

Billyray walked back to the car and retrieved his pole and tackle box. Though much about what the driver thought he knew about Dave/Billyray was a total fabrication, that he loved to fish was about the only thing that was factual. Without looking toward the direction of the dead man, he selected a lure and cast his line as he commented to the driver as though he were standing next to him. “While I wait for ya to bleed out, might as well catch a few.”

And he did just that. Occasionally, he would walk over to the dead man and step on his back, jumping up and down in an effort to force more blood out of him. Three hours and a number of fish later, Billyray put away his equipment and opened the trunk of the car. He then walked over to the body of the driver and inspected the throat wound, jiggling the body and twisting the head as he did so. “Yup, I think ya are ready now buddy. Can’t have ya bleedin at an inopportune time.” With that, he reached down and dragged the corpse back to the car. Though lithe, Billyray was immensely strong. Nature had provided his six foot, one inch frame with the physique of an athlete and hours upon hours of hunting and fishing in the bayous of Louisianna in his youth had honed those muscles further. He picked the driver up and unceremoniously dumped him into a trunk that he’d previously lined with plastic.

After closing the lid, he walked around the area, inspecting it for possible evidence that would link the murder of the driver to him. Not that he thought anyone would know what had happened here, but one couldn’t be too careful.

When he was satisfied that all was in order, Billyray started the car and drove to the main road. He checked that no cars were in sight before pulling out and turning on his lights in the near darkness.

Forty minutes later, he stopped at the small house that belonged to the man in the trunk. Dave/Billyray opened the door and went in. He spent some time in the home, wiping down any items that he could find that might hold his fingerprints, even though he’d always been careful when he was there. He also removed all of the dead man’s clothing and personal items. There weren’t many. He called and cancelled the man’s phone and TV service. He found the man’s checkbook and wrote out a final rent check, forging the driver’s writing as well as he could. He left the check and the house key on the kitchen table before leaving.

Billyray started up the car once more and drove off into the darkness. At two o’clock in the morning, he stopped at a shopping mall where he dumped the driver’s clothing into a Salvation Army bin. He drove to a car wash where he deposited most of the man’s other personal items into a dumpster. He returned to the interstate and continued for another hour, to the outskirts of a city, arriving there just before dawn. He stopped in front of the locked gate of a recycling yard and waited. A moment later the gate opened and a man walked out of the yard and approached Billyray.

“You got my money?” the yard worker asked.

Billyray didn’t answer, but instead handed the man a large wad of cash. He took it and said, “Okay, get out and I’ll take er in.”

“No!” Billyray shot back. “I gotta make sure this car disappears. Don’t want the insurance company or anyone else to ever know bout this. If they ever find out this car wasn’t stolen, they’ll arrest me for shore and I don’t wanna go to jail. My wife’d leave me shore nough.”

The yard worker shrugged. “Fine, follow me.”

Billyray did as he was told and soon the car was being lifted into a crusher. “Ya know,” said the man, “we usually strip the engine an such out first. I...”

“Don’t care what ya’ll usually do. For what I’m paying ya’ll, ya’ll need to just do what I say.”

The man nodded and continued his work. Billyray stood, holding a small garbage bag that he had removed from the car when he got out. When the yard worker was finished, Billyray asked. “Do ya’ll have more cars to do?”

“Yeah, why?”

“That was neat, that’s all. Can ya’ll do a couple more? I wanna watch.”

The yard worker shrugged and Billyray watched as he processed two more vehicles and dumped the mangled carcasses onto the bed of a trailer, along with the dead man’s vehicle. While intent on his work, he didn’t notice that Billyray had donned a jumper suit that he had found hanging on a hook.

The yard man had just finished his task when his world went blank as Billyray viciously struck him on the back of his head with a length of pipe he’d found in a corner. The man went down in a heap, unconscious. Billyray then stripped the man before shoving the bloody pipe into his anus. He quickly worked it in and out a number of times before he withdrew it and used the pipe to deliver a killing blow to the man’s skull. As a coupe de grace, Billyray inserted the pipe back into the man’s anus and shoved with all his might, forcing the object through the intestines and far into the chest cavity. He then spent some time methodically stabbing the now very dead man repeatedly with a large kitchen knife he had brought with him for just this purpose.

When he was finished, he retrieved the money he had given the worker from the man’s clothes and inspected his work. When the cops got there, they would assume that this had been some sort of perverted sex crime. The pipe in the anus, the repeated stabbings with a common household item would indicate an unexpected rage which would in turn lead them to believe that it was most likely homosexual in nature, an infuriated lover perhaps.

The act that Billyray had just committed was one of unimaginable horror, of unimaginable evil and he was correct in assuming that the police would most likely classify it as a crime of passion, of anger. Cops like to put things into little prefabricated psychological boxes. They try to use logic to make sense out of horrific human behavior. Sometimes that helps in solving the crime, sometimes not. But for their own sanity, policemen the world over try to comprehend the heinous crimes they see. In their own, usually sane minds, they have difficulty conceiving that any human being could do what was done to the yard worker without feeling some kind of emotion, without having some sort of reason. But the even more ghastly fact about the crimes that Billyray had performed on this date was the vile fact that he felt... absolutely... nothing.

The term, cold blooded killer, is often used to describe anyone who kills without compunction. But almost always, the killer feels some emotion, of some kind, sexual satisfaction, relief of killing someone who had slighted them. However, in the case of Billyray, cold blooded was a particularly apt description of the man. For Billyray Jenkins felt no emotion. Like other cold blooded creatures of this earth, he killed dictated by the situation, based on wether or not his otherwise normal brain decided to do so. Fear, anger, greed, love, lust, even pain never entered the equation because he didn’t feel those things. He would just cooly decide that killing was necessary... or not and when it was completed, he went on with his life with absolutely no afterthought of what he had done. His was truly a very Twisted Mind.

Not even the tenacious emotion of hate affected his decisions... that is until very recently. Now, somewhere deep within his cold skinned soul, lay the budding new feeling. Hate was a new feeling for him and he didn’t want to even ackowlege its existance by naming, “it.” “IT” wasn’t very strong at this point. “IT” was just there, but “IT” was, slowly, growing. And he did not like “IT.” “IT” was not a comfortable thing to have around. He intended to eliminate “IT.” “IT” had nothing to do with the two men he had just killed other than a means to an end. He did not hate either of the two men and in fact had nothing against them at all. They just needed to be killed. Nothing more to it than that. Period. End of story... at least for them.

The seeds for, “IT,” had been sown by two men. John Livingston Harvard and Frank Carlotta. Billyray had decided that to eliminate “IT,” to go back to his comfortable existence of no emotion, he would have to go to the root cause. He had to, therefore, snuff out the lives of these men. However, “Hate” had grown sufficiently in Billyray’s soul that merely ending their presence on this planet wasn’t enough. He wanted to make them pay for this thing growing inside him. He had a plan for that too.

Billyray looked out the window of the control room at the crushed hulks that had included the car he had driven there. He had wanted a couple of more cars put on the flatbed tailer behind the one he had brought in on the far off chance that one of the cops thought that a crushed car might have had something to do with the murder. If they did, they would most likely look at the last one in line, maybe two. He couldn’t see them looking three cars back.

Billyray now removed a clean set of clothing from the trash bag he had taken out of the car and and after wiping himself down with a set of wipes that he had also had the forethought of bringing, he donned his new clothes. He put the bloody overall’s, the knife and his old clothes into the bag. After one last look around, he walked out and headed for the field behind the center, still carrying the bag. It would be light soon and he had no time to lose.

The killer walked a little over a mile before reaching a seedy apartment complex and the parked car he had left there. He opened it and was soon back on the interstate. By mid morning, he’d gotten off the highway in a suburb of another large city. He cruised the neighborhoods until finding what he was looking for, a garbage truck trundling through a subdivision collecting garbage. He threw the plastic bag full of bloody clothes into the open back of it and proceeded on to the city itself. He had one more person to see and his day’s work would be done. It had been a good day and he reckoned that within a few months, he would be exactly where he wanted to be.

 

*   *   *

 

A few months later

 

John Livingston Harvard sat on a bench, on his deck, his arm draped casually over the shoulder of his wife, Sue. They were both laughing at a joke told by the wife of his good friend and ex-partner and current Chief of Police, Nick Giovanni. His other good friend, Frank Carlotta and his wife, Hetty, joined in the laughter. It was a pleasantly warm spring evening. Frank’s adopted son, Robbie and John’s daughter Mary Kate, were down by the lake staring at the heavens through a powerful telescope Robbie had brought with him.

As the laughter subsided, everyone’s attention turned to the lake as sudden a squeal of, “Oh wow!” was heard from Mary Kate. The family dog, a big german shepherd that had been sleeping on the ground near the girl, quickly rose to his feet and stared at the delighted youngster. After a period of time, he decided that all was well and returned to his previous prone position. “Quai,” as he was currently known as, had been a young, trained security dog that, through obviously no fault of his own, had been on the wrong side of the law. He’d been shot by his own handler as the man had been trying his best to put a bullet into John Harvard. Though he had hit his own dog, he had missed John. John had not missed. When it was all done, he’d taken pity on the dog, had him patched up and had brought him home.

“His master’s voice,” laughed Nick. “I sure wouldn’t want to be the person who tried to lay a finger on that girl.”

“You got that right,” Frank chimed in. “You know John, given his background and considering the people that trained him, I wasn’t so sure that bringing him home as a family pet was a good idea, but he sure took to Mary Kate.”

John nodded and smiled as Sue Harvard spoke. “As hurt as he was, he hopped out of the car that day and went right to her like she was his long lost buddy. It was amazing. They’ve been inseparable ever since.”

“Good dogs have a way of knowing stuff and some of them seem to have a sixth sense about it.” Frank added. “I saw it in the army. A few of those dogs would take one look at a person and make a decision on the spot, friend, foe or indifferent. I learned to watch them closely and I found that usually the dog’s first impression would pan out eventually. If the dog didn’t like them, even if the person seemed all right to us, down the road the dog was almost always right.”

“Well Frank, it’s been two and a half years since I brought him home.” said John. “My main concern was how he would react if, er... should I say when, Mary Kate unintentionally touched him in the same place that he’d been shot. When it did happen, he just yelped and kind of backed away, but she realized what she’d done and immediately hugged him and told him she was sorry. Quai never shied away from her and his tail just kept wagging while she held him. After that, I knew that he would never harm her.”

Nick shook his head. “From what you guys tell me, that fight at the Lernan Academy was straight out of some sort of war movie. Nearly every one of the combatants were killed, including all the dogs the bad guys had brought with them with the exception of Quai and he was shot by his own handler.”

“Yeah,” John interrupted, “but that was an accident. He was trying to shoot me.”

Nick snorted. “Whatever, the point is Quai was a young, but highly trained attack dog who had been shot before the whole world went to hell around him. I mean, I can only imagine how chaotic and loud the whole thing must have been. Between the gunfire, explosions, people screaming and dying...” Nick shook his head again. “It just amazes me that the dog is as gentle and as normal as he is.”

Frank spoke up again. “Oh, don’t let that soft exterior fool you Nick. What you need to understand is that a properly trained dog loves people. In fact, they’re bred for it. The handlers want that dog to attack based solely on his training, never out of fear or anger. A legitimate handler will kick a dog out of training and prevent it from breeding if he sees the slightest hint that the dog is biting for any reason other than its training.” Frank nodded his head. “Believe me when I tell you that if that dog saw or heard something that dredges up his past conditioning, he would attack and believe me when I tell you, you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end.”

The group was silent for a moment as they all sipped their drinks and looked at the trio out by the lake and pondered Frank’s comments. Robbie was using his arm to point up at the sky as he talked softly to Mary Kate. Quai had apparently gone back to sleep.

Sue spoke up. “Well, something else that was good came out of it.” she said as she looked at Frank and Hetty. “You two met and now look at you. Happily married for what, four months?”

Hetty laughed. “Six months actually, and nine days, but who’s counting?” She laughed again.

“Wow!” John exclaimed. “Has it been that long already? It seems like only a month or so to me since I was helping Robbie get ready for his role as best man. He...”

“I’m sure you had to do a lot John,” piped in Janie Giovanni, Nick’s wife, with a hearty laugh. “The boy may be fifteen, but he is a certified genius.” She turned to Hetty. “By the way, how’s he doing? You haven’t mentioned anything about his nightmares for a long time. Are they better?”

Hetty nodded as one corner of her mouth turned upward slightly, forming a wry, yet sad grin. “Well, you know he never knew his parents and spent most of his childhood going from one foster home to another. Most of the time he was ostracized by other kids because he was so different from them. Even his own foster parents took an almost instant dislike for him because they didn’t understand him. He had a tough life before being brought to the Lernan Academy and he was happy for the first time in his young life. His professors were all exceptional and he soaked up the knowledge like a sponge. It’s just too bad the Coeptus Guild had only their own selfserving interest at heart.”

“There’s a name I haven’t heard for some time and would just as soon forget.” Nick said quietly. “They framed me for murder, kidnapped Sue,” he looked toward John’s wife. “On another occasion they almost succeeded in killing her and Mary Kate. They kidnapped my head of the computer department, murdered a Federal agent. Then they formed the Lernan Academy. They wrapped up that whole stinking mess up by trying to level the place and kill everyone inside it so they could cover it all up. Since then, the Feds have discovered that the Guild had links in all levels of government, law enforcement....” he shook his head. “I could go on and on. You name it, they had their stinking paws into it. The lives lost, the damage done by them is unfathomable.”

“And what about you Hetty?” asked Sue. “You were there as a teacher. We’ve never really talked about it, but you have to feel betrayed as well. After all, you had no idea of the subterfuge taking place. Then to see all that stuff.”

Hetty sipped her wine before answering. She continued to look down into her glass, as though searching for words. “I... I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. As you say, I was brought there as a teacher with the understanding that the school had been formed to to give an opportunity for exceptionally bright but under privileged kids to have an opportunity to learn. For a while, it was an educational nirvana. The place ran like a fine Swiss watch and they were open to any and all ideas that would improve the learning environment. When John and Frank uncovered the real reason behind the school, I was in shock. I didn’t have long to take it all in before the men arrived to destroy the place and that awful battle took place.

But later, after the funeral for that little boy and after I had come home with Frank, it slowly began to seep in and now I feel a lot of anger toward the people who caused it to happen. But that is balanced by a equally large feeling of... regret? Sadness? I’m not sure. The thing is, the core idea was extraordinary. It was just done for the wrong purpose.”

John sighed. “Twisted benevolence. I believe that’s what Frank and Robbie called it.” He looked up at the starry sky. “An apt phrase I believe.” He looked at Frank. “I haven’t heard anything from your brother Stu for sometime. Anything new with their investigation? Did he get that promotion? Is he a top Fed now?”

Frank shook his head. “In answer to your first question, no, nothing new that I know of. As you know, they spent the first year after the Academy debacle hitting it heavy. They made close to a hundred arrests, seized bank accounts all over the world. They think they have most of the main players. There are probably a few left out there, but they’re in hiding. However, the secret files they Feds found helped them to do quite a job of dismantling the Coeptus Guild. They’ve drastically cut back the number of agents working on it. As far as his promotion, yeah, he got it. He’s some big honcho now. Don’t feel bad about him not calling you. I’m amazed he lowers himself to even talk to his own lowly brother.”

Hetty put her hand lovingly on Frank’s shoulder. “No one could ever accuse you of being lowly honey.” She shook her head with a smile. “No honey, you’re not lowly.”

“And that’s why I love you.” Frank responded with a smile and kissed her.

Nick stood up with a wry grin on his face. “Oh give me a break,” he said sarcastically. “Just wait a few years Frank, that’ll all change. I’m going for a beer. Anyone else want one?”

Janie Giovanni slapped her husband’s leg. “Oh stop it Nick. It’s sweet.” She looked over at Hetty and Frank. “You two just keep it up. I love seeing two people so much in love. And by the way sweetheart, since you asked, yes, you can get me another beer too.” She looked over toward Frank, the only other one in the group drinking beer instead of wine. Seeing that it was half full, she added, “And get one for Frank too. His is probably getting warm.”

Sue sipped her glass of wine and as she was putting it down, she looked over at Hetty. “Well I think that after Robbie’s neglected childhood, you two are setting a fine example for him. He seems so proud that you guys adopted him.”

“After we got married, there was no reason in the world for a judge not to grant the adoption.” said Hetty. “Not that it would have been denied anyway, but we just wanted to wait just to make sure there were no problems.”

“He’s finished with his Masters, right?” Sue asked.

“Oh god yes. He’s almost completed his Doctorate.” Hetty shook her head as she looked toward him. “Fifteen and with a PHD!” She looked back at Sue. “And his friend from the Academy, Rosalie, she’s not far behind and she’s two years younger.”

“Hers is in medicine though, right?” asked Nick as he returned with the beer.

Frank took his as he responded. “Yeah, but they’re not sure what to do with her. Everyone agrees she too young to be seeing patients and truth be told, probably too bright. So she’s going to use her talents in research, at least for the time being. She desperately wants to see patients, wants to help them, but they’re going to wait a few years before she serves her internship and gets some physical maturing under her belt.”

Sue spoke up with a insightful thought. “Hetty’s right, the basic idea of that school was a great idea. It’s a shame it was for the wrong reasons. So much potential there. Just think of all the kids that could be where Robbie and Rosalie are now, but have absolutely no chance because they can’t afford it.” She shook her head. “What a waste for society.”

A motion suddenly caught John’s eye, followed shortly by a deep, menacing growl that alerted everyone, both on the deck and down by the lake. They looked toward Quai who was now standing near the water, staring across the liquid expanse and toward the hillside on the opposite shore. A deep, deep growl was emanating from within his very core. The fur on the back of his neck was standing straight up. He was perfectly still, eyes wide, ears erect. He could have been a statue.

Nick was still standing, John and Frank rose up and everyone was looking in the same direction as Quai. “Somethin’s got his dander up.” Frank said quietly.

“Isn’t that...” Nick started to ask.

“Yeah,” Frank responded. “It is.”

“Isn’t that what?” Hetty asked as she and Sue rose to their feet as well.

Frank answered her question. “That hilltop where Quai is looking, is the same place that the sniper was when he tried to kill Sue and Mary Kate three years ago.”

“You don’t think...” Hetty started to ask.

“No.” Frank interrupted. “There’s no reason for him to come back. It’s just that we’re all a little hyper about it. That’s all. That and Quai isn’t one who’s prone to false alarms.”

“But didn’t they get the sniper?” Hetty asked.

“No.” John interjected. “They’ve never found a trace of him. They suspect he took out Judge Walton, but they have no proof of it. He’s just vanished.”

Everyone continued to look out over the water as Frank said, “Stu says that the files they’ve uncovered show that the Guild had a hit man and they’re pretty sure it was Billyray Jenkins. But they can find no trace of the man.”

“He’s a killer, that’s for sure.” John added. “Mean as a snake and with about the same sense of remorse. But he’s not here. He’s a professional killer. It’s all business to him. As you say, there’s no reason for him to be here now.” Frank and Nick both nodded their heads in agreement.

The men were all correct in their assessment as to Billyray’s normal state of remorse. However, they couldn’t have been more wrong about his whereabouts... or his reason for being there.

 

*   *   *

 

Billyray continued to take in the scene across the water through his high powered, state of the art binoculars which included fourth generation night vision capabilities. He was in fact, laying in the exact same position that he’d been in three years ago. The same position that he’d been in when he shot Susan Harvard. She went by Susan Browning then. The same position he’d been in before that ghost in the forest, Frank Carlotta, had found him and subsequently shot him. Billyray had barely escaped, barely escaped with his life for that matter. The loss of blood and the following infection in the wounds had almost been more than his body could bear, would have been more than most men could have withstood.

But if nothing else, Billyray was a survivor and survive he had. He went on to be the Guild’s most trusted and reliable assassin. They had sent him the world over to do their bidding. And it had been a good life. Before two of the men standing on the deck changed all that, John Harvard and Frank Carlotta.

The failure to kill Susan Browning had been his first failure ever and he had a grudge against John for that, though not enough of a one on its own to justify revenge. However, Frank, who had nearly caused Billyray’s demise, had been working with John and had become friends with him, reason enough by itself for most men to want to kill John. However, Billyray wasn’t most men, didn’t share the same feeling of revenge and hate.

That had been before the Lernan Academy. Billyray had received another assignment then. He’d been ordered to take out a dirty cop who’d been working for the Guild as part of their, “cleanup,” operation. Billyray failed in that assignment too, but that fact had been lost in the face of the carnage at the school. In fact, every one of his handlers for that job were dead or missing, so no one knew of his failure. Since they were all dead or missing, Billyray had had no work from them. That was another reason for revenge. He’d loved his work , as much as he could love anything... and the money... and the worldly travel it brought... and the other perks. Billyray was not a spendthrift and he had quite a sizable amount of cash saved. Enough, he supposed, to live on the rest of his life if he needed to. But that wasn’t the point, was it?

Billyray was not the sort of person that carried grudges. Like the serpent that John had described him as, when he was done with an action, he was done with it. Up until his relations with John Harvard and Frank Carlotta, when he was done with an incident, good or bad, it was over and he moved on. What’s done is done. However, there was a final straw that couldn’t be ignored. One that, uncharacteristically, Billyray couldn’t get out of his mind.

The battle at the Lernan Academy, for that was exactly what it had been, had caused his brilliant but flawed mind to crack ever so slightly. Billyray had never been in the armed forces. He was used to death, had been since early childhood when he killed animals for his family to eat in their shack in the Bayous of Louisiana. Had been since he’d killed the bully that tried to harass him when he was eight. The string of murders to Billyray’s credit was quite long... and that was even before he became a hired killer for the Guild.

But what he’d seen at the Academy was on such a massive scale, was so violent, that it shook even him. He’d seen Black Hawk helicopters firing Vulcan mini-guns into the invading mercenaries the Guild had hired to, “sanitize,” the Academy. Some of them took the full brunt of the weapons, which fired up to four-thousand rounds a minute. It had pulverized the men into pulp, sending a ghastly mist of blood and gore that hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity. Billyray had never seen anything like it. Fear was not in his vocabulary. It was too strong a word for what he felt. “Moved,” was a more appropriate word. The carnage wrought by the mini-guns had moved him. After all of that carnage, all that lead flying by trained killers on both sides, who should still be standing, surrounded by the dead and dying? The two men who were still standing on the deck before him.

Billyray had made no move to kill anybody that day. He had just hidden, had slunk out of the forest the next morning and after, borrowing a passing car, he’d driven to an airport. He left the car in the lot, its former owner in the trunk. The man would be found two weeks later when a passer by complained of the smell coming from the vehicle. Billyray then hopped a plane to the Caribbean. While on that plane, he decided that something needed to be done about Monsieur’s Harvard and Carlotta. He’d been planning the best way to go about it ever since. Now, at last, he was here. Though he could have easily taken them out with his rifle from this position, he wasn’t ready yet. He wanted them to suffer first. He wanted them to pay for the damage they’d wrought.

He looked down at the water and saw the huge german shepherd standing there, looking in his direction. That was new. That must have been the dog he’d seen John Harvard carrying at the Academy. He looked at the dog closer. Its eyes glowed an eery, grainy, phosphorescence green as the image intensifier built in to the binoculars compensated for the low light conditions. It appeared as though the dog knew he was there. Billyray didn’t think that was possible. He was some distance away and he’d been very quiet. He’d been skulking around in the woods all his life and knew how to use stealth. Still, the dog seemed very much aware of him. Billyray looked closer still. Suddenly, a warning, stirred deep within Billyray and he knew... just knew, the dog really was aware of him. The hunter in Billyray instinctively realized that this dog was another hunter... and not of animals. This dog was not to be taken lightly.

Billyray froze and silently waited until the dog began to lose interest and walk away. He noticed though, that the dog did not forget. It would periodically walk to the water and stare up at him, his nostrils flared as he sniffed the wind. The hair on the back of his neck would rise to show that he still was not convinced there was no danger.

After about thirty minutes, the party moved inside. When everyone else had vacated the deck however, John and Frank walked to the railing and stood... looking, it seemed, directly at him. The dog stood between them.

Billyray really knew little about the men standing before him. Oh, he’d dutifully done his research on them and knew that they were no strangers to killing. Both of them had killed on numerous occasions. But that did not tell him about them personally. Staring at the men now, Billyray began to realize just how lethal they were. They were hunters as well. Their hunter’s instincts had been aroused by those of the dog. Moving the party inside had not been a coincidence. Billyray had no doubt that they would check this location out the next morning. He would have to be careful not to leave any trace of his presence there.

Eventually the men and the dog went inside but he noticed that no one appeared near any windows. Again, not a coincidence, he was sure. Billyray worked himself out of his position and headed back to his car. His had been nothing more than a reconnaissance mission. He had been there to learn about his prey. He had learned much. They were a capable foe. But Billyray had confidence in his own savage abilities. They may be dangerous, but he was prepared this time and this time... there would be no mistakes.


 

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