In the end,
Daniel Tierney and his fellow I-Marshals take down the organizations producing the most dangerous substance in the Alliance. But reporter Faith Vedder turns up at the worst times, including Danny’s near-assassination. He’s had enough of her interference and requires her source of information.
Faith won’t tell him anything that compromises her Pulitzer-worthy story, not even under the magic of hot attraction. She doesn’t know she’s surrounded by fallen angels at war. Danny’s not finished making demands. She doesn’t understand until a giant, snorting, winged monster slobbers down her back, threatening to flay her.
The gangbusters can’t delay in their mission to shut down gangs until Danny learns the criminal kingpin of their world is a man who once held Faith’s heart. In the guise of a gangland executioner named Heretic, Danny will destroy him. Even if it destroys Faith.
Angels are watching. Demons are plotting. Faith is the key.
I hope you enjoy Gangbusters.
In the end, it’s either you or the demon that comes for you.
Planet Valdeya, Draco System
“I’m not jazzed about killing women,” Heretic commented on the first assignment he drew with these criminal thugs.
The chandelier-dripping suite smelled of the rich vanilla incense used to recycle high-end hotel rooms mixed with the magic smoke of expensive cigars. The scenery was antiques and gold-leafed appointments, opulent five-star penthouse stock. Picture windows oversaw a sky-rise city, still too sunny for his preference. Common technology lay about the big entertainment area, nothing he’d take note of. Everyone in the room was armed with black-market weaponry all the time, even to sit down and watch the biggest championship game of the year.
Heretic and his friends would be gone in weeks. The gang’s top management now hiring him to kill a woman would be dead by then, their money diverted, their stock stolen. The surviving mortals would get lifelong prison sentences on a hell-planet named Null. The alter-life demons would be hunted down for destruction and drained of their corrupt blood.
Same shit, different gang of scum.
This trip it was the Juicers, the criminal organization arranging to become high-level distributors of Blindfold, the newest criminal-slash-drug plague about to infiltrate the Alliance worlds.
“I came here to dust your rivals,” Heretic told the gang’s shot caller, “not plug women who turned you down for dinner.”
Boss snorted in surprise of Heretic’s nerve. Momentarily abandoning the sports game played out on the wall-size computer screen, the other eight mobsters seated in the sunlit suite, all leaders of their own regional cartels, turned to witness Heretic’s gall, staring at him as if he were a five-eyed alien.
One worthless scumbag shot caller after another, violent and egotistical psychopaths, but that’s what it took to run a gang. And it took an obsessed man to hunt a criminal psychopath. Heretic could hardly wait to see them eliminated and forget their names.
He smirked back at them. He would execute most of them in a month or so.
Falsely assured his superiority was guaranteed by numbers, Boss chuckled, forgiving of the disrespect. A hired gun who disliked exterminating women was an oddity, especially one of Heretic’s rank and reputation. “I don’t remember reading that in your bio. What’s your thing against taking hits on women?”
“My mother’s a woman. And I still like her.”
“I’d killed mine slowly…over years.” Boss stroked the scraggly chin hair he probably called a beard, and he appeared to struggle in his effort to reminisce what Heretic already knew was decades of murder. Boss took a couple of gulps of his beer, the backwash sloshing into the clear-glass bottle too warm for condensation. “I can’t remember when I saw her last. I guess she wasn’t very important to me, or I’d’ve noticed her gone before now.”
Boss’s mother had died of cancer and probably a broken heart to see the child she’d raised become the psychotic demon he now was. Heretic would remind the gangster of it before he put a laser beam in his forehead. Not that bringing up the tragic death of his mother’s heart would move the monster before his destruction.
“There’s a first time for everything, Heretic. Think of all the other women who’ve screwed you over, and wiping this one will feel great.”
“Thanks for the advice.” Heretic rolled his eyes, bored. “I didn’t say I haven’t done my fair share. I’m just saying, I always compensate by using the payoff to buy my mother something nice.”
“Buy her a summer resort home with this hit. This mark’s earned her early death. She’s a reporter with a big mouth and a history of causing trouble.”
“Don’t all reporters have big mouths?” Freak, one of Boss’s big sellers, postulated around a soggy stump of a cigar, sitting opposite his employer around the marble-and-glass table, reshuffling the cards, and dealing new hands. “Isn’t it a prerequisite for the job? Don’t journalists get advanced degrees and prestigious awards for their big mouths?”
Booted feet propped up on the antique desk set away from the group, the raven-headed man, uninterested in either game and studying numbers on a tablet computer, deadpanned, “Stop using big words, Freak. Every three-syllable word you say sounds stupid coming from your mouth. You don’t have the brain matter to pull it off.”
Chuckles circled the big entertainment area Boss used for this conference of his high-level street apes. Freak shot the mathematician at the desk a jealous eye. There was no disguising the enmity between the men. Heretic wondered what went on with them.
Several men sat around Boss’s table nursing drinks stinking like sewer water and puffing on high-priced black-market perfectos, their attentions returned to and split between the betting challenge in their hands and the brutal broadcasted game that demanded a wounded player with every score. There was blood on the field and testosterone-enhanced warriors roamed the goals, looking for the next smallest player to hurt. It wasn’t a game. It was gladiatorial-level entertainment in matching uniforms.
Boss’s gold-wrapped sausage fingers took up his poker hand, keeping it to himself as though he expected his loyal minions to cheat. “Just make sure Faith Vedder disappears, Heretic. Time for you to put all that well-lauded, high-priced talent on display.”
“You’ll never see her again.” That’s because Heretic planned to leave the mobster hanging and draining when he felt the timing was right.
Usually silent, the numbers-cruncher at the desk peered over the desk’s lamp, catching Heretic’s eye. “This reporter believes she’s going to uncover the source of Blindfold on the market.”
Was the woman crazy? She wouldn’t hang around if she knew this organization’s body count. Heretic considered how she’d even learned of Blindfold. It wasn’t common knowledge.
“What trail she followed to Valdeya escapes me,” the accountant commented, seeming only half-interested while he pressed a button to flip a page on the tablet. “She’s been chatting with the street soldiers, and she may find some weak bastard who’ll spill his guts for her, if we let her keep it up. Someone weak like Freak.”
“Fuck you, Snow!” Freak shouted, nearly spilling the cards.
Snow glared at the nervous little hood for a stone-cold reply. There was dare in his eye.
A steel-trap mind, Snow then sent his stoic green vision to Heretic and, with entirely different meaning for him than the rest of the room, he suggested, “Someone should put her out of the way before Freak goes on a bender and does something stupid.”
“Fuck you again, Snow!”
Heretic grimaced and pointed to the guy at the desk. “You. Were we introduced? What do you do around here?”
Snow cocked his dark head, his very familiar face an unentertained wall. “They call me Snow. Because every time you ask me who I am or what I do, I’m going to lie to you.”
“That’s catchy,” Heretic admitted, and burst into a grin. “So, what is it you do around here?”
Snow went back to his tablet, uncaring to share. “I’m the pool boy.”
“I want her gone, and I’m not the only one,” Boss growled, back to his subject of the woman he wanted disposed of. He dropped a photo atop the poker chips on the tabletop.
Heretic picked up the image to see a professional portrait of a gorgeous copper-tressed hottie dressed in a short, clingy black dress and knee-high black boots. Plump, cherry-painted, cupid’s-bow lips afire immediately drew the male eye. Big brown eyes had cast a bedroom glance toward the camera. Glossy red locks reached a nice rack of breasts. She was all hourglass figure and juicy lips. Lips, lips, lips. Only a pious priest wouldn’t have noticed her steamy body.
Heretic smiled. He was the opposite of a priest. He’d show up at her house tonight for an hour or two of fun before he got rid of her.
“Any preferences on method? Do you want it public or private? Do you want me to torture her? 'Cause I could torture her…” Now he couldn’t make the smile go away.
“I’ve heard you’re into that. I don’t care how you do it. Make it private. Just make her disappear, no bloody crime scene. I know you’re an expert at dumping bodies, so I’ll not expect to hear about her in the newsfeed being found months from now.”
Heretic went back to the picture. “What a dish. I’m surprised you didn’t give this to Freak.”
“Freak gets excited around beautiful women,” Boss complained. “He once screwed up a hit by paying attention to a mark’s woman.”
Freak displayed a lazy drunken smile. “It wasn’t what she said, but she did do amazing things with her mouth.”
“Yeah, while she blew you, you let the mark get away. And that’s why you don’t get the finishing work anymore. You’re lucky your people are top sellers, or I’d put a beam in your head. Remember what I told you I’d do to you if you give my sister a disease that can’t be cured.”
“You’d said you’d throw me a parade for shutting her harpy mouth. I’ve tamed her in the year I’ve had her. She doesn’t have the mouth she used to have. Besides, you wouldn’t off your brother-in-law, would you?”
“Just let your receipts slip and find out. I can give my sister to the next best seller at your funeral.”
Heretic didn’t blink. It wasn’t rare to see the big controllers of the criminal world trading absolutely everything, including people. Who’s to say Boss’s sister didn’t like being passed around as a salesman-of-the-year trophy?
The door bell chimed, and one of the men tossed down his hand of cards, rose from the table, and checked the video security panel. “It’s Key.”
The doorman let the new visitor into the suite, who proceeded to remove his backpack as he headed for Boss. He set the pack on the table and opened it, showing Boss several hundred brown vials marked with the word Blindfold printed on them, blue tops capping them, attesting to their origin. It looked like Sharpenal, an all-too-common black-market drug that screwed up the readings of the brain-tap, a forensics technology used by nearly every law enforcement agency in the Alliance. Fortunately, Sharpenal was detectable in the bloodstream.
Until Blindfold. Somehow this cartel had gotten hold of an advanced formula of the substance which did not show up in the blood. Use of it rendered the guilty unreadable by the fMRI brain-tap system depended upon by the justice systems of fifteen worlds. If this juice were allowed to spread through the galactic sector, crimes would go unsolved, criminals unconvicted. Victims would not receive justice. Blindfold, the brand name for this new and undetectable drug, was about to be the gang’s big import. They were setting up a network of distribution now.
Boss’s eyes darted from the backpack filled with labeled vials to Key. “Where had he hidden them?”
“He’d stashed them in the crawlspace of the house next door.”
Satisfied, Boss pushed the pack away from him. “Key, this is Heretic.”
A cap spun sideways on his closely cropped, dusty-blond head making him appear like any other street kid, blue-eyed Key wiped his hand on his trousers, flashed the gang signs required on the streets to recognize one another, then he shook Heretic’s hand. “I’m Key. I do retrievable work.”
Heretic gave Key a nod. Retrievable meant he was a thief. Heretic released Key’s hand, and the larcenist smoothly took Heretic’s watch with him. He wouldn’t have noticed if he weren’t used to the trick. Heretic tapped his wrist, and Key smiled and gave him back his watch.
“Heretic, huh?” Key nodded, still smiling. “I’ve heard of you.”
He wasn’t going to say it, but Boss didn’t mind belting out, “Heretic’s our new problem-solver.” Problem-solver was gang-slang for a contracted killer. Faith Vedder was a problem. Heretic went back to the picture of the bombshell he held. What the hell was such a pretty girl doing chasing this story? She had no idea what she'd gotten into.
Key laughed. “Glad to hear someone else is gonna take the murder rap.”
“I don’t murder people,” Heretic stated, his expression casual. “If people die around me, that’s just nature. People die all the time. So they die around me. Doesn’t make me a murderer. I’ve never had a single person ever accuse me of murdering him.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Key said it with a sudden straight look on his face. As though he hadn’t known Heretic for years.
Heretic’s eyes went back to the picture in his hand.
Key’s sight followed his, and he sucked in a big breath. “Sweet heaven, what a babe. Is she your new mark?”
“I’m going to make her disappear.”
“Will you wait a night? I wouldn’t mind banging that broad.”
Heretic scowled at the request. “You gonna rape her?”
Key frowned. “Hell, no. Rape’s got a lot of anger in it. I’m not an angry man. I’ll take her out to dinner, woo her with my charms, take her to her place, and bam! In seconds, I got her ankles in the air, and she’s moaning over my big cock.”
The room exploded with laughter.
Boss’s recognizable snarl decayed into a crooked smile. “Your first gang should have named you Romeo.”
“Well, they weren’t acquainted with that side of my skill set,” Key replied with a stunning grin. The kid wielded his stealthily influencing good looks like a weapon, fortunate for his partners.
Heretic shook his head and went back to studying the image of the steaming-hot redhead. “I’m not waiting a night so you can get your rocks off. Tonight…she belongs to me.”
Faith Vedder. Hourglass and lips. Yeah, he’d be at her house. Waiting for her with the lights off.
He planned to torture her until it was no longer fun. Then he’d get rid of her.
* * * *
That was too easy. He might’ve beaten his own personal record for picking locks. He could’ve used the zap generator in his watch and scrambled the computerized lock memory, unlocking the door a little faster, but where was the fun in that? Heretic was a hands-on guy. He should’ve timed himself picking the lock so he could razz Snow about beating his time. Again and again.
Of course, no one would ever beat Key at moving anything. He turned locks with his mind.
Heretic slipped his lock-picking tools back into their case, unzipped the top part of the full-body super-soldier jumpsuit he wore, then he slipped the case inside and rezipped. With the turn of the knob, he walked right into Faith’s rented bungalow with no concern of having been seen by the neighborhood. He quickly explored the rooms to make sure he was alone, taking with him a stack of mail he found on a table, all addressed to Faith Vedder. It was nice to get confirmation he was in the right place, but if she were receiving mail here, she’d been here too long.
It was a decent little domicile, shiny wooden floors and area rugs, high ceilings, fashionable furniture, all a little tired-looking for having had strangers in residence for years. Neatly kept, sunlight beaming from the windows. Common electronics were present, most noticeably a big-screen monitor mounted on the wall. He considered a video security system watching the room now, and he laughed. That wasn’t going to help Faith a bit.
He spotted a laptop computer sitting on a cheap metal desk coupled with an ornately carved wooden dining chair out of its element in the main room, clearly her pieced-together workspace, and he smiled again. He would torture her there among other places. The couch, the bed. He’d find other ways, too. He would make sure she never returned to Valdeya for any reason, especially to chase a story.
Damn. It was twilight, quickly falling into night. She could come home any time. He needed to work fast to set up his play for the evening. What would shock her the most upon opening the front door, but still leave no discernible evidence for the local police when someone noticed her missing?
It was going to be a great night, better entertainment than the average boring evening hanging out with criminal gangs and listening to their chest-pounding big-fish stories. He would put Faith’s reasoning abilities to the test. She’ll need to think her way out of her torment.
He didn’t know how he would keep his laughter quiet.