Authors: James P. Sumner
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime, #Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Spies & Politics, #Assassinations, #Thriller, #Thrillers
BOOK 1 IN THE ADRIAN HELL SERIES
JAMES P. SUMNER
Copyright © James P. Sumner 2013. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior permission of the copyright owner. This novel is a work of fiction. All characters, locations, situations and events are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any person, place or event is purely coincidental.
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Previously published under the name
edition of which was released February 2014, with a 2
edition released September 2014
I want to take a moment to thank the people who have helped make this book happen. Writing is only half the story, and I couldn’t do this on my own.
Firstly, I need to thank my patient and supportive wife, Abigail, who understands completely when I need to get “one more chapter” written down, and helps me deal with the stresses of self-publication.
Next, a massive thank you to my editor, Rae Z. Ryans (
) and my cover designer, Jimmy Gibbs (
). Their time, expertise, and their ability to make me look better than I am are forever appreciated.
I’m not on commission—they’re genuinely that talented!
Also, a big thank you to John Battle and Nick Stephenson. Both are brilliant authors, and their advice and support in figuring out this crazy world of independent publishing is priceless.
Finally, to you, the reader, for being my audience and buying the books that we authors strive to put out there for you. I’m constantly improving so I can deliver to you the best book possible, for your enjoyment and escapism.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
JESUS CHRIST, IT’S hot… I’m not complaining, I’m simply stating a fact. The long, straight highway that cuts across the unforgiving, barren Nevada landscape is steaming in the afternoon August sun. I know I’m still wearing my leather jacket, but I’m on a job and image is everything in my line of work. I suppose I could've stayed on the air-conditioned Greyhound bus for the last four miles, but it’s a lovely day and I feel like walking.
But it’s damn hot.
I was in Milwaukee when I got the call telling me about the job in Heaven's Valley. I was standing on the balcony of a fifteenth story apartment. It was early evening and the temperature had been a refreshing sixty-four degrees. Inside the apartment, on the bed, was a dead man. I'd tracked him across the city for three days, and struck when I knew he was alone.
I'd knocked on his door and when he answered, I’d kicked it hard so it flew open and hit him in the face. I'd assumed there would be a security chain fastened in place, so figured the initial force would have been necessary to gain entrance. He'd stumbled backward and fell over clutching his bleeding, and presumably broken, nose. He'd stared up at me wide-eyed, his face a mixture of fear and confusion.
“Sit on the bed,” I'd said to him.
He didn't initially comply, but when I'd taken my gun out and aimed it at him, he didn't hesitate a second longer. With him sitting down, staring at me confused and afraid, I’d reached into my pocket and attached the silencer. I’d made a point of taking my time. Letting him see what was coming. Letting him process the terror. Letting him realize it was the last night of his life.
“Why?” he'd asked. “What do you want with me?”
I’d said nothing. Remaining silent forces them to start thinking, eventually coming to their own conclusions. It was a standard psychological tactic. Plus, it was more entertaining.
Now don't get me wrong, I never take pleasure in doing what I do for a living. If anything, I find it quite monotonous at times. But the money’s good. So I remain detached from the job and keep out of my own head. It allows me to see everything objectively. Every angle, every possible outcome… I operate by relying purely on my instincts.
The man struggled to figure out why I was there, bless him. I’m assuming he’d reached the conclusion that I was going to shoot him, at the very least, but the reasons why seemed a mystery to him.
My phone rang, interrupting the scene. I’d put my Bluetooth earpiece in and answered. It was my handler.
“Gimme a second, would you?” I’d said.
I’d aimed my gun and fired. The muffled sound of the bullet was the last thing he’d heard. He wouldn't have felt a thing. It hit him in the center of the forehead, causing an instant explosion of crimson and pink to spray across the wall behind him. His body twitched as it fell back, leaving him lying motionless on the bloodstained covers.
“Sorry about that,” I’d said, walking out onto the balcony and looking out over the beautiful city that unfolded in front of me.
Then my handler gave the details of the next job. Easy work, a good payout and I got to visit a city I'd never been to before. I took it without more than a second thought.
The next morning, I'd taken the first Greyhound I could up to Minnesota. From there, I'd flown down to Las Vegas. There were some delays along the way, but nothing major. Plus, the advantage of being self-employed was that you rarely had to rush to be somewhere, so I took my time and did my best to enjoy the trip.
By the time I was on the Greyhound heading here, however, the traveling and the lack of legroom and the loud, sweaty people were all starting to annoy me. I felt the beginnings of a headache and my stress levels were slowly climbing to homicidal levels. So when we drove past a sign that announced the city limits were only four miles away, I made the decision to walk it.
The sweat’s running down my head and into my eyes, stinging them as I walk beneath the blistering sun. I squint ahead, seeing the steam rise off the blacktop on the horizon, making the faint image of the city and mountains beyond wavy, like a mirage. My shoulder’s aching from the weight of my bag. I always travel light, but fatigue’s setting in and I could do with an ice-cold beer.
I've heard of Heaven’s Valley’s reputation, but I've never been. It’s a basin city in the middle of the Nevada desert, about a hundred and fifty miles north of Vegas. Bordering it to the north and the west are mountains; to the south and the east is nothing but sand.
People say it's easy to lose yourself in the Valley, a place that thrives on the sins of the common man. Drugs, money and women—it’s all there, for those who want it. But one man's Heaven can be another man's Hell.
I've made a living out of being invisible and anonymous. But as time’s gone on, I’ve developed somewhat of a reputation. You see, I'm an assassin—a damn good one. Probably one of the best operating in North America today. I say that with no ego, it’s just a fact. I’ve honed my craft over the last eleven years or so, ever since I left the CIA. Before that, I was military—first one through the door during Desert Shield. But since retiring, I found it hard to hold down a job that didn’t involve shooting people. Old habits, I guess. So I’ve worked hard and done a few… questionable things over the years, but with some help, I’ve become a legend in the criminal fraternity as the only person worth hiring when you want a job done right.
Does that make me a bad person? I like to think not. I’m not an assassin like you see in the movies. I won’t ever pull the trigger unless I have proof the person deserves a bullet. And in my line of work, you deal with a lot of people who do terrible things, so I don’t feel bad saying someone
On the other hand, I suppose you could argue that, strictly speaking, I go around killing people for a living… I’m hardly going to win any humanitarian awards. And I doubt I’ll ever receive a Christmas card from anyone working in law enforcement. In fact, if I think about it, if I ever got arrested and someone could prove what I’ve done over the last decade, I’d probably be given the death sentence before I had chance to swear on a bible.
But, luckily for me, that won’t happen. Don’t forget, I’m the best. There’s no evidence I’ve ever been to any of the places I’ve taken jobs in. The people who hire me typically aren’t fans of cops or Feds themselves, so they’re not likely to rat me out or anything.
So think what you want. I’m going to continue taking money off bad people in order to rid the world of other bad people. Once you’ve worked for the CIA, it’s almost impossible to find your moral compass again. I just listen to my gut and do what I believe is right.
So, who am I?
My name is Adrian Hell.
Welcome to my life.
I’M SITTING ON a stool at the bar in a small, local, anonymous place called Charlie’s, leaning forward and resting on my crossed arms with a half-empty bottle of Bud in front of me. Just to the left of it is a double Johnnie Walker Black, which I like to drink alongside a nice beer. It’s just before eight p.m and I’m tired after the walk into town. I came in the first place that looked like it would have a half-decent jukebox and ordered a drink.
A thin layer of dust from the road covers my jeans and boots. The sweat’s soaked my white t-shirt through, so I’ve not removed my brown leather jacket. My shoulder bag is at my feet, resting against my bar stool.
Before I sat down, I’d walked across the bar to the jukebox and cycled through all the crap I’ve never heard of until I found a couple of good songs to listen to. I’d fed some quarters into the machine, selected my tracks, sat back down in my seat, and quietly resumed sipping my beer.
The music isn’t too loud and bar isn’t too busy. I close my eyes and listen to the world around me. The clack of the balls on the pool table sounds over my right shoulder, in the dark corner lit only by a neon blue sign advertising a beer I’ve never heard of; the idle chatter from the table to my left, where three women are discussing work and shopping and men; two guys just to the right of me, standing at the bar exchanging one-line observations about the current state of the government; the bartender in front of me, wiping down glasses until they squeak.
I open my eyes, examining my reflection in the mirrored wall behind the bar. I take another long pull of my beer and let out a heavy sigh. My ice-blue eyes look like searchlights on the dark landscape of my face, dirty from the hours of travelling. I stroke my chin and throat, feeling the coarse, three-day-old stubble grate on my hand like sandpaper.
I definitely need a shave and a shower.
I rub my hand over my shaved head, briefly massaging my temples and taking a deep breath as I feel the strain of a full day’s travelling slowly leave me.
I smile to myself. I feel comfortable in a bar like this. Dull lighting, sticky floors, and no pleasantries exchanged between strangers... Just the music and me. If I ever run my own bar, it’ll be exactly like this.
I glance outside as the orange glow of the setting sun casts an impressive, picturesque view through the window. Heaven’s Valley is a deceptive place. At first glance, it’s a bright, opulent place filled with opportunity. But beneath the surface beats the true, corrupted heart of the city. Gambling, girls, gangsters… one of the highest crime rates on the West Coast. Some people’s idea of a good time, but certainly not mine. Unfortunately, like I say, in my line of work the people who like places like this are usually the people who hire me.
It’s not easy, doing what I do. You need more than just a trained set of skills. You need certain mental attributes as well. Probably the most important is you have to be comfortable taking a life. It’s one of those things that’s real easy to talk about, but when it comes down to it and you’re staring some poor schmuck dead in the eye right before you pull the trigger—that’s something else altogether. I’ve been doing it over half my life, and it’s only been in more recent years that I’ve found myself more at ease with it.
I also don’t like seeing nice, normal people made to suffer. Most of the time, the people who hire me are bad people. But the person or people they want me to kill have usually done something that justifies a bullet. Drug dealers, pimps, corrupt cops… you name it. I can easily look myself in the eye after killing anyone that does something to negatively affect normal, everyday, innocent people.
The second thing any good contract killer needs is the right attitude. Not just to carry out a job, but to make the job work for you. If you play this game just right, your name can put fear in the hearts of every man in the room, even if you’re miles away. Look at me… after a decade of doing this, I’m a legend in the criminal underworld. And to the various law enforcement agencies around the country, I’m a myth—a horror story they tell new recruits to scare them. No one believes anyone as ruthless and as skilled as me can really exist.
by Creedence Clearwater Revival comes on jukebox. God, I love this song. The soundtrack of the Vietnam War. The conflict might’ve been a bit before my time, but I sure do appreciate the music that came about as a result of it.
I’m muttering the words quietly to myself when the music suddenly stops. I look up at the barman with a disappointed and confused expression on my face. He’s staring behind me with wide, regretful eyes. He looks at me for a second and lowers his gaze in silent apology, stepping away from the bar.
I sigh. I don’t need to look behind me to figure out what’s coming next. I take another long sip of my well-earned beer and spin around on my seat. I lean back and rest my elbows on the bar behind me, holding the neck of my bottle loosely in my right hand. Walking toward me are two muscle-bound stereotypes wearing suits—one with the jacket on, open, and one with just a waistcoat on. They’re side by side, staring a hole straight through me and looking really pissed off.
I sigh again.
They both look similar. The guy on the left is the smaller of the two, but they’re both big guys. I’m a shade over six feet, and they both easily have a few inches on me. The smaller guy hasn’t shaved in a few days and I haven’t seen him blink once. He’s clearly been working on his intimidating stare, because he’s really working it as he walks toward me.
His slightly taller friend on my right looks slightly more physically impressive, but he’s blinking more, so I’m guessing he’s the less confident one who doesn’t pay much attention to the psychological side of conflict like his friend does. He’s clean-shaven, though, easily the more presentable of the two. He’s the one in the waistcoat.
Behind me, I hear the barman put the glass he was cleaning down on the bar and walk away. What noise there was in the bar has stopped. There’s an audible, collective intake of breath as the people around me stop and stare with a mixture of fascination and fear.
It’s a good job I don’t get self-conscious…
The two angry stereotypes stop three feet in front of me.
“You put that song on?” asks the guy on the left, adjusting his suit jacket and practically spitting his words out at me.
“Yeah,” I reply, casually. “You not a fan?”
“That song makes my friend here unhappy. Reminds him of someone he knew.”
I turn to his friend next to him.
“That right?” I ask, raising my eyebrows with feigned interest.
It’s the first guy who answers me. “Yeah, that’s right,” he continues. “And we don’t appreciate a stranger walking in here and causing problems like that for us regulars.”
I don’t take my eyes off the guy on my right, but I reply to the guy on the left. “I’m just after a quiet, relaxing drink is all,” I say, before turning back to him. “I meant no offence by my choice of song.”
“That’s as maybe, but offence was caused all the same. Which leaves you in a bad situation.”
You can argue this is a flaw of mine, but I love winding people up just before a fight. And let’s face it: this is going to end up in a fight. Not much of one, I’ll admit, because these two assholes couldn’t beat me if I was asleep. But it’ll be a fight nevertheless. A bit of trash-talk is a good thing—if you do it right, you can make people so angry that they’ll attack you without thinking. Which, as a result, greatly increases the chances of them making a mistake. And all it takes is one mistake and BAM! Goodnight sweetheart.
Plus, it amuses me.
“Really?” I say. “I’m sitting in a bar, drinking a beer and relaxing. Seems like a pretty good situation to me. Granted, it’d be better if I didn’t have to waste my breath on you two ass-clowns, but I can definitely think of worse things.”
Usually, when someone their size confronts you, they expect people to back down or run off. They definitely don’t expect them to spark up a conversation or openly take the piss.
They exchange a bewildered glance, as if asking each other if they can believe I’d have the nerve to speak to them like that.
“You got some mouth on you, asshole. You know that?” says the one on the left.
“I know,” I say, nodding in agreement. “Gets me in all sorts of trouble. What’s your name?”
He doesn’t expect that, either.
“Stan,” he replies hesitantly as he frowns in confusion.
“Stan?” I repeat, before pointing to his friend. “So that must make you Oli, right?”
The waistcoat guy’s cheeks quickly flush red and he starts cracking his knuckles, clearly angry. I thought that only happens in cartoons or something… It’s hilarious!
“No,” he says, in a low, agitated tone.
“Is your surname Dupp?” I continue.
They’re both getting angrier by the second and I love it. I honestly can’t wait for one of them to make a move for me.
Please don’t judge me for how I entertain myself.
I turn to the guy on my right, whose name isn’t Oli, apparently.
“So, ‘Big and Dumb’, what do they call you?”
Before he has chance to answer, Stan lurches forward and throws a big right hand at my face. Luckily for me, it’s possibly the slowest punch ever thrown by anyone ever and I saw it coming a mile away. In one quick movement, I push myself forward off my stool with my left leg and step through with my right foot forward, kicking Stan’s left leg away from him. Just a little tap—enough to send him off-balance without breaking anything. Because of the weight he put behind the punch, and the fact his left leg’s now moving uncontrollably away from him, his own momentum sends him crashing forward into the bar. As he goes down, I step away and slam my right fist into his left temple. He’s got no clue where he is as he bounces off the bar, and he’s out cold by the time he hits the floor.
Using the momentum from the right hand, I continue to turn my body counter-clockwise, bringing my left elbow up and swinging it behind me, catching ‘Big and Dumb’ on the side of the chin with it as he moves in. It’s not the most accurate or powerful shot I’ve ever thrown, but it does the job of sending him staggering backward because he was completely unprepared for it. As he does, I complete the turn and thrust my right fist into his sternum, just below his rib cage. There’s lots of power behind the punch and it hits him as sweetly as is possible. When you take that kind of shot, your body instinctively doubles over. Because he’s already moving backward from the elbow, both movements counter each other and he just slumps straight down on the spot. He lands in the fetal position making an awful rasping noise as he tries to breathe. He rolls around for a moment before giving up and passing out.
I look first at Stan, then his friend, unconscious at my feet. I step back over to the bar and gulp my Johnnie Walker in one. I reach into my pocket and throw down a twenty before picking up my bag and walking out.
I’m standing on the sidewalk outside Charlie’s, the sun setting on my right, casting an orange glow over the tops of the buildings. I take a couple of deep breaths, telling my body I no longer need any adrenaline and slow my heart rate down.
I look left and right, trying to decide which way will get me to a motel faster. I come to the conclusion that I have absolutely no idea, so I resort to my age-old philosophy: when in doubt, go left.
I take out my phone and dial a number from memory. The voice that answers is one of those annoying voices that always sound happy, regardless of the situation. However, the voice belongs to one of the few people on this planet I trust, so I let them off.
Josh Winters is a former army buddy from back in the day. We met shortly after I’d been recruited to lead a black ops task force that was a joint effort between the U.S. and the British. We quickly bonded and became like brothers, so when I got out and decided to work freelance, he was more than happy to come with me. He’s been working with me for the past eleven years, making contacts, finding me jobs and supplying me with information and anything else I might need. My life is pretty much in his hands.
“Adrian! Great to hear from you, Boss!” he says. “How’s Heaven’s Valley so far?”
I can tell he’s smiling down the phone as he speaks.
“I’ve been in this town half an hour and I’ve already been in a fight,” I reply. “I’ve decided I don’t like it here all that much.”
have a tendency to make a unique first impression, don’t you?” he says with a laugh.
“Screw you, Josh,” I counter, enjoying the banter. “We all set for tomorrow?”
“Yeah, you’re meeting a guy called Jimmy Manhattan. This guy, and the people he represents—they’re old school, Adrian. So I say this with all the love in the world, but try to avoid being too...
I’m almost offended, but I know what he was trying to say. I’ve worked for guys like these many times, and they take respect very seriously. Disrespecting someone near the top of the mob family hierarchy like Jimmy Manhattan would bring a lot of unnecessary trouble down on top of me.
“Fear not, I shall be at my most professional,” I assure him.