Sneak Peak of LATENT!!!!!
1 Antony Danic let the slide of his Glock .357 slam home. The sound echoed against the sterile surfaces of the industrial kitchen where he waited. Lines of stainless steel appliances and stark white counters filled the room that was half the size of his whole apartment. Elite would love this kitchen. His thoughts turned from his wife to the hit, a machine-like calm settling over his body. “Corporate, this is Viper,” he said as he double-checked the blade strapped to his calf and adjusted his blue-lensed Lanzen glasses. “Viper acknowledged,” one of four female operators said over his silver and red earpiece. “Viper in recon position.” With his deadly accuracy, much like several Australian snakes, it hadn’t been hard to choose his call name. “Roger that, Viper. Radio silence commenced.” The earpiece went silent. There would be no more contact until he initiated it. Mr. Bennett held to a strict schedule when he was in town. He would arrive at exactly eleven to do a final walk-through of his restaurant before locking up for the night. Somehow, after chasing the man for three weeks, across Pakistan and the US, he had found him in Tallahassee, Florida. “Thank you,” a voice echoed through the kitchen, coming from the direction of the dining room. "I'll talk to you later." Antony could hear shoes on the tile floor. He slid his finger from the side of his Glock to the trigger well. A wide man entered the kitchen, checking the small refrigerator by the door and wiping his finger on the counter. Meticulous and well-fed, Antony thought as he stepped from the shadows, training his pistol on the man. Pretty oblivious, too, for a supposed mob boss. They now stood a mere ten feet from each other. Antony cleared his throat—he refused to shoot a man in the back—and pulled the trigger. Antony grimaced at the splatter of blood on his pant leg and made a mental note to stand farther back next time. I should know better—the larger targets always bleed more. Especially that third signature shot to the femoral artery. At least it wasn’t obvious on his black cargo pants, although he could feel it, growing cold and sticky, on his skin. Behind him, the door of the restaurant hissed closed and the smells and sounds of the city drew his attention from his last hour of work. Standing on the corner, he headed for the nearest train station. A siren echoed and a lone car rolled past him, the tires crunching on the blacktop. There were still a few of them around. Older cars were a luxury, too expensive for the common man, or a major expense for the “old timers” who didn’t like or trust newer technology. “Time,” he said into his earpiece. “11:17 p.m., June 26, 2097,” one of the women from headquarters answered. “When does the next plane leave for Canberra?” “3:06, sir.” The airport express line was still a city block away. Ahead of him, a community shuttle hovered at the curb of a stone apartment building. A young woman stumbled down the steps toward the shuttle. Behind her, a man followed. “Inform Maiko the package is delivered and Viper is going home.” He ran, his titanium sniper rifle case bouncing against his back in a calming cadence. Above him, a few shuttles flew along the appointed routes. For the size of the city, it was unusually quiet tonight. “Yes, sir, your ticket home has been activated.” the voice in his ear said. “Viper out.” He nudged the silver and red earpiece with his shoulder. The station was just ahead of him. He swiped his international transport card at the turnstile and rushed up the stairs. He reached the platform just as a large shuttle rose in the distance. Trans World Flight, a cruise ship in orbit. He intended to take Elite on one someday. He sat near the back of the train car and watched the city speed by and the massive airport appeared in the distance. He was just hours away from home. “Welcome to Canberra ACT, the National Capital of Australia,” the automated voice said. Antony turned the corner and walked from the airport into the adjacent train station. A maze of tracks crossed through the large room, and metal stairs and ramps led to each of the bays. Bright florescent lights bleached the color from everything in the station. The digital sign projected on the wall indicated his train would stop at a bay to his left in approximately 3.32 minutes. “God loves those that come to Him and confess their sins.” A man stood next to the transportation card machine, a metal can on the ground at his feet. He held a book in his hand and his frayed clothes reminded Antony of the homeless he’d seen around the city. “What about you, young man—have you given Him your sins?” he asked, grabbing at the sleeve of Antony’s jacket. Antony felt strong fingers pinching at his muscles. Sighing, he closed his eyes for a prolonged moment; all he wanted to do was get home to his wife and bed. As usual, sleep had escaped him in the adrenalin wash after a hit. He was exhausted. He pulled his arm up, the fabric sliding out of the preacher’s grip, and sneered at the man. “Hardly.” He continued to the left. “The path you choose leads to darkness—your heart yearns to be free from sin,” the man said, maneuvering in front of Antony. Antony stopped walking right before running into him. “Religion is placation for the weak-minded,” he growled. “It’s slavery in itself.” The man met Antony’s gaze, and Antony noticed that in spite of the man’s speed and strength, he was actually older. The lines around his dark, almond-shaped eyes were evident at this distance. When the man reached for his arm again, Antony grasped the front of his coat. “Get your hands off me, old man.” Antony pushed the man away from him. The preacher stumbled back a few feet before he stopped his own fall. “There is no God. It’s all in your head.” Antony stepped back as the train pulled into the station. If there was a God, my mother would still be alive. Clenching his teeth, he shoved the thought into the back of his head where it belonged. “Everything all right here?” asked a police officer dressed in traditional khakis. He stepped between them and reached out his hands, placing one on Antony’s chest and one on the preacher’s. “Tell that freak to leave me alone.” Antony pushed the officer’s hand away and stormed past him to the open train doors. “Simply a difference of opinion,” he heard the preacher say from behind him. Two people stepped off the train before Antony got on. He found a place to sit against the wall in the rear of the train car. He leaned back in his seat, the bloody fabric on his leg feeling coarse against his skin. An old woman turned on her bench to stare at him with watery eyes. He groaned and looked back at her, raising his eyebrows. “What?” he snapped. She turned away and looked down. He punched the volume up on his earpiece. “Music,” he said, and closed his eyes. 2 Antony watched the station disappear out the train window, the lights fading behind him, the stars appearing as the train picked up speed. Above him, the track stretched ahead until it vanished in the distance. With his assignment finished, he would be getting a large bonus. There was no such thing as a promotion for his job. As far as he knew, he was the only company soldier in the corporation. His reality revolved around his handler, Maiko, who told him his assignments. He reported either to Maiko or headquarters, and then the monthly paychecks and bonuses were electronically deposited in his account from some foreign bank. Years ago, the in-house accountant had the devil of a time deciding what accounts payable his salary went under. Antony laughed long and hard when his first check listed him as an employee of human resources. His phone vibrated and he swiped at the screen to see a new email. The travel council from Tahiti had approved his request and they now had a ten-day spot reserved for January of next year. The visas and reservations, they reminded him, were his responsibility. I can’t wait to take Elite to Tahiti. When they came home, she would draw a thick black line through the words, “Stand on the beach of Rangiroa,” written on the textured watercolor paper tacked to the corkboard in their closet. Every time she crossed an adventure off the list, she added a new one. He imagined Elite’s face as he gave her the tickets. Her excitement wouldn’t be containable. Visiting the beaches of Tahiti was one of the first on her list of things to do. She insisted that he might somehow feel a connection to his ancestors if they visited the South Pacific. Antony countered that just because some of his genetic input was Polynesian didn’t mean he was meant to wear a lava-lava and learn to surf. The Tahitian islands, closed to tourists starting with the island Rangiroa in early 2030, only allowed a few people a year to visit now, the ecology too fragile to return to the days of constant tourism. He’d placed their names on the waiting list over five years ago. His smile widened as he thought of his wife standing in the surf. She would thrill at the feeling of sugar white sand between her toes and want to go skinny-dipping at midnight just because, while she would drag him, swim trunks still intact, into the water. The train entered the station just before reaching Antony’s building. He stood and moved to the back door. A quick trip up the stairs, into the building, up the lift, and he would be in her arms. It was dark when he entered the apartment. Elite must be asleep for once, he thought. Never in his life had he met someone with so much energy. It was her love of life that had attracted him to her in the first place. Antony met Elite when they were both volunteer coaches for the Special Olympics. He’d started years ago when his best friend, Gage, invited him to help. Gage’s little sister was born with a birth defect and his family volunteered regularly. When Antony overheard Elite say she spent the weekend skydiving, he knew he had to introduce himself. He learned she was an adventure and adrenaline junkie like him, and it gave them something to talk about, and do, as they became friends and fell in love. Antony unlocked the door to his office and pulled the large picture out from the wall. Punching in the code, he opened the metal door, then placed both his pistol and his rifle in the gun safe and locked it. He pushed the picture back into position and headed to the bathroom. Next to Elite’s list tacked to the corkboard in the closet, was an application for volcanic geology summer camp. Typical Elite, finding adventures to occupy her time. He imagined her with a rock hammer in hand. His brow furrowed when he saw the camp was actually four weeks long. It would be a good time to immerse himself in a supplemental intensive training regimen to keep in shape. He would spend the day working out, meditating, and training at the do jang where he practiced Tang Soo Do twice a week. His Master Instructor, Sa Bo Nim Rick, would be happy to see him focus on his training. It would be the perfect time to reset his mind and body. Dropping his shirt and pants in the metal basket in the closet, Antony stepped into the shower, letting the water rinse the dirt and blood of the last few days from his skin. He hated the filth of his work—not the blood, but the vile lives of some of the people he met. The blood was just part of his job—what bothered him were the people who thought they could do whatever they wanted without paying for it, like the men who attacked and killed his mother when he was a kid—too young to do anything to save her. They had never been punished. Bright light spilled across the dark wood of the closet and bathroom. He could see through the glass of the shower stall that everything was immaculate, as usual. Dressed in flannel pajama pants, he opened the door from the bathroom to their bedroom. It’s good to be home. Elite’s head lay on her pillow in the shaft of light from the bathroom. Her dark brown hair had streaks of blue in it today, and curled softly around her face. The short style she loved made her look younger than her thirty years. Her tan shoulder peeked from under the blankets. There was an open book on the floor by her side of the bed; she must have fallen asleep while reading. He turned off the light, stepping from the rougher rock floor of the bathroom onto the smooth wood floor of their bedroom. Touching the knobby wooden post of their bed, he walked to his side, pulled the denim comforter down, and slipped in next to her. She shifted as he laid his arm across her stomach. He hadn't seen her in over three weeks. Pulling her close, he breathed in the familiar smell of her shampoo and closed his eyes, the guaranteed exhaustion of finally being home after a finished assignment making his eyelids heavy. He felt his body surrender to sleep. “It’s almost time to go. Are you ready?” Elite asked as she came out of the bathroom, fastening a long, dangling earring in her ear. She wore a bright colored flowered dress with a full skirt and an azure sweater over it that matched the blue in her hair. Her heels were thick and black. She wore her hair curled in what he called her pin-up girl look. Antony had spent the last hour watching her get ready through half-closed eyes. “Antony?” she said. He stretched his arms over his head, yawning. He had forgotten how comfortable his own bed felt. “What?” “You’re not even out of bed and the ceremony starts in just over an hour. It takes forty minutes to get there by train.” “Ceremony?” “Yes,” she said as she walked back into the closet and grabbed a shawl from a hook. They sometimes laughed at how his almost all brown, black, and blue clothing contrasted with her multi-colored wardrobe. “Sara and Michael’s bonding is this morning.” “Ugh, Elite, that’s church stuff.” She stopped at the doorway of the closet and blinked, looking somewhere between frustrated and disappointed. He cursed inwardly. I don’t like that face. “You promised me and Michael.” Antony groaned and rolled over. He wondered sometimes at the hardened soldier he was that became mush the instant his wife became upset with him. Her power over him was confusing, as if she had woven herself around his black heart and infused his lack of love with her abundance of it. She left the room and he heard her searching for the keys. She never put them in the same place, no matter what he told her. He had gone to church with her before, but he hated the way being there made him feel, as if he were being burned alive right there on the bench for his lifestyle and occupation. He didn’t believe in a higher being, but after an hour of her church, he was apt to believe there was a hell and he was going there. “Fine,” he said loudly and sat up. I’ll go even if it’s not where I want to be. “What?” She came into the room, her bag over her shoulder. “Fine, okay, I admit I promised you and Michael. I’ll go. Just give me a minute.” She smiled and reached for his black suit, still draped in the dry cleaner’s plastic. “Not that,” he said. “I’ll wear my khakis and a button-down shirt. I’m not going more dressed up than you are.” He saw her hang up his suit and pull out a pair of pants, a shirt, and sweater as he turned on the shower. Great, he would be hot and stuffy and feel like he was burning from the inside out all at the same time. This was going to be a pain in the . . . It was the least he could do in their current circumstances. In fact, the first item on her list was to be bound in her religion. Just being married wasn’t enough. Her religion believed they could not only marry flesh to flesh, but soul could be bound to soul. “We’re going to be late,” she said as he rinsed off. “We’ll take a taxi.” “It’s almost noon.” “But it’s Saturday. We’ll be fine.” He stepped out and grabbed the thick Egyptian cotton towel hanging on a hook by the shower. His feet felt cool on the rock as he gave himself a rigorous once-over. “Did you get them a gift?” he called out. “I ordered it weeks ago. It should have been delivered on Thursday,” she said from the kitchen, her mouth full of something. He pulled the sweater on and filled his pocket with his wallet, knife, and keys. Then he checked his pistol. It was loaded. He grabbed his phone in case things got boring. “Let’s go.” He found his shoes in the basket by the door and dropped them on the floor to slip them on. Elite came out of the kitchen, several crackers in her hand. “I called the taxi. It should be here by now,” she said. He looked at the crackers and smiled. “What?” she asked. “I was hungry.” He shook his head and opened the door, escorting her out by the elbow. He didn’t pay attention to the scenery or the address she told the driver as they stepped into the taxi until he realized they were in the opposite part of town from her church. “I thought this was a bonding,” he said as he turned his gaze toward her. She sat with a book in her lap, silent, reading. “It is.” “Then why are we going this direction?” he asked. She looked up and then at him. “They’re having the bonding at her parents’ house.” “But I thought bondings were performed at the church.” “It’s not where they’re performed, but by who,” she said and shut her book. “Sara got someone high up to do it, but I think she’s being a little vain. Her own father is an Elder, and he could have bonded them with permission.” “Elder . . . Remind me?” “Elders run the local churches. There are people higher in the chain of command who oversee the Elders,” she said. She didn’t seem to want to explain any more. Her face grimaced and she looked pale. “Honey, are you okay?” he asked. She shook her head. “I’ll be fine, just a little car sick. You know how I get.” Antony nodded. They usually took the train because it was easier on her stomach. Planes and trains were okay, but cars were a completely different story, probably why he hesitated to buy a car or a shuttle. Why own either if Elite couldn’t ride in them? “I’m sorry, I forgot I told you I’d go. It’s my fault we were too late to take the train. We’ll take one on the way home, okay?” She nodded. She was extremely claustrophobic when she was sick like this. Antony longed to comfort her, but she wouldn’t let him near. He opened his window a little and watched as she sat back and closed her eyes. How he wished for a little boy or girl with chocolate eyes just like hers. He frowned. He hadn’t thought about a baby for a long time, and it had almost escaped his thoughts altogether. Now, that desire reared its ugly face. He was going to be surrounded by members of Elite’s congregation, many of them asking when it was their turn to have children. Elite would be in a bad mood after the celebration because it wasn’t them being bonded, or having a baby. She had mentioned adoption again just before his last assignment. Actually bringing the papers home for him to sign. The fight had been mean and she went to bed silent. He left early the next morning before she started talking to him again. Was it so wrong to want a child of his blood? They could take home a baby from the orphanage Elite owned at any time, but it wasn’t the same. Abandoned as an infant in Wellington, New Zealand, Antony wanted a child of his own, a blood relative in a world where he had none. Yet, he wanted more than anything to erase the sorrow in Elite’s eyes. He vividly remembered the day she was diagnosed with infertility. She locked herself in their bedroom and wept for hours, insisting she had ruined his chances to be a father. He had to unhinge the door and climb over the dresser she had somehow moved to bar the way to get to her. He made it across the floor cluttered with anything she could throw and held her in his arms, promising her it didn’t matter, that he still loved her, that she was the most important thing in the world to him. He still meant it. The sound of the taxi’s air jets on gravel drew him out of his thoughts. They were pulling up to a grand house set on top of a small incline. He swiped his card for payment, and walked around to her door. He opened it and held out his hand. “Allow me,” he whispered. She reached out a thin hand and he pulled her to stand. The book had disappeared into the bag, no longer needed—if she concentrated on something else besides riding passenger, she didn’t get as sick. “I love you, Elite Danic.” She blushed. “I love you too,” she said as the taxi flew off. He stopped her as she took a step forward. “Elite,” he said. She paused and looked into his eyes. “Let’s turn in the papers and take a baby home. I hate seeing you alone. I want you to be happy. It doesn’t matter to me anymore whether our child is of our blood or adopted.” He hoped she couldn’t see through his façade. His chest hurt at the thought of lying to her. It was the reason he had confessed to her what he was even before he proposed. “I’m an assassin,” he remembered saying. “You kill people?” she asked, backing away from him. Her eyes opened wide, the skin around her mouth tightened. He regretted the decision, to be honest, as soon as he saw her face. “Do you just go up and shoot anyone you feel like killing?” “No,” he hurried to explain. “Only those who pose a threat to our country and the citizens’ safety.” “So you’re in the military?” “Actually, I’m retired. I work for a Military Contractor as a Corporate Soldier.” She paused, her arms folded across her stomach, her lower lip between her teeth. “It’s like that National Security thing. You go after terrorists,” she said after several seconds. “Yes. If they pose a threat to the people I work for, they send me to take care of it.” “Is that all you do?” she asked. “I’m also a courier. I transport documents or objects too valuable to ship through normal channels. I act as a bodyguard if needed, too,” he added. She was quiet a moment longer. “You protect the innocent like I do,” she said at length. “I work at the orphanage my mom owns. Some of the children who live there have been removed from abusive parents. We go to court all the time and sadly, sometimes the parents lie and they get their kids back in spite of the evidence against them.” “Sometimes, even with the most terrible evidence or solid eyewitness, the accused still gets off,” Antony said. “The justice system is an imperfect machine with human people running it and working for it. When that happens in my realm, I’m called to take care of it.” He looked at Elite, trying to read her face. It was obvious she was thinking about it. As her eyebrows lowered and her face relaxed into something calm compared to the alarmed look when he first told her, she reached out for his hand. “I think I prefer the word soldier instead of assassin.” He refused to live a lie with her. No one else mattered. “You’re ready to apply for adoption?” she asked. Her eyes searched his face, intensely flitting from feature to feature. He still felt mostly wrong about it, but secretly hoped the idea would grow on him. “I don’t know. I think so. I want to see you sitting in the nursery, rocking a baby to sleep in the antique chair I bought,” he said. That wasn’t a lie. Her eyes reflected less sorrow and more joy, and he smiled. “It’s time, isn’t it?” she asked. He pulled her close to him “It’s time someone called us Mom and Dad,” he replied.