Book: Ghost Redemption

Ghost Redemption





B thrust his short sword into the sheath on his hip. He stepped

over a fallen log and glanced at the carpet of leaves beneath

his feet. His gaze panned his surroundings and his previous

instincts immediately kicked in as he walked through the Zoo. He

could feel the preparation, the anxiety, and the watchfulness return

to him like time had never passed since his last trip years before.

What he didn’t realize was exactly how much he had forgotten of the

wonder of the jungle.

The colors were wild and the trees swayed in sync as the Zoo

breathed in the familiar subtle but steady rhythm. The underbrush

was much higher this time around, some of the shrubs taller than he

was. Still, it had the same distinct character. A world of its own, like

something out of a movie. Everything made him remember the old

days, the cascade of moments in his life that fit together like a puzzle

to create his own personal story. The whispers of voices seemed to

echo around him as he pushed through the brush, voices of the

people who represented the individual pieces of the bigger picture

that was his life.

He paused and peered into the canopy of the trees, drew in a

deep breath, and exhaled slowly. A monkey swung high across the

overhanging branches and paid little attention to him below. The

years had been long and hard on him but now, he had begun the

walk into a new beginning.

JB drew his gun from its holster and sighed as he pushed

forward. “Finally.”

There was a strange sensation in the pit of his stomach. After all,

he had never walked into the place with the sole purpose of getting

himself killed before. Everyone in the bar had been told he was

dying. That provided a more believable and fitting end to his story

than some random surprise trip into the jungle. The patrons had

wanted to come with him to be there for him when he died, but he’d

been able to convince them not to. Actually, Paula had. She had

reminded them of his pride, of his strength, and of the deliberate

quietness of his life. He had done everything else alone, and this

was something he needed to do alone as well.

Of course, dying wasn’t actually in the cards. He merely had to

make it look like he had died. There was no reason to have to be

brought back to life again—besides which, who knew what another

dose of goop serum would do? The Zoo had more than enough dark

corners, shadowed creatures, and unexplained weirdness to cover

up his goodbye. All the more reason why he needed to remember to

be careful so that he didn’t actually kick it out there. Setup or not, the

Zoo was a damn dangerous place and he hadn’t been in for quite a


JB scoffed as he walked and chuckled quietly. “Holly would

resurrect my ass and then kill me all over again simply to prove a

damn point.”

He continued cautiously and brought up the list of animals in the

HUD database. There had been many new creatures added to the

mix since he had been there last. A fair number of them were much

bigger than the ones he had faced before and deadlier, too. He

sighed when he realized that things had been a lot simpler when he

had first started out in the Zoo, although he would never have

thought it back then. Plagues of locusts, a couple of big monsters

here and there, and the occasional man-eating plant with venomous


As if his body knew he had thought of the deadly plants, his leg

shivered slightly in pain. He rubbed the side of his thigh even though

he knew it was all in his mind. The disease had gone, and there was

no trace of it in his blood anymore. Of course, knowing that didn’t

erase the years of pain he’d endured, convinced that one day, it

would be the thing that killed him. Little did he know that instead, he

would be healed and would walk into the jungle alone to hand-pick

the story they told of his death.

JB grinned. “If the liquor route wasn’t already taken, I would

definitely be down for that. I could use a shot right about now. A little

liquid courage in case anything decides to poke its head out today.”

An alarm blared harshly in his HUD. He switched out of the

library of creatures to his heat sensing tool. Tense and alert, he

gripped his gun tightly and focused on a rapid scan of his

surroundings to identify the threat. A low beep on the sensor grew

quicker and quicker as the creature approached. JB looked up,

cleared the heat sensors from his vision, and stopped dead in his

tracks. All he could hear was his own breathing.

A creature launched out of the undergrowth with a vicious growl

before he could even focus on it. Man and beast careened away in a

tangled motion from the impact.

They rolled back through the leaves and slid to an abrupt halt as

the beast appeared in the corner of his HUD. He tried to pay

attention, but it was difficult while the six legs attempted to wind

around him. It was medium-sized, about the same as a koala or bear

cub. Its long snout was lined with sharp, jagged teeth and its body

was covered in slimy fur.

JB struggled to grasp it and break its hold, but his hands slipped

through the sludge. “What is this fucking thing?” he muttered.

The HUD replied in a robotic female voice. “Orbiter. Travels on all

six legs in a head to foot circular motion. Body is covered in fur and

slime secretes constantly from pores. To kill, shoot in chest, center,

top. Does not regenerate. Not poisonous. Number of human

casualties, zero.”

He nodded. “Now that’s helpful.”

His pistol pressed painfully into his spine and he fumbled to

retrieve it from where it had fallen beneath him. With a mutter of

triumph, he closed his fingers around it and brought it to the front to

aim it at the beast’s chest. Its eyes widened and JB laughed. “Oh

yeah. That’s exactly what you think it is.”

The report rang in his ears when he squeezed the trigger and

shot the orbiter in the chest. The close-range shot catapulted it back

and the body sprawled a few feet away. JB released a sharp breath

and let his head fall forward. He panted a little as he pushed himself

to sit upright. After a quick, wary look at his surroundings, he

scrambled to his feet and holstered his weapon before he

approached the orbiter and poked it with the toe of his boot. The

thing was definitely dead, and its blood seeped into the soil below it.

The sun was high overhead, which made the entire Zoo steam

with heat. JB leaned down, grabbed the beast by one of its legs, and

swung it out into the brush. “There’s no need to let you sit here and

get all nasty. You, sir, were not the one to be the cause of my death.

I’m JB. I will never be a species’ first human casualty.”

He glanced at the slimy goo on his hands and winced. “Especially

not something covered in fucking snot. Gross, dude.”

JB wiped his hand down the side of his suit and drew his gun

once more. He checked the number of bullets and continued. “No

one would ever have believed that thing could take me down, even

on my deathbed.”

His thoughts shifted to the guys at the bar who had all sat there

and stared as he walked out with his suit in hand and his fresh,

smooth skin covered with aging makeup. They might have thought

he was on his last legs, but they also knew he was a motherfucking

fighter. Even his decision to end it all in the Zoo didn’t mean he

wouldn’t put up a fight until the end.

He stopped at the edge of a small stream. The water ran faster

than he would have expected in a waterway that tiny. He stepped

onto a rock near the center and jumped to the other side. When he

landed, pain flared from the stump of his leg and up to his hip. He

grumbled and bent in an attempt to adjust his artificial leg through his

suit. “The damn thing doesn’t fit right. I couldn’t make a run for it if I

had to.”

The sound of gunfire in the distance caught his attention. He

paused and his gaze shifted back and forth as the underbrush shook

as if in echo. The barrage repeated, a sign that there was some sort

of fight in progress not far from him. “Bring up battle site.”

He wished the HUD could scan and pull up a map. With his

disability, it would be good to avoid delays and head directly for the

location. He listened intently and decided that, only half a klick away

and directly ahead, a battle was in progress. It didn’t seem like

anything too large but was still a fight. Still, it was a pity the damned

equipment couldn’t identify numbers and tell him clearly what he

would be letting himself in for.

JB straightened his pant leg and stood with a smirk. “A fight? I’m

down. Why not?”

He straightened and headed off in an ungainly gallop. It was

difficult to move at any kind of speed as he had to push off his good

leg to not put too much pressure on the artificial one. With the slight

breeze that stirred the canopy and the spray of mist from the

dripping branches, he almost felt twenty years old again. He felt

rejuvenated by the thought of running into a conflict.

Progress was awkward as he had to leap over fallen trees and

duck under branches. As he approached the edge of the battle, he

slowed to study the scene. Across from him, three mercs stood

spread out about twenty feet apart with their weapons at the ready.

Along the edge of the clearing, three jags and one duo bear growled

and snarled at them, ready for the fight.

He opened his comms and located the right channel. “Do you

guys need a hand?”

The mercs looked at him as one and the leader exhaled a deep

breath. “Sure could, JB. I didn’t think I would run into you out here

today. But we heard you would be out, though. It’s good to see you

still standing.”

JB tapped his HUD and nodded. The three mercs turned back to

their adversaries and opened fire. He lurched toward the duo bear,

his gun at the ready, and pulled the trigger a couple of times. The

slugs skimmed the creature’s shoulders and tufts of fur and blood

sprayed outward, which made the beast even angrier. He stopped in

front of it, holstered his gun, and drew a dagger from each side of his

belt. Man and beast did their dance as they circled one another and

searched for a chance to attack.

The duo bear slashed violently with its claws. JB jumped back,

his energy and instincts able to counteract his ungainly motion. He

was still quick, despite his handicap, and the bear was large and

bulky, something the man knew was to his advantage. He danced

back and forth, then took his opportunity to lunge forward and slice

across the beast’s chest. Blue blood poured instantly from the wound

and down the front of it to mat its fur. The bear leaned its heads back

and opened both mouths to roar aggressively.

JB saw the opening and whirled behind the animal. He thrust his

daggers in their sheaths and yanked his pistol out. “HUD, how do I

kill this bitch?”

A picture of the duo bear popped up on his screen. “Bullet to both

heads. One head will only make it angrier.”

He nodded. “That sounds about par for the course.”

Before the beast could turn to face him, he leveled his pistol. He

pulled the trigger once, shifted, and fired a second time. The bullets

spiraled through the duo’s two heads. It fell forward immediately into

a huge ball and the impact shook the trees around it. JB chuckled

when he noticed the three jags lying lifeless nearby. “Well, that was a

good fight.”

The alarms in all their helmets beeped wildly. He pulled his map

up and the air expelled from his lungs. Red dots flashed all around

them. A pack of wolf-like creatures the HUD identified as

hammerheads lurked at the edge of the clearing on the right. The

furry creatures had bodies like wolves, only much larger. Their tails

were scaled and grew behind them in the shape of large hammers.

JB turned to his left and located three duo bears that sniffed the

air above them. He immediately backed toward the rest of the team.

Behind him, a group of mantises sliced their sharp mandibles

through the greenery as they approached the battle.

Things did not look good in the least. The three mercs and JB

retreated all the way to the center of the small clearing until their

shoulders touched. No one said a word, and the beasts stood frozen

and scrutinized them intently. This was the momentary silence

before engagement, the quiet evaluation of adversaries. The silence

was so acute, it sent shivers down JB’s arms.

Without a sound, the animals surged into the attack and the

warriors lunged to meet them. He stared at one of the hammerheads

as he lurched forward with his gun blasting relentlessly at the beast.

It reared up on its hind legs and pivoted to swing its huge tail. JB

barely registered the motion before the tail slammed into his

stomach and lifted him off his feet. The momentum hurled him into a

tree and he grunted as he collapsed.

He pounded his fists on the ground in a gesture of defiance

before he drew a short sword. At that moment, a dozen men burst

through the underbrush, screaming a battle song. One of them

slowed and hauled JB to his feet. “You didn’t think we would sit

around drinking at your bar while you were out here in your glory, did


JB narrowed his eyes when he recognized Jim from FUBAR.

“You guys—”

The man laughed. “We all came out to kick some ass with you.

There’s no way that JB will die alone, that’s for damn sure. Come on.

Let’s show these fuckers who is boss on this planet.”



im hurtled toward one of the jags, drew his dagger, and

stabbed it into the beast’s neck to slice its throat. The animal

fell with a gurgle and slumped as its eyes rolled back and its

tongue hung through its jagged teeth. Another charged him but he

drew his pistol and shot it in the face before it could even get close.

Chunks of the jag flew everywhere to spray the mercs and the other

animals with blood and flesh.

It didn’t faze them, however. They were all too amped to care. A

roar of laughter and cheers sounded through the comms. Three of

the men looked at JB as he limped forward with his short sword in

hand. “The fucker still has it in him,” one commented with a grin.

Another man nodded. “Damn straight he does. You never lose

that shit.”

JB roared loudly as he swung the sword through the air and

sliced a mantis in half. Its body twitched as it bounced a couple of

times. The mercs raised their arms and cheered loudly, which gave

him something to be more than proud of. Most of them had never

seen him in action before as they’d all arrived after he had retired to

the bar.

The guys from FUBAR glanced at each other and shook their

heads. Jim smirked. “That’s right, he isn’t dead yet. There’s no way

we can let him die out here. Boys, I think this went from a comfort

mission to a rescue mission. We’re gonna bring that stubborn son of

a bitch back home and cure him with a bottle of whiskey and some

damn good drugs.”

The crew all cheered approval as none of them wanted to watch

him die. The motivation spurred them into action and JB turned and

pumped his fist with a huge smile on his lips. He took a step forward,

ready to join the others in the battle, but the men froze in horror as a

large claw thrust through the underbrush behind him. They yelled

and ran to help but it was too late. The creature latched onto his

shoulder and yanked him off his feet and into the jungle.

Silence fell over the Zoo and it seemed even the animals paused

slightly as JB vanished from sight.

Hickok stood on the edge of the clearing and peered around a tree.

She gripped the bark tightly as a claw snatched JB and hauled him

off into the Zoo. “Oh, fuck that,” she muttered. “We are not putting

Humpty Dumpty together again.”

She raced through the clearing as fast as she could toward the

area where he’d disappeared. No one could see her, thankfully,

since her suit camouflage allowed her to move with only minor

fluctuations of barely discernible color. It wasn’t nearly as good as

the suits she’d had for her work, which were far beyond the

technology that any civilian and most of the military had. Then again,

it was also technology she wasn’t even sure other people outside the

business should own. They enabled almost anyone to essentially do

whatever the fuck they wanted without detection. In the wrong

hands, that could be a real problem.

Billie leapt into the underbrush and followed the sounds of a

struggle somewhere ahead. She shoved off against a tree to steer

herself to the right, hurdled a log, and flailed to a stop ten feet from

JB and a very large hammerhead. Luckily, he had found his feet and

battled the beast with everything he had—which, at that point,

included a dagger and his sheer strength.

She turned the camo on her suit off and raced up to him to thump

him hard on the back. He whirled in consternation and snorted when

he realized it was her. She gestured frantically and opened a private

channel. “Was that necessary?” he demanded

“That was your moment,” she said crisply. “When we’re done with

this bitch, we need to get that chip out. We can’t have them tracking

you. How do you think they found your ass in the first place?”

JB rolled his eyes and threw a punch that knocked the

hammerhead backward. Billie drew her weapon and screwed the

suppressor on. “I came to save your ass,” she added blithely.

He laughed loudly as he grabbed the hammerhead by the scruff

of its neck and pulled its head back. It snapped its jaws and its tail

wildly, but it couldn’t reach him. He brandished his dagger and

nodded. “Thanks, but I think I got this one.”

With one smooth swipe, he cut the hammerhead’s throat and

threw the creature against a tree. With a smartass smirk on his lips,

he turned back to Billie with his fists on his hips. “I guess you won’t

be paid for babysitting after all.”

From the right, a jag erupted from the bushes and sank its teeth

into JB’s calf. His eyes widened and his arms flailed as he fell

sideways into the dirt. It tried to drag him, but he dug in, took hold of

a nearby limb, and pulled himself forward. For a moment, it felt like a

tug of war with his leg as the fucking rope. He tried to kick the animal

away with his free leg, but it had latched on firmly.

Hickok winced. “Holy fuck. How are you not screaming right now?

That fucking thing has your Goddamned leg.”

JB looked down and then at her with a laugh. “It’s my artificial leg.

I think the pain in that area left me long ago.”

She narrowed her eyes. Sure enough, while the jag snarled and

bit into his leg, no blood could be seen at all. She put her hands on

her hips and groaned. “Then please take care of this thing. We don’t

have all fucking day. They’ll eventually come looking for a damn


He rolled his eyes. “All right, sheesh. Pushy bitch. Throw me your

gun. Mine is lost somewhere back there.”

Billie glanced at her gun before she sighed. “Fine, but I want it


She tossed it and JB caught it, flipped his body, and kicked at the

jag with his good leg once more. The beast jerked back enough for

him to sit up and press the trigger. The bullet struck its chest. As it

fell back, two more shots rang out, which made him flinch. Slowly, he

looked at Billie, who nodded at the skull shots she’d delivered.

“Better safe than sorry.”

He pushed to his feet and shook his head

Several orbiters spiraled toward them from the opposite direction.

Billie and JB turned to face them and stepped shoulder to shoulder.

“Fuck that,” he huffed. “You have two guns. I’m using this one.”

Hickok shrugged. “Whatever. But try to hit them where it counts,

old man.”

JB chuckled. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I look younger

than you.”

She scoffed. “Yeah, right, bitch. I am hot, wild, and young again.

You’re more like late thirties.”

They both smiled and focused on the creatures as they moved

closer and closer. He raised an eyebrow. “We would have made

quite the team back in the day.”

Billie glanced at him. “Yeah, if you weren’t so whiny all the time.

‘Oh no, I got stabbed by some poison. Time to cut my leg off.’”

He sneered. “Mm-hmm. Because face-up, drooling on yourself,

no helmet or HUD, no suit, and staring at the stars is so much


She pursed her lips. “Hey, I never asked for help. I could have

gone bitch mode on that toxin. I survived it all day long.”

He laughed. “Yeah, okay.”

They fired almost at the same time and the orbiters fell one after

another, stumbled, and slid to sprawl in untidy heaps. Billie tilted her

head to the side and grimaced. “What the fuck are those? They look

like someone had way too much fun.”

JB wrinkled his nose. “Orbiters, apparently. I killed one earlier

today. That’s slime all over them. It makes it hard to fight them hand

to hand.”

They dropped their empty mags and slid new ones in before they

scanned the area. Small creatures, rats, scaled animals with shells

and sharp teeth, and winding vines wriggled through the jungle. Billie

groaned and threw her head back. “Seriously. This shit is ridiculous.

Why the fuck are they attacking?”

He shrugged. “It’s like a welcome back party. They missed me.

What can I say?”

She raised both eyebrows as she retrieved a case from her back

and removed a long gun-type weapon. The contraption had a hose

attached to a small metal box. “I can understand that. They are

welcoming you back by trying to murder you. Sounds about right for

the kind of friendships you make.”

JB frowned and focused on the strange weapon. “What the fuck

is that? Are you about to go Ghostbuster on these bitches? Because

I, for one, do not want to take them back to town with me.”

Billie snickered as she pressed a button. “It’s cool, right? I found

it with my arms guy. I figured it might come in handy at some point.”

He shook his head. “Sure, but what the fuck is it?”

She grinned and adjusted her grip on it. “Watch.”

JB stepped back as she aimed at the wave of creatures that

scurried through the brush toward them. The light on the pack went

from green to red and she pulled the trigger. Like a whip, fire erupted

in a straight line and curved back and forth with the motion of her

arm. It waved over the brush and ignited not only the dry leaves but

the animals beneath them as well.

He covered his ears to block out the shrieks and squeals from the

beasts. Billie laughed and stepped forward. “Such a beautiful fucking

sound right there.”

In minutes, the animals had ultimately burned to ash and she

turned it off and blew on the hot end. She replaced it in the case and

strapped it to her back once again. JB simply stood there and stared

at her. “The shit you come out with is fucking terrifying sometimes.”

Billie winked at him. “Yeah, but I looked sexy as hell, didn’t I?”

Suddenly, a small beast burst out of the smoldering brush, its tail

blazing. Without thought, they brought their guns up and opened fire

as one. The creature didn’t stand a chance against the barrage.

They both stopped firing at the same time and pushed their weapons

back in the holsters. They could hear evidence of another battle

raging nearby and it seemed likely that the other mercs were once

again under attack. Hopefully, that would either have drowned out

the sounds of their own fight or would keep them occupied long

enough for them get far away.

Billie wiped her visor and looked around. “It looks like the fire is

going out on its own. Or the Zoo is putting it out. We can rest here

for a minute and remove that chip but then we have to get moving.

The mercs might well have seen or heard that, although by the

sounds of things, they have their hands full. Still, we can’t risk them

finding you alive or this will have to happen all over again. Frankly, I

don’t feel like another rescue mission.”

JB chuckled and shook his head. “If you haven’t noticed, I can do

this on my own. Granted, having you here makes it less stressful, but

it was hardly a rescue mission.”

Billie slapped him on the back and drank from her hydration pack.

“Whatever you say, JB. Come on, there’s a fallen tree over there. It

looks clear.”

They stepped through the smoldering brush and sat on the tree

to pull their packs around in front of them. The sounds of battle

seemed fainter now, which possibly meant that the mercs had been

pushed even further back from their original position. He retrieved a

granola bar and took a bite. “That was intense, I won’t lie. Is it like

that every time now?”

She shook her head. “No, this was special just for you.”

JB scoffed. “Great. Thanks.”

They sat in silence and listened to the sounds of the Zoo around

them while she fiddled to remove the small chip before she dropped

it and crushed it thoroughly with her heel. Fortunately, removing the

device hadn’t affected their comms. With so far still to travel, they

had to be able to communicate. He stared into space, his brain

overwhelmed by the entire experience. She nudged him. “Where did

you go? You were here and then you fluttered off somewhere else.”

He leaned back and shrugged. “Just thinking about how that was

it. That was the big buildup to the whole trip, right there. Now,

everyone will think that I am dead and gone.”

Billie nodded. “That’s what you wanted, right?”

JB leaned forward and rubbed his leg. “I guess. I mean, I really

had no choice in the matter. But it feels so crazy. All that time, I sat

back behind the bar and told stories about the mercs who died here

and now, I have become one. My legacy will be wrapped up in

whatever tale those boys come up with to tell the folks in town.”

Hickok slapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, now, you have a new

life so you can make more of the same stupid mistakes. You simply

get to do it in a newer, younger body.”

He shook his head. “Fuck that. I’ll do something totally badass

with this next life. I’ll be the man I always wanted to be.”

She laughed and pushed to her feet. “Well, let’s get the fuck out

of here before you go all badass on me. I’ll lead, you follow closely,

and if you see anyone, take cover. We don’t want to blow it when

we’re this close.”

As they headed out, JB looked around him and realized that the

part of the Zoo they now entered didn’t look disturbed in the least.

“Uh, are you sure you know where you’re going? It doesn’t look like

this is the road most traveled.”

Billie shook her head. “No, but I thought we could get lost in the

woods together. Fuck. Yes, I know where I’m going. Keep up. You

may be young on the outside but you still have old balls.”



he town lay silent. No cars traveled the roads and no people

milled about. Almost every shop in town was closed and the

only sound was the wind-blown sand that tapped on the glass

windows of the stores. FUBAR’s doors were shut and inside, the

usual roar of voices was noticeably absent. No laughter, cheers,

bickering, or fighting competed in the usual rowdy cacophony that

defined the bar. The crowd sat silently and sipped their drinks while

they stared at the mercs who had gone out to find JB.

They were dirty and tattered but none seemed to even notice

their appearance. On the inside, every single one of them felt hollow,

haunted by the image of JB disappearing into the jungle. Paula

poured Jim a shot of whiskey and he threw it back as he clutched the

edge of the bar with his free hand. He wiped his mouth on the sleeve

of his suit and peered at his dirty hands.

When he turned, he was met with a hundred eyes, all somber as

they waited for him to report what had happened. They didn’t have to

guess that JB was gone. From the looks on the men’s faces and the

absence of his grumbles and loud deep voice, they knew. No one

wanted to believe it, though, not until they heard it from the mercs’


Jim cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Well, we found him.

He was out there in the thick of it, helping three other mercs in the

middle of an attack. It was brutal. When we reached them, they were

surrounded and the beasts kept coming. We thought, though, with

the way he fought, that we would be able to bring him back. He

fought like a young man— jumped, slid, and took hits without even


One of the others put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed to let

him know he wasn’t alone. Jim nodded at him and continued. “We

joined the fight to help them out. JB made this sick move and sliced

a mantis right the fuck in half. He was stoked, even more so to be

back out there and fighting alongside his friends. We all cheered for

him, and it was a surreal moment. But that’s when it happened—”

He choked the emotion back and nodded at Paula, who handed

him another shot. His head back, he threw it down and kept his eyes

closed through the burn. “Some kind of creature—maybe a jag,

maybe a hammerhead, I don’t know—reached its claw out of the

shadows and grabbed him by the shoulder. It yanked him back hard

and dragged him right out of view.”

One of the men in the bar yelled, “Did you look for him?”

Jim nodded. “Damn straight we did. And from the looks of it, that

sonofabitch fought all the way to the end. We found his weapons,

though, and some drag marks. It was obvious he was overcome. We

didn’t find his suit or his body. Whatever got him took it all.”

Paula squeezed out a couple of tears as she poured drinks. She

had to make it look like she was sad, like there was no way that JB

was still alive. She would have to get it through her head that, no

matter what, the old JB was gone—at least to everyone but a

handful of people.

The guys stood in huddled groups and tried to gather the strength

to talk about it. One of the mercs wiped a tear away and held his

helmet in his hand. “I can’t believe it. It was like the worst luck we

could have had. We saw him fighting and we thought, shit, we have

a chance to bring him back. We have a chance to talk some fucking

sense into the guy. We were literally at that point when he was

snatched away from us.”

Another of his buddies nodded somberly. “No one will ever tell

me that shit was meant to be. We were there and he was in our


An older gentleman at the bar shook his head. “Now, boys. You

knew JB. He went out there with a purpose and if he had set his

mind on something, nothing would change it. He had his last hoorah,

killing those fuckers like he always had. Then he went down like a

hero. It was how he wanted to go—like a real Zoo merc. No body

left, no trace of him except for in this bar and in our memories.”

Jim shrugged. “You’re right. Ain’t nobody arguing that point. I

guess we all hoped that we could do something—anything—to keep

him from making that choice. But even when he was dragged away, I

could see a damn smile on that bastard’s face. I wish I could see the

beast that did it. I bet that fucker got some of his own shit. He won’t

ever be the same.”

Everyone chuckled softly before silence descended once more.

Paula lined glasses up on the bar. “A shot for everyone in JB’s

honor. On the house. We can’t bring him back, that’s still out of

human reach. But we can keep his memory alive in this place and

through his badass trips into the Zoo. That is his legacy, and so is


The crowd milled and shuffled to each collect a glass and head

back to their seats. Normally, free booze would incite enthusiasm,

but this was one shot that no one wanted to take. When they did, it

would be real. JB would really be gone and they would have to

remember him through FUBAR.

Paula chuckled. “Hey, Steve, you hold the record for the number

of times thrown out of FUBAR by JB. Why don’t you tell us one of

those stories?”

Everyone nodded and turned their attention to him. He was a

large man with a dirty face, ripped clothes, and a broad chest. He

smirked to reveal a missing front tooth. “All right. Let me think. There

are so many to choose from.”

He tapped his chin and smiled again. “There was one time,

probably early on—say maybe number twelve or thirteen. This big

dude, real cocky, sat down at the table with a fucking banana split.

Well, you know me, I was fucking plastered. Watching this gigantic

bastard daintily eating his cherry made me laugh. I couldn’t keep my

mouth shut none either.”

The bartender rolled her eyes. “I remember this one.”

Steve laughed and nodded. “So anyway, I went up and tapped

him on the shoulder. He shifted his eyes to look at me since his neck

was so huge it didn’t really serve a purpose anymore. I asked him if

he wanted to have a tea party afterward. Everyone in the bar thought

it was hilarious, except the big guy, of course. Well, he picked me up

by the collar and reared back to punch me. His hand was the size of

my head. I accepted right there in that moment that I was a goner.”

Everyone chuckled. “That’s right. I was going to meet my maker. I

knew it. So I closed my eyes and prepared to take it. After a couple

of moments, I opened one eye and found JB there, whispering into

the guy’s ear. The guy smiled and dropped me. I thought for sure JB

had saved my ass. Boy, was I wrong.”

Someone in the bar yelled out, “More fudge. More fudge.”

Steve groaned but with a laugh in his chest. “That’s right, that’s

what you bastards chanted. JB picked me up under the arms and

Paula grabbed my feet. They strapped me down to the bar and let

old biggie turn me into a banana split. Then, when he was done, they

tossed me out in the hot sand, covered in whipped cream and ice

cream. The man walked out and set a fucking cherry right on the top

of my head before he slugged me. I passed out right there in all my

sundae glory.”

Paula laughed loudly. “And when he woke up, he smelled like a

carton of bad milk. JB felt bad for him so we took him around back

and hosed him off. We gave him a shot and sent him away for a

three-day suspension. It was golden.”

He shook his head. “I haven’t fucking touched ice cream since


Everyone laughed. Another man seated in the back corner raised

his hand. “I have a story about being kicked out of here. It was

exactly fifty-seven weeks and six days ago.”

The patrons turned as he walked forward. On the younger side—

maybe mid-thirties—he sported a full beard and dressed more like a

cowboy in the Old West than a merc, right down to the cowboy

boots. He stepped into the center of the bar and removed his hat.

The crowd stared at him. “I know the exact amount of time

because it was the longest ban he ever gave. Exactly fifty-seven

weeks and five days. How he came to that number, I don’t


One of the men at the bar narrowed his eyes. “I remember you.

You was the one who thought you could pick a fight with Heavy

Metal mercs and get away with it. It was like seven versus you.

Dumb fuck, I figured somebody had run you over by now.”

The man laughed. “I have to admit, I was a little naïve back then.

A little too punch drunk and definitely way too cocky for my own

good. I came in today to thank JB for banning me. It forced me to

start taking shit more seriously. Then, while I sat here and waited for

him, I heard he passed.”

The man at the bar snickered. “That was a really good fight,

though. We thought for a second you might actually win—until you

called JB a dirty son of a bitch like a complete moron.”

“In my defense, I was wasted and I thought he was one of them.”

He smiled and pumped his hands up and down. “I hear it’s one of the

very few times JB had actually put his hands on one of the patrons

with intent. And I’ll tell you what, that motherfucker could pack a

punch. I remember the first two hits and then nothing until I woke up

in my fucking bed in the hotel, covered in bruises and with a broken

fucking nose. Someone had brought me back there and laid me

down. Whoever that was, I owe them.”

The other man shook his head. “You are clear of that debt

because he’s dead. Old JB felt bad for hitting you so hard that you

passed out. He roped a few of the guys in and they carried you to

the hotel. He’s the one who put your ass in there. He even paid the

woman at the front desk to check on you and make sure your ass

was still breathing and shit.”

The merc smiled. “That makes sense. I thought I remembered

waking up to him there but then passing back out. All this time, I

thought it was a damn head trauma or something. Well, shit.” He

held his drink up. “Thanks, JB, even though you beat the living fuck

out of me. I deserved it, and you knew that.”

Jim chuckled and patted the guy on the back as he took a seat at

the bar. He rubbed his stubbled face and looked at the faces around

him. “There are so many people here, and some not here yet, that

JB touched. Whether it was good or bad, he made an impression on

every single person who walked through that door. Everyone had a

personal consultation, a drink made specially for them. And let me

tell you, that asshole always chose right.”

The whole bar laughed and whispered for a moment before they

fell silent again. Jim shook his head and fixed his gaze on the floor.

“It ain’t often in life you meet people who you would literally sign up

to walk through hell with, but here, it’s a normal thing. When we

make a team, we make a family. Somehow, in there, JB became a

part of every single team, every single friendship, and every single

family this town has had. He was a hell of a fighter, a hell of a leader,

and one hell of a fool.”

The crowd chuckled and whistled in hearty agreement. Jim

shifted his gaze to the wall. “There is one really big space there and I

always wondered who would fill that spot. There is no doubt in my

mind now, though. JB deserves to look down from there and haunt

the fuck out of all of us. Sure, we made his bar successful by coming

here, but he made it the place where we had to be. Through all the

death, the wrath, and the spite the Zoo put him through early in his

life, he never let it change the man he was—faithful and loyal to

every single one of us dumb asses. Even when we didn’t deserve it.”

One of the patrons stood and raised his glass in the air.

“Everyone always says that us mercs are the bottom of the barrel.

We are the rough and tough, the scruff, the assholes with little heart

but very big wallets to fill. They always say we will straight to hell

when we die. Well, I say bullshit. JB will probably be the one and

only merc who gets through those pearly gates.”

Jim raised his glass. “That’s damn right! You know the big guy up

there wants to hear his fucking stories. It was his ticket in. So, to JB.

May the whiskey flow forever, the chicks have big tits, you kick the

pirate leg, and you shine your hellacious snide humor on us from

time to time. Because damnit, you sonofabitch, I’ll miss your ass.”

The whole bar erupted in cheers and the men threw their shots

back as one. Paula leaned on the counter and took her shot before

she glanced up at the camera. She knew when he finally got back,

he would die watching that shit. But the time needed to fucking hurry

on by because she didn’t know if she could hold it up on her own.



aula stood behind the bar and leaned against the wall with her

arms folded. The place was packed, but no one rushed to

throw back their drinks—not yet, at least. Even though it had been

almost four days, everyone still seemed in shock. Teams had

searched the Zoo until finally, the grim truth had settled in and hope

subsided. They’d had a small memorial service for JB, something

everybody agreed he would have hated, but they wouldn’t allow his

passing to go without a tribute. Afterward, they all piled into FUBAR

wearing black but not dress clothes. It was more like jungle gear but


Dan glanced around him and then at Paula. “It looks like a black

ops convention in here.”

She smiled. “It sure does. Although I have to say I’m tired of the

quiet. I understand that everyone is somber, but this job is boring

without a shit ton of drinks to make and a snide comment, or seven,

to throw out.”

Dan chuckled. “It’ll get back there. We only need a little change

and we both know it’ll eventually come.”

Paula shrugged. Across the room, a couple of waitresses picked

up empty glasses and walked to the bar for refills. The music had

been turned down a notch per request and the mercs sat talking

quietly about stories JB had told, things they had seen him do out in

the Zoo, and other interesting tidbits they had never brought up

when he was alive. Everyone knew he wasn’t big on hearing his own

stories or talking about his past, even though the ones who had been

there with him knew he was a tough motherfucker.

The front doors opened, and the patrons glanced over and froze

in shock. Every voice in the place went quiet and even the clink of

the glasses stopped. A young guy entered, maybe in his early

twenties, with a girl beside him. He cleared his throat nervously as

he nodded to everyone and approached the bar. No one could take

their eyes off him. His face was far too familiar and it was a shock to

every single person in the place.

As JB approached the bar, he could hear whispers behind him.

“That looks exactly like a young JB. The resemblance is uncanny.”

He had to fight a smirk as he went to where Paula stood. She

walked over with a quick glance at the room before she focused her

attention on him. “What can I do for you?”

JB cleared his throat. “I’m looking for my uncle, JB. I’m his

nephew, Jay.”

An older gentleman stepped up to him and nodded at Paula. “I

got this, Paula.”

He put his arm around Jay, walked him along the bar, and turned

him to face the wall. A new and very large picture of JB hung in the

empty space above the bar. Jay cringed slightly but didn’t show his

emotion, astounded that they’d hung such a huge fucking picture of

him. He was only the owner, not a fucking god.

The old man guided him to a table, pulled a chair out, and

motioned for him to sit. “Let me tell you a story about your uncle,


He launched into the story of his death and told it as if he had

been there himself. Hickok pursed her lips and looked at Paula. With

a smirk, the bartender put her hand out. “I’m Paula.”

Hickok cleared her throat and shook it as daintily as she could.

“Jean. I’m Jay’s cousin—no relation to JB, though. He didn’t want to

come out here alone, so I figured why the hell not. Can I get a vodka

straight up?”

Paula smiled, poured the shot, and handed it to her. “On the

house. Family and all.”

Jean held it up and grinned as she turned to glance around the

room. There were so many people there. She recognized some of

them from her black ops work there over the years but some, she

had never seen before. All looked somber, though, and it struck Billie

that if she’d died there would be very few somber faces. There would

be very few people who remembered any stories about her. There

would be Marcus, and everyone else would have been from the last

couple of months.

She took a sip and turned to study the large picture of JB on the

wall. With a hand over her mouth, she choked back a laugh and

shook her head and pouted as the man on the stool beside her

glanced over. “This is terrible. So sad. So sad.”

Billie turned away from him and wiped the vodka from her mouth.

With pursed lips, she tried to find someone—anyone—who might be

paying her more attention than the show going on in the middle of

the floor. To her surprise, no one so much as glanced at her. She

was both amused and annoyed by this fact. She was young, hot, and

wore tiny shorts and a tight tank top. Long brown hair cascaded over

her smooth, sun-kissed skin. Even she couldn’t help a doubletake

every time she saw herself in the mirror. It was like a complete

makeover in a plastic surgeon’s office. From head to toe, she looked

exactly as she had when she was twenty-five.

Disappointed, she took a cherry from the fruit tray. She turned

back, put it in her mouth, and sucked on it as she played with the

stem. Her eyes shifted around the room but still saw no response,

not even a single glance. After a few minutes, she sighed and pulled

the stem from the fruit to toss it on the counter. She drew the stool

up beside Dan, who wavered slightly on his seat, and sipped at her


It was obvious that whatever this was between the patrons and

Jay would take a while. She would have to attempt to be patient, if


At the table in the center of the floor, the story of JB’s death had

been told and the patrons had moved on to tell stories of how he had

touched their lives. Jay listened carefully and heard the emotion in

the voices of the men and women around him. He had actually, until

that moment, never realized how much he had affected other

people’s lives. They really cared for him and were all torn up by the

fact that he was gone.

One man who stood in front of him finished his story. “And that

was the day I stopped drinking. If it hadn’t been for JB, I’m sure by

now, I’d be dead. And he didn’t even care that it would take money

away from FUBAR. He only cared about me.”

Jay cleared his throat, emotionally caught up in all the

commentary. Emotion surged through his chest and tears pulled at

the corners of his eyes. The old man who had originally sat him

down pulled a chair up beside him and put his arm over his shoulder.

“We’re sorry you had to hear about your uncle like this. I know it’s

very hard for you to hear. No one wants to find out that a loved one,

a close family member, has passed. We only wish he would have

told us about you so that we could have let you know in a more

comforting manner.”

The other man nodded and waved to Paula. She stood and

poured three shots of JB’s favorite whiskey and brought them to the

table. The two speaking to Jay handed him one. “This was your

uncle’s favorite drink. He always kept a bottle on the top shelf so that

for exceptionally trying days, he had a release.”

“And let me tell you, we are a bunch of trying motherfuckers

sometimes, but we always did it out of love and he knew that.” The

old man chuckled.

Jay smiled when he thought about how much of an asshole every

single one of those guys could be on any given day. But they were

right. He knew they did it out of love and respect and so drank the

shot without hesitation. The older gentleman squeezed his shoulder

and shook him a little. “You took that as easy as JB would have. That

must be in the genes.”

Jay took a deep breath and shook his head before he spoke

quietly. “My uncle always told me how much he loved this place.

When I was old enough, I taught myself how to make all these

drinks. I came here to show him in the hope that he would take me in

and make me part of the family out here.”

The old man smiled. “I sure as hell think he would have. What

does everyone think?”

The whole bar cheered. Jay stood, walked to the bar, and

glanced at Billie. She smiled and looked at her vodka. She thought

about making fun of him for playing it up so well, but she didn’t want

to blow his cover. Jay looked at the picture on the wall and shook his

head. He turned, leaned against the bar counter, and tried to block

the pain in his leg from his mind. The damn artificial leg had slipped

again and there was a ton of pressure on the straps.

He glanced at the big picture on the wall. “You know something

crazy? My name is Jason Benjamin and everyone calls me JB back

at home. We had the same damn name too.”

Dan turned and swayed slightly in his chair. He blinked his eyes

at JB and opened his mouth. Paula pinched his arm quickly. He

looked at her, at JB, and then at Billie as the realization that it really

was JB finally worked its way into his whiskey brain. He winked at

Paula and cleared his throat before he stood and raised his glass.

Everyone looked at him, not used to him being the outspoken

one. “JB is dead. Long live the new JB!”

The whole bar was silent for a moment as the men exchanged

glances. Finally, they began to shout and echo Dan’s words. The

whole bar found new life and the patrons yelled to each other and

celebrated the life of JB and the new face of FUBAR. They were all

incredibly sad, but this seemed like a sign that beamed in and pulled

them from their mourning. They had a new reason to take a sip and

no longer focused on the wish for a different outcome. Each one

could simply thank JB for being such a badass while he had been on


Everyone saluted the new JB, clinked their glasses with those

around them, and began to order more. Paula clapped. “Finally. I

thought the rest of these fuckers would off themselves out of

depression in this dusty, dank place. I need to pay the rent and that

had to fucking go.”

Billie chuckled and watched as JB listened to everyone’s stories

and other short little tidbits that he hadn’t even remembered. They

seemed small but apparently, they were huge to everyone else. It

was wild to him, but he had to be on his game and remember that he

was the new JB and had to act like all these stories were something

new. He had to also remember to not call someone by their name

until they introduced themselves. This was probably the toughest

challenge for him out of everything. He had to break out into a fake

cough several times that night to cover up the fact that he had

almost said a name or made a reference to an event he wouldn’t

have known as the new JB.

As Paula poured another round of drinks for the patrons, she

looked at him. The crowd around him grew bigger and bigger and

she knew he wouldn’t enjoy that for very long. She cleared her throat

and shouted over the loud voices. “Hey, kid. So you came here to

work with your uncle, right?”

JB nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

It took everything in him not to laugh when he called Paula

ma’am. She narrowed her eyes and waved him over. “Well, come on

then. Around here, we don’t inch you in or even train you. JB always

found that the best way to know someone’s character was to throw

them to the wolves and see how they responded. So, get your ass

back here and make some fucking drinks.”

JB smiled and pushed to his feet and the men patted him on the

back as he moved forward to take his place behind the bar. He

looked around and found that Paula had moved everything so that

he would have to look for things. She had obviously known that if he

got back there and knew where everything was, people would catch

on or at least question it.

She walked up beside him and hip-checked him before she

placed two rocks glasses in front of him. “All right, kid. Make me a

Black Russian and a Wooly Worm on ice.”

JB nodded and turned to make the drinks. The Black Russian

was perfect but simple. The Wooly Worm on ice, though, he fouled

up pretty bad—or, at least, that was what Paula said. In reality, they

didn’t have a drink called the Wooly Worm. She merely tried to make

it more believable.

After that, people shouted out drinks and JB worked fast to make

them. He got some of them right but then made a few mistakes,

mostly because they were drinks he had created years before. He

turned and put the money in the register as he whispered to Paula,

“How do these fucks even remember these drinks? Half the time,

they forget to put their pants on before coming in here.”

Paula giggled as he turned and put his arms out in a gesture of

irritation. “All right, what’s next?”

They continued to throw drinks at him and watched as he did the

best he could to make them. One of the guys at the back yelled,

“Make a Hole in Twelve.”

Without thinking, JB poured the drink, shook it in the shaker, and

strained it into a shooter glass. Everyone went silent and stared at

him. He glanced around nervously. “What? Did I fuck it up?”

One of the men in the front shook his head. “No. Actually, that’s

perfect. The thing is, it’s a drink JB made up.”

He froze for a moment and his mind accepted that they would call

him out at any second. Of course, that gave them far too much

credit. Those in the front of the group all cheered loudly. “JB must be

working through him. He’s speaking through his nephew.”

All Paula could do was turn away and roll her eyes.



olly tilted her head back and forth and grimaced as she

stretched her neck. She stared at the computer screen and

blinked once or twice to regain focus. The reality was that she was

so tired of working shit up for that company, but she had to finish the

contract. They had already paid her all but ten percent, and that last

ten would be a big chunk of change. It would be worth the effort

required to come up with some shit soda idea that incorporated

different plants from the Zoo. Despite temptation, she wouldn’t call

them out on their lies about why she was there. If they wanted to tell

her it was for a new drink line, then fuck it. She would send them

recipes and ideas for exactly that. Then, when she was done, she

would wash her fucking hands of the entire affair. It had already cost

the lives of two of her team.

The frustration of it all began to surge through her again so she

finished the last section of information and zipped the file. With a

sigh of relief, she attached the file and emailed it to her contact, AKA

Rod, her so-called friend. Once it had gone, she retrieved her phone

and sent him a text. I emailed over the drink ideas and recipes for

the board. I’ve done my part. If they don’t like it, don’t pay me.

Either way, don’t send me a request for more work. They cannot

pay me enough for this bullshit. No lie, it’s far too dangerous for

a drink.

She reread the text, not sure if she could trust Rod anymore.

Everyone seemed insincere now that she stood outside the

corporate bubble. She knew she couldn’t live her life suspicious of

everyone, but at the same time, with what she had discovered, that

might be the only way to survive. She couldn’t trust simply anyone,

even if they did know her before she came to the Zoo.

Her phone buzzed and she opened the reply from Rod. Thanks

so much for getting this to me. As I said, I heard about what

happened to some of your teammates, and you too. I’m sorry it

came down to that. It was a dangerous mission but no one

needed to die. As far as the board goes, I’ll deliver everything

and do my best but they can be selfish pricks. You know this.

Holly pursed her lips and stared at the phone. She knew they

could be assholes, but why would they if they got what they really

wanted? That was the issue. They had obviously lied to her, and she

had a gut feeling that Rod did the same. She felt terrible for thinking

he was in on it, but how could she not? He had been the one to

cover shit up from the beginning.

She groaned and put the device down once she’d decided that a

response wouldn’t be smart, then turned her chair and stared at the

room. It was in a mess. Clothes were tossed everywhere, her

equipment was permanently set up on the counter, and there were

to-go containers strewn all over. Once she had learned there were

more places to eat out than she’d thought, she stopped even the

attempt to cook for herself. She wasn’t very good at it to begin with.

Her eyes shifted to the front door and the line of locks on it. So

many times, Billie had snuck in there without even a sound. She had

even managed to make it look as if she had never walked through

the door. The windows opened and closed with ease, and the locks

on those were barely functional. She had never given it much

thought since she was on the second floor.

Holly chewed on the inside of her cheek at a new worry that

began to percolate in her mind. They would need to find a better

place to stay. She wasn’t exactly in the most secure location.

She grabbed her hoodie and pulled it on, opened the door, and

jogged down the steps. Amanda was inside the garage, going

through paperwork. She looked up as Holly entered and gave her a

smile. “Hey there. Did you finish the shit for that company report you

had to do?”

“Yeah. I sent it and told them I was done.” She rolled her eyes

and pulled herself up on one of the tables. “They got what they

wanted. Of course, my contact said they were assholes but he would

try to keep them away.”

Amanda shook her head. “Corporate America. They are the real

fucking criminals. I swear they need a beat-down of their own.”

Holly chuckled. “Yeah, but it got me thinking about something.

The place upstairs isn’t the most secure of locations, especially for

what we are doing. But at the same time, I can’t really think of any in

this town that would be discrete and secure enough to use as a

black ops base.”

The armorer straightened, her expression one of intense thought.

“No. Not unless you went all Heavy Metal and bought your own

section of town. But that takes a shit ton of money.”

“Something I definitely do not have right now.” She shook her

head firmly for emphasis.

“What if we Fort Knox this bitch?”

Holly considered this for a moment. “You mean set up better

security? That actually might be a better idea than moving. And it

would definitely not draw as much attention.”

Amanda walked over and wiped her hands on a towel. “I could

definitely help but I am not up on all the new shit. But Hickok—no, I

mean Jean—would probably be the best broad for the job. I mean,

she made a living breaking into shit, and she knows everything there

is to know about security. Or, at least, she knows who to talk to.”

Holly swung her feet back and forth. “You are correct. She may

be our lady.”

Amanda moved to the back of the garage to complete an order.

Holly remained on the table, unwilling to go back upstairs and stare

at her computer screen. She had begun to get a little restless without

JB or Billie around.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket and she pulled it out and stared

at a video that had been sent to her. She pressed play and watched

in complete and utter confusion. After a few moments, her eyes

widened and she jumped down and sprinted out and up the steps

into her apartment. She grabbed her stuff, locked the door, and ran

outside without a word to Amanda as she raced past.

JB twisted to the side and reached for the grenadine. He bumped the

shot he was making and was able to catch it before it spilled. By that

point, he was on a roll and churned out as many drinks as he could.

Everyone in the bar had cheered up and decided it was finally time

to start drinking again. The new JB had definitely lifted their spirits,

along with their need for alcohol and loud talk.

He finished the drink and slid it down the bar and the customer

caught it deftly. The man took a sip and gave him a thumbs up. JB

nodded, turned, and slid the money into the register. He poured

himself another shot and slung it back. It was his fifth, but this was

stressful as he had to try desperately to fuck some of the drinks up

so that he wouldn’t look too comfortable back there. At the same

time, he had to try to stay somewhat sober so he wouldn’t fuck up

and blow his cover.

JB exhaled slowly and set the shot glass on the counter. He sure

as hell hoped that lying to everyone would become easier.

Otherwise, he might lose it in his attempt to be someone else. Paula

walked over and bumped him again with her hip. “What’s the matter,

stud? Are you struggling to keep up? I know it’s hard when you have

a hot chick like me back here showing you up.”

He shook his head with a grin. Some of the guys laughed. “Look,

Paula has already got the poor kid all hot and bothered. You better

keep your mitts to yourself there, Paula. Old JB will come back and

haunt you.”

She shrugged. “Get ʼem young and you’ll never have to worry

about sagging balls. Right, Morris?”

The man looked up and gave her the finger. Everyone roared

with laughter. The front doors opened but JB was too busy to look

up. A couple of the customers at the bar yelled, “Holly! Come here.

Come here. You’ll never fucking guess who fucking fell through the

door this morning. Meet the new JB.”

Holly walked up to the bar, glanced at JB, and turned to the

patrons. “What the fuck is this? This kid looks exactly like him. Paula,

have you been hiding a kid you had with JB?”

The bartender snorted. “Not even in his wildest dreams.”

Everyone in the bar noticed that Holly had come in and they all

quieted somewhat. She took her normal seat but turned to face the

room. They were very animated, mostly because of the massive

number of shots they had drunk.

“So we were all here, minding our own,” one of the men said in

explanation. “We had the memorial for JB this morning, which you

were at. Then, we all came back here. In comes this kid with his

cousin, Jean.”

Paula glanced at Billie and nodded. “Right?”

“So, it turns out, this is fucking JB’s nephew. And his name is

fucking JB. Well, not really, but everyone calls him that. He was

learning to bartend so he could come here and work with his uncle.

And the kid seems to have a direct line to JB, wherever his soul is.”

Paula snorted as she sliced limes. “You know his ass is right

here. Even in death, he can’t let shit go.”

Holly shook her head and adopted a solemn expression. “Isn’t it

fucking crazy how life works? We need a JB in this town. We need

his guts, his glory, and his charm. We need that fucker back there

making us drinks, telling us to shut the fuck up, and raising hell with

us in mind.”

She turned and grabbed Dan’s drink out of his hand and raised it.

“JB is dead. God rest his soul. Long live the new JB!”

She thrust the drink up and then down, shot it back, and twisted

to slam the glass on the bar behind her. Everyone did the same and

roared with approval as if it were the first time it had been said. Dan

grumbled and looked at his empty glass. “I said it first.”

Paula laughed, took his glass, and filled it. “Yeah, you did. And

you are a genius for it.”

Dan smiled and took a sip as he glanced at Billie, who was busy

talking to the men. They had finally started to notice her and she

clearly liked the attention. It was the first time in her life that she

could actually sit back and enjoy it. The rest of the time, she had

been on assignment and had to brush the men off—or in some

cases, put them in a sleeper hold and throw them in a broom closet

so they didn’t blow her cover.

She felt good about the fact that she wouldn’t have to manhandle

any of them, at least not in a way they wouldn’t enjoy. Of course, not

that night. She would have to keep herself low-key, at least for a little

while, otherwise, both JB and Holly would have a fit. Billie watched

as Holly said hi to the customers. She knocked her vodka back and

patted the guy next to her on the leg. “Nice meeting you, Eddie.”

He smiled drunkenly. “You too, Jean.”

Billie smirked, knowing he didn’t look at her head when she

walked away. She scooted between Dan and Holly and put out her

hand. “Hi. I’m Jean, the new JB’s cousin. Since I got here, I’ve heard

all these stories that include you, so I figured I would introduce


Holly turned in her seat and smiled. “Shot?”

She smirked. “You read my mind.”

“Hey, rookie.” Holly looked at JB and cleared her throat. “Can we

have two shots, your choice?”

JB blinked at her with a smirk. “Coming right up, madam.”

She chuckled and turned back to Billie. “So how do you like the

Zoo so far?”

Hickok looked at the faces around them. “It seems cool. Pretty

much what I expected. Now that we know JB will be right at home, I

have to look for a place to stay. As much as I like this place, I don’t

think I can stay here twenty-four hours a day.”

Holly laughed. “You would be surprised. Some of these guys

swear by it, although I personally don’t like to sleep with my head

pressed against peanut shells. But I have some extra space if you

want to crash with me.”

The other woman pursed her lips and nodded her head. “Actually,

that sounds good. It would be great to have another woman to show

me the ropes of this place. But what about him?”

She laughed and sipped her shot. “As much as I enjoy the

company of others, he’ll have to stay somewhere else.”

“Why doesn’t he stay in JB’s old apartment upstairs?” Paula

interjected. “It has everything he would need, and I can keep an eye

on him and make sure he doesn’t get in any trouble.”

The guy beside Holly laughed. “Just like you did with the old JB.

Taking him under your protection.”

Paula threw a lime wedge at the guy. “Damn right. You only wish I

had done the same for you.”

Holly patted her hands on the bar. “Well, why don’t I get you out

of this chaos for a minute, New JB? I’m sure you are somewhat

overwhelmed. I’ll take you guys upstairs and show you JB’s old

apartment and get you settled in.”

He nodded and glanced around the bar. “That sounds good. I

could use a break. I’m not really used to this yet.”

Paula smirked. “Oh, you’ll get used to it very soon. It’s like the

Zoo. Once you are in, it’s hard to stay away.”

The whole bar yelled out, “Hear, hear!”

He chuckled and waited for Holly to come around the counter.

Several of the men watched her walk and whistled. She rolled her

eyes and flipped her finger at them. They catcalled but she wasn’t in

the mood to give them hell for it. Instead, she sauntered down the

hall with JB in tow.

As they started up the stairs, he turned and glanced back toward

the bar. “This will definitely be interesting.”



olly and JB remained silent until they were inside the apartment

with the door shut. Then, he released a loud sigh, walked to his

desk, and sat in his chair. “It’s good to be home. Hickok is great at

hiding but the places she had us stay in were less than comfortable.

I guess comfort really wasn’t the top priority, though.”

She plopped into a chair and leaned back. “No, I don’t think it

was. Although I wish I had some heads-up that you guys would roll

in today. I would have been more prepared. I received a video of you

behind the bar fucking drinks up and headed right over.”

JB chuckled. “Yeah. I also got a couple of them right that I

shouldn’t have but the mercs were either too drunk or too dumb to

be suspicious. They decided ‘Old JB’ was working through me.”

Holly laughed. “You would, though. Your ass would have haunted

this place forever.”

He nodded. “Damn fucking right I would. Even after death ain’t

nobody fucking my shit up. They would never have gotten that giant

ass picture of me up, though.”

“That was my suggestion.” She snickered. “I had to give you a

little bit of hell.”

JB gave her a side look. “I guess I deserved it. But I think the

whole thing went off perfectly. I can’t lie, though, I was really touched

by the way everyone told stories about me. I didn’t realize how much

effect I had on these people.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know how you could have missed

that. I saw it the first day I walked into FUBAR. These guys respect

you more than anybody you have told a story about. The whole

damn town has been in mourning since you died. I was running out

of black shit to wear.”

He leaned forward. “So what happens now?”

Holly sighed. “Now, we have to take care of all the details. We

have to grab some new shit for you over the next few days and get

rid of all the old stuff. In that process, your Last Will and Testament

will come out and name you as the heir to the bar. We’ll have to set

up your new persona with legal stuff so you can take the bar over.

I’m sure that Hickok has the perfect contacts for us to score some

new documents for you with no problem.”

JB peered into a small stand-up mirror on his desk. “Yeah, I

probably need some new headshots for my budding modeling career


She rolled her eyes. “Oh, Lord. And we have to figure out how to

rein in that ego of yours. We don’t need you to get all cocky on us.

We’ll welcome the new JB but only if he isn’t a douche canoe.”

He smirked. “I’m only kidding. New face, same old me. It’s like

being reborn with the knowledge of a fifty-year-old. It’s fantastic.

Although today, I figured out that having all that knowledge and all

those memories isn’t exactly a good thing when you are trying to

multi-task and keep yourself straight with the things you say. I had to

stop myself mid-sentence at least five times tonight. At one point, I

think I told people I used to work for the circus because that is what

first popped in my mind to keep from blurting out something personal

that I wouldn’t have known as a different JB.”

Holly nodded her head and gave him a stern look. “Yeah, well,

we will all have to work together to make this seem real. We aren’t

even close to being in the clear on this one. It helps to have Paula in

on it because most of the guys respect her opinion and they will look

to her for her thoughts on you in the upcoming weeks. Hickok will be

good, too, because she is a hot woman who can toy with them, flirt,

and make them like her, thus liking you by association.”

“Shit, is that how it works?” JB wrinkled his nose. “I knew females

were tricky. They all get together and plot against us, don’t they?”

She laughed. “Of course. I thought you knew women better.

Personally, I don’t make friends with women like that. And if you look

at the total number of women I am friends with, it comes to three.

Paula, Billie, and Amanda. Oh, and Misha, but we don’t have a

personal relationship, only a team one.”

JB shrugged. “I guess I forgot since I haven’t been around any

that aren’t badasses like you, Paula, and Billie since I was a kid.

They don’t really have catty women out here in the Zoo. The others

would feed her to the jags.”

Holly grinned. “I am badass, aren’t I? And yeah, that would be my

first thought. The jags or the dino. We could reenact a scene from

Jurassic Park. The one where the T-Rex eats the guy off the toilet.”

At a knock on the door, both straightened cautiously. They

cleared their throats and shifted back into character, not quite sure

who was there. Holly stood and walked over but glanced at JB and

waited for him to give her a nod. She opened the door and smiled.

Hickok pulled down on her shorts, clearly uncomfortable. “How

do girls wear these things all the time? They are crotch-wedgie

central. I haven’t had anything shoved up there like that in a long


Holly sighed, opened the door, and stepped aside. Billie walked

in and sat on the corner of the desk, swinging her legs. Holly peeked

down the stairs and closed the door before she walked back to her

chair. “We were talking about how we all have to continue to work

together to make this all seem real. It’s not as simple as saying he is

this person and then we all move on like nothing happened.”

Billie flipped her hair back. “Oh yeah, definitely. This isn’t

something we can let go of now. When the novelty wears off is when

we really gotta push it. That’s when people start to actually pay


JB stood and walked over to peer out the window. “People are

flocking in here. They must have heard the news. I don’t know if I

can go back down there. I am like a new animal at the Zoo.

Everyone wants to get a look at me.”

Holly clapped enthusiastically. “Good. That’s a good thing. Well,

not the animal part, I guess. The more people who know what is

going on now makes for fewer times you have to explain it to

someone when they come in confused. Eventually, the patrons will

cycle through and everyone will be used to you being there and

things will go back to normal. You’ll still be a different person, but you

will be settled.”

Billie tapped her fingers against the desk. “Exactly. We’ll have to

keep on it, though, until it comes to that point. How do you feel about

everything? I think this is probably the hardest for you out of

everyone. At least when I died, I didn’t have to stare at a shrine of

myself every day.”

JB turned and looked at the girls. “There is a part of me that’s

sad. It truly is like the old me died and I have to take on the persona

of someone else. It’s hard not to joke with people like I used to. It’s

hard not to reach out and shake someone familiar’s hand and ask

about their trip or their leg that got injured two years ago. But I think

that will get easier the more people open up to me. I don’t know. It

touched me how much they cared but at the same time, it made me


Holly pursed her lips. “I can’t imagine how that feels. You should

keep notes every day. A book up here that you can write that stuff

down in. That way, you know what is the new you and what was the

old you. It might help you keep from making too many mistakes.”

He grabbed a book from a drawer. “Good idea. I already have a

million things to write down in it. People basically spilled their guts to

me all day long. I learned things I didn’t even know as the old me.”

Hickok jumped off the desk. “Then we will leave you to it. I have

some stuff to discuss with Holly and we need to work on getting your

documents. It’s a whole new life for me too but I don’t have as many

things to remember. Actually, I don’t have anything to remember

besides the fact that I’m your cousin.”

JB grumbled. “Lucky bitch.”

They all laughed and Billie and Holly headed out and left JB there

in his apartment. He sat behind the desk and stared around him in

the silence. Only a faint sound of laughter echoed from downstairs. It

was all strange to him. It was his place, exactly as it had always

been. It had the same dusty smell, the muted echo of noise from

downstairs, and the familiar jumbled closets. But at the same time, it

wasn’t his anymore. He had to become New JB in order to convince

everyone else. The only way for him to do that was to completely

immerse himself in the idea.

He had to give up the old shell and put on a new one. He had to

make the memories of his past fade to the back like a dream. This

was his chance to change the things about himself he didn’t like, and

he would need to do it without hesitation. JB had never been very

good at change that wasn’t completely in his control.

His eyes wandered to the dresser beside his bed. He stood and

limped over and grimaced at the pressure on his leg. With a sigh, he

sat on the bed and opened the bottom drawer to retrieve the photo

album. It was his go-to when he felt alone, but he knew he had to put

it away. He ran his hand over the front of it, stood, and walked to the

closet. After a moment’s hesitation, he pushed on a hidden panel in

the back and slid the door open. Carefully, he set the book inside

and sighed again, closed it, and straightened the clothes in front of it.

JB limped back to the bed and plopped down, raised his pant leg,

and removed his artificial leg. His actual leg had already grown back

about halfway, and it didn’t look like it would slow down until it had

completely regenerated. He hoped that would be soon because it

was damned painful re-growing a limb.

“Having to work to be healed is more annoying than an itch on

the back of your fucking balls in the middle of church,” he grumped

acidly. He retrieved his knife from his pocket and used the

screwdriver on it to loosen the relevant screws. It had become a

daily task to modify his artificial leg in order to make adjustments for

the new growth, but he was grateful that it was at least possible.

Holly had saved the day with the inspiration to enlist Amanda to help

resolve the issue. The armorer had worked her usual magic and

jimmied the prosthetic so that he could now lower the inner support

as his leg grew out. It was as uncomfortable as all hell, but at least

he was able to move around until he no longer had need of it. They

didn’t need the inevitable questions that would arise if New JB

suddenly lost a limb.

The girls were able to escape the bar without too much hoorah.

Everyone either waited to meet New JB or talked about the old days

and shared stories about the old owner. Paula had winked at them

both, glanced at the ceiling, and sighed. She was the one in charge

of keeping JB together and straight when they weren’t there. With

the amount of excitement in the crowd, she was worried that it would

be more difficult than they thought.

When the door shut behind them, Holly exhaled noisily. “I think

that’s the loudest I have ever heard FUBAR. I didn’t even realize

how loud it was until the door closed. I need some quiet time. That

was intense.”

Billie shrugged. “For me, it was easy, but I didn’t know any of

those people. I could make up my whole persona without having to

worry about people being suspicious. Your team won’t say anything

even if they recognize me, which I doubt. And you guys are in on it.”

Holly shook her head as they headed to her apartment. “Oh, that

reminds me. I was talking to Amanda about security for our place

before I got the video. I think we definitely need to put in some

precautions. With my company records and the stuff we are

handling, I am worried that we are not prepared should someone

come after us.”

“That’s true. I thought about that while I was away.”

As she spoke, she turned her head and glanced at a man who

walked down the street on the other side. He hadn’t seen her yet, but

she had spotted him immediately. His name was Christian—or, at

least, that was his operative name for the organization. She had

worked with him on two different team jobs in the past, and even

though they were years before, she still recognized him. He looked

like a merc from a distance, but she knew that was only a cover.

As they approached the apartment, Billie turned to Holly and took

her wrists. “There is something that I need to do and it could impact

on you. There are some items I need to retrieve from someone


Billie didn’t know exactly what to say so she simply spat

instructions. “I need you to not ask me any questions right now. I

want you to go inside, lock everything, and go into Amanda’s shop

and hide in there. Hide, don’t stand around.”

Holly looked at her for a moment and studied the concern and

seriousness on her face. She nodded and turned, walked directly to

the door, and opened it. As she closed it, she looked for Billie but

she had disappeared. She closed and locked the door and realized,

oddly enough, that she wasn’t frightened in the least. As she snuck

into the garage and found a hiding space at the back among the

crates, she thought about her friend and how her old life didn’t seem

to be completely over.

She had no idea what Hickok had actually done. She wanted to

offer to help her but she knew she would turn her down. Instead,

she’d put on an Oscar-worthy worried face and scurried off like a

frightened child. Inside the garage, though, she flipped her shoes off

and lay down with her feet propped against the crates, knowing it

might take some time before Billie came back for her. Until then, she

would enjoy the silence and the ability to relax without worrying

about emails or texts from her company. They were the last people

she wanted to contact her.



B dug through the bag that Billie had packed for him. She had

decided it would be better if he had his own clothes and didn’t

walk around wearing the old JB’s. He had to admit, it was a

little strange to unpack endless pairs of not Levi jeans and T-shirts

with all kinds of ridiculous photos on them. Finally, at the bottom of

the bag, he found a pair of plaid pajama pants. Armed with those

and a T-shirt with a squirrel on it, he headed to the bathroom and

stepped into the shower.

He had already replaced his old shower paraphernalia with new

items and hoped that Billie hadn’t picked out anything that would

make him smell like a cologne factory. When he had finished

showering, he located his shaving kit. However, when he looked in

the mirror, his face was still smooth. He no longer grew a beard as

fast as he used to, which made him think back to his early twenties

when a five o’clock shadow for him happened after about three days.

That, he didn’t mind. Shaving had always been a pain to him but to

keep the baby face, Holly and Billie both had agreed he should not

grow a beard back for a while.

JB took his time as he brushed his teeth and packed his new

belongings away. Some things, he was determined to keep, like the

towels. There was no need to buy new towels. That hadn’t come up

yet and he wondered how much of a battle it would be when it finally

did. He tossed his dirty things in the hamper and headed to bed once

he’d turned the bedside lamp on and the overhead light off.

Exceptionally weary, he climbed between the crisp sheets and eased

his stump into a comfortable position.

It had been a very long day for him, on top of the numerous shots

he had taken simply to keep himself from being…well, too much

himself. By that point, he was ready to pass the fuck out so he pulled

the covers up and clicked the lamp off. He pushed his hands under

the pillows and snuggled in, thankful to finally be back in his bed.

The ones he had slept in over the last week had been slightly scary

and of real concern. He had been sure he would catch something as

horrendous as the plague.

He closed his eyes and let his mind settle but as he was about to

drift off, there was a loud knock on the door. He groaned and threw

the covers back. He pushed to his one leg and yanked down on his

squirrel T-shirt as he hopped toward the door. Before he could reach

it, though, it opened, and he stared at the silhouette of a curvaceous


JB groaned, rolled his eyes, and leaned his one hand on the

bedside cabinet for support while he placed the other on his hip.

“What are you doing here? With a new life, why don’t you try

allowing others to open their damned doors?”

Billie walked in and shoved the door shut behind her. She clicked

the light on. “At least I fucking knocked, so put a sock in it. Let me

work into it. I’ll start with knocking and I’ll go slowly from there. And

before I even go any further, what are you wearing?”

He scowled at his outfit. “You are the one who gave me the bag

of clothes.”

She pursed her lips in disapproval. “Yeah. I guess I should have

specified when I told the saleswoman to select a bunch of casual

clothes for a mid-twenties guy. And maybe I shouldn’t have gone to

Hot Topic.”

JB blinked at her. “Hot Topic? Really? Those are still in


Billie shrugged, walked forward, and sat on the end of his bed.

“The emo gotta find clothes somewhere, I guess. At least it’s only a

squirrel T-shirt. I saw one in there with a penis wearing a feather


He groaned. “That one is in there too. Your sales girl must have

had a sense of humor.”

“I like people with senses of humor. I should have tipped her.”

She chuckled.

Rather than respond to that, he folded his arms. “What do you

need? Obviously, you are here for some reason.”

She shook her finger. “Oh, yeah. Thanks. Do you have anything

lethal I can use as a drug in a drink?”

JB closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “We have been here

one day and you already want to drug someone? Seriously? And

don’t you have that kind of thing in your bag of tricks?”

Hickok frowned. “No. I went to my contact and paid for all kinds of

weapons. I even have fucking blow darts. Cool, right?”

“If you are fighting natives on their turf—”

She sneered. “Yeah, well, I thought it was cool. Anyway, I bought

all this badass weaponry and completely forgot to get anything

organic. Obviously, I don’t want it traceable.”

He raised his eyebrows. “You know, when your automatic

mindset is to make sure you poison someone with something that

cannot be traced, you should rethink your life. Normal people really

don’t think that way. They don’t even think about drugging other

people, much less killing them and what substance they can use to

do it without being caught.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fucked up.” Billie rolled her eyes. “Tell me

something I don’t know. Do you have anything?”

JB sighed and hopped over to his shelf. “Benadryl, iodine,

shaving cream, valium, and…vaseline.”

She tilted her head back and began to laugh. “Are you setting me

up for a raging party followed by an orgy or—”

He turned and folded his arms again. “You asked what I had.”

“Well, apparently, you have a good time waiting to happen, baby.”

JB stared at her, unamused. “I think I also have some bleach in

the cupboard if that is more your style.”

Billie leaned back, frustrated. “Dammit. I have no choice but to kill

him, but how?”

He lowered his arms and hopped awkwardly to sit beside her.

“On any other occasion, I would send you on your way with

absolutely zero questions of what you are doing. I have learned with

you that the less I know, the better off I am.”

She tapped her nose. “That’s probably a good rule to have.”

JB sighed. “However, it is obvious that there is something

important going on here and I can’t help but think it could severely

impact all of us. So, with great reluctance, I have to put it out there.

Why in the world do you need a non-traceable toxin to poison


Billie thought about it for a second. “Fuck it. I don’t work for them

anymore. I guess I can share my shit with you. I mean, what’s the

worst that could happen? We die and Holly has to pump us full of

goop again? We might come back as five-year-olds and then none of

this is our business anymore. We can simply run around shitting

ourselves and eating macaroni and cheese.”

He tried not to laugh. “You usually don’t shit yourself at five but

go on.”

“There is another agent here at the Zoo. I worked with him in the

past, and I saw him walk down the street dressed as a merc when

Holly and I went to her apartment. He didn’t see me or Holly, so that

is good.”

JB let the amusement go when he realized the situation was

obviously more serious than he’d thought. “Do agents come to the

Zoo a lot?”

She shook her head, then shrugged. “I think so, but I really have

no way of knowing who and why. I was only told about the missions

that I had to complete. Although I have to admit, in all the time I have

been here, I have never seen another agent in the Zoo. Not even in

the other towns. The point is, he is here, and I know he can be

dangerous. I don’t know if he is here for me or not. He could be here

on another mission that I wouldn’t know anything about but, if you

remember, I am supposed to be dead.”

He nodded and wished he had his leg on so he could try to pace.

“Okay, I get what you are saying. Whether he is here for you or not,

he could blow your cover and that would be a bad thing.”

“A very bad thing.” Billie chuckled darkly.

JB turned toward her. “So why don’t you and I, as cousins, go out

to wherever he is to see if we can get information on him?”

Billie narrowed her eyes. “I did follow him and found out he had a

meeting in an hour at the bar at the hotel.”

“We can go there and spy on him discreetly. Killing is a last resort

and the company or organization or whoever will still want to know

who did it to their agent and why. You’ll have a whole new batch of

agents roll in and that’s when it gets worse for all of us.”

She clicked her tongue impatiently to acknowledge the sense of

that. “All right. We can do that. I think it might work. Even if he did

see me, he might not recognize me. You know, with my anti-aging

agent and everything. Let’s do it. Get dressed.”

JB glanced at his bag. “In what? The squirrel or the dancing


Billie wrinkled her nose in real distaste. “I see your point. Let me

look in your closet.”

She went through Old JB’s clothes and selected a blazer and a

pair of black dress pants. Those were paired with the dancing taco

shirt and a pair of all black Chuck Taylors from the New JB’s attire.

He dressed and stood for a moment, staring at himself. “I look like a


“No, you look like you match your age. Come on, we don’t want

to miss him.”

Begrudgingly, he followed her downstairs and out the back door

in his office. They headed to the hotel and kept their heads down so

as not to attract attention. When they arrived, they found a seat at a

small cocktail table in the front. They ordered two beers and Billie

scanned the room. “He is here—in the back at a small booth.

Shadowed, right corner.”

JB decided not to turn to look and make their surveillance

obvious. “What is he doing?”

She paused as a man in a ball cap and merc clothes walked in

and wove between the tables to sit across from him. The

newcomer’s face was shadowed and then blocked by the agent. “It

looks like he is having a meeting with a contact. The informant—my

guess is that is what he is—slid an envelope across the table.”

He sipped his beer casually. “Can you see what’s in it?”

Billie sneered. “I don’t have go-go gadget eyeballs. Whatever it

is, the agent is memorizing it. That’s not abnormal. They don’t

usually take physical evidence back with them. It’s far too risky. We

try to make our risk as close to zero as possible.”

JB smiled as the waitress walked past. “All right, so what do we

do now? Maybe we should talk to the contact.”

“You may be right.” She pulled her lips into a scowl as she

considered this. “If this has nothing to do with me, then it would be

smart not to bring attention to myself by taking out the agent. We

should probe the contact. Or, at least, distract him and get that

envelope. But we need to be able to do it without him noticing it’s

gone. Then I put it back and we head out.”

He shook his head. “That sounds like a lot of work. Why don’t you

wear a mask and rob him?”

Billie turned her head slowly to look at him. “Wow. I’m so glad you

didn’t go into the spy business.”

JB shrugged. “Hey, I never claimed to be a good partner in this


She turned her attention quickly to her drink. “The agent is

leaving but the guy took his hat off and looks like he might be

staying. We could pull the angle of lovers looking for a third.”

“Except for the fact that we are cousins so we can’t be lovers.

There are plenty of people here who know who JB is and if they

don’t know my face by now, they will pretty soon. We need to come

up with something a little less creepy than family-style sex sessions

with a random merc at a sleazy hotel. Besides, I know him. He

comes into FUBAR on Thursdays.”

Hickok tilted her head to the side and frowned slightly. “Why can’t

cousins be lovers? Of all the things that could be crimes, why is that


JB looked at her, not understanding why she was stuck on that

specific detail. “It’s bad for the gene pool. Not to mention the fact that

it is considered socially and morally repugnant. I know some people

do it out in the sticks but people with any sense of the repercussions

tend to steer away from sharing chromosomes.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Is there some strange reaction?”

He sighed and rubbed his face. “Yeah. It’s been proven over time

that sex between those too close together genetically have a higher

chance of creating children with mental or developmental


“Oooh.” Her eyes widened. “So banging your cousin could make

mutant babies. It worked out in the comics.”

JB coughed and covered his mouth. “You are definitely not with

the times on PC conversational topics, that is for sure. Nonetheless,

we tend to stay away from banging family members, yes.”

She grinned at him, her eyes so comically innocent that he knew

she’d simply had led him on. He shook his head but laughed and

acknowledged the victory.

Billie finished her beer. “Okay. Here we go. You walk over and

introduce yourself. Tell him that you were in FUBAR a while ago and

saw him there. I will come out of the bathroom and you introduce

me. I will use my mad skills to acquire the documents while you keep

him chatting, then go to the back. When I have seen them and

returned them without him noticing, I will tell you it’s time to go. Then

we roll.”

He frowned in confusion. “But everyone thinks I got there today.”

She shook her head impatiently. “He won’t remember. I have a


JB looked wildly at her. “A what?”

Hickok grabbed his arm and pulled it demandingly. “Nothing. Just

go with it.”

Against his better judgment, he went with it and did exactly as

she told him to do. Surprisingly, it worked perfectly and at no time did

he actually see Billie take the envelope or return it. When she said it

was time to go, he knew she had accomplished it. As they stood, she

dropped a small pill nonchalantly into the man’s drink. It dissolved


She winked and grabbed JB’s arm to drag him out the door. “He

will be out in about five minutes and wake up like it was all a dream.”

JB put his hands out. “So…is he here for you?”

Billie shook her head. “Nope. It has nothing to do with me so it is

all good…hopefully.”

He walked quickly beside her toward the back door of the bar. “I

really am not starting out this new life thing on the right foot.”

“You only have one, so…” She snickered as she opened the door

for him.



olly yawned. Her head rested on top of her jacket on the floor

and her feet were propped up on the boxes. She was in the

second row and no one would be able to see her from the entryway.

She looked at her fingers, picked at the hangnails, and thought about

all the times she’d gone for manicures in New York. That seemed

like three lifetimes ago now and she couldn’t imagine taking the time

to do something like that at this point in her life. She couldn’t even

remember the last time she’d had her hair trimmed, much less taken

the time to primp herself.

Now, she felt lucky to be able to shower every day. But what she

did was more important than any of that stuff. Her mindset had

changed, and to her, it was for the better.

“You gonna stay here all night or what?” Billie asked as she

poked her head over the boxes.

Holly looked at her and grinned as she scrambled to her feet.

“Oh, you know, I’m simply taking a little rest and relaxation in a pile

of dirty boxes on the cold cement floor.”

Her friend shook her head. “Weirdo.”

They walked upstairs and into the apartment. Holly locked the

door and put her hands on her hips. “You gonna tell me what that

was all about?”

Billie sighed, opened her laptop, and inserted her scrambler.

“There was an agent here. I followed him and figured out he wasn’t

here for me but still, it worries me. All I can do at this point is to

believe that they won’t be able to find me. Or that they really do

believe I am dead.”

Holly sat on the bed and drew her legs up to loop her arms

around them. “I assume it would be bad if they find you or don’t

believe you’re really gone?”

Hickok chuckled grimly. “Uh. yeah. Like dead bad. Like so dead

no goop could put me back together again.”

“That’s not good.” She grimaced.

“Maybe I should try to remove my fingerprints. Do you have a

razor and some fire? I don’t think it will hurt too much. It’s only one

layer of skin, really. People do it all the time. A little haircut, and no

one will be able to trace me.”

Holly shook her head. “When you say people do it all the time,

you mean crazy people, right?”

Her companion shrugged and pouted. “I guess you can’t exactly

call me sane. For fuck’s sake, I have to hide from my prior job

because in that business, if you quit, you are killed. Not a final check,

not a bad recommendation, you are chopped into bits.”

She stared at Billie for a moment, unsure of what to say to that.

“Well, we all make mistakes. But I don’t think it will do any good to

remove your fingerprints. The goop that was injected into you is still

working and is still in your system. It will repair your fingerprints,

probably within hours.”

Hickok groaned. “I forgot about that. Damn. Okay. So that won’t

work. How long will this goop stay with me?”

She frowned as she thought about it for a moment or two. “I’m

not really sure. It could be a few months or it could be for the rest of

your life. Only time will tell.”

It was late but Holly knew there was no way she would sleep

anytime soon. She walked over to the coffee pot and turned it on.

“Have we figured out exactly what we will need money-wise to get

started with everything?”

Billie stopped typing and turned her head. “Actually, I did some

calculations while JB and I were in hiding. I figure we need to take

enough trips into the Zoo to raise about a half a million dollars, give

or take a hundred thousand. That will really set us up for success.

That is if we survive.”

Holly stood there and held her empty coffee mug and her mouth

hung open. “Did you say a half a million? I mean, I’ve made some

bucks going into the Zoo but never anything close to that. Seriously,

that amount of money will take us forever.”

Her friend nodded as she scanned through something online. “It

is big money for the Zoo. Even full Pita at this point won’t bring you

that much in one payment. But it isn’t big money for an assassin.

That kind of money is really easy to come by in the business.

Sometimes, that could be one job, at the most two. It could be only

the down payment, depending on how difficult a target is.”

Holly shook her head and poured coffee into her mug. “I don’t

know about all that. I thought the whole purpose of you dying was to

get out of the business. Besides, it seems counter-intuitive to go in

and kill people to make the money so we can save people’s lives. It’s

not exactly what I would think of when I looked for good ways to

make money for my first start-up.”

Billie chuckled. “Yeah, I’m not sure you would find that in any of

your entrepreneur books. Assassination for Dummies. Buy this and

get How to Fund Your Start-Up for fifty percent off the cover price.”

She smiled and shook her head at Hickok. “I don’t think we would

feel good about it if we knew people died for it.”

Her friend scanned the page she was on and Holly narrowed her

eyes. “What website is that?”

“Uh, it’s on the Dark Web. A specific site I have a membership


Holly raised an eyebrow. “And this has something to do with


Billie pointed to the screen. “Aha! Right here there are two good

requests for the assassination of people who would help mankind

out more if they were dead than they do alive.”

“Could they be that bad?” She still had difficulty even thinking

about it.

Hickok looked at her with a serious expression. “I’ve met some

people…well, let’s say you wouldn’t want to breathe the same air as

them. Yes, they can be that bad. If it helps, the income from their

death will allow humanity to have a brighter future. Perhaps because

of their unwilling sacrifice, heaven will have mercy on their souls—”

Holly shook her hand. “Stop. Good Lord, just stop.”

She chuckled but at the same time, truly felt her friend was full of

shit. They needed the money, though, and she had to have faith in

her partner that she wouldn’t take innocent lives. She had to believe

that regardless of Billie’s past, she was a good person and when

given the choice, would do the right thing.

Despite her misgivings, she took a deep breath and sipped her

coffee. “I can’t believe I am about to say this… So long as they are

truly bad, I guess we will do what we have to do.”

Billie nodded at her. “Oh, they are truly the worst.”

Holly left the other woman to whatever she had to do to set that

up. She understood why she had to do it but she still didn’t want any

part of it. While she had killed animals out in the Zoo, it wasn’t the

same to her as killing people. There was a certain amount of morality

that she struggled with when it came to that kind of thing, even if

they were the worst of the worst.

She cleaned the apartment, washed clothes, folded and put away

others, and finally took a shower. When she finished, she figured

Billie would either be asleep or watching one of her movies, but

instead, she was still typing away online. Holly dressed in her

pajamas and tossed her towel in the bin before she scrunched her

wet hair with her hands. She grabbed another cup of coffee and

stood beside Billie to look at her computer.

Her friend didn’t look up but continued to type. Holly yawned and

turned to rest her ass on the edge of the desk. She knew she might

be a little irritating but she was anxious, especially after what they

had discussed. “What are you doing now? I figured you would be

done with all your black ops stuff by now.”

Billie smiled. “Oh, I finished that before you got in the shower. It’s

fairly simple once you are already in the system. You claim the jobs

you want, they send you the info on where to meet up with the

contacts, and the client gets your obviously fake information to book

your flights. That’s it.”

Holly nodded. “Well, that sounds convenient. So, what is this?”

Hickok leaned back in her chair. “This is for Marcus.”

“I thought you weren’t talking anymore. You know, with him

having to start a new life too.”

Her companion laughed. “I was trained to find anyone, anywhere.

I keep tabs on him because I like to make sure he is doing okay. He

was my handler, but he has no expertise in actually protecting

himself. I walked right into his kitchen and killed him.”

Holly shook her head. The idea of that freaked her out every

single time. “Okay, so you keep tabs. What are you sending to him?”

Billie smirked. “I’m finding technology probably outside of Marcus’

ability to purchase and sending it to him.”

Holly tilted her head to the side and stared at the machine on the

web page. It looked like something out of a science fiction movie.

Not that the actual moving robots in the video that used it helped to

make it any more realistic. “I thought he did programming and hacker


“He does. Which is why I know he wouldn’t be able to afford all

the fancy stuff for his hobbies. He is a technological genius, but he

uses it to create droids and robots. I told him he could cure the world

of all disease or end world hunger, and he said that would simply

flood the Earth with too many people.”

She raised her brow. “How Scrooge of him.”

Billie chuckled. “I know. It’s adorable. I can already see him open

it and blow his load right there in front of the delivery guy.”

Holly wrinkled her nose in real distaste. “Those are the kind of

things I try to avoid picturing. Nonetheless, it’s nice of you to send

him gifts.”

Hickok shook her head. “It’s a gift, but there is a reason behind it.

Eventually, his lust for new tech will overcome his reticence to being

here and we will have a new hire.”

“I don’t get it. Are you trying to manipulate him to join our


Billie tilted her head from side to side she considered this. “I don’t

know if it’s so much manipulation as it is helping him see the light.”

Holly put her coffee down. “Why would we want to have someone

come work for the company who didn’t want to be here before he

received a shit ton of really expensive toys? I mean, wouldn’t we

want someone here who wanted to be here no matter what

technological tools they had to work with?”

Her friend stuck her bottom lip out and patted Holly’s head. “Aww,

aren’t you sweet? Even after all this, you still think there are good

people in this world. Let me tell you something, Holly. Everyone in

the world has a price. No one does things for nothing. The return

could be anything from feeling good about themselves because they

fed the hungry, to world domination. Either way, there is a payout in

the end. Marcus cares, but he knows that his payout could be

extermination. We need to show him that his payout will be anything

but that.”

Holly grimaced. “Okay. I guess I can see why he chose to stay

away. He spent years in the business and now, he wants a stressfree,

quiet life. You can’t fault the guy for that.”

Billie shook her head. “Nope, I don’t fault him for that at all. I can

see how he would want that. I would love to have that one day too.

But for me, there is more to it than going dark and working under the

table. He always told me that to get the assignments I wanted, I had

to put in my time and do the work. That applies to anything in life.

You have to put in the time and do your due diligence.”

She could see where Hickok was coming from. “But does he

know you are going down this trail?”

“If he doesn’t, he should.” Hickok laughed. “He knows I don’t give

up on things that easily. And to answer you, it isn’t about tricking him.

It’s about allowing him to see the need quicker than he might

otherwise. And taking the extra time to get him where he will end up

anyway. He’s known it since the day I left him in that hostel.

Eventually, he would come to work for us anyway, so this is simply

about how to get him to come here.”

Holly straightened and sighed. “Maybe it’s just me but I still

haven’t figured out how you people live your lives with all these

games. In my family, if something is going on, if we need something,

we say it and that is that. There is no game, no beating around the

bush, no manipulation. Honestly, I couldn’t keep up with it. That stuff

is way too much for me.”

Billie smiled as she clicked the button to send the equipment.

“That is why we work so well together. You know how to get what

you need from normal people. I know how to work with those who

are more complicated.”

She put her cup in the sink. “I also know how to turn off and go to

bed. We have a big day tomorrow. Or, you have a big day tomorrow.

You know, killing people and stuff.”

“I do, and I can never sleep the night before.” The woman

smirked. “You go ahead and go to bed. I will get ready for my trip. If I

don’t see you before I leave, I’ll be back soon. Keep an eye on JB for

me. Make up some good excuse why I’m not there.”



lthough the sun was about to slip below the horizon, the heat

was oppressive in the small Jamaican town. It was set apart

from the hustle and bustle of the tourists but had more than enough

people to fill the streets and shops along the strip. Billie stepped out

of the cab and handed the driver money. She pulled her bag onto her

shoulder and slid her sunglasses on. A bobbed black wig with long,

blunt bangs suited her hunter green carpenter shorts that were short

but not short enough to attract too much attention. Tucked into them

was a tight white wife-beater.

Her white Keds were crisp and clean as she stepped carefully

onto the curb. A man caught her attention in an attempt to sell her

some hand-crafted bongos. She shook her head with a smile. “No


After a right turn, she headed down the block and finally entered

a small, crowded café. The large fans in the ceiling spun wildly but

didn’t seem to do anything for the heat. In the corner, a man sat in a

white large-brimmed hat and cream-colored lightweight suit. Beneath

his jacket, he wore a blue tie-dyed T-shirt. Hickok smiled and walked

through the café to slide into the seat opposite him. He held an

American newspaper in front of his face and didn’t look at her even


Billie leaned forward. “Do you mind if I took a look at the sports

section? I hear the new Boche team is kicking tail.”

The man laid the paper down on top of a large envelope and slid

it across the table. He turned and pushed his hat down on his head,

grabbed his briefcase, and left the café. She waited until he was out

of sight before she glanced around the room. The patrons seemed

mostly locals, and no one paid her any attention. She slid the

contents out of the envelope and studied a picture of the target. On

the back were his name and his last known location and a full list of

his crimes.

As Billie read through them, she could feel her blood begin to

boil. There was a possibility that she had come face to face with a

man like that during her time with the organization. The difference

was, she would have had no idea. They never told her why her

targets were targets. She was only told who they were and where to

find them. Once the job was done, she cleared her mind of anything

that had to do with them.

This target, though, was the worst and she could almost feel

herself preparing internally for the job. She put the papers into the

envelope and slipped it in her bag to dispose of them when she left.

Billie sat there for several moments to control her emotions since

she knew she couldn’t take them with her on the job. Distractions

were the same in that kind of work as they were in the Zoo. They

could easily get you killed.

Hickok looked at her watch, picked her bag up, and slung it over

her shoulder. She walked out of the café and grabbed another cab.

“To the harbor. The West Harbor.”

The driver glanced at her for a moment and nodded before he

drove off. As they moved through the streets, he glanced constantly

at her in the mirror. “Are you sure you want to go there? It is very

dangerous for a woman,” he said at last.

“I appreciate your concern but I’m sure. There is nothing there

that is scarier than the shit I’ve seen before.”

The driver nodded and suddenly increased speed, obviously

nervous about having her in his car. He pulled up to the side of the

road and let her out. She tipped him extra and thanked him. By that

time, the sun had set fully and the early moon reflected off the calm

water of the harbor. The area was mostly used for cargo ships, but to

the right was a small but elite area for larger yachts. Her target was

in that group.

Billie lowered her head and moved quickly down the fence line

and finally crouched behind a large electrical box. She opened her

bag and retrieved her suit, the same one she had worn into the Zoo.

It wasn’t as impressive as the old company one but it would definitely

get the job done. She’d had a few modifications made to it that would

improve the secret agent aspect of her job.

Once she was zipped up, she pulled her helmet on and tucked

her clothes away in her bag. She pulled the suppressor from her

pouch and twisted it onto her pistol before she holstered the weapon

on her hip. After a quick mental check, she stowed her bag behind

the box and activated her HUD. “Sound detection.”

The software switched to scan the yachts for both infrared

readings as well as conversations. She focused rapidly from one

ship to another until she finally found the right one—more or less in

the middle—and identified the target on the lower level with two

guards. She could see only two others, one on the deck and one on

the first floor. The target was talking to his men. “Kill her and throw

her body to the sharks. I have no time for this useless drama. When

you are done, bring me my dinner. I am starving.”

The two men moved out of the room and up to the deck. They

spoke to the other two guards on the way but then left the ship. Billie

ducked and watched as they went out onto the dock and up to the

parking lot and finally drove away. This was good for her. It meant

she only had two guards to deal with, nothing she hadn’t handled


She deactivated the sensors, drew in a deep breath, and

released it slowly. This was the first assignment of two, and she

knew that when she was finished, they would have their money.

Even more than that, she would have killed someone who didn’t

deserve to be alive. She wasn’t sure if that would bring her

atonement, satisfaction, or neither, but she would find out soon


With deft movements, she snipped the fencing and climbed

through the hole, careful to remain low. There were no security

cameras there and for good reason. Most of the shipments going out

of the place were illegal. On top of that, the people who owned the

yachts were not the type who wanted to ever be caught on camera.

That only made things easier for her.

When she reached the dock, she switched to camouflage. It

worked well at night, especially when the lights were few and far

between. She moved carefully down the row of boats, remained in

the shadows as much as possible, and moved very slowly. The first

of the two guards was now visible where he paced back and forth on

the open deck. He looked directly at her, which forced her to freeze.

She breathed heavily as his gaze moved on. Clearly, he hadn’t

actually seen her. Nonetheless, it made her heart skip a beat. The

sound of the water slashing lightly against the dock pulled her from

her own head. She had to keep going. This was no different than any

other job.

She snuck up to the boat and clicked a button on each of her

wrists. On the outside, a small green light lit up. She pushed her

fingertips to the side of the boat and began to climb. With each flick

of her wrist, the gloves clung to the surface of the boat. She moved

to the center and clambered upward. When she reached the top, she

peeked over and saw the guard at the front with his back to her. She

grabbed the railing, flipped herself over onto the yacht, and landed

with almost no sound.

Slowly, she crept forward and glanced continually around her for

anyone she might have missed. The coast was clear, which made it

a very simple assignment, at least for her.

As she approached the guard, he stopped and put his comms to

his mouth. “All clear up here.”

The guard on the first floor responded. “Copy that.”

The guard hung up and before he could turn, she pressed the

barrel of her gun to the back of his head and pulled the trigger. He

fell forward over the edge and landed in the water to leave not even

a drop of blood on the ship. She froze and listened into the silence

after the loud splash, but no one seemed to have heard it. Satisfied,

she turned and jogged across to the stairs and engaged her heat

sensors once again. The guard was around the corner at the bottom.

He seemed to look down at something, possibly his phone.

She hurried downward, turned right, and instantly squeezed the

trigger, the weapon aimed at his chest. Before the man could fall or

make a sound, she caught his body and dragged him into the

bathroom close by. She closed the door carefully, drew a deep

breath, and recalled the position of her target. “Down the passage,

turn right, and there you are.”

Billie smiled as she stepped over the blood splatter and headed

down the passage. She reached the end without problems and

turned right. A set of large oak double doors stood open directly

ahead. Her target sat in a chair inside and across the room, watching

his very large projection screen television. He wore headphones and

most of the lights were out.

She shook her head. “Sometimes, my job is so easy I can’t even

believe I get paid for this shit.”

With each careful step she took, the list of atrocities the man had

committed played through her head. She stood behind him and

breathed heavily as she stared at the back of his head. In almost

slow motion, she raised her gun and swallowed, held it up, and

aimed at his skull. For several moments, she waited for her own

finger to press the trigger. She waited…waited…and waited. Her

mind screamed at her to do it, but her hand wouldn’t comply. It

wasn’t apprehension, however, but something much deeper than

that. It was revenge—revenge for every bad thing he had done.

After a couple of minutes, she lowered the weapon, unclipped her

helmet, and removed it silently. She set it on the floor and stared at

him with contempt as the anger blew through her. With one quick

movement, she knocked the headphones out of his ears and put her

hand around his mouth. She wrapped one arm around his neck and

leaned down, her lips barely inches from his ear.

He struggled for a moment before he froze and strained to look

back in fear. She licked her lips and breathed out. “Amber, age

seventeen. Rape, dismemberment, death. Joshua, thirty-four.

Gunshot to the head. Theresa, twenty-two. Slavery, sex crimes,

battery, dismemberment. Melissa, age fifteen. Prostitution, rape,

battery, and branding. Let’s not forget that you carved her body full of

phalluses and buried her alive. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Your crimes are far too many for me to stand here and list them for

you. But I can promise you I do know every name. Does all this ring

a bell for you?”

She removed her hand slowly from his mouth. He smiled and

began to laugh. “And I will do the same to you.”

Billie sniffed disdainfully and looked at him with no fear. “Not in

this lifetime.”

Silence hung between them as she walked around in front of him,

aimed her pistol, and shot him once in the right leg. He screamed

and clutched it with his hands. She moved the gun slightly and shot

the other, finding pleasure in his suffering. He leaned back, his

breathing heavy.

“What do you want from me? Do you want money? Fine. I’ll give

you money.”

She chuckled. “No. I don’t want anything.”

Her smile was dangerous as she raised her gun and pulled the

trigger to shoot him in the crotch. He screamed without ceasing as

blood flowed down his velvet-upholstered chair and pooled on the

floor of his expensive yacht. After a few minutes of the noise, she

grimaced and shook her head. She fired one last time and the slug

struck home in his head. The shrieks stopped abruptly, and his body

fell back as his arms and legs went limp.

Nausea settled in her stomach with the realization that although

he deserved every moment of pain, it did nothing to absolve her of

the lives she had taken in the past. She walked around the chair and

grabbed her helmet before she left the boat. With her mind

elsewhere, she walked along the dock and made no attempt to hide.

She strode the length of the harbor and climbed through the hole in

the fence. Within minutes, she’d peeled her suit off and stuffed it in

her bag.

Billie withdrew a small mirror from her bag and stopped to stare

at her reflection. Blood had sprayed across her face, and she

couldn’t seem to look away. The sound of a ship’s horn was the only

thing that shook her from her haze. She wiped her face with her suit

before she donned her wig and clothes and hurried out on the road

away from the harbor. As she climbed the hill, a taxi idled at the top.

It was the same driver who had dropped her off.

She looked at him suspiciously. He nodded. “I thought that when

you were done…disposing of your trash, you might need a ride.”

With a smile, she opened the door and slid in. The taxi

accelerated as the car lights of what might be the two other guards

turned into the harbor. Hickok leaned forward. “Thank you.”

He nodded. “Did you complete your mission?”

“I always do.”


He retrieved a small envelope from the passenger seat and

handed it to her. It contained her payment for a job completed. She

tucked it in her bag and leaned back to exhale a deep breath. “To the

airport please.”

The driver turned some music on and drove toward the airport.

Billie watched the buildings fly past outside. All the disgust fell away

as she saw three little girls playing in a front yard, their flashlights

flickering all around. Maybe it was all the past jobs that had put that

knot into her stomach. Maybe it was the unknown that made her

doubt herself. In that moment, though, she knew she had a lot of

good in her life. A purpose that was beyond the next job. And in the

meantime, she got to clean the world up, one asshole at a time.



he bright sun shimmered on the lush greenery and rolling hills

of the island. The beaches weren’t busy, and the sand moved

under Billie’s feet as she walked. She held one hand to the top of her

large floppy hat as her red curls fluttered around her in the ocean

breeze. Her blue sundress was tied to the side so the water wouldn’t

soak the edges as she walked along close enough to feel the cool

ocean touch her feet.

The palm trees on the shore waved back and forth with the

breeze. It had been a really long time since she had walked barefoot

on a beach. In fact, the last time she could remember was when

she’d chased a target down the sand of the Bahamas in the middle

of the night. Eventually, she’d gunned the man down and let the

ocean sweep his body away. So, in reality, this was the first time she

was able to enjoy a walk down the beach.

I could get used to this. I could be like 007 but way hotter and

only in tropical climates. No fucking skiing for this bitch. She laughed

at her own thoughts and looked up to see an older gentleman in a

white wide-brimmed hat and lightweight white suit ensconced on a

large beach chair. He held a newspaper up in front of him, and his

pant legs were rolled up and his bare feet in the sand.

Billie sighed. Her fun time would only last until dark. She stopped

beside the man and looked at the ocean. “Do you mind if I look at the

art section? I hear they have a Rembrandt tour and make a stop in

Bone, Idaho.”

The man folded the paper and stood to place the paper on the

chair. Without so much as a glance at her, he turned away and

strolled leisurely down the beach, one hand in his pocket and the

other holding his wing-tipped shoes. Billie chuckled and shook her

head. Whoever her client was for the two jobs definitely had a sense

of humor.

She leaned down and picked up the paper to retrieve the

envelope from beneath it. Once she’d tucked her large beach bag

beside the chair, she sat and leaned back in before she withdrew the

information. For a short moment, she stared at the picture of a

Madam Alexandria Dubois. The woman had been hunted,

investigated, set free, and left alone, even after the charges she

faced. Somehow, this woman knew exactly what she was doing. She

knew how to get away with a crime even when she’d committed it

with her own hands. They called her the Waxer. Every victim she

killed, she would wax their head bald and have one of her thugs

carve a smiley face into the scalp. The behavior was bizarre, but that

usually came with the territory when dealing with a psychopath like


Billie slipped the papers back in the envelope and shoved them

into her bag. She had two hours before she could be assured of

darkness and there was no better place to be than right there. She

exhaled a deep, revitalizing breath and dug her toes into the sand. A

waitress from the resort came up with a smile. “Can I get you

something to drink?”

She pursed her lips and glanced at her watch before she

shrugged her shoulders and nodded. “That would be great. I will

have a Mai Tai please.”

The girl smiled. “Of course, right away. Is there a room you would

like me to credit?”

Billie shook her head and dug in her pocket for a fifty. “Keep the

change as well.”

The girl thanked her and hurried off to the outside bar. Hickok put

her arms behind her head and grinned. The pinks and blues of the

approaching sunset were more beautiful than even the vibrant colors

of the Zoo. Then again, the Hawaiian sunset also didn’t try to eat you

while you slept.

The girl was back within five minutes and Billie was in heaven as

she watched the sun settle on the horizon and sink slowly into the

water. She nursed her drink and had barely sipped the last of it from

her coconut when the waitress appeared. “There is a cab waiting for

you out front. They pointed at you and said they were here to take

you to your destination.”

A car with blacked-out windows was parked close to the bar. She

nodded, grabbed her bag, and strolled up the beach. The driver got

out and opened the door. She ducked in and waited until he slid

behind the wheel. “Your client has arranged the transportation.”

Billie smiled. “Thanks.”

The man rolled up the tinted glass between the front and the

back of the car. She raised her eyebrows and glanced regretfully at

the water as the last sliver of the sun dipped into the sea. “Well, that

was a nice two-hour vacation. Back to work.”

She pulled her suit from her bag and laid it out with her helmet

beside it before she dragged her sundress over her head and tossed

it in the bag. One last job and then back to the Zoo, which for all

intents and purposes, had become home to her. She slipped her suit

on and secured her helmet. Dressed and ready, she leaned back

and enjoyed the ride as the car drove inland and toward the

destination. Again, she had no idea who the client was but if she

were looking to be in the business long term, she would definitely be

interested in them. But that wasn’t her life anymore. She had goop to

collect and serums to make.

It wouldn’t be glamorous, but when had her life ever been

glamorous? The thought ended abruptly when the car came to a

stop and she exited and nodded at the driver. She paused and

studied the target’s location, a huge mansion on the hill. Apparently,

the worst criminals in the world were the ones who got glamorous.

Billie cracked her neck and dropped her helmet onto the bloody

carpet. She drew a deep breath and walked toward a large sliding

door. The sky was lit up by the full moon and the stars sparkled

almost joyously overhead. Out on the patio near the pool, candles

lined the walkway and the flames flickered back and forth. Their

shadows danced along the side of the house. In any other situation,

the scene would have been incredibly romantic. Unfortunately, there

was no hot man waiting for her that day.

Instead, all around her on the floor lay the dead bodies of the

guards that had roamed the grounds. They had pursued her into the

house when her camo failed but she had been nimbler and much

quicker than their large muscles could move.

Billie stood and breathed heavily as she removed her empty mag

and shoved a new one in. It was the fourth one she had been

through, and a sharp, stinging pain tormented her shoulder. She

looked at the hole in her suit and the flesh wound where a bullet had

grazed her. Irritated, she shook her head and turned her attention to

the patio once more. To the right of the pool was a large aboveground

hot tub. Inside it was a woman with long blonde hair. She

leaned back with cucumbers on her eyes, earbuds in her ears, and a

glass of champagne in her hand.

Hickok studied her with her head slightly tilted in curiosity. “You

look so comfortable for someone about to fucking die. Maybe I

should join you. I deserve to be comfortable, right?”

She nodded and answered. “Yes, I deserve a little soak in the hot

tub after a really rough night’s work.”

Her mind made up, she set her gun down and unzipped the side

of her suit. Carefully, she peeled it all the way down to her feet. For

balance, she held onto the head of one of the dead guards who had

fallen across the counter. She pulled the suit off fully and leaned over

to retrieve her gun. “I’ve never killed anyone in the nude before. This

should be interesting.”

She turned sideways and squeezed through the crack in the

door. Out on the patio, she tiptoed across and climbed the steps

before she eased herself carefully into the water. She sat with the jet

at her back, which splashed water at the woman. The Waxer sat up

with a gasp and the cucumbers fell with a soft plop. “Who the fuck

are you? How did you get in here?”

Billie raised her pistol and aimed at the woman’s chest. “Don’t

worry about calling your guards, they’re all dead. And your security

system has been disabled with your apparent permission.”

The woman gritted her teeth and looked at the gun. “What do you

want? Money? Jewelry?”

“Why does everyone think I want money? It’s so rude.”

The Waxer glanced at the weapon once more. “Then what do you


Hickok smiled. “Three French girls on the Riviera go missing.

Two years later, their bodies are found in their mothers’ backyards,

strung up in the trees. Each girl had their head waxed and smiley

faces carved into the scalp. Six months later, three Swedish

teenagers go missing. Two years later, their bodies are found in their

grandmother’s backyard, same MO. When autopsies were

performed on these and many other bodies, it was found that they

were sexually abused, physically beaten, and tattooed with a

number. What was the number for?”

The woman scoffed. “That’s what you want? Because we have so

many girls in so many countries. The numbers keep them straight.

Why else? Their lives are worth nothing, and when I’m done with

you, neither will yours.”

Billie shook her head and clicked her tongue. “Not today, Satan.

Not today.”

She fired and continued to riddle the Waxer with bullets until her

gun clicked empty. Finally, she smirked and climbed out of the tub

and turned the temperature all the way up. She pushed the woman's

head under the water and closed the tub tightly before she walked

away, whistling cheerfully.

Billie sat in the back of the car and held her final envelope of money.

The window between them rolled down and the driver stared at her

for a moment. “My client said to tell you, if you ever look for more

work, the number written on the paper in that envelope will be the

way to contact them.”

She nodded. “Thank you.”

As her phone began to buzz, the driver closed the window. She

frowned as an unknown number popped up on the screen. “Hello?”

There was silence for several moments before Marcus said,

“Billie. I know you are trying to woo me over to the dark side. And

although I have no intention to oblige you, I would like you to

continue to try to persuade me.”

Billie laughed. “You got my gift.”

Marcus chuckled. “I did. And as much as I would like to thank you

for it, that isn’t why I called. There is something going on—something

that makes me nervous.”

She tensed and straightened. “What? What is it?”

He cleared his throat. “I don’t know if it means anything so don’t

freak out right away. But I thought it was strange. I have seen one of

the agents I used to be a handler for at a bar near where I live. They

didn’t seem to be in any hurry, but I kept my distance. I knew they

would recognize me.”

Billie shook her head. “This is strange because there was one in

the Zoo the other day. I tracked him to his contact, but the

information had nothing to do with me. Still, this is a concern. Two is

a coincidence, sure. Three, though, that’s a pattern. Before I even

get to that point, I want to check this out. I want you to hide. Get out

of your apartment, even if it’s in the basement of that building, and

hide. I’m on my way to you as fast as I can get there.”

JB dried his hands off and tossed the paper towel in the trash.

FUBAR had been continually busy as people came to meet New JB.

He even met people who had never been there before but had heard

the legendary stories about Old JB. It was now the middle of the day

and they finally had a small lull in foot traffic. Paula had gone on

break and ran back to her place to shower and eat.

He took a tray of dried glasses and set them carefully on the

shelf, organizing them exactly as he used to. Surely no one would

notice something that insignificant. He heard the front door open and

shut as he placed the last glass on the shelf. When he turned, a man

sat at the bar. It was very obvious that he didn’t belong.

With his brand-new T-shirt and obviously new cargo pants and

boots, he stuck out like a sore thumb. His hair was cut short and his

beard was perfectly trimmed. Instantly, JB was on guard, unsure of

who this was or why he was there. He took a deep breath and

walked up with a smile. “Hey there. What can I get for you?”

The man smiled. “I’ll take a rum and Coke, please. I heard this

was the place to come for a good drink and some nachos.”

JB smirked. Someone was definitely fucking with the man if he

thought their nachos were good. He maintained a straight face and

turned to set the drink on a coaster. “Sure is. I’m JB.”

He stuck his hand out. The newcomer stared at it for a second

before he grabbed it and shook mechanically. He placed a pile of

papers down on the bar in front of him. “I thought I would catch up on

some work while I eat.”

With a low chuckle, JB wrote an order for nachos, walked through

the doors, and handed it to his kitchen guy with a wink. The man

looked at the order and grinned. “Someone must be getting fucked


They both laughed and JB returned to his place behind the bar.

The stranger was already writing and paid no attention to him. He

moved closer to stick his hands in the three-compartment sink and

wash the rest of the glasses. As he dipped them into the second and

third compartments, he glanced at the notes scattered on the

counter. On top of one of them was a picture—one that forced him to

take pause.

He scooted closer and stared surreptitiously at the face. It was

unmistakable. It was a picture of Hickok.

A U T H O R N O T E S - M I C H A E L ( T O D D ) A N D E R L E

F E B R U A R Y 1 8 , 2 0 1 9

THANK YOU for not only reading this story but these Author

Notes as well.

(I think I’ve been good with always opening with “thank you.” If

not, I need to edit the other Author Notes!)

RANDOM (sometimes) THOUGHTS?

If you have an agency that is focused on making people

disappear, wouldn’t they suspect that a disappearing agent maybe

faked her own death?

That was the premise behind this book.

I did not believe that the Agency would just accept Hickok’s death

without a head to go with it—which means they would not believe

Marcus’ death either. With all their assets, the Agency should be

able to find Marcus and Hickok, no matter where they were in the


However, I don’t believe they should have poked this bear. In

SOFF12, we have the Agency in one corner and Wild Billie Hickok in

another. The Agency has international assets and at least fifteen

high-level agents on their side.

Hickok has Holly, Amanda, Marcus, and her new friends in the

ZOO on her side.

It’s a fair fight. May the best killers win.


One of the interesting (at least to me) aspects of my life is the

ability to work from anywhere and at any time. In the future, I hope to

re-read my own Author Notes and remember my life as a diary entry.

Las Vegas, NV USA

I’m typing this on my kitchen table in our condo. Presently, the

table is a damned mess. My office is still stripped to the concrete, a

foot of wall at the base cut out to help make sure no mold was

growing after the water damage we suffered a couple of months ago.

Nothing will be worked on until Friday (it is Monday night at the


I used to think that it would be cool to live on a sailboat where

every little nook and cranny had storage and your life was about the

joy of living in a tiny space.

Sorry, but F#$k that. I NEVER want to have to live in a small

space if I don’t have to. I already have a 10x10 air conditioned

storage unit so I can put ‘stuff’ in there. Summertime? Grab the

sweaters and blankets and store them in the unit until winter. Have

extra LMBPN shirts to give to certain people in a couple of months?

To the unit we go.

(Then forget them in the unit when you leave for <enter place you

take a plane to travel to> and slap yourself upside the head in


I look around at all of the miscellaneous stuff that is littering the

condo. None of it is big and bulky and easy to make a decision to

move to the storage unit. How the HELL did I acquire so many little

pieces of junk that I think I need but I never need when I’m on a trip?

When I die, I wonder if I will have acquired so much stuff my kids

have a moment of annoyance when they have to get rid of it? Boy,

wouldn’t that suck!

Now, I think about the fact my parents are all still alive and


Maybe I’ll just have an already planned and paid for garage sale

in my will…

ESTATE SALE - COME GET MY SHIT… signs already printed



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Ad Aeternitatem,

Michael Anderle

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