Austin By Night Got A Review [Link]

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Kind of late news, but it’s cool to know someone is reading! Has some definite, fair criticisms; but overall a decent review that you can read here. Once I finish my novel, I hope to get back to this series again at some point. Although, I’ve recently begun to consider possibly turning it into an audio series….

Maybe. We’ll see! Check out the first twelve chapters of AbN here, and expect another Cashier Confessions short later this week!

Sincerely,

Philip Hauser

Austin By Night – Cassandra [Layer 12]

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Author’s Note: you can catch up on the rest of the series here.

It’s midnight and the water is pitch black, even with the infrared goggles on. I can hear my breathing in the scuba suit as I swim under the waters of Lake Austin towards the yacht floating in the middle of the river. A heavy bass, some kind of techno music is vibrating from the boat hit my body. I take more slow deliberate breathes.

As I surface I try not breathe out give away my position, but the music is so loud that it might not be an issue. As I peek over the side of the boat, I fire my first bullet at a man wearing sunglasses who spots me coming over the side. The gun recoils for a moment as the whisper quiet of the silencer makes my gun sound like muffled whap and his death a soft thud.

I catch the spare shell in my left palm and pocket it. The sky is dark, no lights, no sounds except the bass coming from the main cabin. I kill another man. Whap, thud, catch, pocket.

I see the white container on the bow of the yacht and I open it. Towels, these are what I’ll need. I open my hit kit and I see the lighter fluid. This will do just fine.

“Hey, Tom is that-“

Whap, thud, catch, pocket. I breathe deeply. I allow the let the medication take control. It’s better now. The voices inside me are no longer distracting me, but I still have nightmares. I wonder if there’s a pill that can keep me from dreaming.

I open the cabin. The heavy bass that I have been hearing is getting louder. A woman who I’ve seen before is surprised to find me here. She is the target and she knows it. Her eyes widen. Whap, thud…pocket. She tumbles down the stairs after the bullet exits her. The recoil is easier now. My body is not shaking anymore. More deep breathes.

It’s so bright inside the cabin that I have to remove my goggles. I hear a man screaming as the woman’s body rolls down the stairs and onto the floor. I sleuth down the railing of the narrow, white stair case and land in the cabin. I see a man digging into a drawer for something. His movements are slow and awkward. His face as he looks up at me seems to confirm something for him that I can’t understand. I fire at his chest twice and he falls to the ground.

I look in the drawer and see that he was going to grab a pistol. It looks bored sitting there. I look at the body in front of me as it flops around. I’m getting bored with this. I can’t feel anything anymore.

I watch him struggle. He rolls over and continues to bleed as he takes out his phone, but he drops it twice. He can’t even dial for help. A part of knows I should end him now, but I can’t help but be entranced by him and his struggle. His eyes are green. He has large green eyes. I can’t tell if it’s me or the medication that’s doing this to me. After about a minute of this, he movements start to get slower and slower until he finally stops. I then remember what I have to do. I soak the towel in lighter fluid and I light it on fire using the man’s zippo. I toss the flaming towel on his face and walk up the stairs.

It’s still pitch black outside. The lake is dark, the sky is dark, the coast and trees are dark. The white yacht rocks back and forth as I wait for the fire to spread to other parts of the boat. The light is all there is to see. I can’t help but find it fascinating: the fire growing larger and larger. I then get a phone call from my employer.

“Hello?” I answer.

“I saw your progress, tonight,” she tell me, “very impressive.”

“How were you watching me?” I ask, suddenly paranoid.

“Surveillance drone,” she answers, “the pharmaceutical branch within my company is liking the test data. They can use it to argue the medication’s military applications.”

“But, you wanted me to wipe out the competition here in Austin, right?” I ask her.

“Yes, that too,” she confirms, “as soon as you’re done, meet me back at the Austonian. We have other matters we need to discuss.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I tell her, “is it another competitor?”

“No, a possible employee,” she says, “have you heard of a man by the name of Logan Webb.”

“I’ve heard of him,” the name vaguely registers.

“We’ll need to do a background check on him,”

“Will do,” I answer back, “see you soon.”

I hang up the phone and continue to watch the fire engulf the yacht. I watch it until it sinks into the lake.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

Austin By Night – Art [Layer 11]

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I wake up in the back seat of a car after having come to a stop. I check my watch and realize it has been nearly twenty four hours since Molly and I went our separate ways and I decided to lay low at a friends house. My clothes are soaking in sweat from being in the car for so long. I remember paying this man and his friend two hundred dollars to drive me back to central Austin, back to a specific address. I don’t remember talking to him much or his friend. Something about last night’s rave at the anime con and a guy who got robbed at gun point in the parking lot for his cash and gundam figurines. My contributions to the conversations were short, monotone phrases of something approaching these sorts responses mostly being: “Wow.” “That’s fucked up.” “Did that really happen?” “It is what it is, dude.” After the first hour of the driving around and hanging out in their apartment throughout the day they stopped talking to me and continued the agonizing, stream-of-consciousness level of conversation with each other. I was tired, not interested in discussing the latest season of Soul Eater, or the most recent post on Sankaku Complex. I closed my eyes and saw the dealer’s rooms, cosplayers and laser light above the dance floor drift in and out of my subconscious. Then I saw the woman kill that man on the live camera feed and I began to feel sick to my stomach.

“So,” The guy lets the word drag on unnecessarily to fill the silence. “This is the spot, right?”

I look over and see my old middle school. Now a long, dark, ominous, single-story, red brick building, with black windows that suggested something terrifying was hidden inside them. I forgot how afraid I was of the dark.

“Hey,” The other guy snapped. “We have to get to San Antonio by midnight. You have the other half of the money?”

I realize, turning to face him; that I didn’t remove the aviator shades from my face and I was seeing everything in a darker tint.

“Sorry,” The word comes out dry, like sandpaper, as I reach into my back pack and pull out the second hundred that I promised for their service. The second guy snatches it from me, happy to receive the money.

“Thank you,” I say in the dry sawdust voice again and step out of the car.

“Hey, man,” The driver rolls down his window and looks at me. He seems genuinely concerned. “We can drive you to your place, man. You don’t need to give us some random address.”

I look at him through my shades, trying to see the angle in what he’s offering. I glance at my reflection from the passenger door mirror and I see a guy in white shorts, white button up, black fingerless biker gloves and lips pursed. I look like a burnout or somebody trying too hard to impress strangers. Either stereotype might fit, since it all adds up to someone dying for attention or a man looking for sympathy by feeling the need to bribe people he doesn’t know for rides. I probably know what the real answer is, but I’m too afraid of going there. It’s a level of introspection not worth the price of facing who I really am. That’s for other people to make assumptions about.

“No, I’ll be okay.” I sling the backpack over my shoulder and start walking.

The car pulls away and heads down the nearest avenue, presumably towards I-35, south, to San Antonio.

I walk in the dark back to my mom’s house, mentally counting up the money that I made. After the hotel room, convention badge, food, the burner phone and transportation, I had made a 2,300 dollar profit. Better than expected, but I probably could’ve roomed with somebody to cut costs. Maybe I can room with a client next time.

I see the porch light on when I reach the house. The rest of the street is dark, which should strike fear in me, but the shades help alleviate that. I am not here, I tell myself. I can see through the large window that the television is on, my sister is home. I walk up to the door and go inside.

My sister glances up at me and returns to her reality TV show, something about housewives.

“Hey,” She says in between the bites of a sandwich. “How was that anime con, or whatever?”

“It was cool,” I sound a lot clearer, moister returning to my throat.

She looks at me in an odd way and I remember that I’m still wearing my shades.

“Why are you wearing sunglasses?” She asks. “It’s, like, ten at night.”

I laugh and take them off.

“Sorry, it was a joke,” I say, trying to smile.

I hear my mom coming in from the kitchen.

“Hey, Eric! How was your trip to Dallas with Neal?” She seems happy to see me. She’s stirring something in a bowl and wearing a cream colored apron over a green shirt, with matching slippers and black yoga pants.

“It was good, really cool. We just hanged out in the hotel room and helped out moving equipment in the dealer’s room for the sellers.”

My mom looks off to the side and nods her head, I can’t tell if she’s expecting more for me to say or is confused, but accepting my answer.

“Sounds interesting,” She says, her stirring slowing down a fraction. She looks up at me and smiles again “Well, dinner is already prepared, so you can have it now if you want.”

I nod, thanking her, and head to my room.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

Austin By Night – Logan [Layer 10]

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I arrive at Magnolia’s a few minutes early to find Molly had already shown up. As expected, the place is packed with the usual clientele; it’s mostly populated by tourists that yearn for a taste of authentic Austin cuisine, or something close to it. I made sure to put down a reservation (under Molly’s name) beforehand so that there would be a spot for us when we got there. In what could only be described as a very stiff form of crowd gliding, I finally make it to the booth and was sitting across from her.

Molly, you could say, bared a striking resemblance to a younger Zooey Deschanel, who ran away from home and joined an anarchist biker gang instead of becoming a famous model or actress. Though, in actuality, Molly went to MIT and became one of the most successful black hat hacker’s and I.D fixers of the southwest, which despite their illegalities, are far more marketable than anything that pays over 150,000 dollars in taxable income. Like myself, her kind are rare and in high demand.

“Hi,” I say, perhaps a bit too sheepishly as I sat down across from her. She didn’t look happy.

“I called you on your burner, Logan.” She said, her eyes wide, eyebrows raised, and head nodding in full condescension mode. “Five times.”

“I had to ditch it.” I shrug.

“I’m getting really fucking tired of that excuse,” She says this while looking at the window and refusing to make eye contact with me. She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “Can’t even get you on the DW or crypto-chat.”

“You-know-who monitors that traffic really closely nowadays.”

I’m about to lean in to say something else, but a waitress comes to ask us what we’re ordering, and Molly and I say “coffee” in unison and wait for the waitress to leave. I pick up where I left off.

“I don’t like using the Deep Web,” I whisper, leaning in.

“I got people who can set all of that up for you,” She says with tired patience. “The Snowden files aside, the NSA has little interest in what we’re doing here. It’s the FBI we have to worry about and they don’t bother keeping tabs on our operations. They’re too busy trying to catch Muslims.”

“Well, I’m sorry if I don’t trust your people,”

“Yeah? Well I don’t trust you, either,” For the first time, she actually looks into my eyes and it’s with definite hostility. I know where the conversation is going to go now and I can’t stop it from happening. I was never good at breaking bad news.

“Now,” The word trails off across Molly’s lips with the kind of sardonic, vocal-frying that seemed to be her signature speech pattern when demands or ultimatums were about to be made. “I had a guy disappear on me last week and somebody in your network told me that you were the last person that he talked to. Now where is he? Have you been keeping tabs on him?”

I let the question sit there for over a minute. Every conversational scenario played out in my head, like I had it played out in the car. There was nothing I could say that could make me look better or soften the blow. It wasn’t even worth it to lie outright.

“How important was he to you?”

The waitress returns with our coffee and I slowly pick it up and take a sip. It’s bitter.

“What happened to him?” For the first time I see that she’s actually nervous. For a moment I’m glad that the conversation has shifted in my favor. Her voice is shaking slightly as she speaks.

“He’s gone, Mol.” I put the cup down. “I don’t know what else to tell you. I tried to warn him away. You know what I do for a living; do you think those guys are fucking around?”

Her face seems to well up as I tell her this. Her anger has evaporated into something that might amount to grief if this was the first time I saw her have it. She grows pale and looks down at her coffee.

“Do I really know who you are or what you do for a living?” She whispers and looks up at me. “Mr. Logan: the club promoter, the private investigator, the grocery store cashier. How much bullshit do I have to dig up before I know who I’m dealing with?”

“If I’m telling you what happened to your guy after you’ve gotten that far in figuring out who I am, then you know that you need to stop.” I stare at her, waiting for that sentence to sink it in until it sticks. “You just sent some guy to investigate me after I told you not to?”

“You did the same thing with me,” She tries to match my stare, but she shudders and looks down. “Like you said yourself when we first met: it’s nice to know the people that I’m working with.”

“You know enough that we can work as partners as a go between for our current employer.” I pull out a wad of cash and lay down a twenty on the table. “So, does Mr. Westridge want to see me tonight?”

“Yes,” The word sounds bitten off as she takes out a folded piece of paper from her coat pocket and passes it to me.

“So your other guy came through with the dossier I asked for?”

“He’s using an overseas dead drop. Working through a torrent client. Tell West that he’ll only have one chance to download and decrypt the file. If he fucks up both then the dead drop will disappear.” Molly reaches for a cigarette and then puts it back into her pocket. “The paper has the password and the cypher that can get him access.”

I take the slip and pocket it into my suit. I look down, knowing that there’s nothing else I can say, but I try anyway.

“Look, Molly, I’m sorry about what happened,” It comes out a bit shakier than I would’ve liked. “It wasn’t my call to make.”

“Are you?” She asks.

“It was either me or him; and if they decided it was me then you wouldn’t be here right now. You’d be where he is and I wouldn’t be far behind.”

“How am I supposed to believe that?” Her question sounds accusatory.

“You just have to trust me on this.” I can’t think of anything else to say.

“Yeah? Just like you trust me, huh?” She looks away, wiping her cheek.

“Molly, they don’t see things the way you and I do. To them this is just business.”

Molly continues to look out the window. Says nothing.

“Please, Molly, I can’t just–”

“No. Stop talking. We’re done. And take your fucking twenty and my finders fee with you.”

I take a deep breath and get up from the booth and leave her there with the two coffees. The twenty dollar bill folding over into triangles in my right hand. I stop and finish the intricate design until I get a small origami crane out of the small labor. President Jackson’s face looks something out of a Picasso painting. A mess of folds over water marks, over more folds showing the depiction of the white house. Somehow one of Jackson’s eyes ends up at the head of the dollar crane and I become acutely aware of the restaurant’s camera that’s perched at the entrance and I keep moving out the door and into my car. Time to pay Westridge a visit.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

Austin By Night – Logan [Layer 9]

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After checking my car for the third time for any bugs, I got inside my SUV and slam the door, taking several deep breathes. In the rear-view mirror I see myself in my usual blazer suit with matching tie. I adjust the cufflinks of my button-up and look into the back seat where most of my life has been packed away in a hurry. I see piles of button-up shirts folded and wrapped in machine plastic, along with piles of papers and disks filled with the kind the material that might make a district prosecutor really happy to get their hands on. The empty plastic trays of what was once pre-made sushi wraps from H-E-B are a nice touch to the mess I had created for myself. The trunk is filled with nothing but suitcases.

I take another breath and dial a number from memory and wait. The dial tone is deafening.

“Logan?” it’s Kim again.

“Hi, Kim,” I say, already feeling miserable.

“You’re cutting it pretty close,” says Kim, “five more minutes and you’d be on my shit list with the rest of your family.”

“I’m on a lot of people’s shit lists right now, so it’s a long line,” I say, trying my hand at embracing gallows humor, “the vultures would be gnawing on my bones before you’d get your dig in.”

“Feeling suicidal?” her question feels more curious than anything approaching concern.

“Maybe…” I let the answer linger, not too sure whether I want Kim to feel sorry for me or probing her to see what she knows so far.

“Wouldn’t have anything to do with the two murders that happened last night?” she asks.

I find my subconscious has opted for the latter.

“What murders?” I ask, feeling nervous.

“One at the Austonian and there was another that happened in a hotel off of Oltorf,” she says, “the FBI has reason to believe that your family was involved.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know,” I tell her.

“Logan, you need to open up to me,” says Kim, already getting pissed, “you’re dodging me again.”

“No, I can’t,” I tell her.

There’s a pause on the line.

“You were there weren’t you?” Kim says.

I don’t say anything.

“Who was the victim, Logan?” she asks me.

I say nothing.

“Logan, you will not be safe if you do not tell me who they were,” Kim says, she’s slowing her speech now, “if they know that you are talking to me, they will kill you.”

“I’m going to find out for you,” I say.

“You witnessed it?” asks Kim.

“I didn’t know who they were, but I’m going to find out tonight,” I tell her.

“Where are you right now,” asks Kim, “I need to find you right now.”

“I’m sorry Kim,” I tell her, “but I have to go.”

“No!” she screams, “tell me where you are now!”

“I’m sorry Kim,” I whisper, and I hang up the phone.

I slowly placed the keys into the ignition of my care and slowly start the car. It purrs to live in the dark, barely lit parking lot of the hotel and with a sigh of relief, I’m off to the Magnolia Café on South Congress.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

Austin By Night – Art [Layer 8]

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Molly looks at the phone as it makes long, loud chirps in the parking lot outside of the hotel. The night air becomes hotter as I feel the fear creeping into my body. I look at my laptop and see the brunette woman on the video feed dialing Molly’s phone and looking up at the camera. The woman on the screen looks like she’s pissed as she continues to look up at me. She uses her free hand to shape it into a gun cocking it at the camera and taking aim. She extends her index ad middle fingers and tilts them, symbolizing a shot that condemns us all.

I slam the laptop shut and grab Molly’s phone. I rip the phone’s battery and sim card out of the read deck and toss them into the brush.

“We need to get out of here!” Molly, says.

“Yeah, no shit!” I say as we make a run for my car.

We run to my car and get inside. I step on the gas and within a few minutes we’re on I-35 heading north towards….somewhere. A few minutes pass.

“I need your phone,” says Molly.

“No,” I tell her.

“I need your fucking phone, Arty,” she tells me, “we’re so fucked if you don’t!”

“What did you do!?” I screamed.

“Some asshole just screwed me over,” she says in a fit of anger, as she reaches and grabs my cell phone out of my pocket.

“Nooooo,” I shake my head, “please no. No, no, no, no. I don’t want this.”

Molly looks at me. I can see her face twisting into something that resembles disgust. My eyes begin to well up.

“Believe it, Arty,” she says looking at me, “we’re in on this now. Both of us.”

“No, I never wanted this,” I tell her. I feel my body shaking. I’m crying.

“I just needed the extra money,” I tell her, “please just…I’ll drop you off anywhere you want just leave me out of this.”

I pull the car over on the side of the highway, as I try to catch my breath. Molly rubs my back as I lean into the steering wheel. I look up at her and she’s holding my cellphone in her hand.

“I’m sorry Arty,” she tells me, “you’re already in too deep.”

“What are you going to do?” I ask her.

“I’m going to make a phone call to see if I can call this off,” she says, “and then I’m going to need you to get some info on someone.”

“Who?” I ask.

“Logan Webb,” she tells me, “the fucker I want is Logan Webb.”

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

 

Austin By Night – Cassandra [Layer 7]

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It takes less than an hour to secure the medical equipment to properly conduct the procedure. I waited in the hotel room for the two other contractors to show up with the rest of the “props” that would finish this task and allow me to get back to my condo before sunrise.

One of my cell phones started to ring and I flip it open to answer.

“Yes?” I ask.

“Did you just order a cleaner to help wrap up your job?” It’s Kimberly, at least that’s what she calls herself.

“Yeah, I have a defector that’s about go into the deep sleep,” I tell her.

“God, I just found some asshole snooping around one of our offices at the Austonian, earlier,” she tells me, “I had to burn the body on the roof earlier. Somebody’s been talking.”

“I’m not paid to speculate, Kimberly,” I tell her.

“No, Cassandra,” Kimberly tells me, “but we are paid to keep our employers happy.”

“Uh-huh,” I say as I take the syringe of dioxin, and plunge the needle into the neck of the defector, while keeping a hand on his pulse, “did your intruder have anything on them?”

“He had his phone on him, the idiot,” says Kimberly, “I traced the only number in the cell’s memory to some parking lot outside a hotel in the downtown area, but they split before I could send a hit team over there. I can pull something off the surveillance cameras, though, if you help me.”

I keep my fingers on the defector’s pulse. I can feel it starting to slow down.

“Possibly,” I tell her, “it’s not exactly my expertise.”

“Do you have another job lined up after this?” asks Kimberly.

“Maybe,” I tell her, “it’s not clear yet.”

The pulse gives a few more slow, thumping beats and stops. The defector is dead.

“Let me know as soon as you find something,” says Kimberly, “I have a feeling this job may start to stop paying as well as it once did.”

“Will do,” I sign off and close my phone shut.

The body is limp as I stay with it inside a dimly lit hotel room that is facing Oltorf Drive in East Austin. I wait until the people I’m expecting open the door, but it is just the woman tonight. She’s dressed in a white pants suit and has blond hair. She looks much older than I do, as if she’s just aged by an extra ten years on this night alone. I can see so many new wrinkles around her cheeks and eyes.

“Sorry, my husband can’t make it,” she tells me, “He’s still trying to negotiate his release from house arrest.”

“You’re late,” I tell her.

“There was an incident at the Austonian and my son was there.” she says, as she sighs and puts her white, leather purse down, “there’s police everywhere right now.”

“How is your son?” I ask her, not really caring, but trying to feel more human than what the pills have done to me.

“Not good,” she says shaking her head and pulling out an orange bottle of labelled prescription medication, “he had to be sent home. It’s frustrating when your own flesh and blood can’t do the job you trained him for.”

I take the bottle of pills with my gloved hand and look at it.

“This man,” says the woman, “I made sure his medical records were altered to state that he had a history of heart problems.”

“Was he a loner?” I asked.

The woman looks down and raises her eyebrows.

“A loner?” she repeats the question as if it bears repeating at all, “he’s just some punk like the rest of them. Like all those other lefty ingrates who don’t know how to make a real buck in this world.”

I look up at the woman and see that she’s serious and I can’t help but raise my eyebrow at her.

“I suppose you’re right,” I tell her.

Author’s note: you can find the other chapters here at the Austin By Night page.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

Austin By Night – Art [Layer 6]

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“I have to make a phone call,” says Molly, her voice in a panic as she continues to look at my screen and dial her phone. Her contact had disappeared off the grid right before our eyes and the chances that he might have been black bagged have become pretty real to us. Molly starts to pace in front of me in the parking lot, while I sit here with my laptop. We continue ignoring the cops that are nearly fifty yards away and she’s biting her nails.

“Ohhhh fuck…” she looks down at her phone, now thoroughly pissed off.

“What happened?” I ask.

“I can’t get to my other contact,” she yells at me, “he might be walking into a trap!”

“Where is he? I can pull him up using the IR system,”

“The Austonian,” she tells me.

I look up at the tall, blue and white lit, skyscraper that lords over the rest of the night skyline in its cylindrical brilliance. For a moment I start to wonder just how many more guys she has on call to do these kinds of jobs.

“Give me a sec’,” I tell her, and I make a few quick keystrokes to pull up the IR and CCTV cams within the building.

My laptop freezes for a moment as it processes the command (and reminds me to upgrade the processor) and I’m flooded by nearly a hundred digital windows full of live feeds that are monitoring the Austonian inside and out. The two-month-old backdoor that I had installed within the serves of the private security firm Grande International was starting to pay its dividends.

“Where is he?” I ask Molly.

“He’s inside one of the condos,” says Molly, “He’s trying to pull something from a PC.”

I type another set of keystrokes that organizes the feeds in a horizontal order and start rapidly swiping with my finger. I feels as if I’m flipping through physical files, one folder after another as each feed appears for a moment before folding itself back into the digital pile and moves to the left of the screen as I replace it with another swipe in my search for Molly’s second man.

“Stop!” she shouts.

We end up looking at a feed shoot from a surveillance camera perched on a high corner of a guy in a white and chrome furnished pent house condo with the lights off. He’s wearing all black and a ski mask as he types away trying to break a password on a desktop PC, via some laptop intrusion deck that he has hooked into the desktops tower.

“Holy shit,” Molly breathes out, “We need to get him out of there.”

“The phones not working?” I ask

“No, someone is blocking the signal,” she says, panicking again, “can we get sound on these things?”

“No, the feeds aren’t equipped with microphones,” I tell her, my pulse starting to race. I know that something bad is about to happen.

The man in the ski mask stops typing and looks up from his deck. He takes his hands off the keyboards, raises his hands and turns around. He then jerks back and falls over against the table, red mist exploding and staining the computers with his blood behind him. He gets shot once again, doubles over, and falls on the ground.

“Molly,” I ask, my voice trembling, “what the hell have you gotten us into?”

We watch the screen, stunned into silence as we see a woman walk into view of the camera. She’s a brunette and is wearing business clothes, black leather gloves and is carrying a silenced pistol. She fires one last shot at the guys head and looks at the body for a moment before bending down and looking through his pockets. We see her take out his phone and flip it open as she takes out a cord from her belt and plugs it into the phone: a tracer. We watch her dial a number using the man’s cell and my heart stops.

I look at the phone in Molly’s hand and we both freeze as it starts to ring. Phone number: unknown.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

 

Austin By Night – Logan [Layer 5]

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The body was burning on top of the roof of the Austonian. The flames lapping up around the body the way flames hug a piece of coal: it looks as if it’s barely touching it, yet it begins to turn a darker shade of black and begins to turn to ash under the flames. I stood, if you could even call it standing, watching the body. My knees bent and my arms resting over them in shock. I probably looked like a scared dwarf to the six other people in the room. I had talked to this person, this man now turning into ash, on the phone less than an hour ago and now he was gone. The smoke drifted through an open glass sky light above. I noticed that we were actually still inside, but the canopy covering the entire top of the building was made entirely of glass. I watched the flames travel towards the early morning sky. The city of Austin was waking up. I could see the sunrise coming over the river near downtown. I slouched there, in complete awe (was it even awe at the time?) in my pointed, tanned leather shoes and my brown leather jacket over a black button up. A night clubbing, making connections, finalizing deals; and now I was looking at a dead body, wondering what would come next.

“This is going to get cleaned up,” Says a woman. “We called the right people and they’re on their way. I want to make sure that the alibi we go with is going to stick if we have to talk to any lawyers.”

Someone else starts talking and I’m already tuning the conversation out. One of the men looks at me strangely and my vision begins to blur. Maybe I was crying at the time. I’m told to take a Xanex and I’m whisked away into a limo heading somewhere. I stare out the window, wondering what I have done and…

I’m awake. The alarm on my phone buzzes incessantly in my ear, like a hornet trapped inside a thin mason jar. I look up at the ceiling and remember about the meeting with Molly tonight. I had gone to bed at around noon and had slept for almost seven hours. Those were the hours most of my clients kept anyway and I wasn’t complaining; especially if they didn’t care about me wanting to meet them at restaurants or the hotel lobby of wherever I decided to stay that night. I was in a pretty shitty situation that no one needed to know about. Let them draw any conclusions that they want to. I was still an independent contractor, working mostly with the law firm that my parents ran. Their work was starting to make the news. Not about them specifically, but those in “the business” knew what was really going on, so they probably understood why I wanted to distance myself from the whole thing. However, I had other reasons for being away from the scandal that was beginning to take shape in the Metro and State section of the Austin-American Statesmen. I wanted to be discrete; I wanted to be away from people I knew; and this was as close as I was going to get.

While the city itself tried to keep its soul intact, I was trying to disappear. Austin, like most ‘recession-proof’ cities, was going through a rather painful expansion. New faces, new enclaves, new businesses, all of these were things that helped me keep a low profile in the aftermath. In the end, night club promotion and P.I work were the only steady paychecks where you could drift through being remembered and forgotten in a span of anywhere from a few hours to a few days. I had lost my soul already and now I was trying to be anonymous. I couldn’t go home or visit the usual corporate offices during the day, afraid that a reporter or someone that I knew would be there waiting. Nightmares of thin, black clad, covert assassins killing me in my hotel room woke me in my sweat soaked sheets in rented rooms all over the city. My mother and father were still working behind the scenes; covering up what had really happened, but I had since stopped coming to meetings. I couldn’t be a part of the charade anymore. I had allowed myself to be caught up a dark, political realm that I couldn’t begin to understand. To my parent’s credit, they tried to keep me in the dark as much as possible, but their handlers had other ideas. People like my parents were hard to find; and I suppose it made sense to bring me in and be trained in a job that could bring in a large salary, but couldn’t be revealed or talked about to friends or acquaintances. This time, though, I had had enough and had decided to go rogue; but leaving the city was too risky. I couldn’t completely leave the reservation. Not unless I wanted to see my mother and father in the local obituaries. Whether they deserved it or not didn’t matter. It’d only serve as another boil on the already festering body that was my guilty conscience. I didn’t whistle blow, I didn’t go to the police, I didn’t go to the local news stations. I stayed hidden. My parents handlers, despite me up and disappearing, didn’t seem to mind the arrangement (though I’m sure my mother and father took great pains to assure them that I wasn’t a threat), but the ‘family business’ was back to being a two-person operation now and no one was happy.

You can find the other chapters here on the Austin By Night page.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

Austin By Night – Cassandra [Layer 4]

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Author’s note: to catch up with the story check out Layer 1, Layer 2, and Layer 3!

I take one of a dozen cars from the lot located under my building. Tonight it’s a black, Crown Victoria with several after market mods. I drive into the Austin night towards the location while staying on North Lamar boulevard, which has surprising low traffic.

As I pass under highway 183 and deeper into north Austin, I receive a call from one of my burner phone and answer using my headset.

“Are you in position?” it’s the same male voice that had called me earlier.

“ETA will be eight minutes,” is my response before I hang up.

I drive past the neon glow and the bright, casino junk culture of Rundberg and Little Asia, and then finally arrive at the outskirts of the county where dark wilderness welcomes me. I continue down the wide stretch of road sandwiched in between forest until I reach Walnut Creek Park, turning into the lone entrance illuminated by a single, orange-dimmed street lamp.

I drive farther into the park, allowing my eyes to adjust to the near pitch black environment and rows of trees whose branches stretch over myself and the car as I drive down the leaf strewn road. The closest lights appear to be more than a kilometer away. I drive on and find one of the more isolated, pockets of parking lots, and stop my car. I open my hit kit, put on my gloves and take out a hand towel and a small vial of chlorophyll and begin to spread the substance over the towel. I then prep with a syringe containing about 40ccs of tranquilizer with inhibitors to help break down the initial chemical sedative. The target will most likely be killed, but for now they’ll want him alive.

I only have to wait for a little over a minute before I see a dark car pull into the lot with me and park in front of my car. Its tail is facing me in the dark. The red break lights dim and the two people inside look around. They followed protocol to the letter. The target is always in the front passenger seat of the car. I unlock my car door and wait for the signal. The break lights on the target vehicle begin to blink and I exit my car, taking with me the towel and needle. Towel in right hand, syringe in holster inside my coat sleeve. I quickly walk towards the car as the break lights begin to stop blinking and dim again and I swing the passenger door open.

“Oh my god, please no, I–” he whimpers and I shove the towel over his nose and mouth before he can finish. The target’s screams are muffled over as I grab his head and push harder and harder. He kicks and scratches until he falls silent. The driver, another man, sits and stares at me and passenger until I’m finished. I quickly knot my hand into a fist and bend it upwards so that my wrist muscles can activate the syringe holster, which pops out and I administer the dosage. The man asks a question in Mandarin.

“The body has to be moved,” I say. “Is he RFID tagged?”

He shrugs his shoulders and I realize I’m dealing with an amateur. I take out a knife and squeeze around the wrists of the victim until I feel a small pill embedded in the skin. I carefully guide the knife and penetrate the wrist, and with very little blood, I remove the pill-like chip from the sedated man and break the chip in half. Whoever was monitoring him would have no way of tracking him now.

I click a button on my car remote and the Crown Victoria moves gracefully towards the other car and with another click, I open the trunk. I take the body with the help of the other man and dump the target into the trunk of my car that I’ve had lined with black trash can liner for quick disposal. I slam the door shut and head back into my car.

“My employer wants to see you,” I look up and realize that he is a foreigner like me, however, he sounds like a man who doesn’t speak English often.

“The package will be at location green.” I say in an accent from the old country. “Your employer has three hours. I’ll maintain a pattern until we rendezvous. Is that clear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I nod and drive towards downtown. Towards sixth street.

I maintain my pattern posing as a listless pedestrian being taken in by the euphoria of Austin’s light life. I observe the drunk crowds moving like small pockets of cattle from one bar to another as I make my way past them and towards the rendezvous point. I head towards Red River and wait on the corner. A convey with a black limousine and a pair of SUVs arrive and stop in front of me. The limo’s roof cam, scans and processes me for verification and a door unlocks somewhere. The machine car invites me inside and I enter.

The interior looks like that of a luxury box car. With the exception of the entrance, a single white leather couch encircles the interior of the small room. The center is dominated by a small black marble table, with a white china set with small delicate looking tea cups filled with coffee and several tarts of varied flavors. Between the china set and tart plate is a small orb, probably a projector. The walls above the couch are dominated by a single screen which stretches around all four sides of the interior showing a feed from outside the limo in all four directions with pop-ups displaying the convoy’s progress. There waiting for me was a tall, slender Asian woman with short black hair and wearing a leather jacket and shades. She has a face I’d seen on the pages of financial new reports out of East Asia, but had the fortune of being relatively obscure here. This was the first time I’d seen any of my employers like this in person. I sit down slowly and the convey begins to move.

“Do you know who I am?” She asks.

I sit there, staring at her. A part of me tells me I shouldn’t be talking.

“Do you speak English?” She asks again.

I consider this question for a long time while admiring her patience.

“Yes, I do,” I finally say.

“Then you know what will happen if you speak of this,”

“I think that understanding was made clear enough when you asked me to do the job,”

“You don’t approve of this meeting?”

“That camera on the hood of your limo. Did it ID me?”

“Yes, we ran facial recognition software to verify your identity,” The client takes out a wafer thin keyboard and types a few commands. My face appears on the wall monitor with another photo of myself taken several years ago. The second photo I remember from a job in Kobe when I was tasked with eliminating a defector from a major multinational. It’s a CCTV photo of me walking out of Tokyo international airport. “We got the second photo from a former associate of yours.”

“Those photos need to be erased from the cam’s internal memory.”

“Very well,” She says with a nod.

“Also, it’s also imperative that I inform you that by seeing my face and being able to identify me, you run the risk of being federally prosecuted by soliciting and paying for the murder of an American citizen.”

“The man is not dead is he?”

“No, but that’s what you intend to do, don’t you?”

“We’ll see.”

The convoy moves to location green as I try to settle in and try to eat one of the tarts arranged on the plate.

After reaching the third floor of the parking lot, the limo comes to a halt. Without saying anything, I exit the vehicle and head to the car where the body is. My employer follows me to the rear of the Crown Victoria and I look at her for only a moment. Her features remain obscure behind the giant black mirror shades that cover her face. I click a button on the remote and the trunk opens with a machine whine. The body is still there, lying within the black trash can lining that completely covers the trunk space.

“Is that him?” I ask.

The woman nods, confirming the identity of the target.

“Is he currently under?” the employer asks, stroking the target’s hair.

“Yes, with chloroform, but that was almost an hour ago.” The image of the employer running her fingers through the hair of the drugged up body brings back terrible memories, but the medication is keeping things under control. I pick a spot on a wall nearby and stare at it.

“Will there be anything else?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says. “I’ll need this disposed of. Can you make this look like an accident?”

“I know couple who can be contracted out for the job,” I continue concentrating on the dot, avoiding all eye contact, “but they’ll need a full, mobile, medical suite. One that can fit in just a few suitcases. They’ll also need a hotel room.”

The employer raises an eyebrow.

“I can procure all this things and more, but this is what they need if you want this done right.” I stare at her to drive the point home. It takes more effort than it should.

The employer considers this for a moment and nods. I return the nod and with that the employer knocks on the limo door and a man that I’ve never seen before steps out.

“Give this woman what she needs,” says the employer.

“Yes, ma’am,” is his only reply and he returns to the limo to make a phone call.

“I understand you know most of the contractors operating within Austin at the moment,” says the woman.

“Yes, ma’am,” is all I say, mimicking the man, “all of the local contractors here are freelance, like myself.”

“Good,” is the employers only reply. She looks at the body one last time and turns away. “Close that up. I’m done looking at it.”

“I need my pills,” I say suddenly. I look down, surprised that I couldn’t stop myself. “The nightmares are getting worse. I need the doctors to up the dosage.”

The employer nods, as if this was something she’d been anticipating.

“You’ll get your medication, along with payment at the designated location.” The employer says as she begins to step back into the limo. “Do your job as expected, and I’ll continue to get you what you need.”

With that the employer closes the door and the limo drives away. I get another text message with coordinates and I get into my car to rendezvous at the new location.

I check my watch and it is 2:43a.m.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser