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

Austin By Night – Art [Layer 3]

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Author’s note: this is part three of an on going series. If you want to read this in order, check out Layer one and two <— there.

“Forget it, dude, it’s J-Con,”

That’s what the private security guy tells me when I ask him about the swarm of cops that just came through the Omni hotel lobby. This is being told to me by a weird, hippy-ish, looking guy, with shades and a green suit, before he adjusts the strap attached to his stun-gun SMG and talks to someone else via a blue-tooth head set.

I start to get worried that the police presence might have something to do with me, but a quick look on social media tells me otherwise. My phone — which has been monitoring the anime convention newsfeed since it started — is getting reports of some cosplay models that were showcasing a V.R rig went berserk and started attacking con goers. Drugs may be involved, but that’s still just a rumor.

I look up past the banners of advertising that show pictures of anime robots, magical girls and samurai and at the Austin night of downtown that looks caged in the glass and steel wall grid that is the floor-to-ceiling entrance of the hotel. The brightly lit buildings outside against the night sky remind me of the trail of lights that Austin does every years that involves putting up giant-size Christmas trees several stories tall and lighting them up after sun down.

“Hey, Art,”

It’s Molly, a goth blond whose wardrobe is ninety-percent black leather and ten-percent black cotton, fish-nets, and combat boots. She also has a blue-tooth head-set and stun SMG snugged over her shoulder. She looks like she hasn’t slept in days, which doesn’t surprise me since she’s been part of the security detail trying to keep the con under control. This one — judging by the bags under her eyes — was not going well. She stands out among the crowd of brightly dressed anime nerds and weeabos who are cosplaying the latest ninja, demon, cyborg, robot, school girl, or whatever thing that’s trendy in that world at the moment. I look down and notice that her name tag says Amanda.

“Hi…Amanda,” I say, cocking an eyebrow, “playing someone else tonight?”

“Just until this gig is over,” she said with a shrug, “I’ve been looking for you.”

“What’s up?”

“Can you help me find someone?” she asks me, “he disappeared off the grid a few hours ago.”

“What has he done to deserve you?” I ask her.

“I sent him to check up on something while I’ve been off doing this gig, and I haven’t heard back from him.”

When she says this I start to get a really bad vibe in the building. Suddenly, it feels like every eye ad ear is trained on us and the cops wandering around the hotel are not helping. I put my hands in my pockets and start towards the door leading outside. Without either of us saying a word, we walk together, Molly just a few paces behind me, until we are outside and in the parking lot. I’m reminded just how brutal the summers are here in Texas, despite this being August.

“Should I ask what you sent him off to find?” I ask Molly, picking up the conversation where we left off.

“Not unless you want me asking what you’ve been passing along to the clients in that hotel,” she tells me.

“Being a courier is hardly illegal in this city,” I tell her.

“True, but seeing how I’m one of your biggest customers, I know about the majority of packages you pass along are illegal,” she says as she glances over my shoulder and raises her eyebrows at my backpack.

“I don’t look at what’s inside the box,” I tell her.

“Yeah, but you’re not dumb, Arty,” she says “I know you walked out of here with a lot of cash money tonight. Maybe too much cash in that backpack of yours to be a normal courier.”

I feel my body shift. Fight or flight is starting to take a hold of me again. I hate when she does this to me. I’ve been told it’s called leverage. I grimace as I unzip a compartment in my back pack and boot up a small netbook. My hands are shacking as I glance over and see the cop cars with there blue and red lights still pulsing in the parking lot.

“Let’s make this quick,”

Molly moves next to me to look over my shoulder.

“With pleasure,” she says, also eyeing the cops, “the GPS I.D is blackcandy32,”

After pulling up the Deep Web app and starting up the GPS plug-in, I type in the I.D and the map zooms in on a park in Austin. His vitals show that he is still alive, but he’s standing still in the middle of the park.

“What the fuck,” whispered Molly, “why is he in Walnut Creek Park?”

“You didn’t send him there?”

“He’s supposed to be on the other side of town.”

Molly’s about to pull out her phone until we notice the dot representing Molly’s man had disappeared. We look at the screen for a few more seconds before realizing what happened.

“Holy shit,” I whisper, “his GPS and vitals are gone.”

“Either they pulled it out of him…” her voice trailed off.

“Or he’s dead…”

The time was 11:56p.m.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

 

Austin By Night – Cassandra [Layer 2]

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The sky is a pitch black nothing that carries in with it a cold wind. I cannot move my body, but I can hear waves rolling towards and away from me; a deafening tide. I lift my head to see the ocean in front of me, but it is not a body of water coming towards me, but waves of shattered glass rolling into me like giant blobs of sharp fractals. The tide hits my feet and the sting of the glass edges hitting my body can be felt as the tide rolls in and cuts into my feet and legs with and recedes again. I try to move, but my body simply will not budge. Then I hear the screaming.

The burned corpses, chard and black, crawl towards me on the beach. They are girls that somehow know me, who scream and curse my name in the tongue from the old country where I came from. They weep as they get closer, flames rising from their bodies. They grab a hold of me and claw at me. I begin to shake in fear, trying to scream as loud as they do, but I can’t. Then I look ahead and see a wave, another blob of shattered glass that will engulf us all and…

I wake up.

I’m inside my coffin: it’s cramped, claustrophobic, the only light is a screen showing me a live feed of my room. No one is inside. The ghosts are trying to get inside me again. The coffin may not protect me anymore. I may have to use a thicker coffin in the future. I press a button and the coffin slides open.

I’m back in the same place I’ve woken up to in the past eighteen months: a dark, empty, spacious room, with one of the walls replaced by a single large window overlooking the Long Center and downtown Austin. It’s 9p.m. local time. The only lights coming into the empty condo are the lights of the city beyond the trees.

The phone rings, one of twelve scattered on a towel on the far corner of the condo with several chargers and a zip-lock bag full of SIM cards. I get out of my coffin and follow the faint ring all the way to the one lite phone among the dozen and answer it.

I use the Texas accent I’ve been perfecting over the past year in order to blend in with some of the locals. Presumably, not authentic Austinite anymore, but still Texan by most standards.

“Tech support,” I answer, “how may I help you tonight?”

“Is this Cassandra?” the man asks.

“Speaking,”

“There’s a server that needs to be wiped clean,” says the man, “Malware infection,”

“Can I get its location?” I ask.

“Coordinates are being sent to you, now,”

“And payment?”

“Wire transfer,” the man answered, “the Caymen account. An asset will be waiting for you at the location.”

“Thank you,” I hang up the phone.

I check another phone where the GPS coordinates have been sent. It’s at Walnut Creek Park, just north of Austin. I know of that place: very dark, very secluded at night, the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods know to stay away. All of these choices by my employer make one thing clear to me: somebody they no longer trusted was about to die.

I changed my clothes, and look in a mirror while I watch myself take one pill after another, and swallow them with a glass of two day old water out of a measuring cup. I grab my duffle bag containing my hit kit and code the door to set me out and lock the place up behind me. As I close the door, I can see one of the girls in my dream standing next to my coffin.

The pills do not seem to be working anymore.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

Austin By Night – Logan [Layer 1]

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We need to talk. NOW.

That was the text message I received just a few hours earlier after I heard the verdict come down at the local courthouse. Twenty counts of first degree murder, ten counts of conspiracy, and over fifty counts of fraud towards a single man. And what came of it? Not a single conviction.

After hearing the news via text message by the same person, followed by the the insistence that I meet with them “NOW,” I spent the next few hours wandering the Austin Hike and Bike Trail and North Congress Avenue. I tried to ignore my phone’s constant buzzing from unknown numbers belonging to God-knows-who, until I finally just decided to remove the battery to stop the calls. I watched the sun go down behind the downtown skyline as made one last lap up Congress towards the capital building. Night fall came at 8p.m. It was August.

The black limo came around the corner and followed me down west 11th street. The limo slowly moved past me until the rear was in pace with my walk. I continued to ignore it even as the tinted window rolled down. It was a woman wearing shades and a black suit.

“Get in,” she ordered.

I stopped and turned to look at her. I was still wearing my shades, even though it was dark, I could recognize the woman sitting in the backseat of the limo. Her name was Kim, at least that’s what she was calling herself. I was hoping that by wearing the shades they would’ve rendered me invisible by now, but no such luck.

“Do I have a choice?” I asked.

“You didn’t answer your phone,” said Kim, obviously angry.

“It wasn’t safe to use my phone,” I told her evenly, “they probably have it tapped by now.”

“We can talk about that later,” she said, “get in.”

I looked around and saw a trash can just a few feet away. I took out my smart phone and plugged a fire-wire app’ into the phone’s charge port and hit the kill button. I dropped the phone into the trash can, trusting that the hard drive and cell data would be burned to ashes by the time it hit the bottom, and entered the limousine. The ride started just as soon as I was sitting across from her inside leather interior of the limo and had closed the door next to me.

“Nice to see the FBI’s using our tax dollars wisely,” I said looking around the interior, “you get surround sound in this thing?”

“Logan, I’m going to need you to cut the bullshit,” she said, “you need us now more than ever.”

I looked out the window as we rounded a corner.

“Look, I’m sorry things didn’t work out, but we needed more evidence,” said Kim, “The Bureau is having a hard time trusting you as an informant.”

“It’s not easy narcing on my own family,” I said, continuing to look out the window.

“There’s no one else your father trusts, but you,” Kim said, “he was able to hide behind his business associates this time, but we can still get him with tax fraud if we need to.”

I turned to look at her.

“His business associates?” I asked, surprised by the phrase.

“Alleged,” she corrected.

“Whatever. They, along with my dad, own the fucking governor,”

“But they don’t own the Lieutenant-Governor or the Attorney-General,” said Kim, “you can’t back out of this, Logan. Your father, your whole family, is going start selling each other out the closer we get to nailing them. But that won’t matter in the end because they’re all going to go to prison for life and so will you if you don’t continue to cooperate.”

I looked out the window again. It was becoming too claustrophobic in here.

“Stop the limo,” I whispered, “I want out.”

“Logan,” Kim took off her shades and looked at me, she almost looked scared. It was the first time I ever saw her look anywhere close to being afraid, “please, don’t screw yourself over like this.”

“Why me?” I asked her.

She looked away and leaned back in her seat. She closed her eyes hard and opened them again.

“You didn’t know anything,” she said, “your family kept a lot of secrets from you, Logan. Out of any potential informants we could get, you were top on the list.”

“Was that your estimation?” I asked, “or did your analysts in Quantico make that call?”

Kim didn’t say anything for a long time.

“Stop the limo,” said Kim, yelling to the front towards the driver.

“Nice to know you’re thinking of me,” I said as I got out of the vehicle.

Kim grabbed my arm before I was halfway out.

“Get a new phone,” Kim said, “contact me within twenty-four hours or I’m going to assume you told your family about this meeting.”

“In twenty-four hours I might be dead,” I told her.

“If that gets you to work faster, then that’ll work for both of us,” she said.

I got out of the limo and watched it slowly make its way down the boulevard and round the corner. The sky was pitch black above me and not a single car could be seen on the street. It was eerily quiet as I took out a spare phone from my suit pocket and dialed for a cab.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser