Austin By Night – Cassandra [Layer 12]

austin-at-night

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 – 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 – 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 – 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