by Aiva Raine
An unexpected visitor leaves an assassin with few good choices.
Merrick was an assassin. He liked it. Made things simple. Quick. Efficient. He didn't start out that way of course, but when one becomes a soldier, certain facets of personality become evident. And once recruited for the special forces, those abilities are honed to a fine degree. Like sharpening a knife. He'd become a very sharp knife.
He wasn't a sociopath. Yes, he certainly had several of the characteristics that defined one, but not all. He had a moral code. He wouldn't kill children. And he researched all his prospective targets before agreeing to take a job. He wasn't a common murderer, after all.
It had all started out by accident. He'd been searching the dark web, bored after returning from his last assignment, when he came across a posting for a hit. Curious, he'd opened it up, read it, then closed it and moved on to the next thread. He tried to focus on other things, but it was like a gnat, always buzzing around at the edges of his mind. What if someone unprofessional took the job? What if the target was put down wrong? They'd stressed that in sniper school, one shot-one kill. A clean death. So he opened the post back up. And decided to take the job.
First he needed a name. He couldn't use his own, Merrick. He'd need a pseudonym, one that meant death. And that's where irony struck. In researching names Merrick discovered that his own was on the list. Granted, it was spelled differently; Merikh- Persian for death and slaughter, but there it was. So he chose another. Ahimoth; brother to Death. He liked that. And so Ahimoth was born.
The second thing Merrick did was to set up barriers between Ahimoth and himself. Money wasn't a problem. He'd inherited a trust fund from his father as a child and this trust provided everything he needed to begin. A new set of lawyers to create a layer of dummy corporations from which to receive payment. An algorithm that routed the payment first to an offshore bank, and then to three more random banks and to three more after that, and so on. Eventually all the money would route back into a central fund managed by the lawyer. On paper, Merrick would be a consultant who traveled all over the world. He'd even pay taxes.
The first job went smoothly. As did the second and the ones after that. Eventually he had to hire another person to run the bookings. Ahimoth was a busy man. Death was in great demand.
Which led him here, held at gunpoint along with the husband of the woman he'd just killed, by a bunch of armed mercenaries. Irony had to be a woman.
It should have been a quick in and out. Slip into the bedroom, slit the woman's throat, and slip back out. The first two parts had gone great. It's the third that posed a problem. Her husband had walked in at the worst possible moment. His screams had alerted the guards posted around the house and brought them crashing into the bedroom.
There's always a way out. Merrick knew this mantra from his Special Forces days. He repeated it now as he scanned the room. Five men, five fully-loaded 7.62x54r PKM's against his single HK45 with two extra mags, a SOG fixed blade knife, and an untrained civilian. The odds could be worse, but not by much. Merrick had one advantage they didn't. He knew the truth.
He angled his head sideways. "Paul," he whispered, "I know you don't have much reason to trust me, seeing as I just killed your wife, but you aren't my target. Back my play and I promise I'll get you out of here alive."
"Why should I trust you? You just killed my wife!" Anguish and rage seared through Paul's eyes as he stared at Merrick.
"Because if you don't, they'll kill both of us. And I know you had no part in what was going on. You don't deserve any of this." Merrick watched as the man weighed his options. The slight droop in Paul's shoulders as he eased a fraction closer to Merrick told him what he needed to know. Before the guards could react, Merrick lunged forward. He yanked Paul in front of him as a shield and placed the still bloody blade against Paul's throat. "Trust me," Merrick whispered.
One of the guards tightened his finger on the trigger.
"Uh huh huh. I wouldn't. Not if you still want the bio-weapon. One half of the team is already dead. Let me out of here and I'll give you back the man that can finish it. Don't, and I'll cut his throat before you can blink." Merrick held his breath, hoping his gambit would take. Paul swallowed; his throat rubbed against the edge of the blade and a thin red trickle seeped out from under the edge.
A sixth man entered the room. He nodded at the guards who lowered their weapons a fraction. His Russian accent was pronounced as he spoke. "Why should I care if you kill the husband? He means nothing to us other than leverage against the wife. With her dead, he matters naught."
"You should have researched your targets better," Merrick countered. "It's Nikolai, right?"
The sixth man nodded.
Merrick smiled. "See- I did my homework. Katherine was only the face. Paul here got his degree in molecular genetics prior to switching over to quantum physics. If it wasn't for Paul, Katherine's research would never have made it off the ground. Every night he'd correct her mistakes. If you want your weapon to work, you'll need him."
"Why would you let him go?" Nikolai asked. "You already killed the woman. What reason do we have to believe you won't kill him once you're free?"
Merrick shrugged his shoulders. "My contract wasn't for Paul. Only Katherine. I don't get paid - I don't kill. He means nothing to me other than an avenue for escape. Let me go and I'll give you back your scientist. What you do with him after that is your deal."
Nikolai pondered Merrick's offer. "We could just kill you both. There's plenty of scientists that could pick up where these two left off." He tipped his head and the guards raised their rifles again.
Merrick pressed the knife deeper against Paul's skin. The trickle sped up. "You could, but it would take you months to catch up. By that time, Dudaev will be elected and it will be too late. Everything you've done will be lost. See, I don't give a damn about your politics. All I want is to get out of here alive and collect my money. You let us go and you'll be back on track as if none of this ever happened. In fact, you'll probably get it done quicker now that Paul will be doing it."
Nikolai's mouth tightened and his jaw clenched. A quick flick of his head and the guns dropped again.
Merrick pointed at the door. "You first. I'll follow."
Nikolai and his men backed out the door. Once they were clear, Merrick herded Paul after them. The two men made their way to the front door, tense silence making their footsteps even louder on the cold marble floor.
Once at the front door, Merrick surveyed their surroundings. More guards stood outside waiting for the right moment, but at Nikolai's nod, backed off. A black SUV sat in the driveway.
"Have one of your men start the car and then get back out. Any tricks, anyone even thinks about making a move or tries to follow us and Paul dies. Once I'm at the main road, I'll kick him out and you can come pick him up. It's not like he can get far without a vehicle."
They were so close now, yet it could all fall apart. Merrick could tell the adrenalin and shock that had kept Paul going so far was running out. Sweat dripped down the man's face and tremors had begun in his legs. Another minute and Paul's legs would give out entirely. They had to hurry.
Nikolai's cheek twitched, but he ordered his men to do as Merrick asked. The SUV rumbled to life. Merrick pushed Paul towards the open driver-side door. Once there, he released his arm that had been around Paul's shoulders, grabbed his gun from it's holster, and pointed it at Paul's head.
Paul clambered into the vehicle and scooted over to the passenger side. Merrick followed, smoothly stepping up and sliding behind the steering wheel, all the while holding his HK45 pistol to the side of Paul's head. He wiped the knife on his pants, then slid it back into the sheath. He reached out and shut the door.
"Just a little more, Paul, then you'll be home-free. I promise." Merrick shifted the lever to reverse and slowly backed out of the driveway. Nikolai and his men watched them go, retribution in their eyes.
As soon as the SUV hit the curve in the road by the trees, Merrick spun the wheel, turning the vehicle the right way. He stomped on the gas, the engine roared, and the SUV tires kicked up gravel as it sped down the single-lane road.
"You lied about everything." Paul's voice was barely audible over the throaty purr of the engine and the noise of gravel hitting the underside of the SUV.
"Not everything," Merrick answered. "You do have a degree in molecular genetics."
"Yes," Paul said, "but I didn't know what Katherine was doing and I certainly didn't correct her mistakes."
"But you could, couldn't you?" Merrick asked. He flicked a glance at the rear-view mirror. Dust clouds were forming a short distance behind them. Seemed like Nikolai wasn't the trusting type after all.
Paul didn't answer, but the clenching of the man's hands and the tightening of his shoulders told Merrick all he needed to know. The main road was less than three hundred yards away. Merrick let his foot off the gas, slowing the vehicle as they approached the T in the road.
Every profession has its drawbacks. Every moral code its exceptions. His was no different. He hadn't lied about everything. The contract was only for Katherine. He didn't care about Chechen nor Russian politics. He'd gotten Paul out of there alive. But that's where the truth ended.
"Paul, take a look out the window and tell me how close Nikolai and his men are?"
As Paul craned his neck around to look, Merrick sighed very quietly, then pulled the trigger. Paul's head snapped forward and came to rest on the passenger side window. Merrick slowed the vehicle down even more and then opened the driver door and jumped out, rolling as he landed.
The SUV continued forward, out into the main road, and across to the other side where it crashed into a stand of trees with a shriek of metal and hiss of boiling fluids. Merrick melted into the tree line. There was more to do before he could go home.