October 28, 2011 at 10:23 am (The Job)

Josie Rider walked through her apartment like a ghost. She’d not been functioning well at all, but couldn’t bring herself to care. She’d lost her job. After the three days bereavement leave she’d been granted, she hadn’t been able to face working in the same place where she’d lost her fiancé. Her boss at Wagner Pharmaceuticals had understood, to a point. After several more weeks of Josie refusing to come to work, refusing to even answer her phone to talk about coming back to work, they’d laid her off. To avoid a nasty lawsuit, they’d given her a year’s salary as severance.

Between the money she’d received from Gary’s death, from his estate and from her severance, Josie had no need to work for several years. She thought it might take that long to recover. Her heart had nearly shattered when she’d watched her fiancé die right in front of her. The things she’d suffered at Seth’s hands had pushed her over the edge.

It felt as though so little time had passed, but some part of her brain knew that almost two months of her life had disappeared. Her family was worried about her. She’d stopped bathing, stopped any sort of regular grooming. The house was clean simply because her mother had hired a maid service to see to it. They worked around Josie, trying not to stare at her as they worked. Josie wondered if they crossed themselves behind her back.

It was late now, dark outside and the traffic on her street had dwindled. Josie sat in the living room, staring at nothing in particular. She’d tried drinking to numb the pain, but often didn’t feel like going out to buy more wine. Drugs weren’t an option. She’d spent too long at the pharmaceutical company, seen too many horrific tests, to risk that.

She could still see the gorilla as it charged out of the lab. She could still see the woman who’d called herself Kelly Blatt firing at the enraged animal and then jumping on its back, knife in hand. She’d exuded the sort of toughness that Josie had always admired. A toughness she knew she didn’t possess.

“Hello, Josie,” Seth murmured from the doorway.

Josie felt the chill race through her at his voice. She’d heard it in her nightmares each night as she’d tried to sleep. She couldn’t face him. He was the reason she was alone. He was the reason she felt so helpless.

Seth was a bit of a mess. The RPG to the tree he was in had damn near fried him to a cinder. The fireball had climbed up the tree and in an effort to save himself, he’d been forced to leap to the ground. Tuck and roll didn’t work as well from thirty feet up. He’d wrenched his left shoulder and broken his right ankle. Still, it could have been a hell of a lot worse. His recovery had been hampered by his need to get back to his Josie. He should have stayed in the hospital longer, but he couldn’t risk Parker or Simon coming back to finish him off.

He’d been forced to hide out until he’d realized the agency hadn’t put a hit out on him. He didn’t think an unsanctioned hit would make a difference to Parker. He wouldn’t be surprised to find her or Simon on his ass very soon. He would have to take his lovely Josie and tuck her away somewhere. It was all he could think about during his convalescence. His beautiful Josie would heal him. She would save him.

“Come Josie, we have already lost too much time.” Seth stepped forward into the room, his partially healed ankle protesting every movement. The chair blocked her from his view and he’d waited far too long already to set eyes on her again. He stepped around the chair and stared in horror at the woman she had become. The ravages of grief were etched on her face. Her hair was lank and stringy. He wondered if anything was living in it. The stench coming off her in waves was revolting. He had to choke back the urge to gag.

Her eyes spooked him. They were so empty, so haunted. What had happened to her? Breathing through his mouth, he knelt on the floor in front of her and placed his hands on her knees. He tried to see the woman he knew in those eyes, but couldn’t. Could she have walled off that part of her so completely? Could he get it back?

Josie felt her skin crawl as he reached up and stroked the side of her face. She couldn’t seem to move. He’d stolen her will. The longer he touched her, the more her mind turned back to that day. The day her fiancé had died. The day Seth had ruined her life. And the day she had taken an axe to the lab door, freeing the trapped people inside. Josie felt the tiniest spark of pride remembering that. If she hadn’t gotten that door open they would have all become victims of the rage in that alpha male gorilla. If not for her, they would all be dead now.

Josie stared into Seth’s eyes and felt some of her old self returning. She tuned in to his words. How he wanted to take her away, somewhere they could be alone. It had always been a dream of hers, with Gary, to live on a tropical island and not have to work in an office every day. With that thought, she felt the rage building. He’d taken that dream from her and was trying to replace it with an inferior one. The anger started to course through her bloodstream, revving her up as nothing else ever had.

Seth watched as the fire came back into her eyes. There was his Josie. There was the woman he couldn’t get out of his mind. How he’d missed her! He would take her to a spa somewhere, maybe Geneva, so she could pamper herself and restore her appearance. And shower. Then they would disappear forever. He had enough money to live a simple life with her and never have to work again.

“Come with me Josie. We must leave this place.”

Josie stared at him and all of the revulsion she felt for him blazed in her eyes. Before he could comprehend the danger, Josie leaped forward and gripped his head, shoving her thumbs into his eye sockets. She pushed so hard that the pressure from her left thumb popped his eye and the viscous liquid inside started to drain down his face. She kicked him in his stomach and pushed him away so she could rise.

Seth screamed as she ruined his eye. The pain was horrific and he felt a great urge to vomit. The kick to his gut stole his breath and he started to choke and gasp for air that refused to fill his lungs. His mind couldn’t process his thoughts fast enough. He couldn’t resolve this treatment coming from his lovely Josie. He felt her hands on his face, cupping it gently. Then her words whispered in his ear.

“This is for taking Gary from me.” With a quick twist, Josie snapped his neck. Pulling her hands away, she allowed his body to drop to the floor. Casually wiping her hands on her robe, she stared down at the man who had destroyed everything for her. She’d destroyed him. Now he couldn’t hurt anyone, ever.

“I guess you don’t need my assistance,” Parker remarked from her position in the doorway. The trigger she’d set up several weeks ago had been tripped many times, but usually by the cleaners or Josie’s family and never this late at night. Parker had come quietly into the house once she’d realized that Seth was already inside. She’d moved stealthily toward the living room at the sound of voices. And she’d watched as Josie had snapped the fucker’s neck like a twig.

Josie glanced at the doorway, not fully understanding how the woman could be there. “Kelly?”

“Actually, my name is Parker Lynch.” She stepped into the room and approached the body. Though she didn’t doubt that she’d heard the crunch and pop of vertebra being yanked out of alignment, she needed to see his still form with her own eyes. He’d been as much a specter haunting her as he had been for Josie.

“Parker Lynch? So who was Kelly Blatt?”

“An alias. One of many I’ve used over the years.”

“What are you?” Josie asked.

“I’m an assassin.” It had to be the first time Parker had ever told anyone what she really did for a living. Her family didn’t know. They thought she was a consultant who traveled a lot.

“Like him?” she asked, motioning to Seth.

“Christ, I hope not. He was a sick bastard and the agency has a few more lurking in the shadows, I’m sorry to admit. But not all of us feel the need to play with our targets. He enjoyed his work on a level that just isn’t healthy.”

“The agency?”

“The company that pays me to do what I do. It’s all very organized, like the mob but without the accents.” She couldn’t have explained why she was telling Josie all of that. The agency wasn’t exactly covert. It had a business plan, shareholders, offices, and letterhead. How they defined what they did on their tax forms, Parker had no idea.

Parker gave Josie the once over, taking in the ratty robe, the greasy hair and the overall stink of the room. “So this is how you respect your fiancé’s memory?”

“What?” Josie choked out.

“He didn’t have a choice to live or die, but you do. Do you really think he’d be happy to see you living this way? It’s a slap in the face of everything he stood for.”

“How do you know what he stood for?” Josie demanded. She was already feeling quite grungy and didn’t need Parker remarking on it.

“He stood for you, didn’t he?” Parker asked. “I watched the tapes, Josie. He stood in front of you, to protect you from Seth. He took the bullets that would have gone through you.”

Josie felt the tears streaming down her face. It was true, he had died to save her. She looked down at Seth. Dead, he didn’t look half as terrifying as he’d looked when he’d been alive. Or half as terrifying as she’d made him in her head. She’d killed him. She’d imagined doing it, over and over, but had never thought that she would get the chance. A small part of her had always assumed he would overpower her again and she’d be helpless.

“I don’t ever want to feel that helpless again,” Josie whispered firmly.

“What are you going to do about it?” Parker demanded.

Josie turned toward Parker, her eyes fiercely determined.

“Train me.”


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