Mercenaries – Chapter 1

April 3, 2012 at 10:06 pm (Mercenaries)

“I’m tellin’ ya, the bastard deserves to have his nuts tied into a granny knot!”

P.J. put down the periwinkle blue Manolo she’d been admiring and wandered across the store. She’d come to Holt Renfrew in an effort to take her mind off her worries over a friend. She’d barely begun her retail therapy when the voice had cut across her brain. The sharp voice followed her to the Louboutin’s.

“Don’t you think he deserves to have them served up on the half shell? Or would that be the half sack?” Mairi asked.

P.J. turned to the woman trailing her and shushed her. “You’re making a scene.” Mairi Hewitt was one of P.J.’s closest friends, but right now she was giving P.J. a migraine.

Mairi snorted. “As if I give a shit if I make a scene. I asked you an honest question. You could do it, couldn’t you?”

P.J. grimaced and put the Louboutin back on the display. “If you’re not going to let me conduct a little retail therapy then let’s go get a coffee.” P.J. headed for the escalator and the exit with Mairi trailing behind her. They walked across Granville Street to Café Artigiano. The coffee was decent and the noise level was always cranked up to a roar. Vancouver had no lack of coffee houses with a Starbucks on almost every corner and several quirky Mom-and-Pop type places sprinkled into the mix. Café Artigiano had several locations in the downtown area and P.J. picked it more out of convenience than from any sense of coffee loyalty.

Once settled at a table against the back wall, P.J. took a sip of her latte and gave Mairi’s thought some attention. The bastard she had referred to was their friend Julie’s Italian lover. He was a tall, skinny Italian stallion who rutted with just about every woman who crossed his path. He worked as the concierge at a ritzy hotel in the heart of Florence. The position brought him into contact with dozens of women every day. Old women, young women, fat and thin women, it didn’t seem to matter what they looked like or whether they were married or single, Massimo Cifelli would be interested.

“Your question, I believe, was could I or could I not twist his nuts into a granny knot?” P.J. grinned. She knew a lot of knots, but trying to call up an image of the granny wasn’t working. And it didn’t have to be a granny knot, specifically. She knew that. Still, the idea was quite appealing. And if anyone deserved it, Cifelli did. Julie had sold all of her belongings, quit her job and gone to live in Italy with her beautiful lover.

The fact that none of Julie’s friends had ever met the man hadn’t mattered to her. P.J. had flown to Italy and checked the man out, unbeknownst to Julie. In fact, Julie still didn’t know that she’d done it. An hour of watching Cifelli at his job in the hotel was enough to tell P.J. that the guy was a gigolo who didn’t have a faithful bone in his body.

“I don’t give a shit if you can do that. I think you should kill him. Julie will be better off without him.” Mairi took a sip of her coffee and waited to see if P.J. would come to the same conclusion.

P.J. assumed that Mairi was serious about the idea, right this minute. She didn’t know if Mairi would change her mind in a few days. Mairi knew what P.J. did for a living, so the suggestion could be legit. P.J. had fantasized about ways to kill the bastard during her brief trip to Florence to spy on him. But then she’d seen how happy he made Julie. Sure, he was fucking half the tourist population of Florence, but he also put a perma-grin on Julie’s face. A grin that had been missing for quite some time. It was possible that the grin was purely orgasmic and could be found with another man, but P.J. was hesitant to take that away from her friend.

Plus she wasn’t getting paid to kill the jerk.

P.J. didn’t work for free and, so far, Cifelli hadn’t done anything to hurt Julie. Julie had sounded a little upset the last time P.J. had talked to her on the phone, but she hadn’t come right out and said what was bothering her. P.J. could hazard a guess and likely wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Julie was in Florence without a job. She had expected to move in with Cifelli, but that hadn’t worked out. When she’d arrived, Cifelli had expressed surprise at the notion of their living together.

Hurt and confused, Julie had called P.J. and dumped the story in her lap. P.J. had offered to send Julie a plane ticket to get her home, since she’d only purchased a one-way ticket. Julie hadn’t wanted the ticket. She’d said she wanted to give Cifelli some time to realize that she was perfect for him. She just needed a place to stay for a while. P.J. didn’t own any real estate in Florence, so she’d leased an apartment for a year.

That was eight months ago and Julie was no closer to convincing Cifelli that she was The One.

“I promised Julie a year,” P.J. admitted.

“Then you’ll kill him?” Mairi asked.

P.J. rolled her eyes. Mairi wasn’t usually so bloodthirsty. “No, that’s when the lease on the apartment runs out. I told her that if she hasn’t convinced Cifelli to let her live with him then I’ll fly her home.”

Mairi gave that some thought. On the one hand, it was only four months away. On the other hand, Cifelli didn’t deserve to have Julie for another four minutes, never mind four months. She was worried about Julie and it was all Mairi’s great-grandmother’s fault. The crazy old bat thought she was touched by an angel and could see into the future. Mairi thought she was touched by something all right. But sometimes her great-granny was right. Mairi didn’t want this time to be the one where she called it.

Great-granny had said that she saw Julie lying on a slab in a drawer and she was dead and bloated and definitely starting to smell. The idea was revolting, but Mairi only half believed it. Like, how could you tell that someone was starting to smell in a vision? And if she was bloated, how could you be certain that it was Julie? And when had her great-granny ever met Julie, Mairi wondered? The part of her brain that believed in the vision wanted to send P.J. to Florence to off Cifelli before he could bring that sort of hurt on Julie.

“Is it the money?” Mairi asked.

P.J. shook her head, but didn’t speak. Sure, she got paid for work like that, but she would never take a job from one of her friends. Mairi couldn’t afford it, to begin with. And P.J. didn’t actually need the money. But killing someone was no simple matter. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. It was messy and it always left someone grieving, no matter how despicable the bastard was. Cifelli was Italian, which meant he probably had a momma who loved him even if he was a worthless dog.

Try as she might, P.J. couldn’t get Mairi to understand what it was like to kill someone. People joked about it all the time. They said things like “he makes me so mad I could just kill him”, but they’d never actually consider doing it. P.J. had done it often enough that it didn’t bother her anymore. Truth be told, it had never really bothered her and that bothered her. She would say she was blasé about it, but she’d assumed she should at least be a little revolted.

Her first kill was nearly self-defense. A so-called friend had suggested, when she was only eighteen years old, that she become a courier to make some extra cash. P.J. had no idea what that meant, but her friend said it would pay really well, so she’d agreed. Turned out he meant she ought to be a drug courier. She’d agreed before she’d realized what he was getting her to do and she was too freaked out to back out. She’d taken the package and delivered it to the man he’d described to her.

When she’d arrived at the location, the thug had decided that she was a part of the package and he wanted a taste. When she’d suggested that he take the drugs and forget about her, he’d pulled a knife on her, hoping to scare her into compliance. He’d pissed her off instead. As a redhead, she had a temper that could go from simmer to raging inferno in a split second. She’d attacked him, grabbed the knife and stabbed him through the heart with it.

Then, calmly, she’d picked up the package of drugs, cleaned the knife on his shirt, tucked it into her pack and walked away. She’d taken the drugs to another friend who had parceled it out and given her a healthy cut of the profits. When he’d learned what she’d done to the thug, he’d offered her a job doing jobs. He wanted to take out the competition and none of his guys had the balls to kill. He’d offered her a 30% cut from his profits for the year if she could eliminate his three major enemies.

Ten years later, P.J. no longer did local jobs. Her business card was straightforward; it read “International Headhunter” and it listed her phone number. She averaged two jobs a month and earned low six figures per job. She could comfortably retire and live on a beach for the rest of her life, but knew she’d be bored inside of a month.

“Lizzy thinks you should get rid of him, too,” Mairi said.

P.J. rolled her eyes again. Lizzy Tay was another very good friend. It was Julie who had brought them both in contact with P.J. Julie had worked at Lizzy’s Lingerie in Pacific Center. She’d only lasted a few months at the job, but she and Lizzy had become fast friends. Julie had introduced her to P.J. and P.J. had been amused by the tiny black woman with the enormous mouth. Lizzy was of average height and barely a size two, but talked as though she was seven feet tall. And she had the strangest sense of style that P.J. had ever witnessed.

Lizzy picked her current styles by era. Right now she was in a Baroque mood, particularly the later part of that period, so her jackets had sleeves that ended at the elbow and were trimmed in an excess of lace. Made of heavy brocade or velvet, each jacket was made by hand. Lizzy had a way with the sewing machine. She would have made one hell of a costume designer, but she’d decided to user her powers for lingerie.

Julie had moved from the lingerie shop to The Flower Fairy on Davie Street, which Mairi owned. Mairi looked like a fairy, with her turquoise eyes and Irish maid’s skin. She’d arrived in Vancouver from Ireland when she was eighteen and she’d opened her flower shop four years later. Business was steady, but not lucrative. Julie had again only lasted a few months, but the friendship with Mairi had stayed.

P.J. had grown up with Julie. They’d gone to the same elementary school together. They’d met on the school playground when they were seven. A bully who was two grades higher but three years older was picking on Julie, pulling her braids and making her cry. P.J. had punched the girl in the nose and made it bleed. The bully had run off crying and Julie had been impressed that P.J. hadn’t been afraid.

P.J. remembered being terrified, but her temper had taken over and she’d just reacted. Afterward, she’d gone back to being terrified that the bigger girl would come back later and get her. Instead, the girl had tattled to the principal, so P.J. had gotten detention. It was the first of many trips to detention over the years.

P.J. knew that Julie was really hooked on Cifelli. More so than she’d been with any other man. And P.J. was worried how Julie would react if Cifelli decided to cut her loose. With only four months left on the lease, if Julie couldn’t convince Cifelli that she was the best thing that would ever happen to him, Julie would have to return to Vancouver and her family.

Julie had a small family with even smaller minds. How they’d managed to produce such a loving daughter was a mystery to everyone. Julie’s mother was a harsh woman who often told Julie that she’d been a mistake from the start. P.J. had considered offing the bitch as a mercy killing; mercy for Julie.

Julie’s father wasn’t a bad person, he was neglectful. Most of the time he forgot he had a family to care for. He had his playthings on the side, because he couldn’t stomach the idea of sleeping with his wife of thirty years. He had a lifestyle to support that didn’t include a wife and two kids. He paid the mortgage on the house only because it automatically got deducted from his bank account.

Julie’s mother had to work to pay for everything else, which she resented. She was old school and felt that she should keep the home while her husband paid for it. She didn’t care if he fucked around as long as he brought his pay cheque home. She worked at a local credit union, as a teller. It was a decent paying job and should have been enough for everyone, but Julie’s mother doted on her brother.

Julie’s brother, Phil, was actually her half-brother. His father was a deadbeat who left her mother when she was six months pregnant. Still, she’d doted on the boy to the point of coddling him and spoiling him. He’d become a rotten person, stealing from Julie when she’d started working. She’d gotten a job when she was fifteen so she could pay for things like tampons, because her mother refused to support her anymore. Julie had kept money in her room until she’d found her stash jar empty.

Accusing Phil hadn’t done any good. He’d admitted that he’d taken the money, but he was the golden child and could do no wrong. Still, Julie hadn’t bothered to take it to her mother. She’d told P.J. If there was one thing Julie knew, it was how to get even. Tell P.J. that her brother had stolen from her and Julie knew that P.J. would mete out just the right amount of justice. Julie’s brother had sported a bent nose ever since. The double black eyes had lasted several weeks and had looked glorious in his graduation photos. He’d never stolen from her again, but he was still a weasel.

“She called me last week,” P.J. admitted.

Mairi’s interest perked up until P.J. shook her head. “She hasn’t decided to kick his ass to the curb, I take it?”

“No, she’s still doing her best to show him that she’s the one for him and he’s still holding her at arm’s length.”

“How can she afford to be there, even if you’re paying her rent? She’s never held a job for long and I doubt she can legally work in Italy.”

P.J. took a sip of her coffee to stall for time. Mairi and Lizzy had assumed that once Julie ran out of money she’d come running home. Likely she would have, if P.J. hadn’t decided to bankroll her entire year in Italy. She confessed this to Mairi and waited for the explosion.

Mairi was silent for a moment as she processed this new piece of information. “You’re very good to her and I don’t know if she fully appreciates it.”

P.J. was surprised to hear that from Mairi. She and Lizzy had become such good friends with Julie and sometimes P.J. had felt like the one on the outside. It was nothing they’d ever done or said. P.J. just knew that she was a little more reserved than most of her friends. If they all went out on the town, P.J. would be the designated driver. She rarely had more than one glass of wine in an evening. P.J. always watched the exits, had an eye on anyone roaming nearby and couldn’t ever fully relax when she was out in public. There was no reason to assume she was in danger, it was just a habit to do all of those things whether she was on a job or not.

For Mairi to suggest that Julie might not appreciate what P.J. did for her meant that Mairi probably felt Julie was taking advantage. Everyone knew that Julie wasn’t perfect. She was very nice, but she could never hold onto money for long. Consequently, she was borrowing from anyone who would lend it. P.J. was the most affluent of all of their friends, so she was the one Julie turned to most often.

And money didn’t mean much to P.J.

She owned a small number of rental properties around the world. She had a significant investment portfolio. And she had a small fortune in liquid assets kept in a safe in her downtown condo. At any given moment she could be forced to leave the country swiftly and she wouldn’t have time to make a run to the bank on her way. Cash allowed her to exit the country quietly. So far, that need had never come up, but P.J. believed in being prepared.

“She has until the end of April to get her affairs squared away. We’ll see what happens then.” P.J. didn’t think Massimo Cifelli would give up the life he was leading and settle down with only one woman to screw. P.J. would be there for Julie when that realization hit.

And then she’d kill the fucker.

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