Excerpt for Hotel 72: The Last Hit by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Hotel 72

The Last Hit

By

Anthony Ivins

Published by Anthony Ivins @ Smashwords

Copyright © 2017 Anthony Ivins

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of very brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The plane jerked to the side as its wheels touched the ground. All the passengers lurched forward and were then thrown backwards as the plane suddenly braked, sending a trail of smoke high into the air behind it. The plane slowed down and taxied normally across the runway to its parking place.

Robert could hear the huge sighs of relief from the passengers around him as the seatbelt light went out, and they were allowed to stand and gather their belongings stored in the overhead compartments. The usual speech from the air hostess was blurting out of the PA system as Robert opened the compartment above him and removed his rucksack, placing it over his left shoulder.

He took his mobile phone out of his pocket and switched it on, seeing the little white apple on the screen before it powered up. He entered his eight-digit passcode and waited for the phone to register on the network. After a few seconds the phone successfully registered on AT&T and almost at once the first message notification came through the Wickr app.

There was no name, just a number. Robert opened the message and read the contents:

“Hotel 72, Room 710."

He deleted the message at once and put the phone back into his pocket. By this stage, the people in front of him were starting to disembark and Robert joined the queue. It was a lengthy walk from their stop to the carousel where he waited to collect his luggage. He looked at his watch. It was 5-05pm.

Robert waited patiently as his bag was the last to come out. He was sure that the airlines had a personal vendetta against him as his luggage always seemed to come out last. He shrugged it off, picked up his bag and walked towards the exit. The rain was pouring down and Robert lifted his collar around his neck as he stepped outside, looking for a cab. Normally he would take an Uber but he was on business and did not want to leave any tracks.

Before he hailed a cab he pulled out a cigarette and lit it, taking a few deep breaths. The nicotine boost calmed him down. He took a few more deep puffs before flicking the butt into a large puddle and holding up his hand for a taxi. It took a few seconds for a cab to pull up and he opened the back door and jumped inside.

“Where to?” asked the cab driver.

“Hotel 72,” replied Robert, “Do you know it?”

“Yes Sir,” said the cab driver.

“Okay good, let’s go,” said Robert, and he leaned back in his seat and looked out as they drove out of the airport, raindrops streaking the side of the window. He noticed a large sign as they drove past, “Don’t mess with Texas”, and he had a silent laugh to himself.

The ride from the airport to the hotel was uneventful and took just over twenty minutes. As the cab pulled up outside the hotel the darkness had settled in.

“Here we go mister, Hotel 72,” said the cab driver.

Robert looked at the meter and saw the fare was $27-37, he pulled a twenty and a ten dollar note out of his wallet and handed it over to the driver, “Keep the change,” he said as he opened the door and stepped onto the sidewalk.

The driver sped off, wheels spinning on the wet tarmac. Robert placed his bag down on the ground, pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He looked up at the hotel which was as plain as they come. Then hotel was built like a large rectangle with rows of windows up and down. At the top of the building was a large blue neon sign that flashed “Hotel 72”. Even from the ground Robert could hear the buzz of the electricity as it pulsed through the glass tubes.

Robert had a look around him. He was trained to notice every little detail and remember it. Robert saw the convention centre opposite, the Starbucks across the street and a beggar sitting against a lamp pole with his head resting on his knees. He opened his wallet, took out a ten dollar note and walked over to the beggar. As he was standing over him the beggar looked up and Robert handed him the note, “Get yourself something warm to eat and drink,” he said and then turned around and waked into the lobby of the hotel.

He scanned the area as he walked inside. The lobby was small and stuffy. A large sofa and two wingback chairs were squashed in a corner with a coffee table placed in the middle. There was a small doorway which Robert identified as the entrance to the hotel bar, with a small sign above the doorway, “The Tipsy Cow,”

“What kind of name is that?” he thought to himself as he continued to look around, taking mental notes of everything he saw. He saw that the receptionist behind the check-in counter was staring so he walked over to him.

“Good evening Sir, welcome to Hotel 72, how can I help you?” chirped the receptionist cheerfully.

“I believe you have a reservation for me. Name is Anderson. Robert Anderson,” he replied.

The receptionist started punching away on his keyboard, looking up at the screen every few seconds.

“Anderson, mm, can’t see it on my arrivals list. Do you have a reservation number sir?” asked the receptionist.

“Do I look like a fucking Travel Agent,” replied Robert, “look at your system again. I am booked into room 710.”

A small bead of perspiration ran down the side of the receptionist’s face as he started to hack away at the keyboard.

“Ah, here we go sir, my apologies. They had your last name as Robert instead of Anderson which is why I didn’t pick it up on my system.”

The receptionist tapped away a few more times on the keyboard before a piece of paper spat out of the printer. At the same time he cut a key card and placed both items on the counter in front of Robert.

“Here is your room key sir. Please sign the bottom of the registration card. At the back are all of our terms and conditions,” said the receptionist.

The receptionist looked at the screen and piped up, “Ah, you have a package Mr Anderson” he said with an enquiring tone.

“Are you asking me or telling me?” replied Robert sarcastically.

The receptionist kept his head down and pulled out a large book from behind the counter and started paging through it. When he reached the right page, he used his finger to scan down one of the columns before writing down a number on a piece of paper.

“Here we go, it’s in the back room. Please give me a minute,” he said.

Robert stood waiting at the reception desk for a few minutes while he heard the receptionist rummaging in the back office for his package. He continued to add mental notes of the lobby area, seeing who was coming and going and mapping the layout in his head.

After a few minutes the receptionist arrived back with his parcel, “Here we go Mr. Anderson,” he said as he handed the parcel over the counter to Robert.

Robert inspected the package, making sure it had not been tampered with. When he was satisfied that it hadn’t, he picked up the Keycard off the counter and turned and walked towards the elevator.

“Sir, you forgot to sign the registration card,” came the receptionist’s voice from behind.

Robert stopped and paused, then carried on walking. The receptionist knew that asking a second time would be trouble. He put his head down and processed Robert’s check-in on the system.

Robert got into the elevator and pushed the 7th Floor button. The doors closed and the elevator started its journey upwards. Robert looked at his watch when he stepped inside the elevator and then looked at it again when the elevator stopped on his floor. It had taken 24 seconds. He stepped out onto the carpet and looked along the long and narrow passage.

The first thing that caught his eye were the two CCTV cameras positioned above the elevators. One was looking straight down the passage and the other pointing to the entrance of the elevator. He walked slowly down the passage, counting his steps until he reached his room door. Robert slid the key card into the lock of the door and the small LED flashed green. He pulled the card out again and heard a small click as the door unlocked and he pulled down the handle and went inside the room.

Robert looked around the room for anything that looked out of place but everything seemed to fit. It looked just like any other hotel room. The bed was a queen with a large wooden headboard with two side tables, one on either side. Opposite the bed was a wooden cabinet with a television on top. Close to the large single window was a lounger chair and a coffee table. To the right of the TV stand was a small wooden desk with a kettle and some coffee and tea sachets stuffed into a cup.

Robert switched on the bathroom light and went inside. There wasn't a shower, only a bath that had a separate shower attachment. It wasn't quite the Trump Towers, but it was liveable. Robert went back into the room and threw his suitcase onto the bed and opened it up. He removed some clothes and hung them up in the wardrobe.

He took his phone out of his pocket and opened up Wickr. There was only one number on the phone. He opened up a new message and typed in the box "In the room" and tapped the send button. He didn't have to wait long for a reply: "Mirror, Bathroom". Robert threw the phone on the bed and walked back to the bathroom. He looked at the mirror but nothing seemed out of place. He looked at the corners of the mirror and noticed there were small silver balls.

Robert looked at one of the silver balls and put his fingers around it and tried to turn it. At first it was quite tight but once it gave way it screwed off easily. As he unscrewed the silver ball he saw that there was a screw underneath that fastened the mirror to the wall. The silver ball was only there as a decoration, to hide the screw.

He left the bathroom and went back to his suitcase, pulling out the Leatherman that was stashed in one of the inside compartments. Robert opened the Leatherman and chose the star screwdriver tool and moved it out. He went to the mirror and started loosening the screw. The screw came out almost as easily as the silver ball had so he knew that somebody had done the same thing recently.

The remaining three screws were taken out in a matter of minutes and Robert moved his hand gently down the edge of the mirror, feeling for any holes he could use to pry it loose. He was almost at the bottom when he detected the smallest of gaps. He gripped the mirror tightly and used his fingers to pull it away from the wall. Robert pulled the mirror off slowly, being careful not to break it.

As the mirror came loose at the bottom, a small brown envelope fell to the ground. Robert put the mirror gently against the wall and then bent over and picked up the envelope. He examined it thoroughly at first, looking for marks. Something caught the corner of his eye and he looked back at the wall, seeing a small brown box lodged in between two bricks. He reached over, took the box out of the wall and opened it.

Inside were five 7.62mm bullets, designed specifically for his rifle. He picked one up and held it between his thumb and forefinger, examining every minute detail. It was assembled almost exactly to the letter on his instructions. He smiled to himself and carefully placed the bullet back in the box.

He turned his attention back to the envelope and with the fingernail on his thumb he sliced the top of the envelope open. On the inside was a black-and-white photo of a man with dark, long curly hair, standing tall and pointing. Robert knew that this was a surveillance photo. He turned the photo around and on the back was written, "Marcus Wahlberg, 31st October, 19h00, Convention Centre". Robert memorized the picture and the writing and went to the bathroom.

He took the cigarette lighter out of his pocket and lit the bottom of the photograph. It caught fire quickly, and he held it over the toilet so the ashes could fall into the water. He kept having to swop hands so he didn't burn himself. As the flames engulfed the last visible piece of the photograph Robert let go and the remaining small piece fell into the bowl. Robert pulled the chain and watched as the ashes were flushed away. He decided to wait a few extra seconds to ensure that nothing remained. Nothing did.

He picked up the mirror and put it back on the wall, putting all the screws back with their silver balls on top. Robert examined the counter top, making sure that no evidence remained that he had removed the mirror. He took a step back and double checked, making sure everything was in order.

Robert walked back to the bedroom and looked at the parcel lying on the bed. He walked back to the door and placed the chain on the lock, "Better safe than sorry," he thought to himself.

He went back to the parcel and, using his Leatherman, he sliced open the side of it. Robert could see the side of the briefcase. Robert removed the rest of the packaging and removed the briefcase, holding it up and inspecting it. He looked at the combination lock and knew at once it was military grade. Robert was sure there would also be a tamper proof switch that would trigger an explosion if the case was opened without the correct combination.

He picked up his phone again and was about to open the Wickr app when a message alert came through. He opened the message and read it: "1496".

Robert looked around the room nervously, wondering if he was being watched. He walked over to the brief case and moved the dials around until he had entered 1496 as the combination. He pushed the button next to the lock and heard a loud 'click' as the latch sprang open. Robert moved onto the lock on the other end of the briefcase and entered the same code, luckily with the same result. He lifted the lid of the briefcase slowly and instantly recognised the pieces of metal and plastic that were packed between layers of foam packaging.

He took out the pieces one by one, examining each one carefully for any damage. After he had removed them all and was satisfied with their condition he started to assemble the pieces. Through years of practice he was able to assemble the rifle in fifteen seconds. He took a bit longer to place the telescopic sight on the top and then held the rifle up and looked through the sight, aiming at a picture on the wall.

The knock from the door nearly startled him to death, and he looked around for a place to hide the rifle. He lifted the comforter off the bed and threw the rifle under it.

"Who is it?" He asked out loud.

"Housekeeping," came the reply.

Robert walked to the door and opened it slightly, keeping the chain in place.

"What do you want?" asked Robert rudely through the door to the housekeeping lady.

"We didn't put any cream for your coffee in your room." replied the housekeeper, looking nervous.

"I drink my coffee black," replied Robert as he slammed the door closed.

He looked through the peephole as the housekeeper stared at the door for a few seconds and then walked back down the passage. Robert knew that the best way to ensure his privacy was to be rude. Nobody messed with a rude person.

He went back to the bed and took the rifle out from under the comforter and started to take it apart. Once he had dismantled it, he opened his suitcase and removed everything inside. He moved his hand to the corner of the suitcase and felt for a small button. He pushed the button twice in quick succession and heard a faint click as the bottom of the suitcase came loose. Robert lifted out the bottom of the suitcase, placed all the pieces of the rifle inside then returned the bottom back into the suitcase and pushed it down hard until he heard another faint click.

Robert packed some of his clothes back into the suitcase and placed it next to the desk. He looked at his watch, and saw that it was 7-30pm - almost time for dinner. He walked over to the window and pulled the curtains open. He had a full view of the convention centre which was in complete darkness, "No conferences at the moment," he thought to himself.

Robert got changed into some more casual attire - he was after all, a mobile phone salesman, so he had to look the part. He chose a worn pair of jeans and a t-shirt with the slogan, "FBI – Female Body Inspector". Robert loved this disguise and had used it on many previous jobs. He was so good at playing this character that nobody doubted it for a second.

He went down the elevator, timing the trip again and memorising it. The elevator doors opened in the lobby and the sound of Karaoke filled the air.

"Please not this crap." Robert thought to himself, he hated Karaoke with a passion.

He walked into the bar and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the light. In the corner of the room a small makeshift stage had been setup with an old television in front of it. On the stage was an old man, close to seventy years of age, with the microphone in his hand, butchering the old Tom Jones classic Green Green Grass of Home. Robert winced as his voice blasted out of the two speakers on either side of the stage, the extra bass causing the windows to shake and rattle.

Robert made his way to the bar, trying to sit as far away from the noise as possible. There were quite a few barstools open and Robert chose one that was in the darkest corner of the bar. As he sat down the bar tender walked over to him, "What will it be?" he asked.

"Double Jack on the rocks," replied Robert, and he turned round to see if the old man had managed to get off the stage safely.

He was pleasantly surprised to see that a younger girl had taken his place. He was hoping that her voice would be as good as her looks, but when she started singing his hopes were dashed and he turned around just as the barman placed his drink on a coaster in front of him.

"That will be fourteen dollars please," said the barman.

Robert reached into his back pocket and pulled out a roll of bills, peeled off two hundred-dollar bills and placed them on the counter, "Keep them coming," he said to the barman.

"No problem," replied the barman, and he took the money opening the cash register.

Robert was quick to see that he barman didn't ring up the Jack Daniels on the cash register. Instead, he placed the cash on the side of the register, making it look as if he had put it inside.

"So where you from?" asked the barman.

"Dallas," replied Robert, "Down here on some business."

"Well I'll be damned, I'm also from Dallas. Which area you from?” continued the barman.

"Carrollton," replied Robert, sticking to his tried and tested cover.

"We might as well be neighbours then. I am from Farmers Branch," said the barman, and he leant over the bar counter and shook Robert's hand, "Wade Michaels is the name." he said, introducing himself.

"Robert Anderson," replied Robert, knowing he had just made an instant friend; exactly what he was hoping to do.

"What brings you down south?" continued Wade.

"I'm a sales rep for Sprint," replied Robert, "Trying to close a few deals here."

"So you work for Sprint?" asked Wade, suddenly sounding a lot more interested.

"Well yes and no," said Robert, "I work on commission for every dealer I sign up, but they don't employ me. I work for myself. Never have been a corporate man."

Part of Robert's cover was to make sure that he was untraceable. If somebody phoned Sprint and found out he didn't work there his cover would be blown. This way, there was nobody to verify who he was.

"What can a guy do for fun around here?" asked Robert.

"What type of fun you looking for, the clean or the dirty kind?" replied Wade.

"The clean type," replied Robert, "Have a wife and two kids waiting at home."

"Well Robert, the best way to stay out of trouble is to stay right here," said Wade.

"Cheers to that," replied Robert, and he raised his glass and downed the golden-brown liquid. He banged the empty glass on the bar counter and motioned for the barman to pour him another one.

“When are you going to get some decent entertainment?” asked Robert, “This one sounds like a cat on a hot tin roof.”

“The more you drink the better they sound,” replied the barman as he handed Robert a full glass.

After downing three more drinks, Robert made his way to the bathroom. His head was starting to spin and he tried hard not to bump into some tables on his way. He managed to make his way into the bathroom without incident and rushed into one of the stalls and closed the door. He opened the lid of the toilet and stuck his finger down his throat. The contents of his stomach, including all the Jack Daniels, came out instantly in one gigantic ball of vomit.

The spit was dangling from his mouth, almost reaching the toilet bowl. He pulled of some toilet paper from the roll and wiped his mouth. His eyes were watering, so he pulled off a few more sheets of toilet paper and wiped them too. He took a few deep breaths of air and stood up, making sure he could focus. He flushed the toilet, opened the cubicle and went to the wash basin.

Robert opened the cold tap and, using both his hands, he threw some water on his face. He put his mouth to the tap and gulped down a few mouthfuls of water. He then stood up and looked into the mirror, making sure that he was able to focus. Robert opened the bathroom door and started walking back to the bar. He noticed he was walking too straight. He had to look drunk, so he exaggerated his stagger, bumping into a few tables as he made his way back to the bar.

Robert sat down heavily on the bar stool and put his arm on the counter.

“Whoooo, another one please Wade,” he ordered, slurring slightly and holding up his empty glass, his hand wobbling.

“You sure?” asked Wade, who had seen Robert stumble back to the bar, “Looks like you have had enough for tonight.”

“Yesh I’m fine,” replied Robert.

“Okay, you’re the boss,” said Wade, shaking his head as he poured Robert another double Jack.

Robert had another four double Jacks before looking at his watch, it was 10-30pm, time to get back to his room. He stood up from his bar stool and almost fell over, just managing to keep his balance.

“Woah, easy there. Do you need some help?” asked Wade.

“I’ll be fine,” replied Robert, “How do I get out of here?”

“Through that door over there,” replied Wade, pointing to the doorway that Robert had arrived through.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” said Robert as he saluted the barman, his hand shaking as he held it at an awkward angle above his brow.

Robert stumbled and bumped his way through the bar, briefly resting against a pillar on his way out. He made sure that most of the bar was watching him. As he stumbled through the doorway he tripped on the step and fell flat on his face. He used the palm of his hand to slap the ground as he fell, letting it sound like he had fallen hard.

As he lay on the ground he held up one arm, “I’m alright,” he said.

He lifted himself carefully off the ground and back to his feet. He stumbled forwards, using the wall to guide him to the elevator. Robert had to wait a few seconds for the elevator to come. He leant against the wall, his head bent forwards. Out of the corner of his eye he looked at the CCTV camera which was staring directly at him. He wasn’t sure if they were monitored full time so he had to assume that they were.

As the elevator opened Robert fell inside, almost knocking over a couple that were getting out. The man pushed Robert against the side of the elevator, “Watch where you’re going,” he said aggressively.

“Sorry mister.” replied Robert, “Had a bit too much to drink.”

“Yes, I can see that,” replied the man, “best you go and sleep it off.”

“That’s where I am headed,” said Robert, “Apologies again.”

The man took his wife by the arm and walked her down the passage towards the reception desk.

Robert pushed the seventh floor and set the timer on his watch. When he arrived at the seventh floor and the elevator opened he looked down at the timer again. It registered 26 seconds. He carried on with his charade, stumbling down the passage towards his room. When he reached the door he fumbled with his key card, dropping it on the floor twice before opening the door.

As Robert stepped inside his room he went to the bathroom and put his finger down his throat, vomiting up all the Jack Daniels into the toilet bowl. He leaned across to the bath and opened up the cold tap, pulling on the lever to close the plug. Robert took off his clothes and stepped into the bath, letting it fill up with cold water. He waited until his body was fully covered in water before turning off the tap. He then gently let his head down underneath the water, holding his breath and letting his mind relax.

After a minute, he lifted his face out of the water and used his hands to wipe the water away. He got out of the bath and toweled himself dry, taking a moment to stare at himself in the mirror. Then he walked into the bedroom, towel around his waist and sat down on the edge of the bed. He opened his rucksack, took out his second phone and switched it on.

Robert waited for the phone to boot it up before he saw the familiar picture of his wife and two kids light up the screen. When the menu to come up he opened his Wi-Fi settings and scanned for available networks. He picked up the hotel wireless connection and connected to it. As he connected a secure web page popped up asking him to register with his last name and room number. He entered the details and clicked the connect button. The hour glass flipped over a few times before connecting him to the internet.

Robert opened up his email client and downloaded some emails. He scanned through them, looking for any urgent emails but didn’t find any. He threw the phone onto the bed and flopped backwards against the bed, his hands behind his head. So far everything was going according to plan.

The sun streamed through a small crack in the window and straight into Robert’s eyes. He used his one hand to try to shield himself, hoping for a few more minutes’ sleep. He suddenly remembered where he was and shot out of bed. He walked into the bathroom and had a long pee, his bladder full from the night before. When he finished, he looked at himself in the mirror, “Not looking too bad,” he thought to himself.

Robert put some water in the basin and took out his toiletry bag, removing his razor blade and shaving cream. He liked to shave in warm water as it seemed to make his beard softer and stopped any rashes from the blade. Robert didn’t waste any time and was finished quickly. He rinsed his face and applied some Nivea cream, making sure he kept his skin hydrated. Although not overly concerned about appearances Robert like to at least look presentable.

He slapped on a small dose of after shave, rubbing some in behind the ears. Then he went to the wardrobe and pulled out a pair of brown Chino trousers and a blue long sleeve shirt. He liked to wear blue shirts, it made him feel that people trusted him more- anything that would help his disguise. After Robert dressed he made his way downstairs for breakfast, making sure he timed the elevator again. This time it was 22 seconds.

He stepped out of the elevator and walked towards the breakfast room which was on the far side of the hotel lobby. Robert walked past the entrance to the bar and had a sly peek inside, a small grin on his face. He entered the breakfast room and waited to be seated. A small and petite waitress saw him waiting and walked up to him.

“Good morning sir, how you doing this today?” she asked, a large fake smile filling her face.

“I’m doing just fine,” replied Robert.

“Table for one?” she asked.

“Yes please, close to that couple over there,” replied Robert, pointing to the couple he had accidentally bumped into in the elevator the night before.

“Sure sir, please come this way,” she said, picking up a menu and leading him to the table next to the couple.

Robert sat down and the waitress placed the menu in front of him, “Some tea or coffee for you sir?” she asked.

“Coffee, black please,” replied Robert, and he started studying the menu. When he decided what he wanted to eat he put his menu down and looked across towards the couple. He placed his napkin on the table and turned towards them.

“Sorry to trouble you again,” he said to the couple, “I just want to apologise for my behaviour last night. It was unprofessional of me.”

“That’s alright,” replied the man, “no harm was done.”

“Robert Anderson,” said Robert, holding out his hand to introduce himself.

The man took Robert’s hand and shook it, “James Jackson, and this here is my wife Judy,” he replied.

Robert looked across at the woman, “Pleased to meet you Mam,” he said.

“Where are y’all from?” asked Robert, thickening his Texas accent.

“We’re from New Orleans,” replied Judy.

“Ah the Big Easy,” said Robert, “I just love that part of the world, the home of poker.”

“Best state in the US of A,” replied James, looking proud, “Where do you hail from?”

“I’m from Dallas, Texas,” replied Robert, “Born and bred.”

“Why don’t you join us?” asked Judy.

“Don’t mind if I do Mam,” replied Robert, and he swopped chairs, joining them at their table, “Being on the road is a lonely time - probably why I had a little too much to drink last night,"

“Yes, I know what you mean,” said James, “I travelled a bit when I was a youngster too.”

“What line of business are you in?” asked Robert.

“I am retired,” replied James, “Was in law enforcement for 42 years.”

Robert’s heart skipped a beat, his mind racing, what should he do? One thing Robert could always count on was that he remained calm under pressure, showing no visible signs of his predicament, “What line were you in?” asked Robert, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible.

“The FBI,” replied James, “Can’t say too much though, top secret.”

Robert’s heart skipped another beat. He knew this man would be well trained so he had to be careful. Despite trying his best to remain calm, a small bead of sweat ran down the side of his forehead.

“Where were you based?” asked Robert.

“Washington D.C. for most of my career before being transferred to run the New Orleans office,” replied James.

“Shit,” thought Robert to himself, “He must have been high up to run the New Orleans office.”

“How long have you been retired?” asked Robert.

“About five years now. Can’t remember a dang thing of what they taught me,” he replied, tapping his forehead with his index finger.

Robert breathed a small sigh of relief, “Maybe he isn’t so sharp after all,” he thought to himself and relaxed slightly.

They continued to chat for another hour, discussing what sights there were to see in Austin.

“Why don’t you join us on the day tour? We are leaving in twenty minutes?” asked Judy.

“That sounds really nice but I have some dealers I need to visit and hopefully sign some deals. I need to pay for this trip,” replied Robert.

“Sure thing, we will be sure to take some photos for you,” said James as he stood up, “Come on Judy let’s get the show on the road. It’s going to be a busy day.”

Robert waited for them to leave before he summoned the waitress, indicating for her to bring the check. The waitress walked up to him, “Sir, the other gentleman has already paid for you,” she said.

“Oh ok, thanks,” replied Robert, looking slightly confused. He hadn’t seen James pay or even talk to the waitress.

He got up and left the restaurant and as he stepped outside he removed a cigarette from the box in his pocket and lit it up. Robert hated smoking, but it gave him a chance to stand in one place and observe the surroundings without drawing any attention to himself. He took a deep puff and then exhaled, sending a large ball of smoke into the air.

Robert scanned the conference centre, looking at all the entrance doors, the fire hydrants, anything that could be of interest and memorizing it. He flicked his half-finished cigarette into the gutter on the side of the road and ambled across, stepping over the tram tracks that split the road in half. Robert stepped onto the sidewalk and looked at the entrance doors, they were all locked.

He walked around the building, checking all the doors, hoping that one would be open but they were all shut tight. Robert walked back to the main entrance and peered through the window, trying to get a look inside. He was looking around when a voice boomed behind him, “Can I help you sir.”

Robert whirled around and saw a security guard staring at him, his hand resting on his nightstick.

“Whew officer, you gave me a fright” said Robert, holding his hand over heart.

“I am not a police officer,” replied the guard, “Just here to protect the centre sir. Sorry I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“No problem,” said Robert.

“Can I help you with anything?” asked the guard.

“Do you know that time they open?” asked Robert politely.

“They are closed today sir, no conferences,” replied the guard, “Only open tomorrow for that environmental talk.”

“Environmental talk?” asked Robert.

“Yea, some bunny hugger giving a talk about nuclear energy and the environment. He is apparently quite a famous bloke,” replied the guard.

“Do you know his name?” continued Robert.

“It’s Marcus something or other. I can’t remember his last name,” said the guard.

“Sounds like a blast,” said Robert sarcastically.

“Not exactly down my alley either,” said the guard laughing.

“How long you been on the job here?” asked Robert, fishing for as much information as possible.

“Going on seven years now,” replied the guard.

“Seen any action here?” Robert continued.

“Nothing much. We did have a shooting a few years ago and then last month a fire broke out in the elevator room,” he replied.

“Anybody get hurt?” asked Robert

“Nah, they evacuated the centre in time,” replied the guard.

“Good, the police must have been here quickly,” said Robert.

“Not the fastest I have ever seen. The fire truck was here just before them. They were probably out getting some doughnuts and coffee,” continued the guard.

“Why didn’t you join the force and shake them up? You look like you would make a fine policeman,” said Robert, trying to flatter the guard.

“My knee,” replied the guard, leaning down and touching his kneecap, “Busted it in high school playing football. Ruined my career.”

“I know how it feels,” said Robert, “All State baseball before I popped my shoulder and killed my career.”

“Well I guess that’s life,” said the guard.

“I see this glass is mighty thick,” said Robert, placing his fingers on the glass, “I am looking at getting some for my mobile phone shop back in Dallas. I have been robbed three times in the last six months and they always bust the glass to get in.”

“That’s special glass,” replied the guard, “A couple of years ago we had Obama giving a talk here and they decided to replace all the glass with this special glass. It’s bulletproof. I saw them testing it with all kinds of rifles and nothing came close to going through it.”

“I can see why. This is some serious protection,” said Robert, “Anyways, I had better get moving along, still lots to do today. Thanks for your help. It’s much appreciated.”

“My pleasure mister. Have a good day,” replied the guard.

Robert turned around and walked back to the hotel. He sat in the lobby on a comfortable chair and ordered a cup of coffee from the waiter. He sat with a newspaper in front of him, pretending to read. He was watching the convention centre, making notes of the guards’ patrols and their routines.

It was almost 11-00am when Robert pulled out a mobile phone from his jacket pocket. He switched it on and waited a few seconds for it to power up. He looked at the newspaper until he found the number he was looking for and started typing a text message. It took him a few seconds to type before he entered the number and pressed the send button.

He switched the phone off at once and slipped it back into his pocket. He set the timer on his watch and buried his head in the newspaper, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. It took four minutes for the wail of sirens to be heard in the distance, closing in fast. Robert kept his head in the newspaper and when the first cop burst through the doors he stopped the timer on his watch, it was four minutes and forty-five seconds.

“Everybody please make your way outside. Exit through the doors in an orderly fashion. Please do not panic,” came the bellowing voice of the police man.

Robert stood up and walked towards the exit, trying to blend in with the surrounding people. He joined the stream of people exiting and when he got to the pavement he pulled the phone out of his pocket, removed a thin layer of plastic that covered the keypad and put it inside a dustbin that was attached to a lamp pole. He looked around, making sure that nobody saw him and then moved a few yards away, standing behind a crowd of people.

A fire truck and an ambulance pulled up outside the hotel at almost exactly the same time. The fireman in the front of the fire truck jumped out as they stopped and ran inside the hotel. A few more police cars arrived, bringing the total to eight. Two of the police officers were stationed on the pavement, keeping the people at bay.

“What’s going on?” asked one of the crowd.

“There has been a bomb threat,” replied the police officer.

“Is it a real bomb?” asked an elderly lady.

The police man turned and stared at her for a few seconds before shaking his head and walking off. They waited in the street for close to an hour before an unmarked white van pulled up. Robert could hear the barking of dogs and knew that the sniffer dogs were about to earn their next meal.

The handler opened up the back doors of the van and out jumped one of the best animal specimens Robert had ever seen. He was a Malinois, the same type of dog used to guard the grounds of the White House. His coat was mahogany in color with black markings, matching the color of his nose and ears. His ears were pointed and stood upright, giving him an almost demonic appearance.

The dog gave one look around and then bounded up the stairs and into the hotel, his handler close behind him. Robert continued to watch as the second dog was brought out of the van. This one was a Beagle and not a very intimidating sight. He was small and compact and looked as if he was there to have some fun. He looked up at his handler and wagged his tail, as if he was waiting for a treat. The handler bent down and patted him on the head before leading him up the stairs and into the hotel.

Robert waited patiently with the rest of the people while the dogs were hard at work, sniffing for explosives. Robert knew they would not find any as he was the one that sent the message of the bomb. He wanted to see what the reaction time of the police would be and now he knew.

After another two hours of standing on the pavement, the dogs exited the hotel and were bundled into the back of the van. The two handlers climbed in, waved at the police officers and drove off. One of the police officers walked up to them, “Okay folks, you can go back inside. It seems somebody was having some fun.”

“Are you sure it is safe?” asked the old lady.

“Yes Mam,” replied the police officer, “the dogs have covered every square inch of the hotel and if there was anything they would have found it.”

“Great thank you officer,” she replied and started hobbling back to the hotel.

Robert waited until most of the people had made their way back before he joined the line. As he walked into the entrance he saw that one of the police officers was staring at him. He put his head down and walked straight ahead, trying to blend in. As he went behind a pillar he changed direction and walked hastily to the elevator.

As usual he timed the trip up to the seventh floor. This time it was 24 seconds. When the elevator doors opened, he kept his head away from the CCTV cameras and walked to his room, opening the door and slipping inside. Robert was worried about the police officer that was staring at him. It had happened before that he had bumped into one of his old school friends whilst on a job and in disguise, almost being caught out. He had to silence the friend, permanently.

As much as he tried to remember, the face of the police officer did not ring any bells so he dismissed it from his mind, “No use worrying about it, he is probably long gone by now,” he thought to himself. Robert looked at his watch, it was 3-00pm. He went to his rucksack and pulled out a small laptop and switched it on.

He logged in with an extremely long password. Robert always liked using a phrase as a password, it was easy to remember and almost impossible to be hacked. He opened up his Wi-Fi settings and connected to the hotel network, entering his details as he had done the day before. Robert opened up his Chrome browser and typed “Marcus Wahlberg” into the search box. He hit the search button and within milliseconds the search returned over one thousand hits.

Robert looked at the first one, it was a headline from the USA Today from three months ago, “Activists Block Entrance to French Nuclear Plant.” He clicked on the link and read the full article. Marcus and some fellow activists were demanding the closure of the aging Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant in France. The Plant was located in a densely-populated part of France and close to the borders of Germany and Switzerland. A Nuclear fallout from this plant, as had been seen at Chernobyl and Fukushima, would have devastating consequences.

Robert continued looking at the results of the search, going into different articles and finding out more about his mark. He saw a picture of Marcus tied to an enormous Redwood tree with a large bulldozer standing in front of him. The caption beneath that photograph read, “Save the Redwoods.” Robert was becoming intrigued with Marcus who had travelled all over the world, being a part of many protests. He would appear in a photograph saving the Amazon Forest and then a few months later would appear in another photograph standing on a small boat with his hands high in the air right in the path of a gigantic Japanese whaler.

One link though stood out for Robert, and he was intrigued by the title, “Rainbow Warrior Sunk by French Spies.” Robert had heard about this event years ago and clicked on the link. He browsed through the overview and then started reading the detail. Marcus was a passenger on the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior when it was sunk in Auckland harbour by two French foreign intelligence operatives as part of Operation Satanique. Marcus was sleeping on the ship at that time and had only just managed to escape, unlike one of his colleagues who perished.

Two French divers had placed limpet mines onto the hull of the ship. The first mine detonated and blew a hole the size of a car in the hull of the ship. Ten minutes later a second blast went off which threw Marcus into the water, where he was dragged to safety by his colleagues. Four minutes after the second blast, the ship sank.

Robert’s mind was imagining what it must have been like on that ship. He felt a small pang of regret ripple through his body. It would be a pity to kill this man, especially after reading all these stories. It seemed that Marcus was a noble man who fought hard for many just causes. “Oh well, he must have pissed somebody off,” he thought to himself.

He went onto Facebook and searched for Marcus, finding him right at the top of the list. He had close to four thousand friends. Robert looked at his profile picture which was of Marcus, a woman and two children. They were sitting on a wooden fence with what looked like Mount Everest in the background. He read a few of his posts and looked at his photos, which were all of his family.

They seemed to live a happy life if the photographs were to be believed. Marcus took his family with him wherever he went. There were photos of them in the snow, lying on desolate beaches, flying kites and just about anything else you could imagine. Robert looked at the two children, they were close to the same age as his two. He suddenly felt a yearning for home and he closed down his browser and opened up his Skype application.

Robert had only one contact; home. He double clicked on the name and it started calling his home. It only rang three times before he heard that familiar voice on the other end, “Daddy,” it was his daughter Zoe. It took a few seconds for her face to appear in the video window. She was smiling from ear to ear.

“How are you honey?” he asked.

“We're fine daddy, when are you coming home?” asked Zoe, “We miss you.”

“In a couple of days’ time honey,” he replied, “I am just finishing up some deals here. How is school going?”

“It’s going fine. Lots of homework,” she said.

“Well make sure you finish it all before I get back so we can go and see that movie you been nagging me about,” said Robert.

“Twilight?” asked Zoe excitedly, “Can I bring a friend? Please.”

“Yes, but only one. Not seven like last time,” said Robert, laughing.

“Oh that’s great, thanks Dad, you’re the best,” said Zoe as she leant over and gave the camera a kiss.

“Is your mother around?” asked Robert.

“Yes she is in the kitchen getting dinner ready. Must I call her for you?” she asked.

“Yes please,” he replied.

Zoe left the room and Robert could hear her shouting for her mother down the passage. It took a few seconds before his wife’s face filled the screen.

“Hello Baby,” he said when she sat down.

“Hi Honey, how is the trip going?” she replied.

“It’s going well. I signed up two dealers today and I have another three appointments tomorrow,” he replied.

“Wow that’s great news,” she said, “When are you coming home?”

“On Thursday,” replied Robert, “I am coming in on the red eye.”

“Okay great so you will be here by eight then?” she asked.

“Yes why?” asked Robert.

“Ben has a soccer match, and he really wants you to be there. You’ve missed the last three,” she said.

“Yeah I know,” said Robert biting his lip, “Tell him I will definitely be there. Where is he now?”

“He is in the bath,” she replied.

“Okay don’t bother him then. I will see him on Thursday,” said Robert, “You know Baby I’ve been thinking about all this travelling. I was thinking that this might be my last trip. I need to spend more time with you and the kids.”

“Really? Are you serious?” replied his wife Lisa, her face a picture of disbelief, “That would be fantastic!”

“Yes I am dead serious. I am tired of travelling, really tired,” said Robert.

“That is good news honey,” said Lisa, tears starting to well up in her eyes.

“Well, I’d better go. I have another meeting in ten minutes,” said Robert, having to clear his throat to get the words out, “Love you lots and see you soon. Send my love to the kids.”

“I will. I love you too Honey. Come home safely,” she replied and blew him a kiss.

Robert ended the call and sat there for a moment in silence on the end of the bed. He placed his hands behind his head and flopped backwards onto the bed. “I really have had enough,” he thought to himself, “this is my last job. After this I am retiring.”

The fee for this hit was one and a half million dollars. A substantial amount more than his usual one hundred thousand dollar price tag. This was part of his motivation for retiring, he would now have enough money to support his family for many years ahead. He wondered who, or rather why, would anybody pay one and half million dollars to kill an environmentalist?

With that thought in his head he glanced at his watch and jumped off the bed. He had a dinner date with the Jacksons in fifteen minutes. Robert rushed into the bathroom, ripped his clothes off and jumped into the shower. He washed his hair and lathered his body in a thick layer of soap. He stood under the shower spout letting the water run down his body, rinsing off the soap suds.

Robert got out of the shower and combed his hair into place, sprayed on some deodorant and got dressed into a pair of stonewashed jeans and a white Polo golf shirt. He checked himself in the mirror before opening the door and heading towards the elevator. He timed the elevator again, this time it took 25 seconds. He ran a calculation in his head to work out the average time it took from the seventh floor to the ground floor. It was an average of 24 seconds.

When the elevator stopped on the ground floor he walked out and paused in the foyer, looking around to see if he recognised anybody. The only person he recognised was the old lady who had made those stupid comments to the police officer. He walked over to the entrance to the restaurant and looked inside. The Jacksons were already seated and were chatting away to each other, “Now that’s how I want to grow old,” thought Robert to himself and he made his way over to their table.

“Good evening Mr and Mrs Jackson,” said Robert as he reached the table.

“Ah Robert,” said James as he stood up and shook Robert’s hand, “Please have a seat.”

“How did your business go today?” asked Judy.

“It went extraordinarily well, managed to get ink on two deals,” replied Robert, “How was the sight-seeing? Did you see anything worthwhile?”

“We went to the Capital building which was magnificent and then to the History Museum. I don’t like museums much but James loves them. He is a history buff,” said Judy.

“Sounds like I missed out,” said Robert.

“From what I have been told there was some action here today,” said James, “Something about a bomb scare.”

“Oh yes, I heard about that,” said Robert, “Probably some college kids playing a prank.”

“Weren’t you here when it happened?” asked Judy.

“No mam,” replied Robert, “I was still on the road.”

“I am always terrified of these bomb scares. Do you know that I was only a few blocks away from the bomb that went off in Oklahoma? Every time I hear the word bomb I want to jump out of my skin,” said Judy.

“You must be really lucky to be alive,” said Robert.

“Every day I thank the Lord for saving me,” said Judy, pulling the gold cross out from around her neck and giving it a small kiss, “Do you know that James here helped with the case?”

“Now now Judy,” interrupted James, “You know you are not allowed to talk about what happened in the past. A lot of that stuff is still confidential. I can get arrested if any information gets leaked.”

“Sorry dear,” replied Judy, “You just did such a good job that I wanted to tell Robert.”

“So tell me Robert,” said James, changing the subject, “Who do you think is gonna take the Super Bowl this year?”

“Personally I don’t like the Panthers. I’m a Bronco’s man,” replied Robert. “There is no way the Panthers are going to get through Von Miller.”

“I’m not a Panthers fan either. Never have liked them,” said James.

“I assume you are a Saint’s fan?” said Robert.

“Hell yea. Saints all the way!” said James loudly, banging his fist on the table.

“Calm down dear,” said Judy, resting her hand on his arm and turning to Robert, “You know he can really get upset about football.”

“I always see that as a good thing in people,” replied Robert, “It means they are passionate.”

“I really like this man,” said James, and he raised his hand in the air and snapped his fingers to get the attention of the waiter, “Now let’s get ourselves something to drink.”

The waiter appeared out of nowhere and within an instant was at James’s side, “Yes sir, what can I get for you?” he asked politely.

“I’ll have another double scotch,” replied James, and then turned to Robert, “What will you have?”

“Double Jack on the rocks, lots of ice,” said Robert.

“A man after my own heart,” said James, “I like him even more now!”

They had a festive time, eating, drinking, talking and laughing. Any threat that Robert felt about James’s previous employment was long forgotten. The drinks kept on flowing and James and Robert were becoming best mates with Judy the only one that remained sober. As the night wore on the restaurant emptied out and it was only Robert and the Jackson’s left. The staff had switched off half the lights and the waiter was sitting down as a table on the far side playing on his mobile phone.

“James, I think it’s time for me to hit the sack,” said Robert as he stood up and wobbled slightly.

“Was a great evening Robert, thank you for the company,” replied James.


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