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The Collected



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The two lists lay on the table, side by side, black ink on white paper.

The first set of names would be the easiest. Once a man was dead, he was dead.

It was the plans David Harris’s boss had for the second set that would be more difficult.

“I want to see their faces,” Javier Romero had ordered. “I want them to know what’s happening to them. I want them to know why.”

“It’s risky,” Harris argued at the time. “These aren’t just normal people. They’re professionals. One small error could have serious consequences.”

“Then I suggest you make sure there are no errors.”

In truth, the idea of bringing the men on the second list to Romero’s hideaway excited Harris. It was a challenge, like the way things had been before the incident-as Romero referred to it-four years earlier. Back then, ridding his boss of his enemies had been an enjoyable weekly task. It was something Harris, as trusted advisor and head of security, had done very well, satisfying the occasional call of his mercenary roots.

But since the incident, there had been very little of that, only the promise of one last big project. As the kicker, Romero had promised him a healthy reward once the project was complete. Given the man’s wealth and the dollars discussed, it had been more than enough reason for Harris to stick around.

And now the time had finally come, the job that would allow him to get his hands dirty again, if only figuratively.

In another month, two at the most, he’d be gone from here, living his own life however the hell he wanted to, and never having to work for anyone again.

He picked up the second list. Seven names, two crossed out. They were already dead, not by Harris’s hand or anyone associated with him or Romero, but by the nature of the work they did.

Unfortunate, but it still left the five.

He smiled.

This was going to be fun.



Northeastern Mexico

Nate’s phone rang. “Yes?”

“It’s going down now.” The voice belonged to Kelvin Moore, the ops leader. The pause that followed lasted fifteen seconds. “All right, we’re done. You’re up, Mr. Quinn. We’re clearing out now.”

Nate started the van. “Any complications?”

“None.” Moore hung up.

Nate shoved his phone into his pocket and dropped the van into gear. Since he’d taken over running his boss’s business-temporarily or not was still to be determined-Nate had used Jonathan Quinn’s name just to make things easier. Most clients only knew Quinn from his reputation, and had not met him in person, but it was that reputation that kept them calling, so it only made sense to continue utilizing it. Occasionally, Nate would run into a field op who knew Quinn, but so far, though there were a few raised eyebrows, there had yet to be any issues.

“Finally,” Burke said, a sly smile pushing his cheek up on one side. He was the assistant Nat had been forced to hire for the job. Daeng, his de facto number two, had been called back to Asia on an emergency, and all the usual freelancers he would have hired to fill in were unavailable. Burke had been the suggestion of the job’s broker, and guy named Pullman.

The termination site was a warehouse tucked into the foothills outside of Monterrey, Mexico. The drive from the staging point took four minutes. Per Nate’s request, the ops team had left the gate open in the fence surrounding the building when they departed.

“Stick to the plan,” Nate said, slowing the van as he drove onto the property. “No conversation. You need me, you get my attention some other way.”

Burke waved a dismissive hand. “Yeah, yeah. I got it.”

Nate pulled to a stop near the loading dock, and killed the engine. Out of habit, he tugged on his gloves to make sure they were snug on his hands, then nodded at Burke.

Staying inside the vehicle, they moved into the back. As they’d discussed ahead of time, Burke picked up the roll of black plastic sheeting while Nate donned the clean kit-a backpack with all the tools needed to do a proper job.

Nate grabbed the handle on the back door, but paused as he glanced at his temporary employee. “Ready?”

“Of course. Come on.”

“Five minutes. No more.”

“I know. I know. Let’s get this started.”

If Nate hadn’t already decided this was going to be the only time Burke worked for him, the man’s eagerness would have sealed the deal. Nate was a cleaner, and his was a cool, calm business, not something that should be considered exciting. That’s when things were missed and mistakes were made.

Per the mission briefing, the building was supposedly secured only by an alarm system that the ops team had disarmed when they first arrived, but as his mentor Quinn always said, “What is supposed to be isn’t always what is.” A second, undetected alarm was not out of the question, or even security guards who might have hidden while the ops team did their thing.

Alert, Nate approached the door at the end of the loading dock. This, too, the ops team had left unlocked for them. Pushing it open a few inches, Nate moved his ear next to the gap and listened. Dead silence. With a nod to Burke, they slipped inside.

The main warehouse area was a larger room filled with rows of neatly stacked boxes and crates. The overhead fluorescents were off, but a dozen scattered safety lights were still lit, giving the two of them more than enough illumination to find their way around.

The area they were interested in was a quarter of the way down the third aisle. Nate signaled for Burke to wait at the end, then headed quickly between the boxes alone, so he could make sure everything was as expected.

The body lay on three thick layers of cardboard in a nook created within the row of boxes. Nate had been the one who prepared the flooring the previous evening, putting plastic sheeting between the cardboard layers and the floor to prevent blood from leaking onto the concrete. He’d also installed the boxes at the back of the nook, none of which contained the liquid soap or paper plates the rest of the containers held. Instead, each had been filled with a lightweight material that was deceptively strong, and very adept at stopping projectiles. He did a quick scan and spotted the bullet hole in a box just off center, second from the bottom, and was confident the bullet would be inside.

As for the dead man, Nate had no prior knowledge of his identity, nor did he recognize him now. That was often the nature of the job. For whatever reason, someone had decided the man needed to be eliminated. Nate’s only concern was getting the body out, and leaving behind no trace that anything happened.

He signaled Burke to join him.

The first thing they did was to roll up the body in the cardboard flooring, then package it all in a double layer of black plastic. It would be heavy to carry, but doable. They then set about pulling down Nate’s wall of boxes, and dumping the material from inside onto another piece of sheeting. When Nate reached the box with the hole in it, he found the bullet resting comfortably in the fourth fold of the material.

The damaged box was added to the pile, but the others they closed and left. In a day or two or maybe a week, someone might wonder why several boxes were empty, but that would be the only clue that something had gone on here.

They carried the discarded materials out to the van, then returned and did the same with the body.

“Piece of cake,” Burke said as they were driving away.

Nate gave him a noncommittal grunt. It had gone smoothly, and he had to admit Burke had done exactly as they had discussed ahead of time. They had even finished the removal with nearly half a minute to spare. That said, Burke still rubbed him the wrong way, and the guy’s chances at being rehired remained zero.

The next step was to make the body and the other items from the warehouse permanently disappear. After that, it would be straight to the airport and a flight back to L.A. that would get Nate home in the afternoon. He’d sleep in his own bed tonight, and then tomorrow Liz would arrive.

He started to smile, but stopped himself. He couldn’t think about Liz, not right now. She would only distract him.

Finish the job first, buddy. You can think about her once you get home.

The plan for the body was simple. There was a lot of empty space in this part of Mexico. Nate had chosen a quiet ravine about fifteen miles away from the warehouse. The previous afternoon, he and Burke had dug the grave. Once they dropped the body into it, Nate would cover it with a healthy amount of a chemical powder blend Quinn had developed, and he and Burke would fill the hole with dirt. The chemicals would eat away at the body. Within a day, most visible identifying marks would be gone. Within a week, pretty much any method used to try to figure out who the dead man had been would fail.

The sun was still a good half hour from rising, but the sky in the east was beginning to pale. It was going to be close, but Nate was hopeful they would be done by the time daylight peeked over the horizon.

He checked the odometer. Their turnoff was a mile and a half away. From there, it would be a two-mile ride along a dry, flash-flood wash through a narrow valley.

Nate reached for a bottle of water next to his seat, but paused before he could grab it, his eyes focusing on a point in the distance.

What the hell?

At right about the point where they were supposed to leave the road, there were headlights of at least three cars parked on the side of the highway.


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