Monday, March 20, 2017

#FreeDailyThriller - Lust, Money & Murder - Book 10, Black Widow - Part 1

(Note:  this book was officially released on April 5th, 2017)

"Black Widow" will be published serially on this blog, in approximately 1,500 word parts, Monday-Friday.  If you're new to the series, this book is a good entry point, as the story is written in three-book trilogies and this book is the beginning of a new one (Books 10, 11 & 12)

Lust, Money & Murder Book 10, Black Widow
Mike Wells 

Copyright 2017 Mike Wells

This book is dedicated to my daughter

Marina Betsy Wells

Born on January 5th, 2017

Chapter 1

Six months after Raj Malik was arrested for diamond smuggling, Elaine Brogan’s day-to-day existence had settled into a relaxed, peaceful rhythm. It was as if the life that she’d dreamed of living for so long had finally arrived.
As reward for ridding the Secret Service of a corrupt director, Elaine was offered a promotion, but it would have required her moving to Lyon, and she graciously turned it down. She didn’t want any added responsibility or stress—she was perfectly happy to continue to operate out of the American Consulate office in Marseilles and quietly serve as Europe’s primary specialist on U.S. currency counterfeiting. To be close to her children, Elaine worked three days a week in the city and two days out of her home office.
Tony and the kids were doing well. Ryan had just started kindergarten, and Amelia was learning to talk.
Dmitry was back in Moscow and he complained to Elaine on the phone that his life was “borink” again. But the cynical Russian had successfully sold the pink diamond she’d given him and was apparently happy with the amount he’d gotten for it.
Even Elaine’s marksmanship skills seemed to have improved since her harrowing trip to Africa and putting Raj Malik away. She was always stressed when her firearms requalification date came around each year, and dreaded the sarcastic comments from her colleagues in Marseilles—“How is it that you can spot a fifty micron defect in a U.S. hundred dollar bill but can’t see a target at twenty-five meters?” This year, when her boss signed her off, he quipped, “Well, well, Brogan, you’ve really outdone yourself, up from ‘terrible’ to just ‘pretty bad.’ Keep this up and you might actually hit the center of the target one day.”
The icing on the cake was that Luna Faye had been offered a similar promotion to Elaine’s, for her work on the Raj Malik case, and had accepted it. She had taken a job at the main Secret Service European Operations office in Lyon. Her husband, Walter, worked for a Big 4 accounting firm, and it was easy for him to transfer there.
Elaine couldn’t have been more thrilled. Luna often drove down and spent the weekend with the family.
But it was the beginning of one such weekend when Elaine’s relaxed, peaceful life came to a sudden, crashing halt.

* * *
It started on a Friday afternoon, just before six p.m., when the bell for the driveway front gate rang. Even though the security console was in the farmhouse’s foyer, the front gate signal was a sharp, loud buzz, with a volume sufficient to reach the far corners of the huge stone dwelling.
Elaine was in her office upstairs in the sunroom, finishing her week’s work, sorting the fake $100 bills she’d been analyzing into neatly organized stacks based on common errors she’d found in them.
Nick was out back, building a gazebo—he’d been hammering and sawing all day, and by the sound of it, he was still going strong.
The bell in the foyer rang again.
“Will you get that, Tony?” Elaine called. “I’m sure it’s Luna.”
“I’m comin’, I’m comin’,” Tony called back, and she heard him enter the foyer.
Elaine smoothed out her clothes, then pulled her hair out of the pony tail and let it fall loosely around her shoulders. She was so looking forward to seeing Luna—it had been almost six weeks since they’d seen each other, because Luna and Walter had gone back to the States for the Christmas holidays.
“It’s not-a Luna,” Tony called from the foyer.
“What?” Elaine stepped out of her office and looked down at him from the top of the stairs.
“It’s not-a Luna,” Tony repeated.
“Who is it?”
Wearing his apron, Tony looked at the security console. Ryan was standing next to him, gazing up at the screen as well, a plastic soldier figure in his hand.
“It’s a taxi,” Tony said, as Elaine came down the stairs, but she could already see that. Romeo and Juliet were barking in the backyard. On the screen, Elaine could see the driver was staring up at the camera expectantly. He impatiently stuck his arm out the car window and pushed the button again.
Tony flipped the switch on the console to talk. “Oui?
Un visiteur pour Elaine Bro-ghan?” The driver pronounced her last name the way many French people did.
A visitor for me? she thought, frowning. Could it be Luna? But why would Luna be arriving in a taxi?
Feeling a little uneasy, Elaine flipped a switch to change cameras—there was one mounted on the rock wall that afforded a side view of the vehicle.
Only one person was sitting in the back seat, wearing sunglasses.
A woman.
Elaine pushed the TALK button this time. “Qu’est-ce?”
The driver turned and said something to the passenger sitting behind him.
“What’s going on?” Nick said, sauntering into the foyer. He was wearing a pair of ripped up jeans and a dirty sweatshirt, a hammer in his hand. “I heard a car pull up...”
“Not sure,” Elaine said, motioning to the console screen. “It’s somebody in a taxi.”
The driver looked up at the camera and spoke again, in English this time. “It eez your family member, from the Tex-has.”
Elaine blinked. Family member?
She and Nick looked at each other. Elaine’s first thought was that the woman in the taxi might be someone sent by Raj Malik to do god only knew what to her and her family. All her old anxieties developed during the course of working for the Secret Service came flooding back to her. There was a TAXI sign on top of the car, but it might not even be a real taxi—the driver could be working for Raj, too.
“Go get your gun,” she snapped.
Nick frowned at her. “Do you really think that’s n—”
“Anybody can find out that I have family in Texas, Nick. Go arm yourself!”
“Okay, okay.”
As he trotted up the stairs, Elaine turned to Tony. “Take Ryan into the kitchen.”
Si,” the Italian said, with a worried look, and he turned away, taking the boy by the hand.
 Elaine glanced back at the screen. Raj Malik was languishing in a French prison south of Paris, awaiting trial—he would likely spend the rest of his life in jail in this country. On top of diamond smuggling, he’d been charged with money laundering, tax evasion, resisting arrest, assault, and attempted murder, all of which were federal crimes. The American government had washed their hands of Raj Malik. Elaine had to be on guard for any revenge he might try to dish out.
The taxi driver was looking through the windshield at the gate, waiting for it to open.
Nick trotted back down the stairs, the Glock in his hand. He had already removed the trigger lock.
Elaine pushed the talk button on the console again. “What’s the name of your passenger?” She repeated the question in French.
Suddenly a female voice crackled over the speaker. “Honey, it’s me! Aunt Sarah!”
Nick looked at Elaine. “Sarah?”
“Amy’s mother,” Elaine said, feeling a little relieved. Amy was the cousin she’d idolized who’d been killed as a teenager, the one she’d modeled her Jennifer Johnson persona on when she’d gone to Sudan to meet Stanley Ketchum and find the diamond mine. Sarah had married somebody else—Elaine had only seen her a few times after her mother abandoned her and her father.
But was it really Sarah?
“Are you sure it’s her?” Nick said, seeing the doubt on her face.
Elaine could recognize a genuine Texas accent—and the woman had spoken in one—but the image was far too sketchy to recognize Sarah’s face. And the oversized sunglasses the woman was wearing didn’t help. “No, I’m not sure, to be honest.”
Nick reached up to open the gate, the gun still in his other hand. “We’ll keep the front door closed until she gets out and you have a better look at her.”
As Elaine watched the screen, and the taxi headed up the driveway, she wondered what the hell her Aunt Sarah could be doing here. And how Sarah had found her, assuming it really was Sarah? On the other hand, even though her mother had disappeared so many years ago, Elaine was still in touch with some of her family in Texas, and at least one of them had her address in France.
When the taxi came to a stop in front of the garage and the rear door opened, the woman that emerged from the back seat seemed taller than the Sarah that Elaine remembered. She was still wearing the sunglasses, they were oversized, obscuring much of her face. Even though the security camera image was in black and white, the woman seemed more stylishly dressed than Sarah would have been. She was wearing a below-the-knee black coat that looked like it was made of cashmere, and a soft leather bag casually slung over her shoulder.
She pulled out her purse, and handed the driver some money. He went around and opened the trunk, then dragged out two more bags—a carry-on and a rather large, full-sized hard shell suitcase.
“Uh-oh,” Nick muttered, glancing at Elaine with a half-smile.
“I’m still not sure it’s her,” Elaine said nervously.
“You’re not?”
“No. Not with those big sunglasses on. And she sure is dressed up, for Sarah.”

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