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An Assassin's Accord: McFadden and Banks Book 1

 

The past is in the past right, time to move on to new ventures,  Unless…


 

It wasn't a long shower. Taylor had spent enough time in the military to learn the improperly named ‘Navy Shower,' which had taught him that cleaning himself thoroughly didn't need to involve soaking in hot water until he turned into a prune.

Besides, after the night that he'd had, a cold shower seemed like the right option and he was shivering slightly when he stepped out to dry himself.

The trembling had abated by the time he pulled clean clothes on, and as he headed down to the shop, he realized he had forgotten to bolt the door the night before when he went to bed. Or maybe Bungees had found a way to open it. Despite his official qualification being that of a mechanic, the man had learned enough on the ground to have forgotten more about mechanical engineering than Taylor would ever learn. One didn’t always need the degree to gain the practical knowledge the hard way. Besides that, finding a way around a bolted door didn't seem like it would be that difficult for him.

Bobby was already busy with one of the suits that had been sent from the Zoo for them to work on, but there was no sign of Tanya, Elisa, or Vickie in the shop yet. He still wasn't sure which of them would work there fulltime but they had discussed it and he didn’t think it would change. Niki and Vickie would be with him—that was a no brainer—and Tanya intended to work with Bobby due to their involvement, hence the long-ass name they had thought of to replace McFaddens Mechs. Although he hadn't had a final answer from Elisa yet, she had indicated her preference to remain in the shop and avoid his type of adventures. Besides, she was good at what she did and everyone knew it.

“Doughnuts are in the break room,” the mechanic announced without looking up from his work. “You might need to make more coffee, though. I didn't know you would be here today and only brought some for myself.”

“Where's Tanya?”

“She's having breakfast with a friend…I think. She did say she would be a little late today.”

Taylor nodded, descended the last couple of steps, and turned left into the little nook he had repurposed into a break room. It held a small electrical stove, a fridge, a sink, and a dishwasher, all crammed into a location that was about thirty square feet overall.

Which wasn’t that small, especially for a break room, but it certainly didn't seem big when everyone wanted coffee at the same time. Maybe him spending less time there was for the best. Bobby would undoubtedly do a great job running the business since the guy had practically done it since the beginning.

The coffee machine worked fine and it wasn't long before he poured a probably unhealthy amount of sugar into a mug of black coffee. He took a bite out of a chocolate-glazed doughnut as he stirred the beverage.

Damned if it wasn't a good cup of coffee. Taylor moved to the shop and studied the suits that had been set up on their stands, ready to be worked on. They were in varying conditions of repair but all displayed the traditional signs that they had gone through the usual mill of destruction that was the Zoo.

He leaned closer to one that looked like it had its leg chewed off and winced. “What the hell do you think did that?”

Bobby looked up from his work for a second and narrowed his eyes. “Who knows? If I had to guess, I'd say it looks like a couple of those locusts had a go at it, but the pilot would need to be more or less stationary for them to do that much damage. Is there anything on the shoulder or the helmet that would indicate that something else attacked him while they targeted his legs?”

Taylor looked up and sure enough, he could see bite marks in the helmet and indentations where it looked like maybe a panther had tried to bite through the helmet. It had no doubt held him down, which allowed the locusts to do a number on the legs.

“Do you think he made it out?” he asked and studied the suit again with a grim expression.

“Probably. There isn’t much reason to go in and save a suit with a dead pilot inside. Whether he survived in the hospital or whether he kept his leg…that's a different story. It looks thoroughly mangled from my point of view. It does seem a little heartless to get his suit repaired for someone else to use, but it's not exactly the most heart-warming of tourist locations.”

Taylor nodded but didn't want to say any more. He remembered more of the dream than he liked, and the memories of his time in the Zoo had begun to resurface. 

Thankfully, his attention was drawn to his phone, which vibrated to inform him that someone else was taking control of the security system. There was only one person who did that before they even appeared.

“Vickie just arrived?” Bobby asked and refocused his attention on the suit in front of him.

“Yeah. She snagged the security controls without so much as a hello.”

“She'll do that. You have to say hello after she's inside.”

The doors to the garage began to swing open, and a Tesla pulled in as soon as they were wide enough to allow her inside. It was a nice car and once upon a time, Taylor might have wondered how a college student would be able to afford a vehicle like that, but he was well aware that she was now a great deal wealthier than most college students.

And only some of the money was illegal.

She climbed out of the car, stretched with a loud yawn, and leaned against it for a few seconds. The three-inch platform boots she preferred made her appear taller than her five-foot-six frame, although there wasn't much to be done for the lean build behind it. She had adopted a goth chic style with a vengeance, which meant black jeans with a dozen or so rips everywhere, a black shirt with a couple of obscenities written on it, and topped with her short hair and half a dozen piercings.

“Morning, Tay-Tay.” She waved, still leaning against the car. “Morning, Bungees. Please tell me that's coffee I smell.”

“What else would it be?” Taylor asked.

“I don't know. Bobby has been buying those coffee-flavored doughnuts lately.” She held a finger with a fingernail painted black up before the man could voice a complaint. “Don't worry, they're amazing, but they're not coffee.”

“Well, it is coffee,” Taylor answered and gestured for her to join him. 

The hacker grinned and jogged to him—an impressive feat in the platform boots—and wrapped him in a hug.

“Fucking hell, you're a great hugger, you know that?” she asked and looked at him. “It's like being hugged by an oversized, red-headed bear.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Go get yourself some coffee. Maybe that'll help with your comparisons.”

She poured herself a mug of coffee and added more sugar than he had before she snatched a doughnut and rejoined the two men in the shop. “So, what do you think you'll do today?”

Taylor looked around and realized she was talking to him. “Well, I thought I'd help out at the shop a little. It's been a while, what with me setting the other place up.”

“Oh, right. I thought we would look for work since you're now the co-owner of a merc team, along with Niki and myself. Getting that off the ground might be a good place to start, no?”

“It's not like we're in any kind of hurry. You'll be paid anyway, and we're still setting it up so we might as well make sure everything else is running smoothly. Bobby got a new delivery yesterday, so I thought I'd lend a hand with that. In fact, you might as well earn that paycheck you're getting anyway and lend us a hand yourself.”

Vickie groaned. “You know, I had a feeling you would pull that card out of the deck. I had, like…fifteen second thoughts when I was driving over here but no, I had to come and see how you guys are doing.”

He grinned and motioned for her to take a seat on the bench next to Bobby. The mechanic had begun to take the suit apart and put pieces on the bench, which allowed his two teammates to start cleaning them before they placed them on a cloth-covered section where they could easily be reassembled when the time came.

“I have to admit, I'll miss working here,” she admitted after they were a few minutes into the work. “She's no modern marvel of architecture, but we have been through some tough times.”

“You know you're welcome to come by and visit any time you please, right?” Bobby asked.

“I know, but it won’t be the same. The team's splitting up and we'll be off doing different things. It feels like the end of an era, you know?”

“Are you sure you're okay with that?” Taylor asked. He kept his gaze fixed on the delicate piece of machinery he was cleaning of all the dust that had collected in the tiny nooks and crannies.

Vickie shrugged. “Sure, and we're all moving forward and onward, but you can't blame me for being a little nostalgic, knowing that the good old times are moving along.”

“Okay, fair enough. But if you feel so nostalgic, why the hell did you throw shade on this place?”

“What? You've admitted it's an eyesore. Multiple times.”

“Sure, but I can say it lovingly. You merely make it sound hurtful.”

“Speaking of eyesore, can we talk about the name you were working with?” Bobby asked with most of his head already inside the suit he was taking apart.

“Again, that’s hurtful.”

“But accurate,” she cut in and focused on the mechanic. “Have you guys thought about a name yet? The last I heard, you had some long-ass name that would take Elisa a week to say for every phone call. Will you simply name it Zhang and Novak Mechs? Because the lack of alliteration is appreciated but it's still not a very…creative name.”

“It’s probably best to remove my name from it completely,” Taylor conceded. “I'm still well-known in the circle of the clients, and I don't want them to be misled into thinking I'll be here full-time. Besides, Bobby's better known as a suit mechanic, so having his name on the company would do wonders for sales.”

“Actually, Tanya and I talked about it over dinner the other night, and the whole last name in the company name felt a little too corporate and Wall Street.” Bobby paused in his work to wipe sweat from his forehead. “She came up with ‘Mech Advantage.' I think that has a nice ring to it.”

“It’s certainly better than McFadden's Mechs,” Vickie pointed out. “Although again, that's setting the bar fairly low right there.”

She paused to look at Taylor for a few seconds until he turned his attention away from his work.

“What?”

“It's not as fun to tease you when you don't react.”

“I know.”

“Ugh, every party needs a pooper.”

“I'll try to ignore the fact that you said that. But yeah, I'll admit that's a good name, and with Elisa pushing it, it'll stick like…ummm…”

“Moss to a log!” the hacker suggested. “No, like shit to a shovel!”

“I had intended to go with glue, but sure…one of those. But I think the bigger question is if you'll be able to work full-time with your cousin.”

Even Bobby looked up from his work with a curious expression to hear Vickie's answer to that.

She looked around, shrugged, and didn’t commit to an answer for a few long seconds. 

Finally, she sighed and shook her head. “Okay, Niki is the one who kept me out of the Zoo and…got me out of other problems, so I owe her a ton.”

“I'm still not sure what kind of trouble you got yourself into that it required Niki to step in.”

“And you never will. The point is, I think we've both grown up a great deal since then. Although I have to say, I've felt like her parent lately. The two of you aren't what I'd call mature when it comes to relationships.”

“That—” Taylor paused and nodded. “Okay, that's a good point.”

“So yeah, with everything we've been through, I think we would work well together. And if worse comes to worst, I don't think we'll be working, like, in the same room together much, so it doesn't matter.”

“Another fair point.”

He stopped working and put the piece he was cleaning gently on the bench before he retrieved his vibrating phone.

The number was blocked, which usually meant a certain AI wanted to have a word. The software Vickie installed on his phone didn't allow for any other numbers to be blocked.

“Desk, is that you?” he asked as he accepted the call.

“Taylor, it is nice to speak to you again,” the AI answered. 

The fact that she had been created by none other than Vickie's mentor and Niki's sister Jennie meant she was a cutting-edge piece of technology that made it easy for him to forget that he talked to a sophisticated piece of software and not an actual human.

Which meant he wasn't sure how meaningful the AI's greeting was. Well, he knew she was an AI, but it was difficult to bring that to mind while talking to her.

“Is everything all right?” Desk asked.

“I…yeah, sure. I was a little lost in thought. How can I help you?”

“Only by accepting the message that Niki asked me to pass on to you. She said that her business in Washington might take a few more days. The DOD has asked her to finalize certain admin issues that have arisen with ending her contract and the establishment of the new task force. In the meantime, she is interested to find how work on the new base of operations is going.”

Taylor scowled. He did understand that Niki hadn't had a real home since she had worked for the FBI. Even so, the property he had picked up for bananas still needed a fair amount of work. He wanted it to be ready when she got back but there were no guarantees.

As it turned out, the reason why the previous owner needed to liquidate his assets was because he had been dealing with the IRS, who had conducted a very invasive search of his assets. Walls had holes in them, toilets had been ripped out of the floor, and the whole building was one hell of a mess.

It wasn’t quite as bad the strip mall had been when Taylor acquired it, but there was still a significant challenge ahead of him.

“I…I won’t make any promises, but I hope that with a little help from Bobby’s amazing construction network, it'll be livable by the time she gets back.”

“Fantastic,” Desk replied. “I'll tell her the news. Is there anything else that you'd like me to say to her?”

“Uh, tell her that…well, I'm looking forward to seeing her again.”

“Will do. Have a nice day!”

The line cut off and he realized that both Vickie and Bobby were staring at him.

“What?”

“You two are adorable.” She grinned and nudged him in the arm with her fist.

“That was Desk.”

“I know, but the message you sent to Niki…it’s adorable.”

The mechanic shook his head and returned to work.

“Adorable is right. Speaking of which, are you letting your hair grow? I thought you were rocking the whole GI Jane look but now, you can almost start braiding it.”

She touched the hair that fell almost halfway down her neck. “That's a pathetic deflection but…sure, why not? I won’t let it grow too long—that's a headache to take care of, as you well know—but I'm done with the old look. Besides, having it too long would suck in the suits, right?”

“Well, since you'll be technical support for most of the missions we go on, I doubt you'll be in the suits too much. I'm not saying you shouldn't be ready, but from what I remember, most of the women in the Zoo had varying lengths of hair. Those who had it longer had it tied up in buns and braids and shit and it fit in the suit well enough. I'm only saying you shouldn't knock it before you try it, you know?”

Vickie shrugged. “I can always cut it if I don’t enjoy it.”

“Besides, shouldn't you spend most of your time in school? Getting that degree and shit?”

The hacker shook her head. “No, not really. I…well, it's on break now, and I don't think I want to go back, you know?”

Taylor narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. “No, I don't know. What's with the change of heart?”

“I don't think I need it, is all. What do I need a college degree for anyway?”

“Because Niki will kill you if you drop out now. Seriously. She'll put the bullets in you by hand.”

“It's not like…I don't have a healthy fear of what my cousin can do. But what exactly will a college degree say about my credentials? Alongside all the other credentials too?”

“Getting a college degree shows—”

“Shows that I can see something out to the end. You told me, I know. But I'm already proving it by sticking it out here with you guys, right? I'll get more work done if I'm focused only on the job, and when we're finished or business is slow, I can get back to it. The credits will carry over and I'll pick up right where we left off.”

He sighed and rubbed his temples. “Okay, fine. But you have to tell Niki. And you won’t get that trust I set up for you until you graduate. The rules still stand.”

“Of course. I won't need that money for a while. I'm set up as it is.”

“I know but I want to keep the incentive there. You know I'm concerned about your future, right?”

Vickie rolled her eyes. “I know, Dad. Shit, what the hell will you talk to me about next? The birds and the bees? Because you should know that I watched that movie…Porkies, I think the name is, the other night.”

“Don't be shitty. I'm only looking out for you. And…Porkies? That movie's older than you are. Twice as old as you are. Hell, it's from before my time.”

“I'm merely trying to understand the older generations and I've decided that films from the time work as a perfect time capsule.”

Taylor narrowed his eyes but simply shrugged. He didn't want to get into a movie argument, not with her. She was a walking encyclopedia of pop culture present and past, and she would tear him apart.

“Fine. Whatev—”

His phone vibrated again. He looked at the screen and his squint turned into a scowl when he saw the name displayed.

“What the hell is Rod Marino calling you for?” Vickie asked and wore a glare that mirrored his. 

“Let's find out.” He shook his head and pressed the button to accept the call. “This is McFadden.”

____

It already feels like we are part of the crew hanging out with old friends, and hey, I could really go for a doughnut at this point. If you are like me and can hardly wait to see who Rod Marino is and why he is being met with glares, then go pre-order An Assassin's Accord on Kindle Unlimited. The good news is you won't have to wait long because An Assassin's Accord will be dropping on November 3rd.

 

An Assassin's Accord e-book cover