Triple Cross: The Dread Nought Book 1
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is especially true for Cassie, who was just trying to rob a store when she helps to stop a kidnapping instead and is whisked away on an adventure she did not sign up for.
1 – A Chance Encounter
Having finished her study of the store’s security cameras, Cassie adjusted her face mask beneath her oversized sunglasses and stepped outside. She turned right, leaving the camera shop with its bright, shiny toys behind. Moments later, she hunched to avoid hitting her head on the rusty metal scaffolding supporting the construction overhead.
The scaffolding hung too high above her to threaten her, but she found New York uncomfortable and strange. She trusted neither the buildings nor the people. She picked up speed as she walked parallel to the one-way traffic.
As she came out from under the scaffolding, she pulled her Cincinnati Reds baseball cap lower over her face.
Why wear the sunglasses and the cap? They might seem pointless to those who passed her. After all, direct sunlight almost never reached the street here, with its endless rows of tall stone and concrete buildings jammed together as far as the eye could see. But in her line of work, Cassie figured it was best to avoid offering fodder for easy identification by the myriad vidcams surveilling the street, even though she probably wouldn’t hit the camera store’s vault until next week.
Cassie scanned the scene for additional escape routes. Only one break in the relentless line of harsh facades existed, an alley that served primarily as a pay-to-park lot. Vehicles were jammed up on both sides of the single lane, packed as tightly as the buildings surrounding it.
It might do.
Around her passed pedestrians wearing black and gray with the occasional splash of white, perfect camouflage against buildings that shared similar shading. A speckling of people wore black or white or gray masks, indistinguishable from hers. Memory of the pandemic had faded into willful forgetfulness, but people had become comfortable enough with masks on the street that some people still wore them, and no one thought twice about it.
Factions in the government occasionally muttered about outlawing masks—they played havoc with the feds’ facial recognition software—but the mutterings always subsided into silence. The death of those efforts left Cassie sighing with relief. Her job was hard enough.
An unnatural splash of color exited the Sassoon Salon just beyond the parking alley and turned toward her. A young woman about Cassie’s age and height, maskless, flounced out with her long blonde hair bouncing behind her. Her sweater looked like the kind of brilliant blue and yellow jersey a cheerleader might wear. She even carried a shiny silver stick—too short to be a majorette’s baton but otherwise identical—and she was twirling it with unthinking ease.
A white van pulled up beside the blonde, proudly marketing its purpose on the side: HVAC. Refrigeration. Heating. Electricity.
Four men in black suits with black ties and black masks jumped out of the van to surround the girl. A man and a woman farther down the street wearing DKNY t-shirts and shorts appraised the evolving confrontation and crossed the street to stay clear.
Two of the suits tried to grab the cheerleader while the others turned to wave off anyone who might approach.
Cassie swore, “Why me?” into her mask. “It’s none of my business. Right?” Her feet instinctively turned to carry her across the street to avoid the confrontation.
She took a deep, angry breath, then continued muttering, “And yet, crap like this keeps happening to me. Coincidence, right? Right. But what difference does it make?” The suits reminded her of the ones who’d taken her boyfriend a few years earlier while she stood watching, helpless and useless. Not today.
She pursed her lips before yanking off her mask and her glasses. Erasing the anger from her face and giving the suits a full dose of her widest-eyed innocence, she approached the battle of thugs versus cheerleader with an easy swinging gait and a bright, clueless smile.
The intended victim of the grab had proven remarkably acrobatic. She had slithered out of the hands of her polite attackers twice. Meanwhile, the man blocking interference from Cassie’s part of the sidewalk faced off with her in a set position that made her think of the Hulk staring down a massive opponent. He pointed at the other side of the street with commanding, controlled determination. “Sidewalk’s closed, ma’am.”
Out of her black leather sling purse, Cassie pulled the two-pound exercise weight that fit neatly into her hand, stepped up close, and punched him in the throat.
The suit staggered back, squeaking out a warning.
Cassie paused for only a moment to grab her first opponent by the jacket and push him to the side before jumping at the next nearest attacker and swinging again. This one, however, had taken his partner’s gurgled warning to heart and blocked the punch. Cassie followed up with a kick to the groin, from which he twisted away.
The man grabbed her wrist and reached for her throat. Cassie’s free arm snaked past his attack. He caught her throat while she jammed her thumb in his eye. He gasped, released her, and stepped back.
At this point, the cheerleader snapped out her leg behind Cassie’s opponent, tripping him. As he fell backward, both Cassie and the cheerleader pushed him down until his head went crack! on the sidewalk.
Cassie jumped back up to confront the other two assailants, but they were both lying on the ground, one of them shaking like he had just been electrocuted. Amazed, she muttered, “We won.”
The cheerleader tapped her on the shoulder. “Not quite yet.” She pulled Cassie to the open door of the van and pushed her in. After leaping in herself, she climbed into the cab and tapped the driver on the side of the head with her now-full-length baton, whose rubber tip had slid down to expose a pair of short electrodes. The driver jerked, then slumped, and the cheerleader rushed with swift, graceful movements to unbuckle him and push him onto the street. She plunked into the driver’s chair and stomped on the gas. The van bounced twice as they accelerated, and the cheerleader winced. “Sorry,” she muttered under her breath.
Cassie wanted to ask what she was sorry about, but she was forced to swallow the words as the movements of the van hurled her against the edge of the van’s still-open door. As the crazy blonde swerved, a notebook marked Eyes Only flew across the interior and bounced on the sidewalk. Cassie grabbed wildly for the back of the passenger seat lest she involuntarily follow.
The cheerleader smiled over her shoulder. “You probably want to close that door. Then come ride shotgun.”
Dale Strickland, a team director of the Dread Nought Corporation, watched from a second-story window of the office building across the street as Remy Tambook bounced out of the Sassoon Salon. When a white van rolled up next to her, he swore. “Dammit, AID just showed up. Timmy, what’s your ETA?”
The earbud crackled as Timmy answered in disgust, “I’m still two minutes out. Bunch of tourists decided to cross the street in front of me.”
Dale couldn’t see that he had much choice. Though Dread Nought generally tried hard to avoid shooting wars with AID, his boss had declared Remy’s acquisition imperative at any cost. “Jake, you got a shot?”
Jake grunted. “Barely. The van’s in the way.”
Dale started to tell Jake to shoot anyway when another woman, a twenty-something with jet-black hair about the same length as Remy’s and about her size and build, strode gaily onto the scene. Something about her seemed more determined and focused than her easy, swinging stride and wide-eyed innocence suggested. He paused to see if the newcomer changed the equation in any useful way.
Besides, it was uncool to accidentally shoot bystanders.
The battle took no longer than he’d expected, but the outcome astonished him. He shared the brunette’s surprise when Remy appeared from behind the van, having apparently vanquished two of the assailants on her own, to assist in the final takedown of the Good Samaritan’s second foe.
Remy’s victory threw Dale’s timing off enough that he barked his orders a moment too late, “Jake! Shoot the tires!” By then, Remy had tossed out the driver and was accelerating. Jake’s hurried shots left pocks in the concrete pavement not far from the AID driver’s head. The van bounced twice when the driver’s side rear wheel rolled over each of the driver’s legs. Dale winced in sympathy for the AID operative. Sure, AID and Dread Nought were enemies on this street at this moment, but in his line of work, friends and enemies were fluid. Very fluid.
His Dread Nought van, a black vehicle advertising Linens a la Carte in an elegant pink font, slammed to a halt just before hitting the AID driver, who fortunately seemed to be unconscious and therefore unaware of his shattered lower body.
Timmy spoke wildly. “Who’s this? Where’s the target?”
Jake answered, annoyed, “She just grabbed the AID van.”
Dale continued, “That’s the AID driver in front of you.”
Timmy backed up a few feet. “Should I follow them?”
Dale frowned when the white van turned far down the street and disappeared. “She’s gone. Again.”
Jake swore. “That’s the luckiest damned chick in the universe.”
Dale shook his head. “Is she really? Lucky, I mean?”
* * *
Cassie sat quietly, wondering how she’d wound up here as the blonde wove through the city.
When they stopped for a red light, the cheerleader turned and beamed at her. “You can call me Remy, by the way. Thank you for rescuing me.”
Cassie frowned. “Did I actually rescue you? I get the feeling you would have done just fine without me.”
Remy answered noncommittally, “It’s always better to have an ally.”
Cassie turned interrogative. “Who were those guys anyway? Why were they chasing you?”
Remy gave her a sidelong glance. “Are you really sure you want to know?”
Cassie had suspected she might get the runaround, so she had prepared. She reached into her pocket, where she had slipped the wallet of the first man she had hit with her exercise weight as she pushed him aside. “AID,” she muttered. She squinted at the ID card. “Analytical Intelligence Division.” She grunted. “Division of what?”
Remy bounced in her seat. Cassie grabbed at the door handle as the van swerved wildly when Remy released the steering wheel to throw up both hands in a High-V cheer. “Most excellent! Cassie, you’re just as resourceful as I’d hoped you’d be.”
I bet Cassie is really second-guessing her decision to step in at this point. Also, how does Remy already know Cassie’s name? All this and more will be revealed when Triple Cross: The Dread Nought Book 1 is released on October 4th. Available for Pre-order now. In the meantime keep an eye out for a second snippet.