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Beautiful Russian Monster
Author: Odette Stone





Friday, 11 p.m.




I waited until the moon floated behind dark rain clouds before I left the safety of the tree line. I ran hard and fast up the wet, shale-covered mountain ridge. I didn’t slow down when my feet felt like they were encased in cement or when my lungs felt like they would burst into flames. I passed over the top of the ridge and then made my way down the other side, back toward the tree line. When my feet slid beneath me, I resisted leaning back to let gravity slow me down. I gave my body no mercy, no relief, until I reached the trees and could take cover in shadows. Quietly panting, I stopped and looked over my shoulder. I couldn’t see anything, but I felt something in the darkness behind me.

Hating how the hairs on my arms were standing straight up, I pulled my thermal night scope from my rifle bag and systematically scanned the darkness behind me. My rifle scope was powerful, and if something out there had warm blood, I would see it from almost one thousand yards away. I did a slow scan, but no color registered in my scope. I stood, listening for a long moment, hearing nothing but silence come back at me.

Get moving.

I pushed into the heavy bush, slowing my pace to adjust to the pale moonlight that cast long silver shadows through the empty branches above my head. It wasn’t the best light, but it was enough that I didn’t need to turn on my night vision. I hiked my way down through the trees until I came to the edge of the steep ridge that overlooked a huge house.

Using the night scope of my gun, I did a sweep of the property. The building was a monstrosity built of stone and logs. The two armed men at the gate guarded only the front of the home, erroneously believing that no one would climb over a mountain and down a ridge to gain access from the back.

They don’t know men like me.

I lay on the cold ground and got snug beneath a low-hanging bush to set up my high-powered rifle. The branches allowed me complete visual access in all directions but provided limited coverage from the icy rain. I loaded my rifle, attached my thermal scope, and did a wind and pressure check. The ground was slick with cold mud, and despite my high-grade military gear, dampness seeped through my pants. I forced myself to ignore the feeling that my nuts were on ice.

I systematically moved my scope from window to window, taking surveillance of whomever I could find. Two staff members folded towels in the kitchen. One of them slipped outside for a cigarette while the other moved out of sight, carrying an armful of towels. Upstairs, a slight, elderly woman with long silver hair lay curled up on her bed beneath a fuzzy blanket. I searched the rest of the second-floor widows, but I saw no one else.

On the other side of the gate, media trucks lined up like vultures, waiting for a glimpse of tragedy or pain that they could later sell as entertainment. Men stood around in small groups, smoking and chatting. A woman did her makeup while her cameraman checked his camera.

Lights from a vehicle glimmered in the rain. My scope stopped momentarily at the front gate, and camera flashes exploded into the night. Through the windshield, I glimpsed a professional driver. In the back seat, a woman with oversized sunglasses and a cap of shoulder-length black hair ducked forward and covered her face.

The car pulled in front of the house and out of view. Using the scope of my gun, I trained my vision through the window and onto the front door. She walked through the house, tossed her bags carelessly on the table. Without talking to the staff downstairs, she made her way up the massive staircase to the second floor. Despite her oversized sweater and long, flowing skirt, I could see she was almost too thin for her frame. Her shape was lost beneath the flow of fabric that seemed to move with her.

I watched as the door to the older woman’s room opened. The older woman sat up and held out her arms. The younger woman flew into them, and they clung to each other in a silent embrace.

I dialed the number on the cell they had given to me. “My target just arrived,” I murmured. “Slender, dark hair.”

The voice I had come to hate spoke into my headset. “Stand by and wait for further instructions.”






Six hours earlier




The weekend was approaching, and I had booked a week off to go fishing. I had packed my truck and was ready to leave. All I had to do was get through this one last meeting.

I smiled noncommittally at our guest, not bothering to listen as he and my business partner, Andrusha, exchanged pleasantries. I rarely cared what someone said, but rather focused on how they said it. The man before us spoke with a glib tone and an insincere smile. I disliked him almost immediately.

None too soon, Andrusha leaned back, switching gears. “Drake, what can we help you with?”

Drake opened up his tablet and got down to business. “You are the two owners who run this security firm?”

“That’s correct.”

He checked his notes. “You both served in the Russian military and then you immigrated to Canada. Viktor, you were in special forces and then you were dishonorably discharged?”

He glanced up at me, but I refused to react. He continued speaking. “Andrusha, you recently served time in jail for racketeering but got out early for good behavior?”

I watched as my partner reacted to that personal truth about himself. Andrusha didn’t hide these facts, but we buried them deep enough that few people figured it out. The ones who did… had big connections. Now he was reassessing our client. “We walk the straight and narrow. Every service we provide is legitimate and legal.”

Drake didn’t bat an eye. “I’m not worried. I heard your business provides specialized services.”

“That depends on the service required.” Andrusha spoke with an ease to his voice. He was far better at dealing with assholes than I was.

Drake leaned forward. “A shipping tycoon has gone missing, and we think there is a connection with his granddaughter.”

I studied him without letting on that I was watching. The guy was lying about something.

Andrusha frowned and looked at his own notes. “You said on the phone you were federal government?”

“We’re somewhere between federal defense and the military.”

“Between?” Andrusha paused and looked up. “What department would that be?”

“That’s classified.”

“What do you need from us?”

“We tend to contract out the drama so we can focus our energy on the bigger picture.”

“I see.” Andrusha’s tone sounded measured and calm. Too calm.

“And we’d like to keep this off the books.”

“How far off the books?”

“All the way.”

Andrusha and I made eye contact for half a second.

This job is complete bullshit. Andrusha read my thoughts loud and clear. We both had a say on new clients, but this time I didn’t have to say anything. He didn’t like this job any more than I did. “Like I mentioned, we’re trying to stay credible with the CRA.”

“You’d still be working for the good guys. The only difference is… less paperwork.”

Andrusha’s mask slipped slightly, showing his impatience. “All the same, we’re going to take a pass.”

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