Ecochondriacs [23]

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Please note well: In case you were wondering, even though November is over, I will be publishing the rest of this book here, section by section. But if you can’t wait to see how it ends, you can order this book in hard copy, and the link for that is here. In addition, audio chapters are being recorded and released on the new Canon App.

Hasani Starts to Panic

Hugh Hasani—erstwhile assassination coordinator—was in a state of high panic, and in his case, the effects happened to be salutary. Many ordinary folks have noticed that the onset of panic has the unfortunate effect of scattering their wits. Hugh, whose wits were usually scattered already, discovered much to his great surprise that his panic was out there gathering up all his wits, and helping them all to walk in a straight line.

When he had first discovered that Steven Lee had taken the hit job away from him, and given it to that Rocco character, he had been dismayed. But most of his dismay on that point was simply over his loss of a client, and the resultant loss of revenue. Simple. But then, two days later, when he called the hospital to find out how Maurice was doing, what he had found out was that Maurice had died suddenly during the night, causes unknown. This does not usually happen as the result of a wound to the leg. Filled with sudden foreboding, he immediately tried to call Leon.

No one picked up after repeated tries, and so eventually he called Leon’s mother. She was so distraught . . . apparently Leon had gone out late the night before, still depressed from whatever had happened at work the other morning, and had jumped off a bridge. He was declared dead at the emergency room. Hugh stammered out his condolences, got off the phone, and started hopping around his office.

He had heard stories about Rocco, and when he had first heard them, he took sort of reflected pride in them. He and Rocco were both in the direct action business, no fooling around. But now that “no fooling around” bit seemed more ominous. Rocco hated loose ends. He wouldn’t just take the job, he would also clean up after the previous slipshod workers. “I have to be on that list,” Hugh thought. “Why did I have to go and mention Rocco to Lee? Rocco wouldn’t bump me off just to keep things tidy, and . . . yes, yes, he actually would.”

This continued on for about five minutes until Hugh started to get tired and out of breath—he was not in great physical shape, and so he sat down at his desk. It, like the rest of the office, was in tatters. If decorators had terms for this kind of thing, they would probably narrow it down to a choice between High Disheveled and Early Hand Grenade. He looked gloomily out over darkened room. “I am done. I have nothing to negotiate with.”

“Unless . . .” he thought, sitting up a little straighter. “Unless I had that Helen character. If I had her, I could name my price, and the very first part of my price would be that of not following in the unhappy footsteps of Maurice and Leon.”

Then he slumped in the chair again. How was he supposed to get Helen?

Leon had reported to him that she had been in the passenger seat of a dark Tahoe, with Maryland plates. Who on that street owned a Tahoe? He should be able to find that out. He should probably start with whoever lived right across the street. Helen’s apartment was right near the end of a cul de sac, and it is unlikely that she could have caught a ride from anyone “downstream.” Checking that out would be the only footwork that would be needed. The rest of it could be computer work, and he was good at hacking. He knew how to hack things.

By the following afternoon, he knew that the man across the street was named Cody Vance, that he taught at Liberty, and that the neighbors hadn’t seen him for a few days. The neighbors assumed that Hugh was a cop, because cops had been around a few days before asking the same sort of questions. They were consequently most helpful, and more than a little curious. “Any sign of Helen yet?” one of the women had asked. Hugh tried to answer her in a gruff and official way which might have given him completely away if she had been paying much attention to it. “No, no,” he said. “Very curious,” he added.

And by that evening, he had what he thought he needed. He had gotten into Vance’s email account, and had also cracked his text messages. Those text messages confirmed that Helen and Cody were together, and that they were still running, and it appeared they were running nowhere in particular. But then he ran into a wall. After this point, he had no way of chasing them, or finding them, or anything. However, the panic that was coursing through his veins was serving as makeshift adrenaline, and he suddenly had an idea. He could pretend that he had Helen and Cody.

But who should he pretend it to? Rocco? No, that man was a hardshell assassin, and would see right through a bluff like that. But Rocco was the one who was going to kill him deader than Leon, or perhaps Maurice. The ruse that he supposedly had Helen and Cody was information that needed to get to Rocco somehow, and in a believable way.

When he had been going through Cody’s texts, there was a group text thread that he hadn’t read, thinking it must be irrelevant if other people were involved in it, but a wave of second thoughts came over him. He went back and looked, and a wave of glee almost drowned his panic, almost. There he was, big as all get out. Larry Locke. Larry Locke was Hugh’s very own personal antichrist. And then Jill Stevens? Stevens, Stevens. That was the name of that senator’s tall but fetching staffer, not that she was Hugh’s type. She was the one he had to go through whenever he had to set up a phone call with Hart, for those occasional times when he finally got up the energy to put the screws to her.

He stewed about it for several hours, and enough of an idea began to take shape that he thought he had been struck by the muse of dirty deals. There was no telling when Rocco was going to send somebody around to tidy up the loose end that his mother had once called Hughie.

He would create a false account and text Larry Locke with the information that he had Helen and Cody, and would Locke be interested in arranging a ransom payment? Hugh was fairly certain that Rocco would be into their accounts also, and that would let Rocco know that he had Helen and Cody in his custody. He, Hugh, was not to be trifled with.

Hugh thought that and then remembered Rocco’s face, and quavered a little bit. The only problem he could see would be if the real Helen or Cody, running around loose, texted Larry or Jill about meeting or something. After pondering a bit, Hugh thought he could go into Larry and Jill’s accounts and just block Cody and Helen. That would fix that.

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