After two years of heavy hard hitting make or break cases and a little arm twisting Maria as take her family to Sicily on vacation. Unknown to them or the OICA a deadly ghost from the past would rear its ugly bringing with it death and destruction.
by Snowfall and Jessie Wolf.
Dedicated to the men and women of the US Marshal Service.
Edited by my husband Paul, and AJC Snowfall.
Milan, Italy, 1530
Once again Maria parked on a side street and led her granddaughters to a storefront. As she walked through the door, the owner came running up to her. “Maria! It’s been ages dearie! Where have you been?”
Maria just smiled and hugged the excited old woman. “Hello, Grace. It’s good to see you too. How has business been?”
“Up and down. As always, in the fashion world.” Grace stepped back looked over at the teens and Anna. Stepping around Maria, Grace pulled Anna into a welcoming hug. “Anna, my dear. You look well. How’s the shoulder?”
Anna gave Grace a sly look before asking. “And why would there be anything wrong with my shoulder, Grace?”
“Oh, please! The Nightingale gets stabbed in the shoulder during a fight, the whole underworld knows about it. Faster than a zipper can be pulled down during Fashion Week.” The older woman joked. “Now, tell me the truth, old friend.”
“It is coming along just fine, Grace. It still gives me a twinge every now and then, but nothing more than that. So, tell us, what have you been up to? Your old tricks maybe, or have you learned some new ones?” Anna smirked.
“Oh, like all old dogs, I too can learn a few new tricks here and there.” Grace said with a sly smile. Then looking at both Anna and Maria. “So, what brings the Dove and Nightingale to my shop?”
“Girls, this is part of your education. So pay close attention.” Maria told Kasey and Kristine. “We have need of your real merchandise Grace. Information.”
The old woman gave Kasey and Kristine a harsh look before walking over a table of to one side of the shop. With a wave for Maria and Anna to join her, Grace asked. “Do your granddaughters know how to serve tea, Maria?”
“Kasey, Kristine. Please see to our tea?” Maria never took her eyes off her old friend and Information Brooker. “Is it your usual Russian Caravan Black Tea Blend?”
“You know me so well, Maria.” Grace laughed as she nodded her head. “You know I will never give up my one true vice.”
The three older women laughed as Kasey and Kristine started preparing the tea. Grace Vanderpelt watched the two teens like a hawk. Little did Kasey and Kristine know, that this little ritual was in truth a test. One that would have a far-reaching impact on not only this mission, but their careers later in life. When the girls had prepared the tea, and set the Russian tea cakes to serve, Grace smiled.
“You’ve taught them well, Maria.” Grace’s smile grew as the teens placed the tea and cakes on the table then stepped back while folding their hands at their waists. “Now, old friend, what shall we talk about?”
“Casa di pioggia, vecchio amico.” Maria placed five golden coins on the tray as she served herself. “Tell me about the renovations.”
Grace just picked the coins up and handed them back to Maria. “This one is on me, Maria. No charge. I have kept my eyes on that property since you first came to me more than thirty years ago. Why come to me about it now?”
“I have come to collect on a contract, and I am not alone.” Maria told her as she returned the coins to her pocket.
“Maria, I love you as a friend, but you’re going to need more than the Nightingale and a pair of untried apprentices. You’ll need an army to take down that house.” Grace informed Maria.
“The Tulip, Ballerina and their husbands the Jokers are with me.” Just as Maria had hoped the news of there being two new million-euro hitters had reached Europe already. She could tell by the look on Grace’s face. Stopping her old friend’s next question before it could be asked. “Yes, I trust them, they are family after all.”
“WAIT! Did you say family?” Looking over at the teens. “Then those two truly are more than just your apprentices, but your actual granddaughters?”
“They are exactly that, my dear Grace.” Maria smirked then took sip from her tea. “Now, why will I need an army for Casa di pioggia?”
“For starters; the Carabinieri, the Guardia di Finanza and Polizia di Stato just recently pulled their surveillance on the house. Whomever owns it now has considerable pull. The surveillance has been in place for more than two years, and it was just pulled with no reason given. Over the last two years the house has undergone a total renovation inside, while the outside was only repaired as per the historical committee. So, no one really knows what the inside looks like. Next, there is a four-man continuous patrol of the property. Not an easy job as most of the surrounding farmland has been returned to open pastureland.”
When Grace started talking about Hines’ new safe house, Kasey and Kristine pulled out notepads and started taking notes. Grace, Maria and Anna smiled at the teens attention to detail. “They’ll do you proud, Maria. Now, where was I? Oh yes, the surrounding farmland. As I said; it is now open pastureland. The new owner fancies himself a breeder of fine horses. Six new stables have been built, along with matching hay barns and two of those American style grain silos. There is no curtain wall surrounding the farm, but there is a ten-foot sound-barrier wall running the length of the front property line. The only access point is a ten-foot powered iron gate, controlled by a standing twenty-four-hour guard. The gate is the only improvement to the front wall security. It is one of those high-security gates that drops into a six-inch-deep grove in the driveway. As for the interior security; no one knows what is there and isn’t anymore. I have not had enough time to gather the needed information on that, old friend. So, your guess is as good as mine.”
Kasey looked up at Grace. “Excuse me madam, but what can you tell us about the surrounding farms? Are they corporate owned or still privately owned?”
All three women chuckled, as Grace gave Kasey a delighted smiled. “SHE truly is your granddaughter, Maria. To ask that question shows that she wishes to know more about the area surrounding a possible target than most.” Looking up at the blushing Kasey. “No need to be embarrassed young lady, that was a valid question. The answer to that; is no. The surrounding farms are still privately owned. The corporations have yet to crack these old farm families. Does this help you?”
“Si, madam. The security of those farms will just be the owners. Not corporate security guards. That is something we can work with.” Kasey answered.
Kristine asked the next question. “Madam when the Carabinieri, the Guardia di Finanza and Polizia di Stato had the house under surveillance, what farm did they use and would it be possible for us to use that same farm?”
Grace gave Kristine the same look and nodded. “Very good little one. Very good indeed. The farm the authorities used belongs to the neighbor Pietro and Leonora Lambardi. As for you being able to use their farm as well; I believe so. For the right price, anything can be had in that part of Italy right now.”
Kasey asked one more question. “Ma’am, has the house been staffed yet?”
Grace shook her head no. “Not as of yet, young lady. The property manager has not even put out feelers for staffing. Which is highly unusual for such a large house in that area. They would have put out feelers no later than five days ago. Does this help you?”
“Yes, ma’am it does. Thank you.” Kasey answered with a smile.
Maria and Anna had hide their smiles of pride with the teens with their tea cups. Kasey and Kristine had just gained not only a valuable lesson, but intel. Setting their cups down both women stood up smiling with Maria replacing the gold coins on the silver tea tray. “As always it has been a pleasure doing business, Grace. Come along girls, we have much planning to do.”
Grace went to pick the coins up and return them when Maria stopped her. “You have earned those Grace. They are for both the information and help with the lesson for my granddaughters’ education.”
Grace nodded her head in understanding. “Please do not take so long between visits Maria. Neither of us are getting any younger.”
“I’ll try not to, Grace. Have a good day.” With that Maria led her granddaughters and Anna from the shop. Once the door closed behind them, Grace called out.
“You can come out now, Gretchen. They have gone.” A young girl about seventeen-years old stepped out from behind the shop curtain and out of the backroom. “Did you learn anything today, my dear?”
“Si, Nonnina. It is best to be honest with whoever you deal with. We did not have any knowledge on the inside of the house, but plenty on the outside. When the teenagers asked about the surrounding area of the farm; the older one seemed interested in the number of barns, grain silos and stables. The younger want to know where the police had set up their surveillance from and if the people there could be bought off. It was as if they were the ones planning the assault on the target. Lastly, this is not a normal Contract.”
Grace looked at her granddaughter intently. “And what lead you to that conclusion Gretchen?”
“The Dove has brought her whole family, plus the Nightingale, with her to carry out the contract, Nonnina.” Gretchen smiled at her grandmother. “She has never done this before. Her reputation, and that of her daughters, proceed them. They’re solo hitters. They would never work willing with someone else unless there was great need.”
Grace nodded in approval. “Very good dear. Now, what can you tell me about her granddaughters being with her? Surely the Dove wouldn’t place them in danger?”
“I believe she would Nonnina. After all, we’re talking about the DeMarcos here. Both of those girls were the right age to earn their bones by that family’s traditions. Only the Capizeos would send them in younger. Thank the good Lord that the last of them have gone on to their Heavenly reward.” Gretchen shivered at the thought of the Capizeo family still being around.
Grace looked at her granddaughter. “You have made only one mistake in your summarization Gretchen. The last Capizeo was just standing in this shop. They have not yet gone quietly into the night.”
“But the reports out of Sicily and the United States all say they were wiped out to the last.” Gretchen wanted to believe in the reports from her contacts. That they had to be correct, and her grandmother was just fantasying.
“No child, they were not. The heiress to that very deadly line of assassins was just in our shop. I know their blades as well as I know my own hand. The petite one carries the Capizeo dagger and the will to use it. The rumors are true and one of Marco and Mary Elisabeth Capizeo’s children did survive that terrible night. That girl maybe have been here with Maria DeMarco posing as her granddaughter, but she was not by a long shot. That girl is only her second most treasured apprentice.”
Gretchen was now confused and asked. “Who is the first Nonnina? The other girl?”
“Very preceptive of you Gretchen, but no. Maria DeMarco’s most treasured apprentice is her daughter, then her granddaughter that was here with her. Those two girls will follow in their mothers’ footsteps, but it will be their mothers’ who will inherited Maria’s titles.”
“I don’t understand Nonnina. What titles?” Gretchen asked, still puzzled.
Grace sighed and looked her granddaughter in the eyes. “If you have yet to gather that information for yourself child, then you are not yet ready to take over for me.”
The lesson had been harsh as it had been necessary. If Gretchen Vanderpelt was to take over her grandmother’s business one day, she still had a lot to learn. There were still the other rumblings coming from Russia. It seemed there was someone new that had been stalking the night in Moscow. Someone that had no interest in becoming known.
The road to Venice 1600
Maria had called Annette and the others shortly after leaving Grace’s shop. With the half hour head start the adult members of the Black Badges reached Pietro Lambardi’s farm well ahead of them. Not that it mattered as Maria was taking her time, allowing Kasey to drive the ALOC while Anna road with her. As they drove through the Veneto regain of Italy, Maria took the time to talk to her oldest friend.
“Anna, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way.” Maria never got to finish the sentence as Anna sighed and interrupted her.
“You don’t want me out there with you tonight.” Anna knew that all the team members were worried about her. “If I promise you, my Donna, that this will be my last time; will you drop this nonsense? I know that I am close to retirement.”
“HELL! We both are Anna. We should have stepped aside long ago and let Annette and Samantha handle these contracts. The mess in South Carolina should have been a wake-up call for both of us. Last night, neither of us was truly at the top of our game. If it had come down to a fight, one of us could have been killed.”
“I know this, my Donna. It’s just that I am not ready to give up just yet. I still feel the call of the Creed.” Anna told Maria honestly.
“Anna, please, do you think I do not understand. I too, still feel the call and desire to fulfill a contract with my own skills. But we must face facts Anna. In the words of the famous Detective ‘We’re too old for this shit.’”
Anna had to laugh at Maria’s use of a movie tag line. Her laughing caused a twinge of pain to shoot through her bad shoulder. Grabbing her shoulder and groaning, Anna just gave Maria a dirty look. “You cannot tell me you your hip is not bothering you Maria. I saw you stretching out this morning. You have not done that in years.”
“True and it has been years since I last slept in the front or back seat of a car. And no comments about doing THAT. Why didn’t you use the drop-down bed in the ALOC?”
“Bah! You’re one to talk. Why didn’t you use that bed? You have just as much right to it as I do.” Anna thought she had Maria on this and smiled.
“Because, I had this nice long wide front seat to lie down on. Now, answer my question. Why didn’t you use the bed?” Maria demanded.
Anna turned and looked out the passenger window as the Veneto countryside. “I did not want to show weakness in front of your grandchildren, my Donna.”
Maria sighed then pulled out her satellite phone. Hitting the button to connect to the Commend Center back on Ram’s Rock Island, Maria waited for it to be answered.
Krystel answered before the first ring ended. “Ram’s Rock Island School for bad little girls, how may I direct your call?”
Maria chuckled at Krystel’s attempt at humor. “Krystel, do you have an update on the other teams for me?”
“Yes ma’am. If by teams, you mean the rest of your family and the Alpha team.” Krystel replied.
“I do. Now please be more professional, dear.” Maria hadn’t meant to be short with the cyber-operations specialist, but her talk with Anna had disturbed her. If her oldest and most trusted friend didn’t want show weakness in front of her grandchildren. Then what was she doing?
Krystel picked up the distress in Maria’s voice and got down to business. “Understood, Marshal. At present time, the DeMarco family members are all reunited in Romount, Switzerland. Their operations at the two alternate sites went off without incident. Textbook perfect for both operations, ma’am. As of eleven-hundred Alpha team is in Venice awaiting further Intel on Tango-One’s location. I don’t know if Gemini told you, but we were able to recover the security details, for ALL of his places. That includes his safe houses. And all his BANKING information!”
“Now, that is some welcome news, Krystel. Let me think about how best to use this information for a second.” Maria got a thoughtful look and far away gaze on her face as she thought about how best to use this new information. Then looking out the windshield at a passing billboard and idea came to here. “Krystel, pass the security Intel onto Gemini One. Withhold the banking data on Tango-One, for now.”
“No problem, Marshal. I can do that. WHY though? Don’t you want to let them bankrupt that pervert?” Krystel asked, knowing the two teens would enjoy it.
“No, that job falls to you my dear. Gemini will be far too busy handling their assigned tasks as is, without that one as well. No, I need you to strip those accounts down to the bone. Leave the man enough for K-Mart blue light sale socks. Put the money into the recovery fund please, minus a ten percent processing fee.”
Maria heard a squawk from Krystel, followed by a hard swallow. “Marshal, you do realize that is more than fifteen million dollars?”
“Oh, that is a little more than I expected. Oh well, no matter. It's bad business to set lower processing fees for one-time customers. That sets a horrid precedent.” Maria stated.
Krystel chuckled at Maria’s joke, not realizing that Maria was being honest. “Okay, Marshal I’ll make sure that everything is setup and ready to go the moment you hit Tango-one’s compound. Where do you want the Alpha strike team to rendezvous?”
Maria informed her. “There is a farm next to Tango-One’s current location. The farm belongs to Pietro Lambardi, have them rendezvous with us there at nineteen-thirty. I believe that you have a hard lock on all four trucks?”
“Solid lock on the ALOC and Gray Ghost, Marshal, but only intermediate contact with Big Blue and Black Beauty. Any idea as to why?” Krystel asked.
Anna smiled and spoke up. “They are probably parked inside an old barn, Krystel. One with enough holes in the roof for you to pick up their locator signals, but not lock onto.”
“Why in the hell would they do that?” Krystel asked.
“One of the best places to hide a truck on a farm is in a barn.” Anna told her.
“Dur, now why didn’t I think of that?” Both women could hear the face-palm even though they couldn’t see it. “Do you have an ETA for your regrouping with the rest of your team Marshal?”
“ETA, two hours, Krystel. As for a mission time frame zero-one-thirty local time. Be advised that Gemini will be running as sniper over-watch again. You’ll have operational control from the time the mission clock starts.” Maria didn’t mix her words.
Krystel protested. “Wait a minute, Marshal. Does the Major know what you’re planning on doing here?”
“THIS is none of his concern Stronghold. Do I make myself CLEAR on this matter?” Maria could not see the look on Krystel’s face. If she had, she would not be pleased.
“Marshal, you have readily available assets that can perform that tasking in the area. You do not need to use Gemini for that. You have what you need to handle the operation without placing them on the line.” Krystel tried to redirect.
“I will use every last asset at my disposal to end this nightmare, once and for all. This is no longer a normal operation, as you would put it. This is a Contract for Blood Payment. They called the tune in the States. I plan on calling for the piper’s payment in Italy.” The iron of Maria’s conviction rolled into and filled her voice.
Thousands of miles away Krystel sat back in true stunned silence. Lyssa had told them all more than once that Maria and the DeMarco family were different from them. For the first time Krystel was forced to face just how different that family was. As she sat there, a thought came to her.
‘If the DeMarco’s were willing to send in a teenager to fulfill an assassination contract, what of the Capizeo’s? Maria once said that the DeMarco clan was second only to the Capizeo family. Samantha Justice was the last of the Capizeo’s and she was one of the people training Kasey and Kristine. Would she really condone Kristine killing someone at such a young age? Sam had already given the go for Kristine to handle Mongoose operations once. What would stop her now?’
The answer to that question was soon given by Maria. “They are ready for their bones Krystel. We can no longer hold them back. This is the way of the DeMarco and Capizeo families. Please understand this, and do not try to change mine or my family’s minds on this matter.”
“Understood Madam Maria, but may I say something?” there was a harshness to Krystle’s voice that Anna and Maria both had been expecting.
“Of course, Krystel. You need not withhold your censure of my decision.” Maria knew that what she said, and about to, would calm a good deal of the cyberwarfare specialist’s ire. “I’m expecting no less from you.”
“I hope like hell you and the others are ready for the nightmares those two girls will have if they have to pull that trigger. That's all.” The line phone went as Krystel cut the connection leaving Anna and Maria sighing.
Anna shook her head. “I hate to say this Maria, but they will never understand our family traditions. I believe that only Prima Lyssa truly accepts our traditions.”
“Anna, of all the members of the OICA, only my dear Paulo and Lyssa understand the Family Creeds and the traditions tied to them. Perhaps not entirely, but enough. Krystel is a sweet young woman with a great heart and truly does mean well. I thank every day for her and the guidance she gives the girls.” As Maria returned her attention to driving Anna turned her eyes towards the countryside.
“I would love to retire here one day. I have always love the Veneto regain of Italy. Nothing big for me though, just a small villa with a view of the open countryside to spend my last days tending a garden of my own. Maybe a little vineyard to make my own wine.” Looking over at Maria with a wistful smile. “It is a lovely dream no, old friend?”
Maria looked over at Maria. “Yes, it is, Anna. Maybe we can make it happen. I will admit, the home we have now, is quite nice. It is nice to simply laze about under the sun and shade, listening to the ocean, while the children play on the beach.”
The farm of Pietro and Leonora Lambardi, Via Altinia, Venice, Italy, 1745
Samantha stepped outside as to meet with Leonora Lambardi. Samantha knew the old woman didn’t speak English, so she kept to Italian. “Signora, we have a few more people joining us tonight. Will this be a problem?”
The older woman gave her a hard stare before asking. “Why has Interpol come here? When the Carabinieri, the Guardia di Finanza, and Polizia di Stato want nothing to do with those people now?”
Samantha knew that she had to handle this with a soft touch. “The man who had owns that house is an American criminal, ma’am. He is wanted on many charges in his home country. Some of which are high treason, murder and the kidnapping of children for his own sexual pleasure and sale to others like himself.”
Leonora Lambardi had heard many horrible things in her life. Yet to have an Inspector from Interpol tell her, that such a monster lived next door to her, was beyond her experience. If this Inspector had told that her neighbor was a Mafia Don, Leanora would have just shrugged her shoulders and said have fun, but don’t ruin my flowerbeds. If they had told her the man was a dealer of illegal firearms and drugs she would have just held out her hand and asked for more money. If the Interpol Inspectors had said the man was an American millionaire with stolen artwork or something like that she would have ordered them off her property, keeping the money she had already been paid.
“If this is so Inspector? Then where are the Americans? Why are they not here to handle their own criminal?” Leonora asked.
Samantha had expected this and was prepared for it. “The two men that are with us are American United States Deputy Marshals. Their Marshal is on her way here as we speak, along with more Deputies, ma’am. They plan to take that monster into custody and transport him back to America to stand trial for his crimes. Men such as him, do not fare well in their prisons.”
Leanora gave Samantha a hard look. “If he has done only a third of what you have said Inspector. Then he does not deserve that kind of treatment.” Leanora looked out over her farmland towards where Hines’ home would be. “This is the type of man that should face the Wraiths of the Moonless night.”
Samantha froze. “Excuse me, ma’am, but what do you know of the Moonless Wraith Guild?”
“Only that they have faded into history, Inspector. The legends that surround them go as far back as the late thirteen hundreds. How they were the ones to bring justice, to the arrogant nobility who abused the peasants that worked the land. The Moonless Wraiths were said to flow like shadows made of the blackest night delivering the Right Hand of Lady Justice to all with equality. None were above their brand of justice, and none ever escaped them.”
Sam just smiled as she placed a finger to the side of her nose. “Sometimes; just sometimes, ma’am. What we believe lost to the past, is not lost at all. Only to be further hidden; by the shadows of the night.”
Leanora could not believe her ears. Here was an Inspector for Interpol, one of the most respected police forces in all of Europe, telling her that the most feared Guild of Assassins was still alive. In her mind, that made this woman before her; a member of that feared Guild.
Placing her left hand over her right with palms together, just as her mother had taught her, Leanora curtsied to Samantha. “May your journey in the night, be quiet and your passing, unseen. Go with our blessing; bringer of justice.”
It had been a long, long time since Samantha had been treated to the traditional greeting to her family. So long in fact, that she almost forgot how to reply. Placing her hands in the reverse position, Samantha returned the curtsy. “I am, but a shadow in the night, passing quietly to my destination. I leave peacefully, fading into the depths of the Moonless night.”
Leanora moved her right hand away from her chest holding it flat with the palm down. “Then pass in peace Wraith, knowing that you are welcome at my hearth.”
Samantha smiled as the old woman turned and walked away. Samantha just turned and walked back inside the barn. Bobby, walked up to her. “We going to have problems with them, Sam? This operation has already screwed the pooch once.”
“No Bobby, we’re good here. Mama will get a warm welcome by the old lady when she gets here. Mrs. Lambardi is a student of the old ways.” Sam’s words caught Annette’s attention causing her to give her a strange look. Sam just placed her hands together with a sly smile.
“You have got to be kidding? She really gave you that ancient greeting?” Annette asked in total shock.
“Not only did she greet me, but insured her secrecy to us being here.” Sam told all three of them.
“Damn! I guess these old timers really do respect the old ways.” Hunter quipped. Annette and Samantha gave him a pair of harsh looks. “Okay, what did I do to piss in your tea, ladies?
Bobby sighed and looked at Hunter. “Bro, you got to remember our wives come from two very old family bloodlines. To them, the old ways are still relevant.”
Hunter face-palmed and groaned. “Sorry, girls. I’m an idiot. I forget at times, that what may be outdated and useless to me, is still very much a part of your family traditions. What I grew up with, is not what you grew up with.”
Both women sighed and gave the big man a hug of forgiveness. Annette smiled as stepped back looking up at him. “We forgive you Hunter. One of these days you’re going to have to open up to us about where, and how, you grew up though. Just so we can get a better idea about where you come from.”
“What’s to tell love. I never did know my parents. Dad died before I was born. Mom, passed shortly after I was born. Killed in a strong-arm robbery gone bad at the local stop-n-go. I was only eight months old. Grandparents couldn’t take me in, due to health issues. At least that’s what my caseworkers were willing to tell me. After that, I grew up in the system. Got bounced around from home to home until I turned seventeen. The day that happened I talked my foster parents into signing the dotted line with me. I was off to Bootcamp six weeks later and I never looked back. Made my way up the ranks, and volunteered for Airborn, then Ranger training and went LRSD in my third year. Reupped once more as an MP before becoming pissed with certain policies being enacted by the Administration and ETSed. I had gotten my degree in Criminal Justice while I was in, by taking correspondence courses. Applied to the Marshals and the rest is history. Bobby and Sam have a pretty good idea of what types of cases I’ve worked as a Deputy.”
“You could say that. Going after the biggest rats in the sewer when most wouldn’t. Twenty-eight serial rapists, nineteen pedophiles, thirty-nine multiple murders, and forty-four drug smugglers and dealers just to name a few, Annette.” Bobby said with pride in the man he called brother.
“Damn! I thought that you only hunted escapees Hunter?” said Annette in wonder.
“Sis, our second husband is one of the best and highest decorated Deputies there is.” The rest of Sam’s reply was cut short by the sound of two trucks pulling up outside. “Looks like mama, Anna and the girls finally caught up.”
The four adults stepped outside to greet the four missing members of their team. When the teens climbed out of the ALOC still dressed in the clothes from Stephano’s Fine Leathers both women stopped cold. Annette and Samantha booth turned to look at each other, then nodded with Annette saying. “It is time. Mama, won’t have stopped at Stephano’s if she felt different.”
“True. At least they will be well protected. I can tell that is some of his finest work even from here.” Sam’s jealousy was evident in her voice. “It seems that mama spared no expense for them. I do wonder why she had them wear their new outfits all the way here though?”
“To get them used to the feel, and break in the leather some.” Anna answered as she walked over to the two younger women. “You should know that, girls. Stephano, may be one of the finest Designers of custom leather goods, but even his designs need to be worn for a time, until they are fully broken in.”
Both Sam and Annette had to giggle at the emphasis on the last two words. For Bobby and Hunter seeing their teenage daughters dressed in black leather jumpsuits, matching knee-high high-heel boots, was disconcerting to say the least. Neither man was ready for their daughters to appear so grown up and sexy. While the jumpsuits appeared to be stylish in nature, they were very curve conscious. The open crossover flap and zipped down bodice showed, in their opinion far too much cleavage. The girls’ black hair hung lose about their shoulders and down to the middle of their backs. While the modest amount of makeup they wore enhanced their beauty and allure further than normal. Up into the range that of runway models.
“I don’t care what else happens, Bobby. Those two do not ever wear those outfits off the fucking island without us around.” Hunter coughed.
“I prefer that they go nowhere not under armed guard, bro. Preferably us.” Sam, Annette, Maria and Anna heard what Bobby had said and started laughing. For Kasey and Kristine their fathers’ comments were just embarrassing to the teenagers.
Anna looked over at Bobby with a smile. “You forgot to clean your shotgun as you said that Robert. It fails to have the full impact.”
All the adults laughed at Anna’s joke while the teenagers just blushed. Seeing this, Annette pulled Kasey into a hug while Sam did the same for Kristine. Both women whispered something to the girls that made smile and stop blushing. Bobby and Hunter would find out what was said to the girls later that night.
“Okay, people. What have you been able to scope out about Hines’ new bolt-hole?” Maria asked of the adults.
Hunter and the others became serious. “Thanks to those drones, a lot Marshal. We know that there are six infiltration points, with another seven possible routes. We have four solid sniper nest points, with full coverage of the rear and sides of the house. All four are within easy range of the house and in sight of the other nests. So, whoever is in over-watch and spotter will be able to cover each other. The horse stables are currently empty as shown by the thermo-cams scans. So, the worry about the stray stable hand is off the table. That’s all of the good news.”
Maria looked over at Bobby who had a ‘why did I eat that’ look on his face. “I take it by the look on your face Robert that the bad news is rather distasteful?”
“You could say that, Marshal.” Bobby sighed. “While we do have plenty of access routes, we have only three exits if things get hairy. Ones that will leave all of us hanging in the wind without sniper cover. We have been able to confirm only a total of sixteen guards. We know from pervious Intel that he has at least twice that many personal guards. At present four of the sixteen are on a roving patrol in pairs of two in three groupings, with one guard stationed on the main gate. That is the total that we have been able to find. We have no idea of how large of a household staff Hines’ has at this house.”
“I see. Then what I learned is only confirmed by what you have just told me. Not that it will matter. Not in the long run. This nightmare ends tonight.” There was a conviction in Maria’s voice that had not been heard by Sam or Annette in a long time. It was the conviction of the Mistress for the Moonless Wraith Guild. For Bobby and Hunter there was something else in Maria’s voice. Something that they had not heard since their days in LRSD and Group. Death was coming to dinner and Hell was the entree.
“Any word on the Alpha Strike Team, Marshal?” Hunter asked.
“They will rendezvous with us here at later tonight. Stronghold will be running coms for both teams through the ALOC up link.” Maria turned and looked at her granddaughters. “You girls will be in sniper over-watch again. Kristine, you will not be spotting for your sister this time. You will have your own area of responsibility and own targets. Can you girls handle this? I want the truth.”
The teenagers didn’t even look away as they answered. They had already faced their fears the night before. They had shown themselves as a true part of the team. Now, their grandmother was asking for them to earn their bones. The teens just nodded their heads, yes as they pulled the zippers of their suits up and folded the flaps over their chests.
Sam and Annette both walked up to their respective daughters. Pulling them into tight hugs before kissing them first on each eye lid, to be followed by each ear, and finally the mouth. Bobby whispered in Anna’s ear. “What was that all about, Ms. Anna?”
Keeping her voice just as low. “That was the Five-point-kiss, Robert. It is a blessing among their two families. One that is given to the newest members of the Moonless Wraith Guild. Your daughters have just joined a very small and select group of assassins. Only one out of every five family members join. The rest become either thieves or join the Clergy. That is all that I am allowed to say for now.”
Even though he was standing a little further away Hunter had heard Anna’s explanation from where he stood. Her answer may have been just for Bobby, but both men now understood that this was a turning point for their daughters. One that there was no coming back from. The kick in the ass was they knew that they weren’t included. This was between the women of the Capizeo and DeMarco families.
They stood in silent vigil as Maria placed her hands on the shoulders of each teenage girl one at a time. Then with a slow and deliberate pace repeated the Five-point-kiss for each girl. Once she had kissed both girls, Maria pulled out her family knife. Making a fast cut across her left palm, seeing this both girls quickly followed suit. Taking the left hand of each girl one at a time Maria pressed her hand to theirs and held it for a few seconds. Stepping back Maria then took two fingers dipped in the mixed blood of her and her granddaughters and placed two lines down each cheek.
“Let your passing be as the shadows in the night. In our hands lays justice and vengeance. We take no pleasure in the taking a life. Ours is a sacred honor passed down generation to generation. Only the most dangerous, most vile, most hated, most unjust, need fear our blades. The innocent, pure of heart, and oppressed are avenged by our blades. We are the Right Hand of Lady Justice. We are the Wraiths of the Moonless Night.” When Maria finished she kissed both girls again. “Welcome to our ranks, Kasey Maria DeMarco and Kristine Maria Capizeo. Heiresses to proud bloodlines.”
Hunter and Bobby watched as Annette and Samantha pulled the girls into hugs again while kissing them on the cheeks. There was tears in the two mothers’ eyes. Anna stepped up the girls as they were past to her. With the same care and welcoming hugs Anna kissed both girls on the cheek. “Welcome.”
As the girls walked up to Bobby and Hunter the two men just hugged them tight. Bobby put their feelings into words. “This is between your mothers and you girls. This is their family traditions. Just know that we will always be here for you.”
Kasey was the first to speak. “Thank you for understanding, papa.”
“Yes, thank you so much. We know what we’re doing.” Kristine told both men.
As Hunter pulled Kristine into a bear hug he whispered in her ear. “Remember your lessons sweat pea. Check your target, squeeze the trigger, don’t pull and stay calm above all else. Emotion is a sniper’s worse enemy.”
“Yes, papa. I won’t forget.” Kristine kissed the big man as he put her back down.
Maria cleared her throat. “Okay girls, we have just two hours before the other team gets here. I want a full briefing ready for them. I always want at least two more overflights by our drones done. I want distances between each and every building, silo and stable. If there is an outhouse, I want it mapped. If there is a creek, pond, canal, any body of water; I want it mapped. Krystel should have sent you girls a packet on the security for this house and his other properties in the area. I want you to go over that as well and include the information in your report.”
“Yes, ma’am, Marshal.” Both teens answered.
“Robert, Hunter, double check the M-249’s. You’re going to be our heavies tonight. Sorry boys, that’s just the luck of the draw.”
“Don’t worry about that, Marshal. None of you gals can handle those babies. We know where our best use is. We kick in the door, you wipe up the floor.” Hunter quipped before turning serious. “With what we know Hines has at his disposal, we go in hunter/killer teams.”
“I agree Hunter. You and Annette on one team. Bobby, Sam on the other. With myself and Anna in the last.” Maria forgot to give out the assignments for the alpha team.
“What about the Alpha team Marshal? How are you going to disperse them?” Kasey asked.
It took Maria a few minutes to think that one through. Thankfully Bobby came to her rescue. “Lyssa, with me and Sam. Tiffany with Hunter and Annette. And Rodrick on the third M-249 with you and Anna, Marshal.”
“Excuse me, but do you think they’ll go for that?” Annette asked. This one Maria was ready to answer.
“This is still our contract. Or I should say, our mission. They are still our backup on this mission, not the other way around. They are professionals and will follow orders. They may not like them, but they will follow them.”
“That's a polite way to put it.” The voice of Tiffany had all the adults spinning at the same time drawing their weapons as they did. Tiffany was standing several feet away, leaning against one of the trucks and quickly put her hands out. “Whoa there people! Damn, you’re a jumpy bunch.”
As the Marshals lowered their sidearms, Lyssa and Rodrick walked around Tiffany and into the barn. As they passed Tiffany, she slapped her on the ass. “Not a good idea to sneak up on them. The next time they may just shoot your ass first and ask questions later. You owe the Marshal an apology. You know they should be jumpy this far down-range.”
"That's true. My bad. I'll whistle or something next time." Tiffany said.
Looking over at the teens, Lyssa gave them a nod. “I see that you have been to see Stephano, Maria. I've heard he does damned good work. Those look rather nice.”
“I’ll say. I wouldn't mind meeting this Stephano guy. If he can turn out leather jumpsuits like these, I'd like to see what he can do for a jacket or coat. Hell, can you imagine what a dress or skirt would turn out like?” Tiffany let her envy of the girls’ jumpsuits fill her voice.
“Tiffany, I bet those jumpsuits are more than just fashionable. Probably the boots are the same. Stephano Mutandine is known for more than just his high fashion sense. His ability to make protective clothing, that is also stylish, is quite reputable. Sure bet, that those jumpsuits are almost as good as our tactical suits. The heels on those boots likely come off with a simple twist or something. Allowing the wearer a better running sole. Am I right?” Lyssa looked over at Maria for the answer.
“I’ll give you a referral before we leave, Tiffany dear. Just remember one thing. Don’t try womanly wiles on him for a better deal. All that’ll get you; is a jacked-up price and piss off his husband.” Maria told the young operator. “We weren’t expecting you for another few hours. What moved up your arrival?”
“The Major called, told us that we needed to move in and assist with your planning. He’s not too thrilled with your decision concerning Gemini’s involvement in this operation.” Rodrick answered. “I’ll be honest here, Madam Maria. I don’t think any of us are.”
“Rodrick; for a rogue, you’re a good and honest man, but this is a family matter. One that I have already discussed with my husband and our boss. The matter is closed.” The tone of Maria’s voice left no room for argument. Lyssa knew the time to confront Maria over the matter was not now and stepped in to end the argument.
“Understood.” When Rodrick and Tiffany went to contradict her, Lyssa just said. “The matter is closed. For now.”
With that being said Lyssa looked over at Maria. “Now, we overheard part of your assault plan so far. As I understand it, you want three three-man hunter/killer teams going in. How about some advice?”
"Why not. As I understand, you're quite accustomed to such locations." Maria replied.
Lyssa unrolled a rough diagram and used a pair of magnets to hold it up on the side of the ALOC. "The Hard-site. Three teams will work, but four teams will work better. Bobby and Sam on Team 2, West side. Hunter and Annette on Team 3, East side. Rodrick and Tiffany on Team 4, Front door. Maria and Anna are Team one, back door."
"And you, Lyssa? Where will you be?" Maria asked.
Lyssa's face wore a stony expression. "With you. I'm your door-kicker. Each team carries in a Slam 'n Go. Tiffany carries the biggest one, Front door is likely the hardest access point. Unless you've managed to get a true floor-plan, this is a Hogan's Alley all the way. We leave no zone uncovered. I expect this place to be a mini-Fallujah. Door-to-door fighting every step of the way and ankle deep in blood by the time we're halfway through."
Maria knew Lyssa was right. "Very well. I suppose you have those Rules of Engagement again, yes?"
"Correct. Everyone inside, except us, is a Hostile and they get a minimum of two in the head. Hines though, needs to be taken alive." Lyssa informed them.
"You can't be serious!" Annette protested.
Lyssa looked over. "Can I finish? Thank you. He is to be captured for Information Extraction. If there are anymore like him, we need to know. Not all intel can be hacked. We need what's in his head too."
"You mean; like in that place?" Samantha asked.
"Precisely." Lyssa answered flatly. "You won't have to take notes this time. A camera can be set up to record it for review. You can sit outside if you want. Tiffany and I can take care of it."
Maria nodded. "Yes. We should make absolutely sure there are no more loose ends. I will sit in on your session. I want to hear all those truths for myself."
"Fine by us." Tiffany no longer showed humor.
Rodrick walked out and returned with two hardcases. "One more thing. You two, Front and Center."
Kasey and Kristine had been pointed at so both came forward to him. The cases were opened to reveal each one containing an M107A1 Barrett .416 sniper rifle with Leupold cyber-scopes.
"You have five full magazines of Match-grade Penetrators. That's 398 grain boat-tailed jacketed tungsten core rounds. You hit it, it's gone. Get them in the pelvic area to drop them, then put a round in the Sweet-Spot to take them out." Rodrick instructed.
Kasey nodded. "Yes sir. Base of the nose, above the top lip. Shooting downward between 20 and 30 degrees."
"They're ready." Lyssa remarked. "Anything that comes out before we call Clear; is all yours. Ye, of the Faith."
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