“Not going to lie folks, it’s not looking good out there today, or even the next few days. High pressure is bringing in a nasty weather system. Gray skies out there now but make no mistake, the rain is coming and when it does it’s going to be here for a while. We’re talking potential concerns for flooding and high winds with power outages a real possibility. It’s going to be bad outside. As always, we’ll keep you updated with any new developments. Greg, back to you.”
“Thanks, Dominica. Possibly the only good thing about the weather, besides it not being more snow, is hopefully it will keep people indoors. Health officials are urging people who are sick to limit contact with others. Especially if you know someone that hasn’t gotten the flu shot yet. At least two dozen more cases are being reported about this season’s flu virus going around. Officials aren’t calling it an outbreak but have noticed higher than average numbers of cold and flu cases this year. And they continue to urge our listeners to make sure they’re washing their hands multiple times a day, limiting exposure to others, not going into work if you are sick or think you might be, and again, getting this year’s flu shot.”
“In other news, Republican Presidential candidate D-”
Mercenary Nick Walker turned off the radio in his Chevy Trailblazer as he slowly pulled into the back-parking lot of Alizarin, one of Boston’s top nightclubs.
Only a half dozen cars were parked in the enormous space, most of which belonged to onsite security personal that protected the club.
While Alizarin was one of the favorite places in Boston for the high-end partiers, it wasn’t the most expensive club around. It was however, known to attract a specific cliental. More than a few assassins, hitmen, or mercenaries like himself, conducted business within its walls.
Private meetings, exchanges, job interviews, or offers happened nearly every night. It was one of a handful of places in Boston people could go looking for things off the black market or dark net.
The Boston PD, their special crime taskforce, the FBI, DEA, and ATF, had all failed to bring any cases or charges to Alizarin, despite the rumors it was owned by a wealthy Mexican drug lord. No law enforcement ever got anything to stick, and any undercover operations always came up short.
And no one could figure out why.
The place had become nothing but a waste of resources for any law enforcement agency that tried to make a case on it. So it had unofficially become a no-go zone for all of them.
Which only made Alizarin more appealing to those on the other side of the law.
It also helped that Alizarin had the hottest girls in Boston working there, plus the best drinks around, if one needed to relax and unwind.
Because of that reputation, Alizarin had one of the most elite security forces on the East Coast. Comprised almost only of former military or law enforcement guys, they could handle anything from a simple drunk trying to touch too many boobs and butts, to serving as a Counter-Assault Team should someone be stupid enough to attack the club. This by default made the neighborhood around the club safer because a security team would patrol the area around the parking lot and the streets to make sure first, the girls employed there were always safe and second, their cliental. The entire area had now become one of the safest places in Boston, further reducing the need for law enforcement to patrol around there.
It was because of this reputation that Alizarin was closed for an entire week. The cold and flu resurgence that was happening now that it was technically spring, was affecting everyone. They wanted to keep their staff healthy and safe and were taking steps to do that.
Nick shut his Trailblazer off once he was by the back entrance. He knocked on the double doors and then opened the back of his vehicle.
The first two to come out were Austin and Gabriel, two former Marines, who were now both heads of security teams for the club. Behind them was their boss, Malcom ‘Sheriff’ Pierce.
A former member of SEAL Team Four, Pierce was known as the Sheriff of Alizarin, or the Sheriff. His knowledge of the wild west was second to none, particularly with America’s black cowboys. He and Morgan, Nick’s longtime mentor, and field leader of the mercenary team Nick had co-founded, Red Diamond, both shared a mutual dislike for Admiral Trilling. Though Nick didn’t know why for either man.
Behind Pierce was his boss, the General Manager of Alizarin, Julie Taylor. Julie was also secretly part of Red Diamond.
Her job at Alizarin kept her busy most of the time, but allowed her to keep Red Diamond in the loop on what was happening within the city and what people were visiting the place.
“Wow, you got here early,” Julie said before giving Nick a hug.
“Well, I figured with this storm coming, best to do this sooner rather than later. Plus, I got rounds to make,” he said with a wink.
Julie gave him a smirk before shaking her head at him.
“Dang pilgrim, ya’ll got the goods in here,” Austin said once he saw what was in the back of Nick’s Trailblazer. His Texas accent still as thick as ever despite living in Boston for over a year now.
“You guys are most generous,” Gabriel said. He was a soft-spoken man with excellent hair. He was also one of the smoothest talkers around, his charming voice having gotten almost as many women to drop their panties as Nick’s.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I was never here,” Nick said with a grin.
Despite the importance Alizarin played in Boston’s underworld, Nick was rarely allowed to associate there in order to keep his cover alias clean.
Most knew him as Nick Summers, a laid-back playboy and martial arts instructor who failed to become a US Army Ranger. His real name was in fact Nick Walker, though few knew that. Considered a prodigy when it came to killing, Nick was thought to have been killed years ago by the same assassins that killed his mercenary parents. Julie was the only one at Alizarin who knew who Nick really was. The Sheriff and his men knew Nick wasn’t a harmless playboy and suspected that he was using an alias but they didn’t know the truth about him. Only a handful of people in the world knew the full truth about Nick and all that he had already done in his life. Most of which he could never talk about.
“Yeah, yeah. You can still help carry stuff in, Mr. Clandestine,” Pierce said and playfully slapped Nick on the back.
“Sure thing, Sheriff. When is everyone supposed to arrive?”
“Rest of my guys should be here within the hour. I don’t want to know how you got all this, do I?”
“Definitely not, Sheriff,” Nick laughed.
“I told the girls to be here at noon. I was going to do lunch for everyone, but I figure with this storm coming its better just to let people get back home,” Julie said.
“That’s probably for the best,” Nick said as he carried two boxes in behind the other guys.
To help fight against this potential outbreak, Nick and Julie had convinced Megan, Nick’s best friend and the other co-founder of Red Diamond, to give every one of the girls who worked for the club, along with the guys, a flu shot here. No messing with insurance copays or hassles, or trips to the doctors, clinics, or ERS. Or worrying about not having insurance. Everyone was told to show up for a mandatory work meeting to get a flu shot and a bag of goodies filled with stuff to keep them healthy.
The club was also being cleaned top to bottom by a professional sanitizing company to eliminate any trace of virus from the facility. It would be closed for a week to do that and install new high-end air purifiers throughout the club.
It would also give the girls a chance to relax and rest.
Nick also made sure everyone still got paid while they were out of work.
Something Megan had fought back against and only relented when he agreed to help her with an upcoming job up for free.
Even though people suspected Alizarin was owned by a Mexican drug lord, the truth was even stranger. The short version was that Megan secretly ran everything behind the scenes while Julie dealt with the day to day operating of the club. And together they used Alizarin to benefit Red Diamond.
Pierce and his men didn’t get the time off as they had to watch over the cleaning crew, Megan wasn’t taking the chance that someone wouldn’t try to sneak a surveillance device during the cleaning, cause that’s when she would do it. Julie made sure the guys got paid time and half for their work though.
As were the dozen nurses they hired under the table from Tufts, to help give the shots today, on their day off.
Nick checked the time on his phone after dropping off the boxes inside the staging area.
“Wish I could stay longer, but you know the rules.”
Julie frowned but said nothing.
“One more thing,” Nick said and pulled out a manila envelope from his trench coat and gave it to Julie.
“Vouchers for free flu shots at drug stores, like Rite Aid or Walgreens. Figure you could give them to the girls that have kids or family members they take care of, to help them out. There’s only a 75 though.”
“Only,” Julie chuckled. “That’s more than enough. Thank you, Nick, for everything.”
“No problem. See you guys around. Stay healthy.”
“You too, Nick,” Pierce said and gave him a wave while the two Marines nodded.
Nick closed up the back of his Trailblazer and drove out of the parking lot just as more cars arrived. No one the wiser that he’d ever been there.
Just the way Megan wanted it.
Nick checked the time again, then headed to his next stop.
* * * * *
Twenty-nine-year-old Megan Cruise blew her nose loudly, then tossed the empty tissue box into the trash can.
She took turns staring at her laptop, then out the dojo’s front window. She had activated the privacy glass so she could see out, but people walking by on the street couldn’t see in.
Outside looked like she currently felt. Which was to say, miserable.
The sky had turned to a dark gray, and the rain was coming down. Not in a light mist or sprinkle but actual rainfall. She could hear it pound off the glass, slowly at first then steadily, giving off a trance like…
Megan shook her head, trying to stop herself from dozing off at her desk in the office side of their dojo, Summers Security.
While a legitimate business that brought in decent money in its own right, it was really there to serve as a front company for the mercenary team Red Diamond. It was where members of the team worked using their alias. Megan was co-founder of Red Diamond, along with her best friend, Nick Walker. She was the computer hacker savant of the team.
One of the best in the world, in fact. Megan was trying to work on a new project of hers. Unfortunately, she wasn’t having much luck given her current condition.
Not that she would ever admit that.
She grabbed a second box of tissues and heard the door open.
“You look horrible,” Nick said, walking in.
Megan gave him the finger which stopped him dead in his tracks, his face in shock.
Megan regretted doing it but didn’t apologize.
“Yep, cause I’ve got things to do,” Nick said and dropped the keycard on Megan’s desk.
She smiled on the inside when she saw the keycard he had stolen for her. On the outside, she wiped her runny nose and looked unimpressed.
Nick let out a sigh and said, “What are you doing?”
“Working,” Megan replied.
“Why? Have you seen yourself lately?”
“I am well aware of my appearance Nicholas.”
Nick made a face and took a step back from her desk.
“Okay, settle down.”
“Don’t tell me-” before Megan could finish, she sneezed.
Nick handled her two fresh tissues.
Megan looked up at him, her brown eyes red and swollen. She regretted putting her contacts in today.
“Permission to speak.”
“Take the day off. Go get some rest.”
“I have stuff that-”
“Can wait until Monday,” Nick said, cutting her off.
Megan wanted to argue but had to blow her nose. Again.
“Think of it this way, if you rest now, you can get over this cold faster and be back at it by tomorrow night even.”
“People are saying this strain is lasting for 5 to 6 days.”
“So, you should rest and you’ll pick up an extra 4 to 5 days in the long run then.”
Megan stared at him. Or tried to. Her eyes were leaking so much her vision had become blurry.
“Perhaps a respite from the afternoon would allow me to be more effective for later today.”
Megan gave him a look.
“Or tonight,” he said with a smile.
She didn’t smile back but closed her laptop, which was just as good.
“Crazy that people think the government is behind this flu outbreak, huh?” Nick said, trying to make a joke.
“They’re not,” Megan replied.
“Well, obviously no one-”
“A private company would more likely be the cause of this outbreak,” Megan interrupted him. Her tone dead serious.
Silence filled the space between them for several moments.
Nick cleared his throat and said, “You’re staying here tonight.”
He helped Megan to her apartment on the 5th floor, above the dojo. The same floor Nick lived on. She didn’t use this one much, as she had her main apartment down the road but kept a backup one here like all the other members of Red Diamond.
Megan didn’t argue. She didn’t even say a word as they walked slowly up the stairs in silence.
“Do you need anything before I go?” Nick asked, putting her stuff on the kitchen table.
Megan shook her head.
“I’m going to lie down for a bit.”
“Okay. Mark is here if you change your mind and need something.”
Megan rolled her eyes and waved him away.
“Do you want me to give Clarissa a call?”
“I thought you said you had things to do?”
Nick stared at her until she had to wipe her nose again.
Nick went back down to the office and locked everything up, then went over to the dojo side.
Twenty-eight-year-old Mark Sung was the only one there. He was staring at a punching bag. A towel was wrapped around his neck and he was wearing a long black t-shirt with matching baselayer tights. He was Red Diamond’s strategist and tactician. His laid-back attitude made him come across as lazy, but Nick knew better than that.
One just had to find the right motivation for Mark.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Nick asked, approaching Mark from the side.
“You would need a lot of pennies,” Mark said, his eyes never leaving the punching bag.
Nick grinned and said, “So, Megan is up in her place. I convinced her to take a sick day.”
“That’s actually very impressive,” Mark replied. His tone flat.
“Thanks?” Nick said, unsure if Mark was being sincere or was about to launch into some rant.
He didn’t. He remained fixed on the punching bag.
“Anyways,” Nick started. “I’m off to do some stuff. You good to hang around here today?”
“Yes. The others are on a job.”
“And you didn’t go with them?”
“I could say the same to you.”
“Megan had me doing a separate job this morning. So, I couldn’t,” Nick said.
He wasn’t lying, but he also knew he hadn’t been on a lot of jobs with the entire team together lately. He’d been doing a lot of solo jobs as of late.
“So, what’s your reason?” Nick asked him.
“It’s raining outside,” Mark replied, as if that was the answer for any foreseeable question.
His focus on the punching bag remained unwavering.
Nick waited, again he expected Mark to elaborate, but he didn’t. Several more seconds of complete silence followed. Mark still staring at the punching bag.
He never looked at Nick.
“Good talk, Mark,” Nick said and headed back to his Trailblazer, pausing only to lock the front door to the dojo behind him.
Outside, the area was devoid of people, even though it was Saturday. Maybe people were listing to health officials.
The rain was cold and if this had been a few weeks ago, Nick was confident this rain would have been snow, which would have been a mess.
Nick checked his phone.
Right on schedule.
He checked his mirrors, then pulled out onto the road and drove out of Boston.
He still had three more stops to make before getting home.
* * * * *
Twenty-nine-year-old Carol Finley clenched her fist as she fought the urge to respond.
“Did you hear me?” The voice on the other end of the phone asked.
“Yes,” Carol replied through gritted teeth.
“Bring the cash by Monday night. Or else.”
“I got it,” Carol said and hung up.
She probably shouldn’t have hung up, but she didn’t care anymore. Come Monday night, she was going to bash some heads in.
The problem with that was she would have to find someone else to place bets with. Bookies didn’t take bets from people who beat them to a pulp with their fists and sent them to the hospital.
Plus, the whole never paying the money back thing.
Carol cracked her knuckles. She shouldn’t have bet on those hockey games. She didn’t follow the sport enough to know who’s who or what’s what. She was just following a tip. But somehow every team she bet on, lost.
Maybe she should pay that tipper a visit too.
Carol wiped her nose on her sweatshirt sleeve as she thought of who was left in Boston she could go to. She’d used up most of the small fish. Which meant going to the big fish now.
Maybe Lu Chenghu? He was the most chill of the Chenghu brothers and would give her a good line of credit. And he had a great line on things in the city.
“Why does everything hurt so much!” Thirty-one-year-old Bobbi Jordan moaned as she wandered into the kitchen.
She stopped dead in her tracks.
“Woah, you okay?”
“Yeah, why?” Carol asked.
“Cause your face looks like you want to kill someone. It’s not me, right? Did I do something wrong?”
“It’s just my face Bobbi.”
“And such a pretty face it is,” Bobbi said and reached out to touch Carol’s face.
Something Carol couldn’t stand. Being touched by people.
Carol swatted Bobbi’s hand away, and she staggered off balance.
“Don’t touch me,” Carol snapped without thinking.
She wasn’t trying to be mean, but she struggled to control her temper when already upset by something else.
Plus, Bobbi already knew how much she hated being touched and still always tried to do it. Bobbi was bi-sexual, which whatever, but Carol had no interest what’s so ever in that. And yet Bobbi didn’t seem to understand that and was always trying to poke her personal bubble, and it drove her crazy.
“Kay,” Bobbi replied, unphased by Carol’s meanness towards her.
Carol looked at her, while silently counting to five in her head, and said, “How much cold medicine did you take?”
Bobbi looked at Carol, her eyes glassy, and shrugged.
“My body aches.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t feel much better.”
“I can tell,” Bobbi said and poured a glass of orange juice.
“What’s that mean?”
Bobbi took a sip then looked at herself then Carol. Both of them were in sweatpants and sweatshirts, but Bobbi’s were cuter.
Carol was about to give her the finger, but a sudden sneeze made her cover her face with her forearm.
Carol let out a sigh and Bobbi poured a second cup of orange juice and handed it to her. She took it but didn’t say anything.
“So, I’m guessing since it’s almost 11 on a Saturday you didn’t go do your training session?”
Carol downed the whole glass of juice and said, “No, Mark covered for me.”
“Oh? How’d you manage to do-” Bobbi stopped to sneeze.
She didn’t cover her nose like Carol had.
“That was disgusting.”
“Sorry,” Bobbi said meekly and grabbed a paper towel to blow her nose. Loudly.
“Umm…” Carol started.
“We’re out of tissues.”
“There were two boxes last night plus one in my room.”
“Yeah, about that.”
“Really? Don’t go in my room and take stuff.”
“Is it really your room though? We kinda just picked.”
Carol glared at her.
“You’re the one who wanted the room by the bathroom.”
“I have belly problems,” she pouted and wiped her nose then added, “Sorry.”
The two of them spent most of their time at their apartments above the dojo they worked at, Summers Security. They were also secretly members of the mercenary team, Red Diamond. Because of the whole flu thing going around, Nick told them they could stay at his house, which was also Red Diamond’s secret base, in Maine.
Jokingly called the ‘Walker Compound’ the place had everything, including 1-bedroom private cabins on the property. Carol and Bobbi had their own cabins they could use, but they were staying in Nick’s house and had each taken over one of the bedrooms upstairs.
Carol continued to look at Bobbi, her glare dissipating into a stare, and said, “Say what you want about my face, but you look like freaking Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer right now.”
Bobbi opened her mouth, aghast, which almost caused Carol to smile.
Then her eyes watered and she sniffed, trying to get some air through her nose, but that had no effect. She held out her hand and Bobbi gave her a paper towel for her nose.
Carol was five times quieter than Bobbi had been.
“Let me guess, you took the rest of the cold medicine too.”
Bobbi started to say ‘sorry’ but Carol cut her off.
They stood there quietly in the kitchen for a minute, neither saying a word, too busy sniffing. Trying to get some relief.
“I don’t think I can legally drive even just to Rite Aid,” Bobbi said with as much strength as she could muster.
Despite all the cold medicine in her system, she felt like shit. She looked even worse. Her normally straight, dirty blonde hair was a tangled mess of a squirrel’s nest right now. She felt worse right now than she did when her Aunt visits, which she didn’t think was possible, considering how bad her Aunt’s visits always went.
“Fine,” Carol said and picked up the keys to her jeep. “But you’re paying.”
Bobbi nodded then stopped, “Wait, I have to go with you?”
“All you said was you can’t drive,” Carol replied and wiped her eyes.
She was only day two into this stupid cold flu crap, while Bobbi was on day three and most likely the one who got her sick in the first place. She needed to get ahead of it. She didn’t want to look like how Bobbi does today come tomorrow.
“But it’s raining outside,” Bobbi said with her most pitiful expression yet.
“Actually, it’s pouring outside,” Nick said, walking into the kitchen carrying bags of stuff in both hands.
He put the wet bags down on top of the kitchen island’s marble countertop.
The girls stood there in confusion.
How did neither of them not hear him come in?
“I thought you were away this weekend?” Carol asked.
“I had a job to do, but I did it early this morning and pushed the other thing to next week,” Nick said and smiled as he handed a box of cold medicine to Carol.
He unloaded more kinds of medicine, liquid and pill form, juices, drinks, tissues, hand sanitizers, lotion, Chapstick, and wet wipes.
“Umm, why do we need wet… OMG!” Bobbi exclaimed when she saw the next bag Nick unloaded.
Namely, several cartons of wings from Hooters. Then he emptied the last bag, which contained fresh chips and salsa from Carl’s Meat Market.
“If the wings don’t clean out your sinus’s, this salsa definitely will,” Nick said with a grin.
Carol stood there unmoving, still trying to process what was going on before her. She wasn’t use to this sort of thing. Because it had never happened before to her. When she was sick, she was always alone. No one ever looked after or took care of her.
It was just her.
But then she met Nick.
And now he was her friend. Something Carol didn’t have many of.
“Holy crap that’s hot!”
Bobbi was already eating a wing and had a mess all over her face.
“Okay, go grab your stuff and I’ll bring this all into the living room for us.”
“Huh?” Bobbi said.
“If today doesn’t qualify as a day to binge Netflix on the couch all day, then what does?” Nick asked.
Bobbi’s glassy eyes lit up like her bright red nose.
“Hell’s yeah. I’m getting my comforter. You want me to get yours, Carol?” Bobbi asked, licking her fingers clean.
“Yes. No. Stay out of my room,” Carol said and followed her.
Nick laughed. He was going to ask when did they get ‘rooms’ in the house, but figured that could wait until later. He turned the heat up even higher in the house. If there was one thing he learned when it came to fighting bugs like this one, it was to sweat it out and since his house didn’t have a sauna, that was at the dojo, he figured wings, salsa and a hot house was the next best thing.
Ten minutes later they were on the couch with Nick sitting in the middle to keep the girls apart from each other. Mostly to keep Bobbi from touching Carol, since she hated being touched.
She at least tolerated him being next to her.
They ate while Nick picked a show for them to all watch.
Twenty minutes later, after eating their fill of wings and salsa, the girls were sound asleep, before the end of the first show. Carol had her head on her pillow, her feet dangerously close to resting on Nick’s leg. And Bobbi’s head was resting on his shoulder.
Nick checked his phone to see if there were any updates from the guys.
There wasn’t. Which surprised him. He figured they’d be done and back by now.
Red Diamond was doing a job out in this rain, and he knew a couple of them weren’t happy that Nick hadn’t gone with them.
But it was supposed to be an easy job. They were more than capable of handling things without him. And it wasn’t like he took a sick day often.
Considering his current circumstances, Nick felt it better not to check in with them.
He silenced his phone and put it over by Bobbi, then turned the volume down on the TV.
Nick took a chip and continued watching the show, feeling more content than he had in a long time. It was a great Saturday.
Even still, there was a part of him wondering why the guys hadn’t gotten back yet.
Nick pushed the thoughts away.
It was an easy job.
Everything was fine, he told himself, as he found his gaze moving from the TV to his phone, waiting to see a text alert from one of them.
But one never came.
A Merc Series Short Story
The Merc Series