Is it your birthday? Even if it isn’t, today you still get a gift. Here’s chapter two of Fatal.
OK, that’s all for now. Commence regularly scheduled programming.
Juba, Republic of South Sudan
Two Days Earlier
Every city is a murderer’s paradise.
Because every city has alleys and tunnels. And abandoned factories and construction sites and bridges and rooftops and sewers. All potential ambush spots or sniper blinds. A city is just a collection of buildings, and every building casts a shadow. Shadows are where I move. So it doesn’t matter how good your security is, I’m still the one who has the advantage.
My name is Pace Warner and I’m a killer. People usually guess pretty quickly that Pace isn’t the name my mother gave me. And they’re right. People also tell me that they think it’s stupid. But it’s an old nickname and I like it, so I’m keeping it.
My face isn’t the one my mother gave me either. Too bad: I used to be prettier. But a pretty face is remembered, so I had to cut mine off. You can have it done in sixteen hours on an operating table. All you have to do is put up the money and put up with the pain.
It was mid-afternoon on my fourth day here. Doing recon, learning Juba. I thought she was gorgeous. Bright yellow and pink buildings crammed together on twisty streets next to the Nile. An old stone fort stood right up against the river. Gave the place a Mediterranean feel. If I’d had the time I would have sat down and drawn a landscape of the scene.
I walked on, listened to how Juba hummed and clattered. An engine revved and sputtered somewhere. Somewhere else kids threw rocks at barrels. I liked the noise, it was musical. All the layers of noise added up to a song of commotion that helped me hide.
I stepped off a dusty street and into my building. It was a four-story cube. The sandstorms had done a good job blasting the yellow paint off the place. I was in an unfurnished pad up on the second floor that I’d signed a six-month lease on last week. A deal I was going to lose a lot of money on, because I was going to be out of the country by tomorrow night.
I stepped onto my landing and drew my pistol from my speed holster. A Sig Arms P866, my go-to piece. Then I took a breath and breached my apartment. Checked the place before I peeled off my bandana and T-shirt. I was soaked with sweat. My skin was slick. It was the rainy season and outside the air was soupy and boiling hot.
I wanted to take off my prosthetics too, but I had to wear them the whole time I was in South Sudan. So while I was here, I’d have a weak chin and loose bags around my eyes. That’s how we did things in my unit. New place, you change your face. Otherwise people can remember you and cameras can track you. Prosthetics were how we stayed faceless. The downside was that they itched, especially in the heat. It felt like I had bugs crawling in and out of my pores.
I ate a granola bar and pulled my Card out of my pocket. Card stood for Citizen’s Automated Registry Device. That’s just a fancy name for a flexible computer tablet that American citizens are issued and required to use. It’s part of a universal tracking system that they just installed a few years ago in the homeland. Big Brother’s wet dream. It’s a damn good system and my unit and I haven’t been able to find a way around it yet.
Which brought me here to Juba. An easy place to make a kill. I was new in town. Just like my target, Bosem Deng. The city’s new self-elected mayor. He’d just moved himself and his field commanders into a mansion just five blocks west of here.
I had a drone flying laps above the city for me. A sturdy little thing with a seven-foot wingspan. It was relaying a live surveillance feed back to my Card. My team had flown it down to me from Sudan and I’d taken control of it remotely. The drone was solar powered. Could stay aloft for weeks if I needed it to.
Now I had to study the footage it was sending me. This is most of the job. Waiting hard, gathering your intel. The drone was over the mansion now.
It was a compound in a neighborhood just east of the Nile. Set slightly apart from the multi-colored roofs of the smaller houses. A place owned by a commodities trader. He and his family were dead. Shot execution-style when Deng’s boys took the town. The father and his boy got an instant sendoff, just one bullet each to the nape of the neck. The wife and two girls were kept alive for a little longer. Long enough for the more frustrated men in the platoon to take some time with them.
The mansion was obscured from street view by hulking concrete walls. But since I had the drone, I could see down inside the fortress. It was a split-level compound that sat on about two acres. I saw officers in aviators and green uniforms grouped around tables in the courtyard, right by the pool. Some guys read through stacks of papers while some guys just sat and smoked. I saw fountains, leafy arbors, a line of parked cars. I saw bloodstains on the courtyard slabs.
But I didn’t see the colonel himself. Bosem Deng, he of the army of boy soldiers. He of the hacked-up villagers and scorched huts. I hadn’t seen him in two days. We’d given him the code name Cassius. After Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali’s birth name. When I was researching Deng I’d found out he had an obsession with the boxer. Now he imagined himself as a modern-day Ali. A conqueror going for the belt.
Juba was the penultimate stop on the South Sudanese coup campaign trail. Deng had taken Bor almost two weeks ago and up next was Ramciel, the new capital. Capturing Ramciel would be Cassius’s checkmate move. And that was the most likely outcome. The president’s army was battered and scattered, while Cassius had the momentum and a superior force.
And he had a motive. Oil, in this case. China bought tankerfuls of crude from South Sudan every month, and Deng wanted to unseat President Musa and become the guy selling the black gold to them. Deng used to lead the army for Musa before making a play at getting the whole pie for himself. The humanitarian in me preferred that Musa stay in power. Even though the guy was rotten as a year-old apple, he wasn’t genocidal.
Night was coming. I put my bandana back on and grabbed my zip-up sweatshirt. Then I took the stairs back down to the street and headed toward the market. I had a little war to fight and big game to hunt. The problem was that I only had my Sig with me right now. And you don’t win wars with a pistol. I needed an upgrade.