Back in June of 2013, Pro Se Press released my first spy novel, NOBODY DIES FOR FREE. This book was the result of the interest in spy stories I've had since I saw my first James Bond movie at the age of 7. The novel features my American intelligence agent Richard Monroe, who then went on to appear in the sequel, UNDER THE RADAR, which was published in May of 2015.
I'm pleased to announce that the third Richard Monroe novel, NEVER THINK TWICE, will be coming soon.
Today, for those who haven't read it and might be curious about Monroe, I'm posting here, free to read, the first chapter of the original Monroe book, NOBODY DIES FOR FREE.I hope you enjoy it. If you'd like to know what happens to Monroe next, links to order the book, which is available in print, Kindle, and audio book editions, are at the end of the chapter.
NOBODY DIES FOR FREE
Chapter 1: The Cradle or the Grave
Richard Monroe had invested his entire soul in one woman, and then she died. It was as simple as that.
Her blood ran out through his fingers, the last product of her slowing heartbeat, and Monroe knew that it was too much red, far too fast, for his hand to contain and save her. It spilled out and stained the street outside the Paris Opera where, only seconds earlier, they had been joking about the Phantom as they waited their turn to enter.
At that moment, Monroe did not care where the bullet had come from, why it had struck, or what the gathering crowd of policemen and gawkers were shouting. He cared only that he was about to lose her, and five years suddenly seemed shorter than the blink of an eye.
He whispered her name one last time as her soft brown eyes closed.
And she was gone. Richard Monroe held her until the police dragged him away from the body, but already he was alone.
Six months later, the CIA seemed a world away, a different lifetime for Monroe. The week after the shooting had gone by in a mostly emotionless blur as Monroe had gone through the necessary motions: identification of the body, burial arrangements, and notification of Genevieve’s few scattered relatives. Then he saw to the distribution of their money, most of which had come from her inheritance, into various accounts tied to various banks in various nations. Finally, he put down onto paper his official resignation from the agency that had stationed him in Paris five years earlier. When Genevieve was gone, Richard Monroe severed all ties to his old life, abandoned everything he had planned for the future, and erased himself from the eyes of those who had known him in the years before the shot outside the opera hall.
Genevieve had softened him; he was fully aware of that. With her by his side, he had shifted from a life of movement, change, upheaval, and violence to one of tranquility, happiness, music, fine food and high style.
But she was gone and now the softness of proper civilization had to go away, too. Monroe sharpened himself again, let the cultured, educated façade slip away into the night and hardened into something like what he had been before her, but perhaps worse. He set into motion a metamorphosis that would have made him unrecognizable to his friends, if he had any left who might happen to see him in the dark places he now traveled.
He stopped shaving and let his hair grow until he took on a grizzled appearance and his hair became a semi-hippie mop. He discarded his perfectly tailored suits and took to wearing clothes that put him just one level above a bum. He became the sort of man who nobody looked at twice, who nobody would want to look at twice. Easier to blend in that way. His face went from the younger side of thirty-nine to the ragged wilderness of the far side of fifty. He made the changes in Paris while crashing in a small rented room all the way across the city from the spacious home he had shared with Genevieve. When he was satisfied with his transformation, he put it to the test.
Monroe shuffled into the bank where he had been a frequent customer, his height disguised with a slouch, his face peering out from the jungle of his beard, his movements cautious and without his traditional smooth confidence. He roamed into the bank and stood less than six feet from the bank manager, who knew him very well, and stared the man down, glad to see not a sliver of recognition cross the French moneylender’s face.
Having satisfactorily melted from the face of the Earth, Richard Monroe began the hunt. He had no personal computer now, having abandoned it along with his house, car, and suits. He went into an internet café in one of the rougher corners of Paris and hacked his way into the United States Federal computer system. The US government has over a dozen levels of classified files and Monroe knew how to get into all but the highest of them. He had five minutes in there and began to check statuses and memorize the contents of the secret sites. In minutes though, the intrusion was detected and the visit shut down. No matter. He left the place.
He hit two more pay by the hour computers in Paris and then moved on to Nice, travelling by train and sometimes by bus. Lyon and Toulouse were next, and then back to Paris, followed by a quick side trip to Marseille. He avoided hitting the cities or their internet cafés in any sort of logical pattern; his travels were now as random as his hair. He did not confine his jumps to Paris either, but made it into Belgium once or twice, then Portugal, and finally all the way over to Sofia, Bulgaria. All the while, he memorized names and faces and the details of those to whom the faces belonged. He knew that there were a limited number of men in the world capable of setting up, taking a shot like the one that had stolen Genevieve away from him, and then fading into the night almost before their presence was realized. What Monroe needed to do was figure out which one of those men had been in the right place at the right time to have been the one who destroyed his life.
He had lost count of how many times he had hacked into those files for a minute here and ten minutes there and sometimes as little as thirty seconds before being detected and tossed like a drunk who just pissed off the bouncer. But finally, late one night in Sofia, Richard Monroe struck gold and his blood felt like ice as he saw the face of the man who had indeed been in that place at that time. He would no longer need to go to those classified sites. He would not need to print any documents. That face, that name, that dossier were burned into his memory as if branded with a white-hot iron.
His name was Baltasar al-Hamsi. A former Syrian intelligence man now gone freelance, al-Hamsi was a killer, and a good one. He would shoot anyone for the right price and had never come close to being caught. It was only due to a few small leaks in the chain of darkness that binds together men in al-Hamsi’s profession that the CIA and DHS had any idea who he was. In any case, they had never had sufficient evidence or reason to go after him, to finish him. He was simply on a handful of watch-lists. Those lists had failed to keep Genevieve safe.
Monroe had no idea who might have hired al-Hamsi, for he had spat in the faces of many nations in his CIA career, but he knew who had pulled the trigger and, for now, that was something. And what was more, the CIA, at that moment, according to the information Monroe had just stolen, knew where the son of a bitch was. Richard Monroe would have to go to Istanbul.
Turkey was hot as Hell and Monroe was sorely tempted to shave off the beard; it made him itch terribly, but he resisted. He had to keep looking like a man who nobody wanted to look at twice, had to blend in. It was no problem locating Baltasar al-Hamsi. Monroe, despite his ragged appearance, still had a nice chunk of money in his possession and buying information was easier and easier the further east one went. The Syrian sniper was apparently taking a break between jobs. He had done one a month earlier, although the provider of the information did not know who the target was and the CIA’s files had not made mention of the job, either. But that was nothing new; it had not made the connection between al-Hamsi’s sights and Genevieve. But al-Hamsi had certainly been in Paris that evening and left on the next flight available after Monroe had desperately tried to keep his wife’s blood in her veins. That was proof enough.
After the information was in Monroe’s mind—al-Hamsi’s address in Istanbul, his favorite café, the brothel he frequented—Monroe spent a bit more of his vengeance fund. He found a dealer of antiquities, medieval in specialty, and he purchased a misericorde. This was the instrument of the final death-thrust for warriors of the Middle Ages, a long, thin blade easily concealed—such as up a sleeve—with a narrow point that could quickly and quietly be slipped right between the ribs to pierce the heart and stop it cold with a minimum of noisy fuss. While Monroe had often entertained the thought of taking al-Hamsi somewhere secluded and giving him a lifetime’s worth of pain before putting him down, it was not his style. Not after Genevieve any more than it would have been before she had softened him. He was willing to stoop to being a beast to end her killer’s life, but he would not become a complete animal. He had to hang on to some part of Richard Monroe. If he did not, he would be as dead as Genevieve, and she would not have wanted that.
It was after midnight on Monroe’s fifth day in Turkey when he caught al-Hamsi’s scent. The Syrian had gone for a woman, spent almost three hours in his preferred whorehouse, and finally wandered back onto the streets looking exhausted but content. Good, Monroe thought, a tired target goes down easier.
Al-Hamsi would take the subway home and Monroe followed him into the tunnel, boarded the same car, and sat five seats away from him. They were the only two men in the car. They were alone, and yet al-Hamsi glanced only once at the bearded, bedraggled stranger.
Monroe got up, shambled over to al-Hamsi, doing his best to feign slight inebriation, and finally swayed back and forth for a moment in front of the assassin.
Al-Hamsi mumbled something in Turkish. When the ragged man showed no clue, he tried Arabic but still got nothing. French came out next and Monroe understood but did not show it. Finally, the irritated Syrian let English fly out.
“Fuck off, you stupid asshole! I have no money for beggars!”
At those words, Monroe unfurled his hand and let something slip from his grasp and fall like a leaf into the lap of Baltasar al-Hamsi. The seated Syrian looked down and saw the photograph settle gently into his lap. It was a picture of a woman, the head and shoulders of a stunning brunette with a joyous twinkle in her eyes.
Recognition came to al-Hamsi like sudden thunder, putting the fear of all gods into him as he understood what was happening and what the ragged man wanted with him. He went for his gun. It was too late.
The arm that tried to get the gun from the belt left an open space, just a few inches, between the elbow and the side of the body. Monroe leaned forward, thrust the misericorde in, felt the slight scrape against the bars of the ribcage, and watched Baltasar al-Hamsi cease to exist.
Monroe did not smile, did not display any emotion whatsoever. He pulled the thin blade out of the dead man’s body and wiped al-Hamsi’s blood onto the subway seat. The misericorde went back into Monroe’s sleeve where it would stay until he let himself think normally again and could decide whether to get rid of it, perhaps in some river somewhere, or keep it as a souvenir of the mission that had meant the most to him of all his assignments over his many years in and out of the business of secret lives and secret death.
Monroe made it out of the subway at the next stop. He walked out casually and roamed in random circles around many streets before taking a room at a small, cheap inn. He fell into bed at one-thirty in the morning and slept better than he had in months, better than he had since the last time he could feel the warmth of Genevieve’s body beside him in the darkness.
He rolled out of bed when the light of the sun came through the window. He stepped into his shoes, having slept in the rest of his clothes, and sauntered out onto the streets just as the imams were calling out for morning prayers. Coffee was needed, the Turkish kind, strong and bitter and all-powerful. He glanced around for a café and caught the scent of one. At that moment, he thought of Genevieve and it hit him hard that finally justice had been done and she was avenged. He allowed himself to smile and, just for an instant, his automatic guard dropped, his years of training lost to sentimentality and satisfaction. That instant was all it took. He was grabbed, counted four strong hands taking him all at the same time, smelled cheap aftershave, and felt a heavy blow to the back of the head, and that was all.
His head still throbbed when he woke up in the Turkish prison. He cursed in his mind. Had he been on camera in the subway? Where had he slipped up? He was screwed now, and he knew it. Turkish prisons were the worst, and murder counted for, at the very least, life inside the walls. He found himself hoping for execution and wondered—and religion was not a frequent subject in his mind—if he might possibly find Genevieve in the afterlife.
His death hopes were short-lived. A key rattled in the cell door and a small Turkish man in a tan suit waltzed in. The mouth opened and smooth English poured out.
“I am the warden here and I want you to leave my prison immediately.”
He tossed an envelope onto the floor in front of the slab Monroe had slept on.
“In there,” the warden said, “is the money my men found on you, as well as two tickets for an airplane trip and a new passport bearing your real name, Mr. Monroe. You will leave here and go to a hotel where you will make yourself not stink so much. You will purchase new clothing. You will go to the airport and board a flight to Chicago in the United States. When you land there, you will get on a bus, one of those Gray Dog buses that are so famous in your country, and you will ride to the small town of Cradle, located in the state of Wisconsin. If you do not go to Cradle, then you will be sent to your grave.”
Monroe almost laughed at the warden’s unintended abuse of an old expression, but he refrained and let the last words come from the small Turk’s lips.
“Do these things now. Get out of my jail!”
NOBODY DIES FOR FREE can be found on Amazon in