Mar 19 2013 9:30am
Ice Cold Kill by Dana Haynes is the first Daria Gibron thriller (available March 26, 2013).
Daria Gibron is a woman with a deadly past and an uncertain future. A former Shin-Bet agent now in exile in the U.S. and under the protection of the F.B.I., she works primarily as an interpreter. But Daria is a thrill junkie who can't resist the occasional freelance job as an operative—a habit that has left her with a trail of corpses behind her, and a few still living, very dangerous, high-powered enemies who would stop at nothing to get revenge.
En route to an impromptu meeting with an old contact from her days in the Israeli Secret Service, Daria gets an unexpected and anonymous tipoff that she's about to walk into an ambush. Unsure who is after her, or why, she slips away from her followers and soon learns that she's been set up—and set up good. Someone has linked her to a much sought-after terrorist, and now all the resources of the U.S. intelligence community are being marshaled against her. As she tries to escape the ever-tightening snare laid out for her, someone else is using the operation against her as a distraction to hijack a very dangerous, highly guarded shipment. Now the only person who can keep this shipment from falling into terrorist hands is the one person they chose to set up as a diversion. Daria Gibron is many things—trigger-happy, resourceful, focused, and extremely dangerous —but the one thing she isn't is anybody's fool.
Ray Calabrese looked up from his BlackBerry to see Daria Gibron stride into the Rodeo Drive wine bar in Lycra exercise togs and sneakers, her hair slicked back, sans makeup.
It wasn’t the part of Los Angeles that many people tried to carry oﬀthe I’m-just-back-from-kickboxing look. She used her fingertips to brush still-damp black hair behind her ears. Her togs were two-piece, skintight, abdomen-baring, and black with red piping. She either had been working out or had joined the Justice League of America;Ray couldn’t tell at a glance.
She poured herself into the opposite chair. “Hallo, Ray.”
Ray smiled across the table at her. “I thought we were meeting after your appointment with that Portuguese importer.”
Daria took a sip of Ray’s wine and held it on her tongue before swallowing. “Not bad.”
“Montepulciano. The business guy was a no-show?”
“He had to cut and run.”
Ray had been digging into the investor’s background from his headquarters, the L.A. Field Oﬃce of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I’m a little glad. If I were you, I wouldn’t reschedule that meeting. That guy? I think he’s trouble.”
Daria Gibron said, “Me, too.”
Four hours earlier. . .
The commission came out of the blue. A ﬂedgling Portuguese import firm needed a translator who spoke Arabic and German. It was a relatively uncommon combination of languages for Los Angeles.
The Portuguese importer, João Patricio, had left a message on Daria’s smartphone in musical English. He oﬀered three times her daily commission for two hours of work, provided she could come today. She thought about the other oﬀers currently on the table. Two banks had her on standby for talks involving euro-zone debt (boring). One Hollywood production house needed her help to lure the latest young hunk from the French cinema (she’d seen his movies; they were both terribly important and terrible). There was some petroleum deal that sounded far worse than dull but the negotiations would take place on a yacht oﬀ an exclusive resort in Costa Rica (that one at least showed merit).
The Portuguese deal, though, was one afternoon. And while the work itself might be awful, the new winter lineup of Christian Louboutin’s had arrived, and the importer’s timing couldn’t be faulted.
From her condo in West Hollywood, Daria booted up her computer and checked out Senhor Patricio’s bona ﬁdes. He owned Iberian Exportações of Lisbon. She checked its history, its holdings, and found very little of interest. She called her FBI handler, Ray Calabrese. He agreed to check out the ﬁrm and to meet her at a favorite Tuscan wine bar later that evening.
She went online and checked in with one of her contacts at the Drug Enforcement Administration. The woman was famous for her uncanny ability to track down European sources on both sides of the law. Daria e-ﬂirted with her a bit, then logged oﬀ and contacted someof her favorite European thieves, a man called Diego, with whom she had conducted business over the years. She ﬂirted with them a bit, too.
Nobody had any hard information for her. Which, in and of itself, was okay. As far as it goes.
The Portuguese commission was a stroke of good fortune. Daria was wary of good fortune. Always.
Senhor Patricio was working out of a second-story oﬃce in a run-down, three-story building near LAX. It would be optimistic to say the neighborhood had seen better days; it probably hadn’t.
Daria’s used beige Honda Civic, which she had bought for cash, fit in nicely in the near-empty parking lot. When it came to cars, Daria usually opted for bland over speed. And she had never owned a car that kept its Vehicle Identiﬁcation Number for longer than an hour.
Daria herself stood out quite a bit more than her car. She was a compact, athletic woman, five-six, with a heart-shaped face. She was dressed a bit risqué for a late-afternoon business meeting: black skirt just a tad too short, stilettos a tad too tall, crimson blouse showinga hint of her midnight blue bra, over which she wore a light, fitted jacket. It might be November, but it was still seventy in Los Angeles.
She checked her phone and found a text from her friend at the DEA. It read, simply: Poi Juarez.
She tried calling back and got voice mail.
She tossed the strap of her leather handbag over her shoulder and took the stairs up to the second ﬂoor. João Patricio was waiting for her in the hallway. He was a small, sparse man with slicked-back gray hairand a tightly trimmed goatee. She subconsciously clocked his suit asoﬀ-the-rack, something of the genus buy-one-get-one-free. He shook Daria’s right hand, his left hand cradling her right elbow.
“You found us all right, Miss Gibron? I didn’t know from where you were coming. Everything in California is farther away than I imagine.”
The building was one of Los Angeles’s small-business incubators, renting oﬃce space for small-to medium-sized start-ups, rates by the month or year. They stood in the corridor, the maroon carpet freshly cleaned and smelling of ammonia. One door had been propped open a few inches to the right of the stairwell, she noted, but another hung almost fully open to the left of the stairs. A temporary, peel-oﬀsign on the door read Iberian Exportacoes. Apparently, the maintenance company’s printer hadn’t been able to navigate the ç or the õ.
Patricio stood close to her, still holding her hand and elbow. His eyes darted quickly around the hall, as if worried about business competitors. Or a wife.
“Your English is quite good,” Daria noted. “So my lack of Portuguese won’t be a problem?”
“No. My lack of Arabic and French is the problem.” He shrugged disparagingly and gently nudged her in the direction of the fully open door. “May I discuss the details with you?”
Daria smiled and pivoted gracefully on her tall heels.
As she turned, Daria caught a ﬂeeting glimpse of motion from the second, slightly ajar door on the far side of the stairwell. She also noted three important details.
First, the rented oﬃce had been retroﬁtted with a Leveque Works magnetic card reader that articulated three thick steel bolts built into the door frame. The fresh wood shavings on the carpet meant the card reader was newly installed. It was not your standard security setup for a rental building near the airport.
Second, she discerned the telltale tightness, horizontally, beneath João Patricio’s cotton shirt and striped tie. He wore a bulletproof vest.
Third, she noted that Iberian Exportações occupied a one-room oﬃce, not a suite. The door was wedged between the west-facing window and the stairwell.
Combine those three facts with the text from the DEA that labeled Patricio as a POI—Person of Interest—in the Juarez drug cartel, and the elements started to coalesce. Daria had had a run-in with the Baja cartel three months earlier, which had resulted in the most unfortunate death of a pillar of the drug-running community.
Still, Person of Interest isn’t a conclusive statement, Daria thought to herself. She had been a person of interest in several crimes on three continents. Some of which hadn’t been her fault at all.
What ﬁnally made Daria casually reach for the blade in her purse was Patricio’s self-deprecating joke about his poor Arabic and French.
The contract was for a translator ﬂuent in Arabic and German.
Patricio wasn’t a businessman. He was an actor who had muﬀed his lines.
As soon as the Portuguese asshole led the curvy, black-haired Jewess into the oﬃce, Guerrón and Banguera emerged from the slightly open door to the right of the stairs. The narcotraficantes sprinted silently into position.
Guerrón, the whip-thin Ecuadorian, wore his trademark, checked keﬃyeh headscarf, which hung to the middle of his back. The only thing the Americans feared more than the narco cartels was al Qaida, and Guerrón had taken to wearing the Yasser Arafat–style headdress just to head-fuck the DEA.
He checked the stairwell while Banguera, a steroid-enhanced Sinaloan in a wifebeater, checked the second-story window overlooking the parking lot. Both carried waterproof canvas satchels.
There was a one-in-four chance that this was the puta who tracked down and killed Carlos “the War Dog” Ramos in a bordello in Amsterdam. Gibron was one of four female contractors known to be working with Western, antinarcotics agencies at the time. The other three were being interrogated by teams in Miami, London, and Stockholm.
The soldiers checked the stairs and the parking lot. There was no sign of anyone else. The woman was alone.
They could do with her as they pleased.
Daria’s small knife was old and well used. It had been a gift from the only person in the world she truly called family. It had been given to her before she was a translator. Before she was an FBI asset and an expatriated immigrant marooned in America. Even before her time in Israeli intelligence.
He’d given it to her on the very day she had been adopted into the battle for the Middle East. Daria was probably nine years old at the time.
The sheath was leather, caramel brown and shaped like the playing card, a spade, but with the upper portion rounded. The leather had grown shiny and supple from years of being touched in alleys and bars and battleﬁelds, in boardrooms and bedrooms. The sheath was approximately the size of Daria’s palm and Daria’s hands were not large.
The blade, once steel, had been replaced many times and now was a hardened plastic with a serrated edge. It was tough enough to slice through cowhide, if used properly.
Daria could use it properly.
Think of it as a waltz.
Daria, her right hand and elbow held by the small Portuguese businessman. Her left hand sliding into the unseen pocket slit in the bottom of her shoulder bag (like all of her bags).
João Patricio steps to his left, smiling nervously behind his silvery goatee.
Daria steps to her right and, her weight on one foot, deftly kicks the door closed with the other.
Patricio blinks in surprise when the door shuts and he hears the ca-clack of the steel bolts deploying into the door. That wasn’t part of the plan.
In the corridor, Guerrón and Banguera moved to the door of the rental oﬃce. As they stepped toward the door, it swung shut.
The new magnetic card reader and attached steel bolt security system had been installed to ensure privacy when they interrogated the Judía bitch. But the door had shut and the lock deployed too early.
The men exchanged perplexed glances.
Daria and Patricio were still moving, face-to-face, and turning. Patricio looked a bit surprised. Daria smiled languidly.
She gripped his right hand ﬁercely and stepped farther to his right, twisting his arm as she moved. Before he was aware of it, she slid behind him, pulled up his arm, and twisted painfully. His shoulder popped out of its socket and lights ﬂashed before his eyes.
Daria raised her left forearm and drove it into the base of his skull, slamming his forehead into the door.
His vision blurred and his knees buckled. Daria held him aloft against the door and raised his dislocated right arm higher.
Her thumb ﬂicked the plastic blade from its sheath. She slid the serrated edge the length of Patricio’s right arm, from the heel of his hand as far up the inside of his arm as his suit coat allowed.
The skin split easily. Warm blood roiled from the long, surgically clean wound.
Daria held the gushing right wrist over Patricio’s left shoulder, and directly over the card reader.
A Leveque system can be short-circuited easily enough. Water worked ﬁne, as would wine, but really, any liquid would suﬃce.
João Patricio moaned as his blood gushed into the magnetic card reader. Daria smelled smoke rising from the short-circuited locking mechanism.
Time to see what would happen next. The one-room office, between the stairwell and the outside wall, was too small for an ambush from within. That left her free to ignore any potential threats within the room.
Daria used her strength, weight, and training to pin the half-conscious importer between herself and the door.
Guerrón and Banguera waited a handful of seconds for the Portuguese businessman to unbolt the door from the inside. Doing this favor for the cartel was erasing a very large debt Patricio owed.
Nothing happened. The soldiers thought they heard a thump from inside the room.
Banguera, his absurdly muscle-bound upper body gleaming in sweat, reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a magnetic card. He swiped the card through the lock and awaited the ca-clank.
The LED light on the card reader ﬂickered red. There was a strange hiss from the locking mechanism.
The Sinaloan soldier swiped the card again.
Another hiss. This time, they didn’t even get the red LED. Nothing.
Guerrón brushed his checkered keffiyeh behind his back, set down his waterproof satchel, pulled out a Heckler & Koch MP 5 machine pistol. He slapped home a banana clip. He waved his friend out of the way, and thumbed off the safety.
He stepped in front of the cheap wooden door and kept the sound-suppressed MP-5 on single ﬁre. He tossed seven .9-mm. slugs intot he door.
The bullets cut a perfect half circle in the door, surrounding the steel bars in the locking mechanism.
The gunmen heard a grunt through the perforated door.
Wearing a Kevlar vest is good but Daria knew, from painful experience, that standing behind the person wearing one is better.
The door took the ﬁrst impact. The front of the vest took much of the rest. Patricio’s body absorbed the hydrostatic shock. The back of his vest dampened the remainder of the impact.
Daria took very little.
She felt around his waist for a gun and found nothing. She found a puny, five-shot, chrome .22 with an ivory handle strapped to one ankle. It was, as her old gunnery sergeant would have said, a complete piece of drek. She imagined ﬁring such a weapon at plastic ducks to win a stuffed animal. But beggars and choosers, she thought. She pulled the little gun and shot Patricio in the left knee.
Patricio cried out in agony. He dropped to his knees and Daria dropped with him, still pinning him against the door.
Patricio began chanting in Portuguese.
Daria cocked the little .22 and placed it against his left elbow. She whispered in his ear, as a lover might. “Senhor. . . . my fee . . . is going . . . up.”
“Two! Two! Please, God, please.”
“Two in the hall! Two in the hall! There’s a van in the alley, a fat man! Waiting! Please, by all that’s holy!”
He had lost quite a bit of blood by now. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t be of use.
João Patricio’s head lolled to one side, revealing two of the seven splintered holes evenly spaced in a half circle in the wooden door. Daria stuck the barrel of the pip-squeak .22 into one of the larger holes and fired once.
Guerrón smiled at the perfect half circle of bullet holes in the wood. He considered himself an artist with a gun. He stepped back, ready to kick it in, when they heard a second shot from within the room.
Guerrón took another step back. And another.
He looked down. Blood began seeping from his iliac artery, halfway between his left hip and his testicles.
Daria squinted through one of the other holes in the door. She saw a man’s legs stumble backward, saw a bloodstain blossom on his jeans.
Still on her knees behind the convulsing, bleeding-out importer, Daria took a moment to scan the oﬃce. One generic desk, three generic chairs on rollers with cheap but durable cloth seats and backrests. A window that looked out on gnarled, dyspeptic trunks, which is what passed for trees in L.A.
She rummaged through the dying man’s trouser pockets, leaning him up against the smashed door like the legion of cadavers at Fort Zinderneuf. She found a lighter—old, burnished, and brass—and a fat calfskin wallet. She opened it and found what she wanted: a thick wad of dollars and euros.
Perfect. Money can’t buy happiness. But it can buy time.
Banguera drew his own matching machine pistol, leather strap over his sloped shoulder. His eyes bulged as his partner stumbled back and fell on his ass against the far wall of the corridor. The ruptured artery in his groin was dampening his jeans with a fast-growing red stain. Guerrón began to twitch as his body went into shock. His H & K fell to the carpet by his side.
Daria left Patricio on his knees propped up against the door. She kicked oﬀ her stilettos and hitched up her already-short skirt to a decidedly unladylike level. She leaped up onto the cheap desk and used the lighter to ignite João Patricio’s stash of money. She held the burning end under the mandatory smoke detector that she had found in every room of every public building she had entered since defecting. I do so love American paranoia, she thought.
An earsplitting alarm sounded and the tiny, tin windmill beneath the ceiling-mounted spigot began to rotate, splashing water everywhere.
Daria dropped to the far side of the desk. Soaked to her skin, hair matted with water from the sprinkler, she stripped oﬀ her jacket—itwas last season’s anyway.
It was her own damn fault. She shouldn’t have come to the meeting without a gun. Oh, well. Kill and learn.
She remembered a drill instructor from her Shin Bet days. Whatever can’t be used defensively, use oﬀensively.The IKEA desk wouldn’t repel bullets but the cheaply made furniture was light enough to maneuver, and it rested on coasters so the oﬃce could be easily reconfigured for each new renter. She shoved the chairs out of the way and spun the desk anticlockwise so the short end faced the door.
She started shoving. Her bare feet struggled to ﬁnd purchase in the soaked carpet, but the light, cheap desk on its concave coasters picked up speed.
João Patricio—kneeling against the door, barely conscious, right arm hanging limp and spooling out blood—half-turned to see the narrow edge of the desk only a meter from his face and moving fast. He screamed.
Copyright ©2013 Dana Haynes