Washington D.C.’s professional troubleshooter, Hannibal Jones, is enraged when he is forced to take a case at gunpoint. His client is a Russian assassin who will kill Hannibal’s beloved, Cindy Santiago, if Hannibal refuses to help him. With no choice, Hannibal agrees to investigate the smooth, wealthy Algerian who has stolen the heart of the woman his new client loves. At first the case looks simple, but Hannibal’s view quickly changes when evidence surfaces connecting the Algerian to Russian mob money and the apparent suicide of the girl’s father several years earlier. Further investigation reveals that the Algerian may not be who he says he is. Then more deaths follow, closing in on the Algerian and the girl. At first working only to protect Cindy’s life, Hannibal is soon chasing the truth for its own sake and must fight his way through past lies, present jealousies and the Red Mafiya to learn the real reason that death is stalking the couple. Hannibal peels the Algerian’s history like an onion, each layer revealing a false identity. His search for the truth leads to a dramatic shootout on Roosevelt Island, side-by-side with his murderous client.
About the Author
Austin S. Camacho is the author of seven novels about Washington DC-based private eye Hannibal Jones, five in the Stark and O’Brien international adventure-thriller series, and the detective novel, Beyond Blue. His short stories have been featured in several anthologies including Dying in a Winter Wonderland – an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association Top Ten Bestseller for 2008. He is featured in the Edgar nominated African American Mystery Writers: A Historical and Thematic Study by Frankie Y. Bailey. Camacho is also editorial director for Intrigue Publishing, a Maryland small press.
Read an Excerpt
By Austin S. Camacho
Intrigue Publishing LLCCopyright © 2009 Austin S. Camacho
All rights reserved.
Hannibal kept his eyes on the stranger as he pushed the door closed. He could almost feel his irises widening, adjusting to the darkness. The man behind the automatic had military-short hair. His tight, angular face looked as if someone had assembled it from a number of flat planes. The eyes were a sharp, piercing blue, like ice chips set into the ruddy face. This man would think nothing of killing Hannibal. The silencer attached to the barrel of his nine millimeter Browning Hi-power said that he might even get away after doing so.
"Remove your coat," the stranger said. Hannibal considered the situation and decided that if this fellow wanted him dead he already would be, so he had nothing to lose.
The stranger smiled then, a cold, hard smile, and leaned back in Hannibal's chair. "Please."
Well, the man was at least being respectful. Hannibal pulled off his coat and hung it on the coat rack beside the door.
"Now, with your middle finger and thumb lift that Sig Sauer out of its holster and set it here on the desk. Please."
This man was very calm and well controlled. A professional, not like the amateurs Hannibal dealt with earlier. That knowledge put him more at ease. He might die tonight, but not because of a jumpy gunman having a careless accident. Hannibal watched those hard blue eyes as he reached under his right arm and pulled his gun free of its holster. He placed it carefully on his desk in front of the gunman. Interesting, Hannibal thought, that he was left-handed too. With a nod, the other man turned on Hannibal's desk lamp. After a second he waved the tip of his barrel at Hannibal's face.
"They are truly hazel, just as your file said."
He would be referring to Hannibal's eyes. But what file was he talking about? Hannibal had no police record, except of course as a past officer. He had never served in the military. And not many people could get into his old Secret Service jacket. Now he was more curious than worried.
"Look, I hope you won't consider this rude, but this is my office after all. Just who the hell are you?"
The stranger motioned Hannibal into the guest chair. "I am Aleksandr Dimitri Ivanovich. And you are Hannibal Jones, the self-described troubleshooter, born in Frankfurt of an American soldier and a German mother. Six years New York City Police Department, three of them as a detective. Seven years in the Treasury Department's Protective Service. Licensed investigator in Washington, Virginia and Maryland."
"Okay, so you've done your homework," Hannibal said, unbuttoning his shirtsleeves. "Obviously you're not just some casual burglar."
"Of course not. Do I look like a thief? It is important that you know who I am, so that you will not make a foolish mistake. I am in fact a professional assassin."
"Really," Hannibal said. "Killers don't usually open up so easily. Freelance?"
"I do not simply work for the highest bidder," Ivanovich said with an air of indignance. "I work for what you would call the Red Mafiya. The Russian mob. So you see I am in my way a troubleshooter as well."
Hannibal sat forward, his mouth suddenly dry. The shadows behind Ivanovich seemed to grow taller and more menacing. Hannibal's mind raced back through his most recent cases, searching for an enemy who might be in the position to place an assignment in this man's hands. Then he considered Russians or Eastern Europeans he might have offended while doing his job. Ivanovich allowed him all the silence he needed to consider and reject every possibility.
"I give up. Who sent you? Why are you here?"
Ivanovich surprised Hannibal with a charming smile, although the gun's muzzle never wavered. "No one sent me here. I have come to your office for the same reason most people do. I need your help."
"My help? At gunpoint?"
Ivanovich lifted a photo album from under the chair and placed it on the desk. He slid out an eight-by-ten black-and-white photo and turned it to face Hannibal.
"This is Dani Gana, a wealthy Algerian, or so I am told."
Hannibal took the face in. The man was darker than Hannibal but his features were not African. He was aggressively handsome, wearing a day's growth of beard and the kind of self-possessed smirk that women are drawn to and men want to slap off any face they see it on. Hannibal would have disliked him right away if someone other than a hired killer had presented the picture. He raised his eyes back to Ivanovich.
"I won't find your target for you."
Ivanovich shook his head. "I already know where he is. I want to know who he really is, where he is from, where his fortune came from, and why he is in Washington."
Hannibal crossed his legs. "So you just want me to do a background investigation on this fellow. And no one is paying you to kill him?"
"Then what makes him a person of interest for you?"
"His relationship with Viktoriya Petrova."
Hannibal took his time standing up in order to avoid any threatening movement. He found his curiosity piqued despite himself, and felt confident that he was in no real danger as long as he didn't get too close to Ivanovich.
"There's a woman," Hannibal said. "That means there's a story. How about some coffee?"
Ivanovich nodded, his lips pressed together. He looked uncomfortable, maybe more so than Hannibal. After all, Hannibal had had guns pointed at him plenty of times before. But Ivanovich looked like a man who had rarely asked anyone for help and didn't like doing it at all.
Hannibal took the coffee carafe from the machine on the table beside his desk and headed toward the kitchen at the other end of the five-room apartment that served as his office. Its rooms formed one long space unless the pocket doors set in the walls were pulled together to separate them. Ivanovich followed. As Hannibal filled the carafe, he asked, "You have a relationship with this girl?"
"Viktoriya and I have a long history."
Ivanovich stood, stiff as a wooden soldier, in the doorway to the kitchen. He held his gun close to his ribs, pointed at Hannibal's chest. Once the carafe was full, Hannibal turned to face him. "What has the girl to do with the man whose picture you showed me?"
"They are engaged to be married."
Hannibal nodded and headed back through the apartment, passing the bed in the room beside the kitchen. "So why aren't you with her now?"
"There are times when one must lay low," Ivanovich answered, stepping around the heavy bag hanging from the ceiling in the middle room. "This is one of those times."
They continued past the small table in what Hannibal sometimes referred to as his conference room and into his office. He poured the water into his coffee maker, wondering how close the police might be to finding Ivanovich.
"Well, you must have been watching this guy for a while to be able to get that picture of him," Hannibal said.
"Yes," Ivanovich said, pulling an airtight canister from a shelf behind Hannibal and handing it to him. "I was simply observing him, but as it turned out the FBI was watching him also. I was spotted but escaped before the agent could call in backup."
Hannibal poured beans into the grinder side of his coffee maker. It was a custom blend of Kenyan, Colombian, and Guatemalan coffees prepared for him by The Coffee Mill in Rehoboth Beach. It was much better than his captor deserved. He hated the fact that the proposed case was beginning to interest him.
"So the FBI is also interested in this Gana," Hannibal said over the whine of the grinder. "Is he Russian mob too?"
Ivanovich paused at the same moment Hannibal did to enjoy the fresh aroma that the grinder ripped from the beans. Then he said, "I do not know. But Viktoriya's father was, before he died. Nikita is no longer there to protect or advise her. She lives with her mother, Raisa, now. She seemed secure there until this Gana appeared in the city two months ago and leased Raisa's second home."
"Also in the District?"
"Yes. Both are in Woodley Park."
"Nice," Hannibal said, pouring his coffee. "He must have plenty of cash to be staying up there. It sounds like your Viktoriya will be well taken care of." He looked at Ivanovich who nodded with a thin smile, so Hannibal poured a second cup.
"Perhaps." Ivanovich accepted the cup and returned to Hannibal's desk chair. "But I fear he may have come by the money dishonestly. If that is true, he could have worse enemies than the FBI. And if someone is out there who wants to hurt this man, Viktoriya could be hurt in the process. I will not allow her to be put at risk."
Hannibal stood at his desk, considering this enigmatic assassin and his request. Ivanovich was asking Hannibal to take a case he was sure he would accept from a different client and maybe from this man if they had not had this entire conversation at gunpoint.
"You really love her, don't you?"
"How could that matter to your investigation?"
"It has to do with your motives," Hannibal said. "You must be desperate to be here, talking to a black detective because you figure I can help you find out the truth about a rich African foreigner. But why would I take your case? Do you really think you can force me to investigate at gunpoint? I could walk out that door and just keep going. Or, I could call the cops and let them come in here and yank you out. Why on earth would I invest any of my time and energy into helping you stalk this girl who doesn't appear to need help or to be interested in you at all?"
Ivanovich's voice deepened and became a bit harder, as if he wanted to be very sure that Hannibal understood him clearly.
"Because, my arrogant friend, I have very competent associates watching Miss Cintia Santiago, associate at Baylor, Truman, and Ray and daughter of Reynaldo Santiago who lives upstairs from you. My associates are invisible, obedient, and deadly. If you fail to find the answers I need about Dani Gana, your beloved Cintia Santiago will die."CHAPTER 2
Aleksandr Ivanovich's words had echoed in Hannibal's mind all night like a continuous tape loop. The loop continued to play in his head the next morning as he gathered Eddie Miller from his apartment just before dawn. Driving his black Volvo S60 downtown, Hannibal replayed every ugly word Ivanovich had said to him. The jarring statement that at least two trusted men were watching Cindy Santiago at all times. The declaration that her telephones were tapped and that Ivanovich could even tap into her BlackBerry messages. The warning that any contact with her would endanger her and her coworkers.
He didn't need to be told that letting any of his friends or neighbors know what was going on would put them at risk. All the men who lived upstairs had helped him on cases before. Sarge, Quaker, and Virgil were always up for anything but none of them would be able to deal with a professional killer like Ivanovich. And none of them could keep a secret from the fourth man who shared the building, Cindy's father. With his Cuban temper, Ray Santiago would likely go racing right into the assassin's sights.
Worse, a firefight in the building would involve little Monte, the boy Hannibal mentored, and possibly his grandmother. Mother Washington would try to talk the killer out of the house, believing that prayer can solve any problem. Maybe she was right, but he would not risk their lives. This problem he would have to deal with on his own.
All this occupied one compartment of his brain as he drove the car he called the Black Beauty into the parking garage under the building that housed the law offices of Baylor, Truman, and Ray. He stepped out of the car and looked around for a second before signaling Miller that it was safe to get out.
"I thought we were going to the courthouse," Miller said, looking uncomfortable in a suit that Hannibal suspected only left the closet for weddings or an Easter church visit.
"You'll be safe here until court time," Hannibal said, keeping his eyes moving as he escorted Miller to the elevator.
"I don't think anybody's going to bother me this close to the trial," Miller said.
Hannibal didn't think so either. He was watching for other men. But it seemed he had guessed right. Cindy would head straight for the courthouse this morning and, with limited resources, Ivanovich's people would be with her, not staking out her workplace.
They carried little of the crisp morning air into the elevator with them, and warm, dry air greeted them as they stepped out of it. Hannibal was surprised to see lights on behind the office door and for a second he feared he had guessed wrong after all. Miller stepped back when Hannibal drew his weapon, gripped the doorknob, and pushed the door inward.
Silence and a sweet aroma greeted his entrance. The outer office was empty except for Mrs. Abrogast, who was floating fresh begonias in a shallow bowl filled with water. The office manager turned toward the door with an expression that somehow combined an unimpressed smirk with a scowl of impatience.
"Can I help you with something, Mr. Jones, or are you here to rob us?"
"My apologies, ma'am," Hannibal said, holstering his gun. "I didn't expect anyone to be here this early. I thought I'd end up waiting for you in the hall."
"Someone has to prepare this place for the all the young lions," she said, moving around behind her desk. Mrs. Abrogast was one of those lovable, blue-haired, old-school ladies who never smiled but loved her charges despite her constant criticism of them. This, and her stone visage, made her the perfect gatekeeper.
"Well, since you're here, I'd like to leave Mr. Miller with you," Hannibal said.
"You do know that Ms. Santiago is not in yet," Abrogast said. "I'm the only one here."
"Yes, ma'am," Hannibal said, "but I have another case that I have to attend to. I'm pretty sure Miller here will be safe in your charge and the rest of the crowd will be in soon enough."
"You need to stop by more often, young man, and I don't just mean when it's business related," she said, fussing with things on her desk as if Hannibal wasn't worth paying attention to. "You give her more attention, or we'll find someone else for her to waste her time on."
Hannibal leaned one palm on the desk. "You are absolutely right, Mrs. A. You don't know how badly I wish I could be talking to her right now. But when you see her, give her this, OK?"
He kissed the tip of a gloved pointer finger and pressed it on Mrs. Abrogast's head. She gave him a skeptical glance and a small piece of a smile.
"That won't hold her for long, young man."
* * *
Hannibal's smile faded by the time he was driving north and west down Connecticut Avenue, the major thoroughfare that slices into the heart of Northwest DC. He was at the leading edge of rush hour, the sky not quite light thanks to low cloud cover, the pedestrians not quite awake. Heading toward Viktoriya Petrova's place, he had more time than he wanted to consider Ivanovich's threat against the person he cared most about in the world.
It was a big stick, maybe bigger than necessary. After all, Ivanovich was not asking him to do anything illegal or that would put anyone at risk. In fact, Hannibal knew he might have taken the job anyway if Ivanovich had asked him nicely. It was nothing that would make him even think about putting his woman at risk, and he saw no reason to leave an alarming note for her at work or make any attempt to inform her of the situation because it would only frighten her. Besides, he might be able to end the case quickly. He would start by talking with Gana; his girl, Petrova; and her mother. If the man had nothing to hide, Hannibal would know right away.
To reach the Petrova house Hannibal drove past the Omni Shoreham Hotel and down the block he called restaurant row in his mind. He had once counted twenty-five international restaurants on that one city block. Most of them pumped hypnotic aromas into the street. Crawling through traffic with his windows down, Hannibal found the scent of food changing with each breath.
He drove past stately rowhouses whose ornate architecture cast him back a century or so before trees and lawns took over and the rowhouses gave way to upscale single-family houses. These were not the contemporary dwellings sprouting like kudzu all around the Beltway, but old-school mansionettes, most of which were still inhabited by old money.
Hannibal was watching the numbers on the mailboxes. After he drove past the Petrova house, he turned the corner and parked almost at the end of the block. He was dressed for business in black suit and gloves and his ever-present Oakleys, but he didn't feel conspicuous. In that neighborhood, most people would assume he was a member of a government or private protective service, or perhaps working at one of the nearby embassies.
It was a crisp day, as if all the trees in the neighborhood were working overtime on oxygen production, and he wanted to walk the area a bit before knocking on a stranger's door. On a whim, he decided to walk toward the closer corner and stroll up the block to pass the house that backed to the Petrova residence. It also belonged to Mrs. Petrova and was leased to Dani Gana. If Hannibal got lucky he might even catch a glimpse of Gana, although he still wanted to speak to Mrs. Petrova first.
Excerpted from Russian Roulette by Austin S. Camacho. Copyright © 2009 Austin S. Camacho. Excerpted by permission of Intrigue Publishing LLC.
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