BY: RLM COOPER
Cascadian Intelligence Mission Agent, Zakaya Kalu—better known as “Z”—travels to the United States to visit her mother. But when her young friend, Zeena, sees the men who took her two years earlier and soon disappears, Z vows to find her and bring a ring of human traffickers to justice. In this sequel to Legacy 627, Z finds herself teamed with, and attracted to, a man she does not entirely trust in order to assist the local police in solving strange murders by a suspect known only as the Kind Killer. By agreeing to assist in this case, Z demands access to evidence in cases she believes will lead to the rescue of Zeena.
Still wanted by the Americans for her part in destroying a dangerous chemical they hoped to weaponize, Z must guard her connection to CIMA and tread carefully as she poses as an ordinary police detective and closes in on the traffickers. Through it all, Z learns one valuable lesson: No matter who they are or what they have…
Everyone leaves a legacy.
A Mall in Crimson City, Alabama, USA
He sat back in the armless chair he had installed in the darkened cubby, idly picking beneath his fingernails with a pocketknife. Waiting.
He watched closely from behind the two-way mirror as the girls rushed into the fitting room, arms cascading a chaos of color in the tulle, lace, and satin of prom dresses. Both girls giggled excitedly over their upcoming dates. Both were fifteen years old. One brunette, one blonde. Both pretty. The blonde was a bit on the chubby side while her brunette friend was beautifully proportioned with that blushed and glowing complexion that made her skin radiant. And valuable.
He rose slowly, carefully, and stood quietly appraising the girls through black-dark eyes, coldly calculating their value on the market. He had hit the jackpot on this particular day. The weeks leading up to prom had always been lucrative. So lucrative, in fact, that he could afford to be selective taking only the very best. He pocketed the knife and tapped out a short note on the tele-communicator strapped to his wrist, then became so distracted by the brunette that his finger lingered above the t-com, the message temporarily unsent.
The girls were holding the dresses up, admiring themselves in the mirror—unaware they were, themselves, being admired from the other side—just inches away.
“Oh Kit!” the blonde said. “You look so beautiful in blue! I wish I was thin like you.”
The brunette—Kit—answered her friend generously. “Don’t be silly, Connie. You’re beautiful! What do you think of the pink?”
“I like it.”
“Do you think Andy will like it?”
The blonde Connie laughed. “Andy likes you. I don’t think he cares what you wear.”
They both laughed and placed their dresses on the wall hooks in the order they wanted to try them on.
This mall, like so many in the United States over the years had fallen into disrepair as many of the stores had either cancelled their leases or just gone bankrupt and were forced to vacate. It had subsequently been sold several times until a recent purchaser had gotten the bright idea to sell off the individual spaces, pocket the money and be done with it without worrying whether or not it would succeed or fail yet again.
The purchaser of this particular shop had had very special renovations in mind that would make it doubly lucrative.
This particular fitting booth—a former storage room—had been outfitted from floor to ceiling with mirrors on three of its sides and was large enough to contain both girls comfortably as they began to undress.
T-shirts were excitedly pulled over their heads and jeans were pushed down and leg-tossed into the corner. Next came the bras, releasing tender, young breasts with pink, upturned nipples. It was all he could do to contain himself at the sight of the brunette. His tongue licked out at the thought of those nipples between his lips and he could feel himself growing hard.
But she was not for him. She was worth far too much. This was business. Dangerous but extremely lucrative. He pushed his hardness down in an effort to concentrate on the job at hand and, at last, remembered to press the “send” button on his t-com. Then he waited. And watched.
The dispatched t-com note was short and to the point. It read: Lose the blonde.
The blonde would bring much less and he rejected her out of hand. Not that he cared one way or the other about her. Or about any of them, for that matter. After all, they were just fickle little pieces of fluff who would one day marry some yokel, have a bunch of squalling babies, and complain incessantly for a new sofa. Girls were all alike. Little flirts. Teases. Then they dump you for some lawyer’s spawn or a misfit in a motorcycle jacket. Well, he had made more than a few of them pay over the past several years.
Self-centered, money-grubbing little airheads.
He retrieved the knife from his pocket, and again began scraping beneath his nails, intently watching the brunette as he waited. She leaned into the mirror and pursed her lips into a pout, then giggled at herself and unzipped the gown, once again exposing her breasts. He groaned silently and tensed, nicking himself with the knife he had forgotten was in his hand. He sucked the blood from the cut on his thumb and continued to watch as a second man silently slipped into the cubby through a small door behind him. He turned and frowned at the new arrival, temporarily placing the bloody thumb on the back of the chair.
“You’re late! You risk everything coming in like that.” He whispered in the angriest tone he could muster and still remain virtually silent.
The other man, shorter and rounder than him, said nothing. He handed over a small bottle and a folded square of soft cloth, then waited, motionless and silent just inside the cubby door.
Before the girls had time to try on the next of their dresses, the saleswoman appeared and informed the blonde she had found the perfect dress for her. Store rules, however, insisted she bring out one of the dresses she had already tried before she could bring in another. The girl happily re-donned her t-shirt and jeans and preceded the woman out of the dressing room in excited anticipation. The saleswoman, perhaps once pretty but now careworn and furrowed, looked back at the brunette, then into the mirror. She sighed, turned, and closed the dressing room door behind her.
The brunette, Kit, was now alone.
He moved fast. He soaked the cloth with the contents of the bottle, and with the flick of a switch engaged a lock on the dressing room door, trapping her inside.
Hearing the click of the door, the girl turned toward it but saw nothing. Still happy and excited, she was reaching for the dress hanging just to the right of the door when he pushed open the left-side mirror-wall and grabbed her from her blind left side. Stunned, she had no time to scream before his hand covered her mouth with the octoflurane-soaked cloth. She was rendered unconscious almost immediately. His partner, still waiting patiently by the cubby door, took her over his shoulder and out the back room of the dress shop. He watched for a moment and then casually gathered up her handbag and clothes to take with them.
The prom dresses were left in a frothy ocean of pinks, greens, and blues about the room. There would be no inventory shortage for store audits to ponder later and no sign the girl had ever been there. Finally, he released the lock on the dressing room door. In fewer than twenty seconds the girl was loaded into an unmarked and windowless van parked just inches from the shop’s rear door. The sliding door was slammed shut and the van slowly pulled out of the underground parking area, turned right at the mall entrance, and disappeared into the ordinary flow of traffic on the main thoroughfare that ran through the shopping district and out of town to the southwest.
Not two minutes later the girl’s blonde friend, Connie, came bursting through the dressing room door, arms loaded with lavender tulle and taffeta.
“Kit! Look what I foun—.” She stopped and turned to the saleswoman. “Where did she go?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she got tired and left. Her clothes are gone. See?” The woman gestured toward the corner of the booth where the brunette’s clothes and bag had been. “Were you supposed to meet somewhere after shopping?”
“No. That’s really odd. That’s not like her.” The girl frowned, obviously worried.
“Well, I wouldn’t worry. She’s either out looking for more dresses or just got tired and went home. I’m sure you’ll find her soon.”. The woman began gathering up the discarded prom dresses to return to the racks in the store. “Let me know if you need anything else.”
It had taken all of eleven minutes and twenty-three seconds from the moment the girls first walked into the fitting room, and it was over.