EXCERPT – Dead West: a novel
September 12th, 2023
In 2021, Richards published the first title in her “The Ending” series about a woman who becomes a hired killer, Endings (Oceanview Publishing). In the follow-up, Exit Strategy (Oceanview Publishing, 2022) Richards’ “hitwoman” gets a surprise assignment — keeping someone alive — although this might involve killing other people. In Dead West (Oceanview Publishing, 2023) our anti-hero is questioning whether to continue being a hitwoman even as she continues to take on more assignments.
The following excerpt is Chapter One of Dead West.
I’m sitting on a beach. It’s a ridiculous proposition. Fluffy white clouds are scudding through a clear, blue sky. Surfers are running around carrying boards, often over their heads. Then they plunge into a sea that looks deadly to my non-surfing eyes. Palm trees are waving, and the air is so neutral, you don’t have to think about it. Soft, welcoming air. You just float right through.
The view is beautiful. It’s like a movie backdrop. A painting. Something skillfully manufactured to look hyper-real. Textbook paradise, that’s what I’m talking about.
I’m sitting on this beach, trying not to think about the reason I’m here. But it’s hard. Difficult. To not think about it, I mean. I’m here, in paradise, because someone has to die.
Someone will die.
I got the assignment a few days ago. I flew to this island to pull it off.
My target is a businessman who lives on this island in the South Pacific. He is the kind of self-made guy who has achieved every goal in life and would seem to have everything to live for. Only now, apparently, someone wants him dead because here I am, ready for business.
So I stake him out. You need to understand at least the basics of who someone is before you snuff them out. This is the idea that I have. I’m not going all sensitive on you or anything, that’s just how it is. In order to do the best possible job in this business, you need to understand a little about who they are.
His name is Gavin White, and I researched him a bit before I got here. He made his fortune in oil and wax, which is an odd enough combination that you perk up your ears. Only it doesn’t matter: the source of the income would seem to have nothing to do with the hit. Would seem to, because there is only so much I can learn about that, really. On the surface, anyway, I can find no direct connection between Gavin White’s livelihood and the death that someone has planned for him and that I am now further planning.
I follow him and his S560 cabriolet all over the tropical island. He makes a few stops. I watch what he does, how he moves, and who he interacts with. Some of it might matter. I’m not doing it for my health. I’m watching him so I can determine when I might best have advantage when I go to take him out. There are always multiple times and different places to fulfill my assignment and usually only one—or maybe two—that are virtually flawless. Sometimes not even that.
And it’s more than an opportunity I’m looking for, though that can play a part. It’s also a matter of identifying what will make my job not only easier, but also safest from detection. And so I watch. And I wait.
As I follow him, he stops first at a bank. Does some business—I’ll never know what. After that he visits his mom. At least, I guess it is his mom. An older woman he seems affectionate with. From my rental car, I can see them through a front room window. There is a hug and then a wave. It could be a bookkeeper for all I know. But mom is what I guess.
After a while he heads to the beach. He sits on the sand, seems to contemplate. I think about taking him there; full contemplation. But it is crude and much too exposed.
More time passes before he takes off his shoes, leaves them on the beach, and walks into the surf. I leave my car and take up a spot on the sand, just plopping myself down not far from his shoes.
I watch him surreptitiously. It is obvious he did not come to the beach to swim. He is fully clothed and he hasn’t left a towel behind there with his shoes. There is none of the paraphernalia one associates with a visit to the beach, even if this were one that is intended for swimming, which it is not. Signs warn of possible impending doom for those who venture into the water.
“Strong current,” reads one sign under a fluorescent flag. “If in doubt, don’t go out.”
“Dangerous shore break,” warns another. “Waves break in shallow water. Serious injuries could occur, even in small surf.”
I don’t know if Gavin White read the signs, or noticed them, but even though he is still fully clothed, he steps into the water anyway.
First, he gets his feet wet. Not long after, he wades in up to his knees. He hesitates when the water is at mid-thigh, and he stops there. For a while, it seems to me, it is like a dance. He stands facing the horizon, directly in front of where I sit. His shoulders are squared. There is something stoic in his stance. I can’t explain it. Squared and stoic.
Waves break against him, push him back. He allows the push, then makes his way back to the spot where he had stood before.
Before long, he ventures deeper still. The dance. I watch for a while, fascinated. I wonder if there is anything I should do. But no. The dance. Two steps forward, then the waves push him back.
And now he is in deeper still, and farther from shore. I see a wave engulf him completely, and I hold my breath. He doesn’t struggle, but then I see him rise, face the horizon, square his shoulders.
The waves are strong and beautiful. And they are eerily clear, those waves. Sometimes I can see right inside them. Careful glass tubes of water, I can even observe that from shore.
For a while he stands like that, facing the horizon—a lull in the action of the waves. And then he is engulfed once again. I hold my breath, but this time he doesn’t rise.
I sit there for a long time, considering. And waiting. My breathing shallow. But he doesn’t reappear.
After half an hour, I text my handler.
“It is done,” is all I say, just as I know she will expect.
It was not my hand, but the mission has been accomplished regardless. No one knows better than me that there are many ways to die.