I'm Jaz Parks. CIA assassin. Black belt. Belly dancer at the Corpus Christi Winter Festival. The last is cover for my latest mission: retrieve a vital piece of biotechnology by killing the maniac who stole it. The thief is not your run-of-the-mill nut job, either. He's Chien-Lung, an obsessive vamp who's invulnerable while wearing his armor-which is constantly.
Then there are the reavers, ancient fiends who murder innocents and eat their souls. Only I can sense them. So it's not long before they'll want me dead, dead, dead.
And did I mention the nightmares? They're not your garden-variety sit-up-and-screamers. These suckers may actually kill me before the reavers do.
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December 11, 2007
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Excerpt from Another One Bites the Dust by Jennifer Rardin
You are what you drive. My personal ride is a fully reconditioned 1965 Corvette Sting Ray 327 convertible, inherited from my Granny May after Pops Lew passed away. He taught me everything I know about fast, powerful cars. How to drive them, keep them running, love them with unrelenting passion.
So maybe it was understandable that, despite wearing a helmet that currently hid my entire face from view, if a pit had suddenly yawned open before me, I would've happily leaped into it and hurtled to my untimely death rather than spent another second with my ass pinned to the seat of a 1993 moped.
Sometimes my job just sucks.
Nobody would've agreed with me less than my mo-buddy, Cole Bemont, who chugged along the Bay Trail beside me at a stately rate of speed, humming a little ditty into his helmet mike as he avoided crashing into yet another stray Texan. On this mild, sunny afternoon it seemed like half of Corpus Christi had read our adventure-seeking minds and said, "Cool. Let's go get in their way."
Skaters, bikers, and fishermen vied for space along the wide stretch of asphalt we shared with parents guarding strollers and scampering kids. To our left a bright white seawall punctuated by an inviting little gazebo divided land from water, a sparkling blue inlet to the Gulf of Mexico. To our right, a broad strip of grass led up a gentle slope, past a deserted bandstand to rows of hotels, restaurants, and the occasional dance club. Ahead of us a palm-lined parking lot and boat-happy marina marked the end of everyday recreation and the beginning of extra-special fun. Which was where we came in.
We'd taken upon ourselves the task of scoping out the Corpus Christi Winter Festival, which was even now rising from the trampled grass just beyond our vision. Afterward we planned to report our findings to our boss, Vayl. Once he rose. As in, from the dead. He's a vamp, one of the growing minority who've cast their lot with society for better or, as has commonly been the case, for worse.
At any rate, Cole and I, having already been given most of the necessary details regarding our target, figured it might be fun, and indeed professional, to locate the spot where said target was digging in. It wouldn't hurt to become familiar with the overall plan of the festival, either, considering the fact that we were going to become attractions ourselves all too soon.
Within minutes we reached the site. Hundreds of scurrying roadies and home business owners infused the place with an atmosphere of anticipation as they set up game booths, food trailers, and shops where you could drop a load of cash on potions, pendants, or candles whose scent made you dream of lost loved ones. As we wound our way past craft tables and warding booths Cole said, "Jasmine, promise we'll stop there before we leave this place!"
He pointed to a stall whose four-foot-high hand-painted sign announced its name in neon orange letters as Boogie Chickens. According to the smaller print, you only had to invest a dollar to watch four Brahma hens groove to classic hits by the Bee Gees.
"We should hire them to open for us," I said.
"It won't work," Cole replied. "I've seen that look in Vayl's eyes before. You're not talking him out of the belly-dancing gig."
Vayl hadn't even tried to soften the blow. He'd smacked me with it two days before, while we were still motoring through Indiana. When I'd asked him what our crew would be doing at the Corpus Christi Winter Festival he'd replied, "Our target, whose name is Chien-Lung, is taking a troupe of Chinese acrobats to divert copious crowds of Texans throughout the last week of February. Because his security is unparalleled, the best way for us to lure him into the open is to become entertainment ourselves. As a Seer and Reader of Tarot, Cassandra will be our main draw. Lung is obsessed with psychics and will not be able to resist attending her show. Before she arrives onstage we will whet his appetite with our own unique talents. Cole will juggle, I will sing, you will belly dance, and Bergman will attend to all electronic apparatus including lights, sound, and surveillance."
I held up my hands as if they could actually stop this rocket. "Whoa! Now, wait a minute. I'm not belly dancing."
"Yes, you are. It is a beautiful, ancient art. One you should be proud to share."
"I can't belly dance."
"Yes, you can. It is in your fi --"
"Will you stop reading my goddamn file!"
Nobody had said a word. It reminded me of a classroom right after the teacher has gone ballistic and thrown a textbook out the window. I'd briefly considered making my own exit that way, but since we'd been traveling down I-70 in a gigantic RV at the time, that option had seemed a little extreme.