The Housewife Assassin’s Relationship Survival Guide by Josie Brown
By SMW Staff
In this fourth full-length novel of The Housewife Assassin series, Donna Stone finds out that breaking up is hard to do.
But so is dating a terrorist, let alone eleven of them.
Does the make Donna a serial dater, or serial killer?
Worse yet, an old flame gets in the way of Donna’s chance for true love.
But she doesn’t cry. She gets even.
(A small portion of this book appeared as a novella in “Guns and Roses: A Murder She Writes Anthology”.)
The digital video being played on the monitor is black and white and grainy, but there is no mistaking the identity of the man being waterboarded:
He is my soon-to-be-ex husband, Carl Alex Stone.
Although it’s been two months since I last saw him, even the filthy netting over his head can’t hide the profile I know so well. Granted, his frame is thinner than it’s ever been, but there is still a weightlifter’s definition to his broad shoulders, muscular biceps and rock hard abs, which involuntarily strain each time a steady stream of water, poured from a bucket held by his torturer, drenches the towel periodically thrown over his face.
Despite all the gagging and choking, he won’t give them what they ask for: the names of the eleven men who lead the Quorum, a well-funded international terrorist organization.
Instead, he passes out. Five times, in fact.
He always was a stubborn son of a bitch.
I’m watching this video inside a glass-paneled observers’ gallery within the United States Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, where Carl’s military commission trial for terror and treason is taking place.
Carl sits only fifty feet from me. While here, he is only acknowledged as Prisoner 1982. But for his trial he is allowed to forgo his usual garb—orange jumper—for a suit, which hangs loosely on him. I’m sure that, when he had it custom made, it fit his body like a glove.
Yes, he knows I’m here. When he shuffled into the room, his legs chained together, he threw me a kiss.
I have the good sense not to shoot him a bird.
Instead, I ignore him. In all honesty, I should be rejoicing. Since the day I learned he was still alive and what he’d become, I dreamt of waterboarding him myself.
So, why don’t I feel redeemed?
Over the protests of the prosecuting officer, Army Major Blake Reynolds, the footage of Carl’s torture was provided by his lead defense attorney, Mason Lynch. “As you can see, your honor, despite these egregious breaches of the Geneva Conventions, the prisoner’s will was never broken. That alone should prove his innocence.”
Lynch’s declaration is tinged with just enough righteous indignation to elicit an involuntary wince from the judge, Army Colonel Lawrence Cromwell.
“He has steadfastly declared his innocence,” Lynch continues. “Carl Stone is just an American citizen who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. One who, in the past, has served his country admirably, I might add.”
Judge Cromwell looks down at the pad in front of him. A prisoner’s claim of torture is one thing. Having been presented with physical evidence of torture while in captivity puts this judge in a difficult position. In any other courtroom, this would have merited the case being thrown out before coming to trial. But considering Gitmo prisoners don’t exactly get the same due diligence as the rest of us on the US mainland, this is no ordinary trial, and Carl is no ordinary prisoner.
Like all of Gitmo’s detainees, he is classified as an “unlawful combatant.” In fact, at the time of his capture, he was Number 4 on the International Terrorist Watch List.
Not exactly great husband material, don’t you agree?
Major Reynolds frowns. He’s not just being outmaneuvered, but outclassed, too. You see, unlike the typical legal eagles who defend Gitmo prisoners, Mason Lynch isn’t just some civil liberties watchdog or court-appointed JAG officer. He’s a litigator who hails from a firm with a quadruple-A Martindale-Hubbell rating.
In other words, he’s the best lawyer money can buy.
Not Carl’s money, but the Quorum’s. He is the organization’s best hard man, its most precious asset. The Quorum is wise to protect him at all costs.
Besides, he knows where all the bodies are buried.
More importantly, he knows the identities and locations of the eleven Quorum leaders who are still alive.
Truth be known, Carl has already buried two of them. The first was the military industrialist Jonah Breck, whose computer holds the names of others. My black-ops employer, Acme Industries, has been trying to break the encryption code since it fell into our hands.
If Carl had broken under torture, we’d have put them all in jail by now. Something tells me playing good cop wouldn’t have gotten us what we wanted, either. At the same time, we can’t let their names go to the grave with him. That’s where I come in.
Soon, very soon.
Carl left me six years ago, on the night I went into labor with our youngest daughter. I thought he had died in the blaze of a car crash, at the hands of the Quorum. My own path to becoming an assassin for the good guys was to avenge his death.
Now this goal includes Carl.
It’s why I’m here today. Until our divorce is final, a wife can’t testify against her husband.
But I can watch as he is sentenced to pay his debt to society.
Besides, I want to make sure joint custody isn’t in the picture.
When it comes to the divorce, Carl has made my life miserable. When he was on the outside, he was great at dodging my subpoenas. Now that he sees the writing on the wall, he insists on joint custody and weekends with our children.
Considering that Gitmo doesn’t allow family sleepovers, it’s a non-starter. I mean, come on already. It ain’t exactly a Disney vacation.
Besides, my children don’t know him from Adam. Or more honestly, they don’t know him from Jack. More specifically, Jack Craig, who assumed Carl’s identity of workaholic-slash- road warrior-slash- loving father. Before Jack’s arrival, they presumed their father was on the longest road trip in history: over five years.
Shame on Carl for deserting them. For deserting me.
So yeah, he’ll get back in their lives over my dead body.
Or his, if both the U.S. Government and I get our way.
Jack is also the new man in my life. If Carl had his way, Jack would be dead. He was, for a while. He faked his death, which allowed us to capture Carl.
Losing Jack was a wake-up call for me. If, by some strange twist of fate, Carl walks away from this, I’ll kill him myself.
Or die trying.
But first things first: take down the Quorum. For that, we still need Carl.
“Your honor, I’d like to call a few witnesses who can outline fully the scope of Mr. Stone’s treason.”
The judge nods.
“Jack Craig, will you please take the stand,” Blake Reynolds says.
Jack does as he’s told. As always, his gaze is intense, but for once his face is as expressionless as a block of concrete. His voice is devoid of passion as he lists Carl’s many misdeeds: mostly hits, but thankfully some misses, including two of which I was personally involved in. The first was a plot involving a toxic nanobomb, which we stopped from detonating during the World Little League Series. Jack and I took Carl down during his latest terror attempt, in which he tried to shoot down POTUS in Air Force One with a heat-seeking missile, while it was on final approach into LAX.
You can see why I think Carl is a lousy role model for our kids.
When Jack is done with his testimony, Judge Crowley’s face is certainly easy to read: Carl is not long for this world.
Mason Lynch’s cross examination doesn’t take long. How can you poke holes in evidence that is backed up by photos and video taken at the scenes of Carl’s crimes, and with affidavits of several of LA’s finest? Not to mention a variety of physical evidence, such as the missile launcher and the now diffused nanobomb.
Ah, boys and their toys.
All eyes turn to Carl. His Mona Lisa smile does not betray the seething anger I know is roiling within him. He has always hated Jack. Before, it was because of his relationship with me. But now he’s got a different excuse. Jack has just put the noose around his neck.
When Jack’s testimony is finished, he joins me in the observers’ gallery. He squeezes my hand as he sits down beside me. I squeeze back. Like him, I’m relieved this chapter in our lives is almost over.
But no, it isn’t.
If I’d presumed Jack was the star witness, I’m wrong. “Will Valentina Petrescu please take the stand,” Reynolds calls out.
What… the hell?
Valentina is a double agent. Or triple, depending on who you believe: that is, me, or Jack.
Jack avoids my stare. I can easily guess why. Three months ago, Valentina went off the grid, whereabouts unknown. That was fine with me. Her appearance in our lives had me doubting Jack’s love.
Quite frankly, seeing her here doesn’t help our trust issues.
In our business, pulling an all-nighter is business as usual. In the past few months, Jack has had more than his fair share. I never ask him what he does, since Acme protocol is strict: operatives are only informed on a need-to-know basis.
So, now I know his latest mission involved prepping the testimony of the same comely ex-Romanian gymnast who once broke his heart.
You see, she’s also Jack’s estranged wife.
Oh yeah, and she ran away with my soon to be ex-husband. He taught her the skills needed to become one of the Quorum’s deadliest killers.
But this isn’t a lonely hearts club, so Jack and I have had to suck it up and move on. Revenge is a dish best served in jail.
I slip my hand out from under his. Because he doesn’t reach for it again, I know he gets it: I’m angry. And yes, I’m hurt.
And no, it will be a long time before I forgive and forget.
One thing that won’t fade from memory anytime soon is her attempt to kill me.
I better not catch herself alone with me. I live to return the favor. Despite Jack’s conviction that she was just a pawn in Carl’s unholy game of world domination, I know better.
She was playing for keeps. And what she wanted didn’t include Jack.
She told me so herself.
She is dressed primly, in a high-necked tailored linen suit that defies Cuba’s sultry heat. The only indication she is feeling any discomfort at all are the few damp tendrils which have escaped from her otherwise smooth ash blond chignon. Her voice, though low, never wavers. Her tale not only corroborates what we know to be true, it’s done with such conviction that even Lynch can’t shake her under cross-examination, but he’s sure as hell trying.
“Why should anyone believe you, when what you say is the only thing that keeps you from being locked in this hellhole alongside Carl Stone, facing a death sentence?” Lynch snarls at her.
“Because I—” she hesitates a moment, then: “Because I was deceived by him, too.”
“You’re lying,” Lynch declares. “You’re here because you’re a woman scorned.”
“No!” Her Romanian accent is more prominent, now that she’s upset. “I’m a woman afraid of a monster who hates everyone, and everything. What he loves is power. I know firsthand the pain he can cause, and the harm he will do, if he’s allowed to walk free. ”
Unfortunately for Valentina, the only person who hates her more than me is Carl. Her testimony here assures this.
When she steps off the witness stand, she has to pass right by him. Her eyes are drawn to Carl’s.
His glare makes her flinch in fear. All the color leaves her face. She steadies herself as she stumbles past him, to one of the courtroom’s rear benches.
Judge Crowley’s deliberation is short. No one is surprised when he delivers a verdict of treason and a sentence of death by lethal injection.
Jack breathes a slight sigh.
I turn my head so that he can’t see my response. I wish I could control the tears that rim my eyes.
He must know how I feel anyway, because he asks, “Are you sure you’re up for a final farewell?”
During pre-trial negotiations, Lynch was able to wangle a solid concession: a final meeting between Carl and me.
“It works to Acme’s advantage. So be it.” I shrug. “Besides, I need closure. It will be my last face-to-face with Carl. There’s some solace in that.”
As I grab my purse and head for the door, he murmurs, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”
That’s just it. I know he’d do anything and everything to take down the Quorum.
And he knows I will, too.
It’s been a while since Carl has been with a woman. I don’t know what he has in mind for me. No matter. It’ll be worth it, if he gives up the Quorum.
If he doesn’t do so willingly, there’s always Plan B.
© 2013 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Author.