Book Title: The Alcoholic Mercenary
Author: Phil Hughes
Publication Date: 30th April 2022
Page Length: 350 Pages
They said, “See Naples and then die!”
Rachel had thought it was to do with the natural beauty of the place. A misconception she soon lost after climbing down from the C130 troop carrier. The suspicious death of her predecessor, followed by the murder of a sailor, and an enforced liaison with a chauvinistic and probably corrupt cop saw to that.
“See Naples and then die!”
Some said the saying was anonymous. Some attributed it to Goethe. Still, others said it was Lord Byron, or maybe Keats. When the young brother of a mercenary hitman became her main suspect, Rachel leant towards Keats. Didn’t the poet die here? Somewhere near, for sure. Probably coined the phrase on his deathbed.
And then, the cherry on the top of her ice cream soda, she could smell grappa on the breath of the mercenary when she interviewed him. The only thing worse than a violent man: a violent man who drinks.
The only thing worse than a violent man who drinks: a violent man who drinks and considers himself Rachel’s enemy.
Arriving in the Director’s anteroom, Rachel asked, ‘Do you know what it’s about?’
The aide shook his head, not looking up from his spreadsheet. Director’s weekly planner, or whatever. Rachel couldn’t read it upside down, nor did she have any inclination.
Her thoughts were on the summons. It had come from nowhere. She’d been in her office working on the probability of an armed invasion of Afghanistan when Special Agent Thomas knocked on her doorframe, smiled – flashing at least a thousand bucks of dental work – and ordered her to go see the Director. Rachel had asked Thomas what it was about as she stood and smoothed down her slacks, palms already turning slick with sweat, suddenly glad she’d chosen a dark pantsuit. But Thomas just tutted and shooed her out.
During the five-minute walk to Hubble’s office, Rachel racked her brains for what it might be about. She could think of nothing; had done nothing deserving either praise or castigation. Still, she knew it had to be the latter because Hubble was not renowned for issuing the former.
‘Take a seat, Rachel. The Director will be with you shortly. He’s just finishing a call,’ the aide said, still not looking up. Rachel nodded and took a seat on the leather couch opposite the man’s desk.
What was going on? Whatever it was, it was an annoyance. She could ill-afford the time, working hard on the risk assessment, the NIS counter-threat remit having taken on a new meaning with the growing crisis in Afghanistan. Rachel had spent the last weeks looking into risks associated with possible actions from the Sixth Fleet in response to an invasion. She needed to be in her office. Not here, crossing and uncrossing her legs.
The intercom buzzed. Rachel looked up expectantly. The aide nodded at her and moved around the desk to open the door into the inner sanctum. Walking through, she looked at the Director, seated on the other side of his rosewood desk. His face was set in an unfathomable mask, a look that would give a Navy SEAL reason to pause. Rachel stopped, unsure of herself, once again throwing her mind into the recent past, trying to think what she’d done to earn his displeasure.
‘Please sit,’ Hubble said, gesturing at a chair with an open palm.
Rachel watched the aide close the door before taking the offered seat. She felt an urge to rub her hands on her thighs, to rid her of the sweat gathering on her palms, a sweat that first started in high school when her peers would jeer at her and call her names. Instead, she placed them in her lap, keeping her face as neutral as she could. What could it be? Nothing presented as a solution.
Is it Afghanistan? Have the Soviets invaded?
‘How long have you been with me now, Rachel?’ Hubble asked.
‘A year and a bit, sir.’
She could have said one year, eleven months, and twelve days. She knew to the minute when Jake had turned his back on her in the municipal park. Walking away into an unknown future. Leaving her and her love behind without a backward glance. She hated to admit that she missed him. She thought she probably still loved him, but often a feeling of loathing replaced that thought. How could he just abandon their marriage like that? Abandon her? Head to Washington, like he’d dreamed of since snapping at the ankles of those around him.
‘Nearer two,’ Hubble said, smiling.
Why would he be smiling? After her initial meeting with him, she hadn’t spoken to the Director at all. Apart from team meetings, she barely saw him. She’d been starting to think Jake’s assessment was less knee jerk reaction and more realistic than she had given him credit for.
Wouldn’t Jake just love this?
‘Really, sir. I hadn’t realised,’ Rachel said with a frown.
‘No. Far too busy to be thinking of such mundanities, I should imagine. What are you working on, Afghanistan?’
‘How’s it going?’ Hubble asked, broadening his smile. Confused, Rachel didn’t allow it to sway her, to daunt her, looking him in the eye as she shrugged. ‘I mean the job, rather than the Afghan crisis.’
‘It’s all relative,’ she said.
Truth be told, after being admitted to his inner circle, she’d expected a faster progression. At least one promotion. A career with wings. Instead, this morning, she arrived here expecting the Director to tear her a new one for some innocent infringement.
‘I know you find it all slow,’ Hubble said, head angled sympathetically, more condescending than sympathetic.
‘Yes, sir,’ she said. Just another chauvinist, flashed through her mind.
Suddenly, her nerves of moments before dissipated. She was just sitting opposite another senior officer. Another chauvinist in a service that was full of them. She wondered what it would feel like to sit on the other side of that desk when she became Director.
‘I also expected miracles when I graduated top of the year,’ Hubble continued with a shake of the head and a smile, fond memories. ‘Course, the reality is never in line with expectations.’
‘No, sir. Of course. I just…’ She trailed off, unsure what she wanted to say.
‘Yes, I understand. Well, your opportunity is here now, Rachel. You’ve spent the best part of two years at Quantico. The brass have decided you need to be tested.’
‘Yes. Bit of fieldwork.’
Rachel swallowed several times. Fieldwork was not what she’d expected – or wanted. Senior Field Agent in some no hope hole at the back end of nowhere was not high on her priority list. Not when the promotion path began in Quantico.
‘There is a sudden vacancy we need to fill.’
‘Sudden vacancy, sir?’ Dead man’s boots, she realised. Her day was nose-diving real quick. There were no plaudits from being sent to fill the footwear of a corpse. No one would say, “She deserved that.”
‘Yes.’ He looked down at the report on his desk. ‘SAC Alex Troy, NSA in Naples. Sudden infarction at his desk. Died on the spot. One of his Junior Field Agents found him several hours after the event. Sad.’
‘Several hours later? Is that not a little suspicious, sir?’ It sure as hell sounded suspicious to Rachel and not just because it hit close to home.
‘I’m not following.’
‘Why did someone in his team not discover him sooner? I don’t know when bringing him a coffee or reporting on activities in the field.’
And give him CPR instead of just letting him die.
‘He was not active in the field agent side of his duties.’
‘And the other side?’ she asked, trying to hide her scepticism.
‘No. Troy was not really active there, either.’
‘I see.’ Baking with the alligators. Great. ‘North Naples in Florida?’
‘No, Naples, Italy. There is a heavy naval presence there because it’s the headquarters of AFSOUTH, Allied Forces South. Us and the Brits, mostly, but all the other nations too.’
Although educated in Classical Studies, Phil is the author of several historical crime novels. Having spent many years living in the Mafia infested hinterlands of Naples, Phil bases his novels on his experiences while living there. Much of what he includes in his stories is based on real events witnessed first-hand.
Having retired from writing and editing technical documentation for a living, Phil now lives in Wexford with his partner and their border terriers, Ruby, Maisy, and the new addition Ted. He writes full time and where better to do it than in the Sunny South East of Ireland.
Social Media Links:
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Phil-Hughes/e/B01LXH4EGL