Chance Assassin was an introduction not only to Frank and Vincent's relationship, but also to their world of assassinations. Les Recidivists is a very different book than Chance Assassin, and not just because of the alternating character points of view. It's a gateway to the rest of the series: insight into other aspects of the job and other characters, but mostly a look at what two years of retirement will do to people who get off on bloodshed (kinda obvious spoiler: it hasn't gone well for them.)
A lot can happen in two years, or in Frank and Vincent's case, a lot of nothing. They're bored with it. And frustrated. The events of Chance Assassin may have nearly killed them, but it was a lot easier than surviving civilian life. Or married life.
Without further ado, here's an excerpt from the first chapter of Les Recidivists. I hope you all enjoy it, and enjoy the rest of the book once it's out.
Sortie. Exit. Neon green salvation mounted just above the fire door, a height that had never seemed so far out of reach even for short little me. It brightly lied about the possibility of surviving through the night.
There was no escape. Not for me. And certainly not for Frank.
I could see the panic on his face from halfway across the room. He was outnumbered, up against the wall with only an empty champagne flute as a weapon. He looked pleadingly toward me. If I only had my gun I could make quick work of them, doing my best Jackson Pollock and painting the walls with their brains. But no. I wasn’t allowed to bring a gun to Casey’s art opening.
Social events were torturous after retiring from a life of crime, but since moving to France I’d discovered a little get out of jail free card. All I had to do was practice my je ne comprends pas, and throw my French husband to the wolves.
Frank managed to flee the crowd of art critics only to be cornered by Alan Barker, art dealer extraordinaire and master of ceremonies for this evening’s soiree. And the main reason I wasn’t allowed to come in armed. Now him, I really wanted to shoot.
Alan was about a thousand years old, but looked at least twice that. He perpetually dressed in gray three-piece tweed suits, as if anyone could forget that he was English, and was small in stature, shorter than me even when he was wearing lifts in his loafers. His height, or lack thereof, was one of his only redeeming qualities.
He was the biggest homosexual stereotype I’d ever met, the very definition of an English dandy, and so catty that the last time he came to visit Frank and me at home, our dogs chased him up a tree. Then again, he did hate me, and the dogs were so protective that they wouldn’t even let Frank get away with fucking me too hard. We had to take our extracurricular activities to our apartment in the city whenever we wanted to play rough.
Alan had known Frank longer than anyone still living, and had been in love with him ever since. He had a taste for dark haired boys with accents. Frank was fifteen when they met, his English anything but the Queen’s, and had he been world-wise enough to pick up on the old man’s flirtations, he might’ve had his first gay experience out of sheer convenience.
Fortunately for Alan’s sake, Frank preferred beauty over age so I had no need to defend my territory. Alan also seemed to prefer the younger set, and although he had sobbed melodramatically at our wedding because Frank was officially off the market, his sights were now focused almost entirely on Casey.
Casey was the man of the hour at tonight’s extravaganza, and as far as I’d noticed, one of only two other Americans in the room besides me. Frank had introduced Casey and Alan years ago to save the kid from a life of artistic poverty, considering that Casey would give away his art to anyone who showed the least appreciation for it, and Alan knew plenty of rich people who showed appreciation with their checkbooks.
Alan had started selling Casey’s work to society’s elite before he was even out of college; not only because he wanted to get in his pants, but because Casey could do things with a paintbrush that warranted the price tags that Alan was famous for.
Even though Alan was old enough to be his grandfather, and Casey was only borderline bisexual, it didn’t stop them from flirting with each other whenever they met. I had a feeling that if Alan died tomorrow, God permit, his will would have Casey Evans written all over it.
The work on display tonight was mostly on loan out of private collections, mine and Frank’s and a few from Alan himself. The star attraction, one Alan had snatched up in light of the scandal surrounding its former owner’s death, was one of the few paintings actually for sale: the most famous shipwreck in history, complete with floating frozen corpses so realistic Casey must’ve prodded Frank for details. A smiling yellow rubber ducky bobbing amongst the bodies gave the painting Casey’s signature weirdness.
It was the first painting of his that I’d ever seen, hanging on the expensive wall of the late Lawrence Wright. His death was on the record as murder-suicide, killed by his coke-head mistress aboard the Wright family’s fifty foot yacht. But in reality it was murder-murder, a hit performed to perfection by yours truly. It went without saying that the truth was kept from Casey. And everyone else for that matter.
That had been the beginning of the end for my life of crime, and here we were two years later, rubbing elbows with the very people we used to kill. Alan had in fact hired Frank once, to bump off some abusive boyfriend. If only he’d hire him again, to spare us the boredom. And spare us Antoinette Bergeton.
Frank winced as Madam Bergeton approached him. She was one of Alan’s closest friends, which meant that they looked down on nearly everyone else, and then talked about each other behind one another’s backs. But unlike Alan she had no taste, and had to rely on him for everything from picking lovers to picking nail polish.
Antoinette had squinty eyes she could barely open under the six pounds of mascara and teal eye shadow she must’ve applied with a paint roller, and lips that were puckered on a permanent basis as if she were storing lemons in the deep recesses of her jowls. She smelled like a bull that got loose in a perfume shop, and had pointy high heeled shoes that threatened to burst out the sides at any moment from the pressure of being three sizes too small.
She cemented Frank’s arm against her corpulent bosom. I wondered what she’d think if she knew how easily he could snap her sternum in that position. Judging by Alan’s smirk, it was quite obvious what he had on his mind, and he seemed to approve of whatever method of murder would soon befall the rotund Frenchwoman.
Alan was amused by everything that had the potential of ending up in a police report. Merely mentioning the word scandal caused him to squeal like he’d sat on something sharp but pleasurable, and he’d clap his hands together over and over, then lean in close for the details. If he leaned in any closer to my husband, I’d be snapping his sternum.
Frank managed to pry his arm away when a waiter appeared to distract her with hors d’oeuvres, but he didn’t leave. As much as he hated mingling with strangers, much less acquaintances, he would eagerly watch them all day. His favorite part of being a gun for hire had been learning everything about his victims through hours of surveillance, and he could always pretend that the light at the end of the irritation tunnel was from a flash of gunfire.
As for me, I cared less about the stalking portion of our former profession, and more about getting my hands dirty. And right now, my hands were spick and span, blood free for two full years. Just the thought of it was enough to make me want to stab the nearest passing artist with my champagne flute. Except that particular artist happened to be Casey.
He beamed at me, innocently unaware of my momentarily homicidal thoughts, a thousand watt light bulb in a socket of color. Casey was wearing a blue V-necked tunic that was in fact a knee-length dress, a pair of dark jeans so tight they threatened the welfare of his future children, and blue plaid Doc Marten boots laced up to his shins with bright yellow bootlaces.
This was a subdued Casey, his normal overly colorful nature muted by the death of his estranged father. The only evidence of this recent loss was a black arm band he wore in mourning, though he had asked Frank to embroider a bright red heart on the center in honor of his dad’s coronary. Frank was a great seamstress.
“Hey, Vin,” he said as he came closer, slipping his arm around my shoulders and pulling me into the type of playful hug a butch older brother would use to show affection to his misty-eyed little sister. I nearly lost my footing, a side effect of too much champagne that I shouldn’t have been drinking anyway. Or maybe this was my standard lack of balance; another so far so permanent by-product of the brain injury that single headedly ended my criminal career.
We’d been to several specialists, and they all said it was more or less normal, being that my brain had bounced like a rubber ball against my fractured skull. But while the fainting eventually went away, and medication helped prevent seizures, I still got sudden migraines that were bad enough to bring me to my knees. Along with even a minuscule amount of stress, drinking alcohol was one of the major triggers.
“Sorry,” Casey said, taking my drink from me just as Frank would’ve done. “I thought alcohol gave you a headache.”
“It’s a special occasion,” I reminded him. “Yours.” It was also a social occasion, which always drove me to drinking regardless of the potentially painful consequences.
“Oh, yeah,” he said sheepishly, looking around the room as if he’d just noticed that the work on display had been plain white canvas before he’d gotten his talented hands on it.
Casey was energetically confident when it came to everything but his art. He had a hard time grasping how Alan could put so many zeroes on the end of the price tag. As a teenager he’d been known to spend months on a piece only to suspend it from a freeway overpass that desperately needed “cheering up” or nail it to a pole under a bridge so the homeless could have a more welcoming living area.
That was part of what made him so endearing, and made everyone who knew him so protective of him. Casey was the sweetest person you could ever hope to meet. He’d been raised by a single mother on the verge of absolute poverty, thanks to his recently deceased deadbeat dad, so he had a great head on his shoulders even after becoming established on the Paris art scene.
The poverty had ended when Casey was twelve, and Frank showed up like Robin Hood, robbing the rich of their lives and giving the money to the poor. Frank had still been more or less providing for them financially when we’d met, even though he never so much as mentioned them to me.
Frank had always been very fond of secrecy. Things normal people would mention on the first or second date took months to pry out of him, and subjects he was sensitive about took even longer. But if there was one thing Frank was more partial to than secrecy, it was paranoia. After his ex-partner was nearly killed on a job, he decided it was better to keep his distance from his adopted family than face the prospect of losing them. He broke off all contact without so much as a goodbye, and chalked it up as a failed attempt at a normal life.
But it just so happens that I’m very partial to jealousy, as well as insecurity. When I saw Casey’s painting on the Wright’s wall, and saw Frank’s reaction to it, I naturally feared that my boyfriend had a secret artist lover on the side who I’d have to put through a wood chipper. I gave Frank no choice but to come clean or find a heavy duty wet/dry vac to pick up the pieces of both relationships.
My fears couldn’t have been more unfounded. Casey was like his brother, and Casey’s mother Maggie was probably less attracted to Frank than he was to her. The woman was clearly out of her mind. Who wouldn’t want Frank? Tall, dark, and gorgeous, with bright green eyes and jet black hair. It still got me hot just to smell him, and we’d been together since I was sixteen.
It didn’t help matters that he was only getting better looking with age. He was closer to forty than thirty now, and he had the occasional gray hair amongst the black, a fact that I’d been able to successfully hide from him due to his habit of never looking in mirrors, until Casey came to stay with us and let him in on the secret.
Frank had been so embarrassed that he wouldn’t even show his face at the store to buy hair dye, and in a shocking lack of the usual protectiveness he showed for his “little brother,” forced Casey to make the journey to town on his own to buy a box of black. On top of that, he refused to speak to me, until he realized we’d have a guest for the next who-knew-how-long and would have to get my punishment in then or forever hold his piece.
Casey had officially been in France for two months, and although he had enough good judgment to take the dogs for an extra long walk in the woods around our house whenever Frank and I gave each other that look, his mom and stepdad were more insistent of us hanging out as one big happy family while they were here on their belated honeymoon.
After I’d gotten hurt, all I’d wanted was stability: a family, freshly baked cookies, and somewhere to live where my wounds wouldn’t get infected if I so much as used a bath towel. Then I came to my senses, realizing it would never work. Maggie and Gideon saw me as a kid instead of the prematurely retired psycho killer I was, and that only seemed to encourage Frank to keep acting like I was going to keel over and die any second.
I’d hoped that once we were on our own Frank would see that I was okay, and even though we weren’t doing what we used to do, we still had each other. He could be my teacher again, French lessons in place of Murder 101, and instead of spanking me for splattering him with blood, he could punish me when I didn’t conjugate verbs correctly. It would be just like old times. Only it wasn’t.
“You’re thinking about sex,” Casey said knowingly, his voice lowered as if Frank could hear us from across the room. It still took very little to embarrass Frank, and talking to his brother about our sex life was enough to make him hide in his dusty library until his ears stopped glowing red.
I smiled, and was about to remind him that having sex on the brain wasn’t a rarity for me when I saw her.
She, of Frank’s past: his sister-in-arms and former partner, who couldn’t walk into a room without causing damage to something or someone. Bella.