Paulette Noble
Crafter & Tale Weaver

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An excerpt from

The Best Laid Plans

An Alex & Raf Adventure

This was my first attempt at a contest. The piece was to begin with the sentence: "It was supposed to be easy," and not to exceed 7,000 words. Yeah, well.... My first draft came in at 7,017. I was actually pretty proud of that as it was my shortest complete piece to date. Once the contest was over, I revised for content not word count. No, I didn't win; I didn't cultivate enough popularity through bought reviews. The current version came in at 7,671 words.

Initially Written: 2008.08.11
Latest Revision: 2009.04.11

It was supposed to be easy. In. Out. Nobody the wiser. The bitch of it was I could have done this job in my sleep. I left nothing to chance, every step meticulously planned out. How was I to know that blood pirates were going to be there?

My name is Alex Martin and I'm what's known in the business as a retriever. If clients want something that they can't legitimately get ahold of, they call me. If I can't or won't take the job, I can usually recommend a suitable replacement. I was born in Quebec so use the French pronunciation, s'il vous plaƮt, and only my late grandmother ever called me Alexandra, so if you know what's good for you, you won't even try.

When I slipped into the warehouse and found the second-story office unlocked, I should have known something was off. The computer on the desk was on and someone had left a still-in-progress game of solitaire open on the screen. That there was no screensaver running didn't clue me in. After all, some folks still didn't use them.

Instead of sensing a problem, I saw opportunity. The contents of the computer were not part of the job, but it was certain to contain something someone would find valuable so I plugged in the compact drive I always carried for just such moments and cloned the hard drive. Chances were there'd be nothing of significant value on it, but it had paid off handsomely in the past, so taking those few extra minutes was well worth the risk of discovery.

The filing cabinet was just as easy to breach as the office door: not locked. The files my client wanted were exactly where they were supposed to be. They weren't large so it didn't take long to flip through them and make digital copies. Since the target appeared meticulously neat and organized, I was very careful to keep the files in their original condition when I returned them to the cabinet. As far as I could tell, those files and the ones surrounding them appeared undisturbed. With a nod, I snatched the portable drive from the computer's USB port on my way by and tucked it in my pocket.

The building itself had been easy enough to break into. The roof had no security cameras and the access door, while locked, had not been difficult to pick. I wasn't worried about getting back out. That is, I wasn't worried until I approached the part of the upstairs hall that overlooked the warehouse floor and heard an unholy cackle and a plea for mercy.

"Please, no," the nasally voice whimpered. Then he screamed.

It was unlikely that whoever they were would see me in the shadows from below, especially if I stayed near the rear wall and crouched down. I could move silently, though with all the noise they were making, I doubted they'd hear me even if I knocked over one of the myriad planks and pipes leaning against the wall.

"Tell me where they are!" That particular growling voice brought me to a dead stop.

Shit. I knew that voice only too well. Even after all these years, it still sent chills down my spine. Pierce Montrose was the head of a brutal human trafficking ring that supplied live bodies to exclusive clients, and not always vampires. Then it all clicked. The unlocked office door and the partially played solitaire game on the computer. The man they had was probably the security guard and had been in the office right before I arrived. Double shit. Those bastards didn't need to see or hear me—they could smell me!

The man cried out again.

It was a good thing I wasn't the hero-type because there wasn't a damned thing I could do for the man. Whether he told them what they wanted to know or not, he was as good as dead. Judging from his pathetic pleading, I'd say he didn't even realize it yet.

I really wanted to leave, but this hallway was the only way to the door I came in. I had no choice but to chance that open expanse.

Though tracking dogs weren't a serious concern, since they tended to refuse to track when they scent my kind, sometimes an overly aggressive alpha would take exception to a werewolf in its territory. It's happened before. Thankfully, never to me. To keep it that way, I routinely used a scent mask to prevent the dogs from reacting to my trail and giving my species away. There aren't that many of us compared to humans and it would be too easy to narrow down the suspect pool.

An additional bonus of using the scent mask is that it dilutes the scent and so reduces the amount of time the trail is detectable to any species, giving the appearance that the trail was far older. Even so, if Montrose or any of his non-human thugs got close to where I'd been anytime in the next four or so hours, they'd still detect my trail, scent mask or not. That, I did not want.

I moved as quickly as I dared but slow enough to minimize stirring the air. They'd notice I'd passed if they came up here, but hopefully I'd be long gone by then. I inched down the hall and up onto the roof without raising an alarm, but that didn't mean anything. I had to lose them in the confusion of the scents of the city, too. If I didn't, I was as dead as that guard was about to be when they followed me home.

Leaping from rooftop to rooftop to make my escape, I paused after each landing to see if I'd been discovered. Five buildings away, the roof door opened on the warehouse. I was too far away to see who it was, but the way he swayed his head back and forth told me he was scenting the air. They'd discovered my presence in the office sooner than I'd hoped. If my trail had lead out the ground floor door, instead of to the roof, it would have been plausible that I could have been there as many as fifteen hours earlier. It was too late to change things now.

In speed and agility, vampires were nearly a match for werewolves. I had no illusions that he could easily follow me across the rooftops so I slipped over the side of the building and took the fire escape the four stories to the street.