Stiletto Chapter 1

The cool October breeze ruffled Kristen Tyler’s long black hair as she exited the mall.  Out of habit, her deep brown eyes carefully surveyed her surroundings before she walked across the mall parking lot to her car.  It was second nature to her now to be aware of everyone and everything in her immediate vicinity.  You can take the girl away from  the agency, but you can’t take the agency away from the girl.  Kristen’s full pink lips curved into a rueful smile at the thought.  It was exactly five years, eight months and twenty days ago that she embarked on her journey into the world of intrigue.  When Charles, her childhood friend and confidant, approached her with the offer, she immediately agreed to the Agency’s proposal that the two of them work as a freelance team to investigate high-level corporate and governmental security breaches.  Reaching her white Mustang, she placed her purchases on the roof while she rummaged through her purse for the keys.  As she pulled them out, her day planner tumbled to the ground.  Kristen knelt to retrieve it and noticed a worn envelope lying beside her rear tire. 

A look of  perplexed curiosity crossed her otherwise guarded expression as    she opened the unsealed flap discovering a key, a scrap of paper and a gold medallion.  The medallion caught her attention; it was three to four inches in diameter with an interlocking V shaped design etched on its surface.  What is this?  She glanced around the parking lot, her gaze missing nothing.  A woman struggling to get a baby stroller out of the trunk of her car and two teenager’s kissing where the only people she saw in the area.  She pressed her lips into a tight line.  If this was Carson’s idea of delivering an assignment, it’s not funny.  I’ll check with CJ and see if there is anything on the agenda, but if I don’t hurry I’m gonna be late.

            Kristen slipped the envelope and planner in her purse before tossing her other packages onto the back seat.  She checked her watch after she had backed out of the parking space.  It was four fifteen; Kristen knew the twenty-two mile trip to Top Sail Island would be nearly impossible to make in fifteen minutes, but she could never resist a challenge.  She quickly mapped out a route that would avoid  most of Wilmington’s rush hour traffic and exited the mall.

            As she neared her destination, Kristen noted with satisfaction that she had made the trip in a reasonable time.  Guiding the Mustang along the private road, she watched the Juneaux house come into view.  The large Victorian styled manor provided a sharp contrast to the North Carolina Island’s more traditional beach houses.  Charles was one of Top Sail’s few permanent residents and the twenty seven year old entrepreneur ran his international corporation, Juneaux Industries, from this one location.  The company served as the front for their covert activities.  Charles had inherited the core business of electronics manufacturing from his late father.  Kristen had known from all of the time that she had spent with the Juneaux family that Philippe had had many friends and associates in big business and high-level government positions.  She was surprised but not shocked when Charles told her the Agency had asked him to continue and even expand the role his father had played with them.  She also suspected that Charles wished to find out if his parents’ deaths where indeed accidental as had been concluded by the French police. 

            The boards creaked under Kristen’s sneakers as she walked across the porch and in the open door.  She checked the living room first.  Heavy damask curtains shielded the spacious room from most of the outside light and it took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust.  The room was empty.  She opened the French doors leading to the sunroom and studied the panoramic view of the beach from the bay window.  This was perhaps her favorite room in the entire house.  She and Charles spent many hours talking in this room and enjoying the relaxing view.  It too was empty.

            “The study,” Kristen spoke.  “That’s the only other place he would be.”

            She left the French doors open and walked the length of a short hallway that ended in a doorway.  The office door was partly open, so Kristen slowly pushed it aside and entered the room.

            “You’re late.”

            “Only a couple of minutes,” she replied, removing her denim jacket.  Kristen draped it over one of the leather chairs and sat down, tucking one shapely blue jean encased leg underneath her.

            “Five minutes and twenty six seconds to be exact.  You must have ran all the stop signs between the mall and here.”

            Kristen made a face.  “I do not run stop signs.”

            “You don’t exactly stop for them either.”  Charles ducked to avoid the paper wad Kristen tossed at him.  His emerald green eyes shone brightly as he threw the crumpled paper back with a laugh.   

            Kristen would never forget the first time she met Charles.  He and his parents were dinner guests at the Tyler home.  The two then eight-year-olds bonded at once and spent the entire evening laughing in the playroom.  As Kristen grew older, she spent more and more time with the Juneaux family especially in the years following her parents’ divorce.  She and Charles became practically inseparable.  They both thought along the same lines and often could finish each other’s sentences.  She was the first person he had called after learning of his parents’ deaths nearly six years ago.  Kristen had immediately flown to France to assist  him with the funeral arrangements.  Conversely, after she had discovered her fiancé’s affair with her mother a few months later, Kristen arrived on Charles’ doorstep seeking sanctuary. 

            “Has Carson called?” she nearly choked on the words as she watched Charles make a few keystrokes on the computer keyboard.  William Carson was their Agency contact and one of the few people she disliked from the moment they were introduced.  Kristen let Charles handle all of the communications with him.

            “No.  He’s out of touch until Monday.  Why? 

            “I found something lying beside my car while I was at the mall.  I thought maybe he was trying to make a joke or something.”

            “What was it?” Charles looked up from the monitor, running long fingers through his stylishly cropped blond hair.   

            “A medallion of some sorts and a small key.  Maybe for once it is nothing and I am just being overly suspicious,” replied Kristen as she settled back in the large leather chair.  She watched Charles’ expression change from amusement to incredulous in a matter of seconds. "What’s up?  You have that look.”

            “The quarterly budget reports.  They are a disaster.  And, I know you will keep an eye out for anything suspicious until you know for sure.”

            Kristen took the print outs he handed to her.  Juneaux Industries operated offices in most of Europe as well as the United States and was a multi-million dollar corporation.  It was her job to help Charles keep everything running smoothly, in addition to their other duties and assignments.  “Stockholm...that’s the Electro-magnetic research project.  I talked to Andreas the other day and he assured me everything was under control.”

            “Guess again.  The budget’s about seventeen and a half percent over.”

            “R and D may look a little high, but it’s OK.  The bulk of the funds should be there,” said Kristen.  “Marketing can trim ten, maybe fifteen percent.  The project’s still in the research phase.  There’s nothing to market yet.”

            “My thought exactly.”  Charles tapped his fingers on the desk.  “Take a look at the T and E expenses.  Where do they think they are going?  Club Med?”

            Kristen laughed as she turned pages to find the right section.  “Let’s see what we’ve got.  The Tokyo symposium is a biggie.  One of our guys is the keynote speaker there.  Helsinki is OK.  But Geneva and Berlin can go.  The same speakers from Helsinki will be there.”

            “And you tell me I know everything about everything the company does.”

            “Obviously nobody in this company bothers to read my email.  I sent this information to everyone two days ago,” Kristen observed. 

            “I read it and yes, I agree with your recommendations.  I’d like to reduce the overall figure by at least a quarter mil.  What else can you come up with?”


            After nearly four hours of debate and compromise, they arrived at a satisfactory solution.  While Charles faxed the revised budget and their notes to the Sweden office, Kristen checked her email from his computer.  She had several personal messages and the remainder was from various mailing lists.  A personal email caught her eye.  It was from Porsche, one of her government contacts in England.  She smiled and quickly sent a reply to the message.  Gotta  love this instant global communication.  

            “All done,” said Charles.  “I found this great cafe in New Bern.  What do you say we go for a cappuccino?”

            “Cappuccino?  You’re on.”  Kristen pushed her arms through the jacket sleeves and pulled her hair from underneath the heavy leather collar.  “I’ll even drive.”

            They emerged from the house and were immediately greeted with the sight of Kristen’s ransacked car.  In the bright moonlight, Kristen could see deep scratches marring the Mustang’s pristine white paint.  She walked around the car, viewing the destruction in a daze.  Shards of glass from the smashed window twinkled at her feet.  Both doors were open, exposing the ripped upholstery.  The contents of the trunk and glove compartment were scattered around the car and her purchases from the mall had been dumped in a nearby heap.  The only thing missing seemed to be the car’s audio system; she could see the bare wires protruding from the console.

            “My car....” Kristen’s voice sank to a near whisper as she continued to stare at the damage.

            “Come on.  Let’s go back inside,” Charles said, pulling a reluctant Kristen onto the porch.  Once in the living room, he handed her a glass of ice water.  “Drink this.  I would suggest something stronger, but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea at the moment.”

            “What?  Oh!” Kristen asked, momentarily startled.  She took a long drink of the water and then looked to Charles. “Remember what I said earlier about being overly suspicious?  Forget those words even crossed  my lips.”

            “What do you want to do?  We can handle it ourselves or call the sheriff.”

            She sat for a moment in thought.  “I’m calling Doug.  I know he will handle this no questions asked.”  Kristen picked up the cordless telephone sitting on the end table.  After a few minutes of conversation, she replaced the receiver back onto its base.  “He’ll be here as soon as he can.”

            “I’d been thinking about installing a security gate at the turn off and I think that decision has just been made,” said Charles.  “Of course, you will have an automatic transmitter.  Scott will have to buzz before entering.  That’ll annoy him, I’m sure.”

            Kristen gave a small smile.  “I don’t doubt it.”

            Headlights from an approaching car signaled that Doug had arrived.  Kristen sat the glass of water on the end table and rose on shaking legs to go outside to meet him.  The tall dark-haired man was walking around her damaged car when she approached.  He gave a low whistle.

            “What do you think?” Kristen asked.

            “Well, at first glance it looks like a break-in with the broken glass and the missing sound system.  But, the rest of it suggests it’s something more.”  Doug turned to look back down the darkened drive.  “The truck should be here any minute.  We’ll take the car and check for prints, fibers—the usual.  I don’t suppose you have any idea anyone would intentionally want to do this?”

            She shook her head.  “No, there’s no reason that I can think of.”

            “Okay.  I had to ask, just in case.  And you didn’t hear anything before you came outside?”

            “We were in CJ’s study working.  You can’t hear anything from outside.”

            Doug nodded and turned to see lights approaching from the drive.  “Here’s the truck.  Neither of you touched or moved anything before you called?”

            “I didn’t,” replied Charles.  “Kris walked around the car, but I don’t think she touched anything either.”

            “I didn’t.”  Kristen reached into her jacket pocket and retrieved the keys.  Handing them to Doug, she said, “You’ll probably need these.  You have my cell phone number, right?”

            “Yes.  I’ll call if we turn up something.  Do you need a ride home or will you be staying here?”

            “I haven’t thought that far ahead yet, Doug.  I think I’ll stay here.  I should still have some things in the house.”

            “Alright.  Just be careful and call if you need me.  I think they have everything cleaned up from around the car and should be about ready to load it onto the transport.”

            “Thank you.”  Kristen wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a tight squeeze.  “I knew I could count on you.”

            Doug smiled.  “One of these days, you’re going to have to fill me in on a few details.”

            “I will, when I can.”  She stepped back and watched as he supervised the loading of her car onto the truck before following them out of the private drive in his own car. 

            “Still up for that cappuccino?”  Charles asked, knowing she would not refuse.  “I think a drive would be good right now.”

            Kristen nodded her agreement and they walked to the nearby garage.  Once inside, she eyed Charles’ DeLorean with appreciation.  “When are you going to let me drive?”

            “Whenever you learn how.”

            “Very funny.”

            “I thought it was.”

            The stainless steel gull wing doors opened with the pop and hiss of compressed air.  Every time Kristen rode in the car, she could not help feeling as if she were in some sort of spaceship.  Charles inserted the key into the ignition and with a quick twist, the two hundred fifty horsepower modified engine sprang to life.  There was very little traffic for that time of evening, but occasional flashes of light behind them told Kristen they were not alone of the highway.  Suddenly they were bathed in the blinding glare of high beam headlights followed by a hard bump from behind.  Gun shots rang out in the next instant and a bullet struck the corner of the DeLorean’s rear window causing the safety glass to crack into a spider web pattern.

            “They’re shooting at us!”  Kristen ducked in her seat.

            “No kidding.”  Charles floored the accelerator, but the other car kept pace.  “We can’t out run them, but maybe we can out drive them.”

            Kristen risked a glance out of her window to see if she could identify their assailant.  In the illumination of an occasional light pole, she saw the silhouette of a Corvette or a car of similar design.  “Hurry CJ.  I think they’re going to ram us again.”

            Both cars soon exceeded twice the posted speed limit.  The other car pulled along side the DeLorean on the right and veered sharply, making contact.  The cars locked momentarily in a battle for control.  Charles gripped the steering wheel, determined to keep the car on a straight path.  He tapped the brakes and the action disengaged the two combatants.  In the next instant, Charles pushed the accelerator to the floor hoping the sudden action would put a few seconds of much needed distance between themselves and their pursuers.  A glance in the rear view mirror revealed the other car still behind them and gaining rapidly.

            “Open the glove compartment,” he ordered.

            Kristen opened the small glove box and found a black .38 Special nestled in the leather padding.  “So that’s where you keep it.” 

            “Yes and I’m sure you know how to use it.”

            “CJ, in this car?  That’s impossible!”

            “It’s the only way.  Unless you want to finally get your chance to drive.”

            Kristen conceded, “Okay, okay.  I’ll do it.”

            She flicked open the revolver casing and checked the ammunition before turning around in her seat.  She opened the small window and stuck her hand out as far as it would go.  Charles pulled into the left lane, giving Kristen a clear view of the other car.  Kristen quickly decided to aim for the tires and create a blow out.  It was a desperate plan, but this was a desperate time.  Her first shot missed completely.  This is nuts, totally, utterly nuts.  She instinctively pulled her hand back inside the DeLorean as a volley of shots rang out from the other car.  Kristen strengthened her resolve and fired the gun three more time; each shot again failed to hit its mark.  With two bullets remaining in the chamber, their options were diminishing. 

            Control.  Get in control.  Kristen’s panicked mind switched gears.  Her years of training took over and she felt a wave of calmness sweep through her.  Her wildly pounding heart slowed as she carefully aimed the gun. three-shoot.

            A direct hit on the front passenger tire caused the chase car to veer left and go out of control.  Charles swerved sharply to avoid being hit; the sudden movement caused Kristen to be shoved back against the DeLorean’s dashboard.  The hard impact nearly took her breath away.  Her hand hit the side of the window and she lost her grip on the revolver.  It bounced off the highway and skidded under the guardrail.  The DeLorean, free from its pursuer, disappeared into the night.

            As they drove in silence, Kristen slowly emerged from her tunnel vision.  She raised her hands to her face and realized they were shaking.  This has to be a nightmare.  It can’t be real.   The drone of a car engine and the rush of air from the still open window said differently.  She became aware of another presence and turned to see Charles.  His fingers had a stranglehold on the steering wheel as he stared straight ahead.

            “CJ?  Are you all right?”  she asked.  “Say something.  Anything.”

            “I think we lost them.”

            Kristen nodded, rubbing her wrist where it had made contact with the window frame.  She moved it gingerly, making sure it wasn’t broken.  “What now?  We can’t turn around and go back.”

            “I know,” said Charles.  “Let’s find a place to stop.  Where are we, anyway?”

            “Maysville.  I saw the sign.”

            Charles took the first exit he saw.  A cluster of bright lights caught his attention.  “How about the high school?  Looks like there’s a football game or something.”  He pulled into the parking lot.  After finding an empty space away from the road, he parked the car.  “Those guys meant business.  I don’t think they had car jacking on their minds.”

            “The medallion!” 

            “What?  What about it?”

            Kristen frantically looked around for her purse.  She found it on the floor and rifled through its contents, pulling out the envelope in seconds.  “This is what I found under my car at the mall.  With a key and a note.”

            “What did the note say?”

            “I don’t know.  I didn’t read it.”  Kristen pulled the scrap of paper from the envelope.  She held it to the light.  “JFK – 571.”

            “JFK – 571?” repeated Charles.  “That’s all it says?  Are you sure you didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary?  Like someone following you perhaps?”

            “No.  I didn’t notice that I was being followed.  But obviously, I was.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t have known the car was at your place.  First my car, now this.”

            “Now there is an interesting coincidence or is it?”

            “Both are related.  They have to be,” replied Kristen. 

            “That’s my guess.  I wonder what is so important about the medallion.  They are trying awfully hard to get it back.”

            “We don’t have any proof that there is a connection between the medallion and what happened tonight.  But, I have a feeling there is one.”

            “Then we’ll just have to find that proof.”

            “I was hoping you would say that, CJ.”  Kristen said.  “We need to get back to the house.  With your security system, we should be safe there.  Why don’t we call Scott and have him meet us.  Because I am not hitching all the way back to Top Sail.”

            “I was afraid you would say that.”  Charles lifted the armrest and picked up the cellular telephone.  “All he’s going to do is insist that we do go to the police.  You know how those “law and order” types are.”

            “Just hand me the phone, CJ.”

            After a few minutes of conversation, Kristen convinced Scott to meet them at the high school.  The only thing to do now was wait.  She contemplated the note’s meaning.  JFK -571...a license plate?  Initials?  A code?  It could be anything.  Anything at all.    She turned her attention to the medallion itself.  There was nothing unusual about it; it had no easily recognizable markings or features.  It looked like a simple piece of jewelry that someone would own.  It didn’t appear to be anything that anyone would possible kill to possess.  But, appearances can be deceiving.


            “He’s here.”

            Charles’ words brought Kristen out of her deep thought.  She tried to open the DeLorean’s door, but it wouldn’t budge.  After a couple of attempts, she gave up.  “It’s stuck.”

            “Guess you’ll have to get out on this side,” replied Charles.

            “Whatever happened to chivalry,” Kristen mumbled as she maneuvered around the controls.

             Once out of the car, she walked to where Charles and Scott Sumner were standing.  Looking at the two men together under the parking lot lights, Kristen could understand why they were often mistaken as brothers.  Both had roughly the same build and stance, although Scott was a couple of inches taller.  Both had light brown, almost blond hair.  However, their similarities were only physical; their personalities were light years apart.  They had met while studying at the same university and cemented an unusual friendship, which seemed to be based on their constant bickering.  Kristen generally ignored their exchanges until she thought things were getting out of hand, then she stepped in to make sure everything stayed peaceful.

            “What happened?” Scott asked.  “Flat tire?”

            “No.  We were ambushed by a couple of trigger happy guys in a sports car,” answered Charles.

            “It’s true,” Kristen injected, seeing Scott’s disbelieving stare.  “We were on our way to get some cappuccino when this car came out of nowhere, bumped us and then opened fire.”

            “Car jackers.  I knew it was a matter of time before someone tried to take that metal hot rod.”

            “Now is not the time, Scott.”  Kristen absently rubbed her throbbing wrist.  She was sure it wasn’t broken, but it was bound to be horribly bruised. 

            “I’m fine, Scott.  Can’t say the same for CJ’s car though.”

            “Where were you two going?”

            Kristen replied, “We were going to New Bern for a cappuccino.”

            “Well, that explains why you two were out.  OK.  So I guess you’re needing a ride to the police station to report the shooting?”

            “What did I tell you?” Charles muttered. “We aren’t going to report it, Scott.”

            “You’re what?!?  Someone shoots at you and you’re not going to report it?”

            “It happened too fast and in case you haven’t noticed, it’s dark.  Neither of us got a good look at the car or the plate.  We have no real information to give them.”

            Kristen noticed a crowd of people streaming from the football field.  “Looks like the game is over.  If we leave now, we can mingle in with the other cars.   CJ’s place is the best bet and I don’t want to lead them back to our building.  We’d be sitting ducks there.”

            “Why would you want to go back to his place?  The guys who ambushed you would know exactly where you are,” replied Scott.

            “What’s wrong with my place?” asked Charles.  “It has every advantage--well secluded, one access road and a state of the art security system.  Oh by the way, I’m having a gate system installed next week, so you’ll have to buzz if you want in.”

            “Oh no.  I am not hitting some little button and waiting for you to open the gate.”

            “Yes, you will.”

            “No, I won’t.”


            “You two can argue about it in the Jeep,” Kristen interrupted.  “I just want to get out of here.”

            “Leave the DeLorean,” Scott called to Charles who had started to walk toward the car.  “That metal monstrosity is an easy thing to spot.”

            Charles turned to look in Scott’s general direction.  “I was just going to lock the door.”

            “How are we going to get back to your place, CJ?  As you said, there’s only one access road and it’s bound to be watched,” Kristen asked, once they were all in Scott’s Jeep.

            “And it’s on an island too,” Scott commented.

            “Exactly.  That’s why we’re going to the marina,” said Charles.  “I keep a small launch there just in case of an emergency and I think this qualifies as one.”

            “Of course.  No one would be expecting us to come in from the beach side,” Kristen nodded.

            “Oh great, a beach landing,” moaned Scott.  “Wait a minute, the beach isn’t mined or anything, is it?”

            “No mines, just strategically placed sub-machine guns with infrared motion sensors and lasers.”

            “I knew it.  This is too much.  I’d rather take my chances and go through the front gate,” said Scott.

            “A bit late for that, Scott.   There’s the turn off for the marina.”  Kristen pointed to the approaching road sign.