“What is this?” said Marcos, looking at the form. He was still sitting behind that giant and likely bulletproof desk, without a clear shot from the silenced PB pistol in my briefcase. The wire around its trigger was already starting to cut into my skin in the lush Veracruz heat.

“International Solutions, LLG?” Marcos continued. “No, no, this invoice is no good. It has to be countersigned.” He slapped the paper down on the desk. “Do you take me for a fool? I want to see the Interior Minister’s signature on this before I pay a cent.”

“My apologies,” I said as evenly and coolly as I could manage. “With your leave, I will take the document back and return it with the proper signature.”

“Don’t apologize,” Marcos said. “Just get it done. And send someone else next time, or we might just decide to make you pay for wasting our time.”

I started circling the desk, but before I had made it more than a handful of steps, Marcos lunged forward and drove a dagger into the wood–and judging by the many similar holes, not for the first time.

“Stay back,” he said. “I don’t like strangers getting too close.”

“Of course.” I gestured at the paper. “Then, would you mind…?”

With a grunt, Marcos lifted himself partly out of his seat and reached across the desk to scooch it my way. For a moment, and only a moment, he was unprotected by the desk.

It was now or never.

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My work as a courier for courier for International Solutions, LLG meant worming into places I shouldn’t be on the strength of my sparkling personality, lifting the occasional item from its rightful owners, smuggling contraband across borders and battle lines, and filling out reams of paperwork. For an operation as frankly illegal as International Solutions, they sure did love their paperwork, probably because the profit margins are slim enough as it is, and operatives like me could (and had) tried to split with whatever they were couriering to move it on the black market and cut out the middleman.

IS had its fingers in all sorts of pies, from smuggling to wetwork, but they were bright enough to see that my true talents lay in bluffing and subterfuge. I didn’t shoot people with the grunts; I delivered the grunts’ marching orders and their silenced pistols with the serial numbers filed off. Things were good that way. I liked things that way.

Then I met an IS cargo plane arriving in Katanga in order to give some hired muscle sealed orders and a PSS silent pistol looted from an ex-Soviet arsenal. The pilot was the one that met me on the cargo ramp, taking the package without so much as twitching a muscle on his face.

“What’s wrong?” I laughed. “Airsick?”

“Our passenger’s dead,” the pilot said. “He had an embolism at altitude.”

“What?” I said. “Well that just throws the whole timetable off. Do you know how much trouble it was getting this equipment? Who’s doing the job now?”

The pilot handed me my own package back. “You are.”

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It was 1990. I was 27; I was invincible. And I was working as a courier for International Solutions, LLG. Never heard of them? I’m not surprised; the company was never really interested in publicity, only in getting jobs done and stashing checks in the Cayman Islands. We specialized in getting things where they needed to go, no questions asked, signed and sealed, guaranteed.

Some of the IS couriers were about what you’d expect—tough, ex-military types with pistols under their shoulder, in their sock, jammed up their ass. They had their uses, but IS had found out that, in general, more shooting meant less profit, and the gung-ho Rambo types tended to shoot first and ask questions never. That’s where I came in.

I wasn’t a rippling sack of meat and the only gun I’d ever held had been at IS’s orientation, but the company was more interested in my tongue (silver, of course) and my eye (golden, I suppose, since I wore those terrible 1980’s shades all the time). My first orientation test had been to talk my way into a car-impound lot in LA; my second had been to deliver an unwanted package to a high-security area of my choosing. I passed the first by renting a limo and writing a bad check; I passed the second by studying an FAA badge and pretending I gave a shit about the Red Sox.