"Beware the man who does not talk and the dog that does not bark."-Cheyenne proverb

Fixed the issue where the paragraphs were repeating. Hope those who did view the story beforehand was able to get the gist, and it didn't distracted anyone from enjoying it.

An aroma of a fresh scented tomato paste encompassed his house. With the simplistic fragrance, the hitter was taken back to the short time he spent in Florence, Tuscany. Though he had been on the job, he remembered stopping by a quiet restaurant just off his motel. Its small circular tables were covered in dull pink cloths, and the walls next to it were overgrown with ivy. The disheveled look deterred most of its patrons. But Eliot Spencer didn't come for the ambiance. The food; however, prepared astonishingly slow, was what brought him back. His face lit up when a plain elderly woman who smelt of roast coffee, greeted him. Her wrinkles were hidden behind a warm smile as she would shuffle towards him. Her hands were surprisingly steady around a polished white bowl while she served him her signature Tuscan stew. "Dolce bambino," her voice was coated in empathy and her soft hands would rest on his cheeks. He lent into her embrace, and for once the hitter was at peace.

He grumbled when the buzzing of his phone drew him back to reality. Fishing the device out of his pocket, he answered without looking at the caller ID.

"What," he growled. He was disrupted by his irritation by the soft sound of labored breathing.

"Eliot. . ." the voice came out as a fearful whisper yet Eliot instantly knew who it was.


A forceful pop echoed in his ear, and the breathing stopped.

Nathan Ford's breath hitched when his body crashed into the walls of his hallway. The blue lights casting down did not help his forming headache. "One foot after the other, Nate-y boy," he slurred. A small laugh escaped his mouth as he steadied himself against the adjacent wall. His legs wobbled while he formed a continuous hobble, one foot after the other. His hands felt around for a clue of his surroundings. "Come on, Nate. Pull yourself together," he heard Sophie vexing in his thoughts. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," he responded.

His fingers graced the familiar number of his apartment and a grin appeared on the mastermind's face. He reached down for the knob, turned it, and with a harsh swing the door flew open. Nate stumbled his way through the doorway with his gelatin legs and threw himself onto the neighboring couch. He just wanted to sleep off the multiple rounds of intoxication. The familiarity of a blackout began shutting him down but in the silence, someone let out a heavy sigh.

"If you were a heinous man, would you still show mercy?" they said.

His eyes fluttered at his attempt to focus. He wiped the crust from his eyes, thinking it'll brighten his senses. "What?" he called out to the foreign man. The unknown voice remained silent. "Of course, why make it easy," Nate cursed under his breath as he popped his head over the back of the couch.

His eyes widened slightly. The light was barely seeping through the blinds, but he noticed a slender man leaned against a wall — gun in hand.

"Would you?" the man asked again.

Nate glanced down for his earpiece. His brows furrowed when he didn't see it in its usual place, resting on the end table. He recalled constantly nagging his team about keeping their earpiece in. In their line of work threats to their life would be every other Wednesday. Yet, here he was scrambling to find his safety net. He swore to himself when he remembered he had thrown it at Eliot the night before. After Eliot had shouted something about him being a child.

Great. He needed to buy some time. He shook his head, using his forearms to prop himself into a sitting position. He reached for the flask that was nuzzled in his trench coat. At length, Nate spoke, "Depends. On what I considered mercy."

The nameless man let out a mirthless chuckle, his tongue running alongside the inside of his mouth. "I guess it does," he placed his firearm on the counter then slipped Nate's stained oven mitts on his hands.

Nate's brows furrowed, placing the flask to his lips. Before he questioned the action, on cue, a tiny egg timer went off. The slender man brushed a curl from his face, crouched towards the oven, and opened the heated compartment. The smell of a warm crisp apple filled the mastermind's nostrils.

Nate scoffed and downed the burning scotch. "Do you usually cook a pie in another man's home?"

A smirk appeared on the unknown man's face as he set his feast on the towel-covered island. "Let me get to the point, Mr. Ford. A client of mine has hired me to collect some things from you." Nate stared, waiting for him to continue. The man took off the mitts, placed them neatly next to his apple pie, then continued: "However, I believe I am a merciful man. I believe everyone deserves at least an opportunity to save themselves. So, I'm going to offer you that. No matter what I am still going to secure what I'm after. You have-" he looked down at his watch, "twelve hours to heed my warning, Mr. Ford."

He walked towards a drawer and pulled out a fork and a spoon. He eyed them both, questioning which one he would prefer. He settled on the spoon, put the fork back, then made his way back to the granite island.

"Or what you'll kill me?" Nate said in between sips. "Oh, screw off," he couldn't help but snicker. "You're not the first person to threaten my life, and I doubt you'll be the last."

A charming smile emerged on the unknown man. "Through this drunken haze of yours, I do want you to remember the undeserved kindness I granted to you, Mr. Ford."

"I'd say I'm more in a state of wandering tipsiness than a drunken haze," he made his way over to the island and plopped himself into a stool. He grabbed the spoon from the man, nonchalantly dug it into the steaming desert. Before shoving a heaping into his mouth, he turned his attention up at the smirking slender man. "The way you came in is the same way you go out," Nate pointed towards the opened door then forced an abundance of pie in his mouth.

He cursed loudly at the steaming delicacy, repeatedly opening his mouth in an effort to cool his tongue down. He jumped up when the sensation intensified and went over to the sink spitting out the chewed up desert. He yanked the faucet tabs towards him, then splashed the running water on his burning face. "God. . ." In between his pants, he looked up to where the man stood, but he was gone. Nate glanced over at the clock on the stove. 4:00 am. I'll deal with it in eleven hours, he told himself as he strode back to the couch, and tossed his body down.

He awakened to knocking at a door, not remembering the conversation he had mere hours ago, or how he stammered into his bedroom. He grimaced at his pounding hangover.

Sophie entered the room softly and sighed at the reeking man. "Isn't it a little early to be drinking, Nate?" He didn't offer a response, so she crossed to the window. "Eliot wants us downstairs," she drew the curtains to the blinding light of the morning.

She grumbled something under her breath as she collected his disheveled garments from the floor. Nate kneaded the crust from his eyes then reached over to his nightstand for his flask. She grabbed before it could reach the edges of his mouth and gave him a look to get up. He huffed as he staggered out of bed. He was met with clothes being thrown at head. He raised a brow at her attitude but didn't have the energy to start an argument. He just slowly, but steadily made himself presentable. He shot her a crooked smirk. She scowled then left out the room.

He sighed then followed Sophie down the stairs. The first thing he picked up on was the unsettling tension in the air that grew with every step.

"Look who's up," Eliot muttered from the chair next to the love-seat.

Nate waved off the comment. He made his way to the couches and took a seat next to Parker as Hardison did his usual takeover.

"This morning, police found the body of Aimee Martin, from our horse job." Like a bucket of ice water, the news was all it took to sober Nate up. He straightened up immediately and his eyes locked on Eliot.

The man knuckles were washed white from tightly clenching them. His breathing was alarmingly stoic.

Hardison resumed: "Eliot received a strange call from who he believed to be Aimee at 3am. Her father came home to their ranch a little while after and found her body," Hardison paused trying to word it as gently as he possibly could, "She died from a shot to the head. Bonanno said she was dead a couple hours prior to when Mr. Martin discovered her. And off the record, Bonanno found our reference card on her person. I'm guessing that whoever killed her posed as someone looking for our help. Or maybe they killed her while trying to get information about us."

"Why would someone kill her to get to us? She was just some client" Parker asked. The blunt response received a look from Sophie. "Sorry, I mean . . . I'm sorry," she chewed on her bottom lip while she thought about her words carefully. "She knows nothing more than our names and how we work."

"Yeah, but she knows Eliot," Hardison chimed in.

Sophie turned to Eliot, who's been silent the whole briefing. "Nate," Sophie said, "what do you want us to do?"

The man turned his attention back to the screen where Aimee's smiling face was plastered. "We find her killer."

Thanks for reading so far. Like I mentioned in my other story, reviews do help motivate me to continue, but it won't prevent me from writing. I love writing, always have. And I'm not the writer to hold a story hostage with the demand for more reviews. Reviews are cool and help when discouraged. But the story in itself is so fun to write. I can't wait to continue with it.