A Thin Disguise by Catherine Bybee





CHAPTER ONE

Inside the eye of a scope, there is a spot where two lines come together. If that scope is mounted on top of a high-powered rifle and is in the hands of someone who understands the mathematical calculation of how much the projectile will descend before it reaches its target, that spot becomes deadly.

Olivia noted three snipers positioned south, east, and west of the entrance to the courthouse. SWAT . . . all of them. While she had no doubt they’d do their job well if put to the task, the fact that none of them had noticed her pissed her off.

She positioned a camera behind her scope and snapped photos of the uniformed men.

Once she was satisfied with what she had, she wrapped up her location and moved to the next. It took ten minutes to change her appearance, and ten more to get in position.

The familiar thump of her heart pounded blood up to her brain. The first time she’d ever squeezed the trigger, she’d pictured a video of red blood cells pushing through veins. With each beat, her blood pushed forward and stopped as valves closed off behind them only to be pushed forward again with another beat of her heart.

After pulling the trigger . . . the imaginary blood in her mind manifested into real puddles on the pavement.

The images she’d put in her head were nothing next to the real thing.

Nothing had prepared her for what followed.

Not one of the classes she’d been forced to take at Richter equipped her for what she needed to survive.

And yet here she was.

Heart still beating.

Soul still bleeding.

She refocused on her position and searched.

“Don’t disappoint me,” she muttered as her scope scanned the places she would have used.

Her lens narrowed in and found one solo player.

From the outside, it appeared as if the back door to the courthouse would not be in use, although Olivia’s sources said it would. So instead of moving to the front of the building, she flattened herself on her hidden perch and waited.

A buzz on her watch told her the time had come.

Her body tensed and her eyes kept in constant motion.

The door opened and several men and women in black suits emerged. Although Olivia knew the target, the team did a damn good job of blending her in.

They moved in a herd, alert but swift as they climbed into two SUVs. Once the doors shut and the cars were in motion, Olivia scanned the area again.

The lone sniper still had aim and didn’t move until the cars were out of sight. Once he did, Olivia snapped a photograph of the man to add to the others.

She waited until he left before disassembling her tools and packing them away.

An hour passed, her appearance changed once again, and Olivia vacated her position. Once on the ground floor, she blended into the overrun streets of the Vegas Strip. The hot September sun hadn’t even considered letting up as the temperatures hovered in the triple digits.

The heat under Olivia’s wig was enough to give her a stroke, but she moved along, dodging the Nevada visitors that had no need for sobriety even on a Tuesday. Young women with long hair and short shorts laughed and stumbled around while young men urged them to have one more drink.

Innocent fun . . . until it wasn’t.

Like Marie Nickerson. The girl hidden in a black suit sliding into the back of an SUV. Marie had a bounty on her head that would disappear only with her death. But once the hearing was over, and the protection program did its job, she’d never be seen again.

Even though Marie had no idea who Olivia was, she’d been Marie’s shadow for nearly a year. Much as Olivia would have loved to say, even to herself, that she had no interest in the girl, that would be a lie.

Olivia knew Marie’s crimes, and more importantly, the atrocities that had been committed against her. The girl had been forced into childhood prostitution, sold like chattel to the highest bidder, and nearly lost her life when she’d tried to break free. Olivia understood all too well what it meant to belong to someone who only wanted to use you for their personal gain. While Marie didn’t have the skills or access to shoot the man responsible, the girl did have testimony that was in the process of putting that man deep inside a federal penitentiary.

Olivia’s job was to keep Marie alive so she could do just that.

She knew where the girl was right then, knew the federal marshals who were guarding her. Marie deserved to live the rest of her life in some kind of peace. She was young enough to put this behind her, so long as the system could keep her alive.

Olivia wandered off the Strip on foot until she was far enough away from the courthouse and anyone who’d seen her in her current disguise. Inside a smoke-filled casino, one that didn’t depend on the glitz of the Strip but the desire of old-school gamblers for its income, she found a public bathroom and eased into the appearance that had rented a room a few blocks away.