The Goddard Affair is the best Assassin Without a Name story thus far. It's got family rivalries, intrigue, murder (of course murder; this is a story about an assassin, after all), action, a host of cool new gadgets, and, last but not least, our witty assassin narrator. Remember Abelard from the first Assassin tale, Fine Wine? Well, he's back too.
Here's the official blurb and look down a bit further for a sneak peek at the first few pages of the novella.
The Assassin Without a Name is on the hunt, looking for the secret organizations which recently tried to kill him before they can try again. But the work of his trade doesn't stop just because he's involved in personal business, so when a new client named Walter Goddard comes around wishing to have a rival eliminated, the Assassin Without a Name takes the job.
Only after the task is complete does he learn that Walter Goddard is a member of the Society for the Progression of Science and Technology, one of the very same organizations he's been seeking. At one of the society’s premiere technology galas, the Assassin Without a Name meets Gwendolyn Morgan, a beautiful widow who has run into problems of her own with the society. Not only does she believe the organization hired an assassin to murder her husband, but she’s certain she’s next. Convincing himself he’s only helping Gwendolyn in exchange for the society’s darkest secrets and not because of his part in making the woman into a widow, the Assassin Without a Name finds himself in the unusual role of protector as the society dispatches their Black Guard watchdogs to kill them both.
And here are the first few pages. Enjoy.
I TOOK THE MARK OUT from behind. A gloved hand over his mouth, my knife plunged into his back, and it was all over for him.
“Make it look like a robbery,” my client had said.
So I hid inside the closet in Reynold Morgan’s study until he’d had enough of nodding off at his desk to finally call it a night. He’d made it halfway across the room when I sprang on him and took care of business. I waited until he’d expired to ease his body down—didn’t want him thrashing about or hitting the floor with a thump—before fulfilling the remainder of my client’s orders: make it look like the mark had surprised a burglar in the act, tried to stop him, and paid for his efforts with his life. The single wound to the back wasn’t enough to satisfy that requirement, so I stabbed him in the chest twice and sliced cuts onto one arm and both his hands. I wasn’t going to win any contests, but it was good enough.
The man who’d hired me hadn’t been specific about what to take, only that the items should be business-related. So I opened most of the desk drawers, rifled through and took some of the papers I found, and, last, grabbed the ledger the mark had left open on the desk. I knew from my research that Mr. Morgan had dealt in the production and sale of various commodity goods; the theft of his records pointed the finger at one or more professional rivals. Nothing out of the ordinary as far as business went in Alchester, and little chance anyone would suspect the crime was more personal in nature. Given the ruse I’d been instructed to stage, I didn’t see how it was anything but personal. But the reasons a client wants someone dead aren’t always relayed to me, and since it’s not my business to ask, I don’t.
With the job done, it was time for me to leave. The residence’s only other occupant, the wife, retired early most nights, and since it had all gone down with nary a whispered shout of alarm or scream of pain, I didn’t expect any trouble from her as I made my way out of the study, down the hallway, and to the same guest bedroom window I’d come in through earlier. From there it was an easy drop into a tangle of shrubbery, a quick jog down a darkened alley, and, after a quick removal of my mask, just like that I was back on the street as if out for nothing more than an evening stroll. A very late evening stroll, dressed all in black, with padded shoes and half a dozen weapons concealed throughout my person, but a stroll nonetheless.
I saw few others out and about at this late hour. A gent at the other side, hands in his coat pockets and his top hat pulled low, hardly glanced my way. Some others—a couple, drunk and giggling, and a group of young rabble-rousers out for a little mayhem, also paid me little heed. The night felt cool but comfortable, though I expected that to change over the coming weeks as the southerly winds sweeping in from the sunbaked Vernesse Steppes shifted, allowing the blustery chill of the Ugulls to gain its seasonal, icy grip on the city. Winter was coming, and with it my busy season, for as the days grew shorter and the nights longer, the gentry of Alchester, grown bored and desultory, would turn their attention away from the seasonal slowdown in trade to take care of a different sort of business, namely the settling of a year’s worth of scores. Not that I wasn’t busy all year round trying to keep things evened up for anyone with the coin and the will to hire me, but the colder months brought with them a greater than usual desire amongst some to right the wrongs of the year with blood. I’m sure a poet or philosopher would find the subject a rich one. As the person actually doing the killing, I try not to think too hard about my clients’ motivations. I provide a service, nothing more. Ordinarily, I’ve no personal stake in any of it. Ordinarily, but not always.
I usually liked to settle into Lady Bellum’s for an hour or two after a job. At one time, it was a celebration of sorts. A congratulatory gesture for a job well done. Now it was just part of the ritual. Not tonight, though. Right now, I had other business in Dover Heights, a quiet neighborhood a few blocks of easy walking away. I followed the line of the first wall I came across as it curved along the property of one particular estate. I’d been here a few times before, always in clandestine fashion but for that very first time when I’d arrived as a guest of the property’s owner. On that occasion, I’d been in disguise, with a contract to kill the man who lived here. All had worked out in the end, which is to say Abelard Whitfield had survived our encounter and I’d come away with something for my trouble.
Once I’d pulled myself up and over the wall, I found myself greeted by a dark and sleepy house. From there, a bit of skulking found me at the manor’s service entrance. Ever since that night when I’d threatened his life, Abelard had kept every door and window locked tight. I didn’t think he was concerned about keeping me out, but rather some other assassin hired by the same person who’d taken the contract out on him in the first place. Never mind that the original contract had finally been cancelled. For Abelard, the realization that someone had wanted him dead had brought about a change in him. Such knowledge would change anyone. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. In Abelard’s case, the jury was still out. But the man had a fear in him now. The kind of fear that kept him locking every door and window regardless of the time of day, made him look over his shoulder whenever he was out and about, and hopefully had him thinking twice about ever repeating the mistake which had gotten him into trouble in the first place.
As for keeping doors and windows locked tight at all hours, I applauded Abelard for his efforts, though such precautions were wasted on a professional like myself. At one side of the service entrance was a drainage pipe I used to climb to the first story roof. From there, I crept up the slanted shingles to a window set into one of the gables. The window overlooked an upstairs reading room and, despite its precarious height relative to the floor inside, was locked. Abelard obviously didn’t know that these particular windows had faulty hinges; the point of my knife inserted just so, a quick lift, and the entire window came loose. It was a bit tricky putting it back into place once I was inside and hanging from the ledge, but I’d used this method to gain entry to the house several times before, so I’d actually gotten rather good at it.
The hour was late, and with no visible lights, I figured I’d find Abelard asleep in his bedroom, dreaming dreams of golden crowns and silver denars. Sure enough, he lay in his four-poster bed, snoring loud enough to wake the dead. I pulled over a chair, making no effort to keep the legs from screeching across the wood floor. The noise didn’t even cause a ripple in his breathing. I took a seat, hoping the thump of my feet propped on the bed would wake him. When that didn’t work either, I leaned in and gave him a good shake. That finally woke the old moneygrubber. He shot upright, blinking to clear away the haze of sleep as he struggled to make out if I was friend or foe.
“Relax,” I said. “It’s me.”
Recognition set in and he sighed with relief. “So it is, so it is. How did you…? Never mind.” He propped himself up with the aid of a few pillows. “I tried remaining awake to wait for you, but, alas, it’s been a long and arduous day, and these tired bones of mine demanded rest.”
If Abelard sought sympathy, he was looking in the wrong place. But if he’d truly been busy today, maybe he’d done as I’d asked. “Does that mean you have something for me?”
“Indeed! Indeed, I do!”
The Goddard Affair is available as part of The Assassin's Blade compilation.