Michael’s Mercy

Sleeper SEALs Book 3

by Dale Mayer

 

Chapter 1

Michael Hampton heard the phone ring. Several times. He shut off the machine, turned, snagged his phone from the workbench and stepped outside. The Texas daylight was fading. He stared at the Caller ID name and froze. Why the hell would his old commander be calling him? When his commander rang through a second time, Michael hit Talk and said, “Sir? What’s up?”

“I need you.”

Michael winced. “I’m not in the business anymore, sir. I’m private now. I walked away, built a new life. I made it out, and I’m staying out.”

“One of your old unit was murdered.”

Michael froze. He didn’t want to know. “Murdered?” he asked, then shook his head. It didn’t matter. He was out now. “It’s too late.”

“It was Sammy Austen.”

Michael sucked in his breath, pinching the bridge of his nose as his eyes closed in pain. Even when you had a team of alpha males, one was slightly behind the others. The one everyone else would keep a little bit more of an eye on. Capable, yes. They were all determined, strong young men. But each team had that one guy who was slightly behind the others. The one who was ever-so-slightly less than the others. Sammy was that one. Yet, put him among civilians, and he’d stand out as the ultimate cream of the crop. Skills were judged more harshly within the SEALs.

In a cold voice Michael asked, “What happened?”

“He was undercover, getting intel on a businessman bankrolling a terrorist cell in your corner of the world. A highly thought of businessman with aspirations to get into politics. Sammy volunteered to go in as Sammy Leacock.”

“When?” His tone hard, his heart aching, Michael waited for the answers he needed, an ugly resolve setting in.

“He went in three weeks ago. His body was found yesterday morning.”

“How?”

“A bullet to the back of the head. His hands and feet bound.”

“Execution style.” Michael’s tone was clipped. Both men knew he’d seen this many times before.

“Yes. We’re assuming his cover was blown, and that’s not all,” the commander continued. “He wasn’t found alone. A young woman, a maid from the same household, was found beside him. Same thing—hands and feet tied, shot in the back of the head.”

“Was she one of yours?”

“No, she was an innocent civilian.”

“Do we know that for sure?” As soon as he realized he had said that we pronoun, he knew mentally he’d jumped back on ship. After one year away and saying no since forever in his head, at the first sign of helping a brother, he was right there. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been in time to save Sammy.

“As far as we have been able to track down, she’s not associated with any intel group. She had worked for over six months at the household. Her background suggests she came from a poor family, has little education and had done well for herself by becoming a maid at this place. Her wages were decent. Her bank account was healthy, although not exorbitant, but aligned with what she should be making there.”

“Are you suggesting she might’ve gotten involved with Sammy, and both of them were taken out?”

“I can only surmise that. Sammy was always a ladies’ man. If anything was going on between them, it’s plausible for the group to take her out on the suspicion she might’ve known too much. If they wanted to make Sammy disappear, they would have taken her out anyway. Less people to ask questions.”

“Was it just the two of them?”

“Yes. Both were buried in shallow graves, although buried is probably not quite the right word. They certainly weren’t fully covered.”

“Odd. Burial interrupted maybe?”

“It doesn’t matter why. What matters is that we find out who did this to Sammy and that we get the intel we need on those behind the terrorist cell.”

“Sammy was still active. So why isn’t his team going in and finding out?” Michael shook his head. “I understand keeping this quiet, but there is off-grid, and then there is off-grid.”

“I have permission to go completely off-grid. I can have anybody with a dissociation to Sammy.”

“Then I’m not your man. Anybody who checks my background will know perfectly well that Sammy and I served together.”

“I have a new identity for you, ready to go. We’ll keep Michael for your first name, but you’ll need to darken your hair and skin for a bit more Mexican-heritage look. It helps that you speak Spanish already if necessary.”

Michael thought about that for a long moment. “Won’t have to do too much to my skin. I’ve been outside a lot lately.”

“Good. Are you in?”

Michael thought about it long and hard for all of thirty seconds. But there was really no other answer. Once a SEAL, always a SEAL, and he never left anybody behind. Sammy had gone down in the line of duty. But, if he had any chance to find out who had done this—and make sure they paid for it too—then Michael was there. In a curt voice he said, “I’m in.”

Mercy Romano stared at the small envelope of personal possessions gathered from her older sister’s body. After the shock of identifying the body as Anna, all Mercy took away was a heavy heart and this small 6” x 9” brown envelope.

She entered her apartment, boiled water for tea, prepared her teapot and sat down heavily at her kitchen table. “Anna, what kind of trouble did you get yourself into?”

Of course, there was no answer. There was never an answer. Her sister had been a wild card. Running fast and loose in her teen years, experimenting with everything from married men to hard drugs. When she’d taken off the last time, that had been it. Mercy had never seen her sister again. Her mother had refused to talk about her as well, leaving Mercy as the only child left. The only child who was expected to be perfect, to do better than her sister had done, to be the one who succeeded. Mercy had grown up watching her sister’s failed attempts to meet her mother’s stringent expectations. Punished, trying again, failing, punished, and finally not even bothering to try. Instead, she’d gone in the opposite direction: completely wild.

“I hope you at least had some good years in there, girl,” she said out loud as the teakettle whistled, and she steeped her tea.

Her words brought tears to her eyes. Nobody should have to bury their sister. Especially not one she’d tried so hard to find so they could reconnect. And with considerable effort. Her sister had even changed her name to Gardini to distance herself further from her family. When Mercy did find Anna, every attempt Mercy made had been completely shunned. Obviously, in her sister’s mind, Mercy was in the same category as her mother and, therefore, intolerable.

Mercy had to admit it had been a pretty rough childhood for herself as well. But she had survived. She was now an adult and alone in the world. Her mother had wanted Mercy to be a doctor or a lawyer. That didn’t work out so well. She never got the marks to make it. So she worked in marketing. Far enough away from mother’s choice to feel Mercy had made that choice herself. But it was stressful, each new job something she had to do perfectly or her job was on the line. Maybe after this she’d change her line of work. Find something easier. Less stressful. As it were, she often came home and unwound by dancing her evening away.

Belonging to a dance troupe in Houston had been the only outlet in her life that she never let her mother interfere with. Mercy was good, but she would never be a good-enough professional dancer for her mother.

She loved the group she danced with. She loved the fact she could go out several nights a week and blast away stress from work. She could use a session right now as she looked at all she had left of her sister.

The envelope held nothing personal. Nothing to say where she had lived before or how she’d lived. Mercy had yet to see her sister’s belongings. Although what belongings Anna could possibly have, Mercy didn’t know. Her sister had been reported missing from her job as a live-in maid at John Freeman’s residence, the up-and-coming politician, investment banker, and a local celebrity. So no furniture, no pets, probably some personal clothing other than her maid uniform, and what else? Anna was never one for hobbies or reading.

Mercy shook her head. “Did you enjoy that job? Were you happy sweeping and vacuuming, washing windows and walls? How ironic is that? One of the biggest fights between you and Mom was you refusing to do any housework, and yet, that’s what you ended up doing as a career.”

Oh, Mercy wished she could talk to her sister. With a cup of tea in her hand, she wondered why so much had gone so wrong in Anna’s life.

Mercy presumed Anna had personal possessions, and so Mercy needed to contact Anna’s boss. Mercy picked up the phone, still looking at the odd assortment of items given to her in the envelope. A necklace, a cheap ring, keys, and a couple crumpled one-dollar bills. Nothing else.

Where were the rest of her sister’s things?

Mercy stared at phone and slumped in her chair. Now what? The police had been pretty noncommittal, saying they had no leads at this time, but they were working on it. If they had no leads, what the hell was she supposed to do to find out more?

She dialed Detective Robertson who had contacted her regarding her sister’s death. When he answered his cell phone, she asked, “Where would the rest of Anna’s personal belongings be?”

She could hear the confusion in his voice when he said, “I don’t believe any were handed over to us. We searched her room at the mansion. However, it was already cleaned out. Are you looking for something in particular?”

“I won’t know until I see it,” she said. “I wanted to keep something as a memento of her. A sweater, a blanket, a shawl. … Something to remember her by.”

“Let me get back to you.”

He hung up, and she sat with her phone on the table and stared at her notepad. “None of this makes any sense.” She rose and poured another hot cup of tea. By the time she sat down again, teacup in hand, her phone rang.

“I just confirmed with the estate,” Detective Robertson said. “They said her belongings were handed over to us. I, however, can’t find any notes about that, so I need to track down those possessions. The housekeeper also said that, if she finds anything else, they will call us.” The detective’s voice lowered. “Do you know a Sammy Leacock?”

She shook her head even though he couldn’t see her, then said, “No. I don’t know that name, but I haven’t spoken to my sister in a long time, so I have no idea what her friend group looks like now.”

“Okay. If we find out anything, I’ll notify you.”

And she had to be satisfied with that. Or did she? She stared at the phone number she’d called first. She had three weeks of compassionate leave—only the first week was paid—which she could take to figure out what happened to her sister. Although she wasn’t allowed to muddle into the police investigation, a vacancy for a maid had just opened up.

Surely she’d get answers that way.

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