Chapter One

Somewhere north of Richmond, two men leaned against an older white van.

I never trusted a neighborhood that had just as many houses as trees.  Just ain’t right. Joe paused, scratching the back of his neck and glancing over at his partner, who was busy organizing the contents of a duffel bag.

What I mean is, what are the kids supposed to do all day?  Climb those damn twigs stuck in the middle of each yard?

Phillip abruptly zipped the duffel bag shut and checked his collar in the mirror.  There’s a nice playground up the street- we passed it on the way in.  Let’s go.

As they walked up the street, Joe once again surveyed the houses.  Other than slight color variations, every third house appeared to be the same.  Each house had a lone sapling stuck in the middle of the yard surrounded by cedar shavings.

The houses were nearly identical, sporting wooden shutters, dull brickwork and garishly white garage doors that overpowered the mundanely functional architecture.

One of the owners had attempted to infuse the yard with some character by planting daisies around the base of the mailbox.

Phillip stopped.  That’s it, he said, pointing at the daisies wobbling in the slight breeze.

You’re kiddin’ me, right?  We didn’t really hop a plane from San Francisco because of a handful of daisies?

Phillip crouched down, running a perfectly manicured finger across the delicate petals.  Not exactly.  These were put us here to let us know where to go.

Joe snorted.  He heard of street addresses, right?  Or maybe that map thing on the Internet?

I’ll concede that he’s… peculiar.  But I’ve always known him to pay well.  And he specifically requested that we meet with him in person to discuss this particular job.

Joe scratched his head and looked down at the flowers.  Sumthin’ in my gut don’t feel right about this, Phillip.

At this, Phillip frowned.  He had been working with Joe for five long years- unheard of in their industry and partly the reason they got such profitable assignments- and Joe had only had that gut feeling two other times.  Once it had saved us from a huge mess, and the other time…

Hey Phillip, what’s this guy payin’ anyway?  You never said.

Phillip stood up, dangling a key he had plucked from the amidst the daisies.

Two, he stated nonchalantly, turning and looking at Phillip.

Joe let out a low whistle.  Holy shit.  I guess he can plant all the fuckin’ daisies he wants.

You still got that gut feeling?

Swatting a mosquito on his hand, Joe said uneasily That depends.  How much you trust this guy?

Phillip sighed, thinking back to the job in Miami and how Joe’s gut had saved his life.  I don’t trust the guy was all Joe had said after quickly spotting their contact in a busy shopping center.  No reason given, no logic, just a definite statement that stood or fell on its own strength of conviction.  It had been enough at the time- good thing, too, because later they learned that the contact had been hired to leave them under two feet of muddy water somewhere in the Everglades.

You know, for such a dumb guy, that’s a damn good question.