So as you already know, Strike of the Mantis releases this Sunday. Here’s a sneak peak into Achilla Johnson’s development thus far. You’ll find that she’s not the same woman from Angel of War. This excerpt takes place in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. If you hail from the Chi, you’ll recognize the landmarks. Enjoy.
Achilla strolled toward Berger Park playground and ignored the parents playing with their children as she leapt up and grabbed the blue monkey bars. After pulling herself to the top, she walked down them on her hands, performing a one-handed handstand push-up with each bar. After thirty sets of one hundred, she swung herself below the bars and walked below them, performing a one-handed pull-up each way.
That was another thirty sets of one hundred.
Achilla cringed from her burning right bicep as she lifted her neck above the bar for her last rep. She then dropped to the ground, letting her arms hang at her sides. She grinned and blew a strand of hair from her face before wincing again.
As usual, Achilla’s audience watched with wide eyes, and she didn’t mind. For all they knew, she was a gymnast.
“Mommy,” a black girl with pigtails wearing a pink dress said. “It’s superwoman again!”
“That’s right, baby,” the girl’s mother replied before smiling at Achilla. “How do you do it?”
“Years of training,” Achilla huffed before kneeling in front of the girl and poking her shoulder. “You have to work out every day and eat your vegetables.”
“That’s right,” the girl’s mother said before mouthing a thank you at Achilla.
Achilla winked at the mother and walked past them until she left the playground and wandered onto Sheridan Road. She lifted her numb arms and held her hands on her hips as she stared at the blue sky with white clouds gathering over the lake before strolling north.
Sandy said Achilla murdered 12 people.
She was wrong.
Achilla had only murdered 10.
Either the FBI had no clue what they were talking about, or she had a copycat, and the thought of someone killing needlessly made Achilla grit her teeth as she crossed the street. Who could’ve watched her closely enough to mimic her modus operandi and then actually have the physical strength to copy it?
Damn Ailina. She must’ve been framing Achilla, but for what purpose? With ten victims under her belt, Achilla was already a lifer if she ever got arrested and charged. The number of victims meant nothing at this point. What mattered more was who Ailina killed. Achilla only targeted sex traffickers connected to Xerxes. Who were Ailina’s victims?
Achilla clenched her fist as she walked down her street. If Ailina was murdering innocent people, she was going to find her and grind her face into a bowl. Achilla didn’t want citizens involved. Xerxes was her only target, and now that she was in Chicago, she had him. Now was the time to take him down. Ailina was next.
After living in Chicago for a year, Achilla finally found the face to the name. Xerxes was the underground pseudonym for Leo Skorupski; the multi-billionaire tycoon born in Chicago and raised by a South Side Chicago Polish father and a Brazilian immigrant mother. He grew up isolated as a mix-raced child in a segregated city. Like many Chicagoans, Xerxes learned early that he had to fight to survive.
Xerxes was a better fighter than most, and he became Golden Gloves Champion who served in the Marines before he earned his Bachelor’s and MBA from Illinois University. After starting his own restaurant, he decided to make a difference by founding a charter school. He called it New Future Academy, a title inspired by his favorite high school teacher who taught him to seek a new future after getting in trouble at school. If it weren’t for that teacher, Xerxes wouldn’t be the man he was today.
Yeah, that was the speech he told ABC News as Leo Skorupski. Achilla knew the truth about Xerxes. She knew his restaurant moonlit as a whorehouse before he sold it. She knew he made a few trips to Brazil before he started New Future Academy, and two years after its inception, sex trafficking tripled in Chicago. The epidemic soon spread across the country before he set up shop in Connecticut with Gumby and Blue Eyes as his contacts. Achilla knew Xerxes was the top sex trafficker in the country, and he laundered his money through a charter school network. She also knew that five years ago he bought enough stock to own Potiphar LLC; a for-profit prison company with complexes in Connecticut, California, and Texas.
That was how Xerxes became a multi-billionaire. He pretended to educate children, kidnapped them, and sold them into a life of prostitution. He then profited when the criminal justice system imprisoned them.
Xerxes was a living school-to-prison pipeline.
Much like Blue Eyes, before Achilla stomped through his throat, Xerxes put on a good legal front, but his corrupt stranglehold was unmatched. He was connected to every major politician in the state of Illinois and the police often acted as his hired guns. The officers who attacked Sandy were so loyal they refused to give Achilla any intel. So she left them in the middle of Lake Michigan (they were murders nine and 10). She estimated their bodies wouldn’t be found for another month at least. That gave her plenty of time to launch her plan.
After Achilla entered her one-bedroom high-rise on North Sheridan, she showered and strolled across her beige carpeted floor to her walk-in closet to pick her dress.
Tonight, she would introduce herself to Xerxes.
One of Achilla’s fitness clients, a senior partner for Schiff Hardin, invited her to a charity event, but she’d refused. Achilla demanded secrecy from her clients. In return, she worked them into the best shape of their lives, and they often rewarded her for it. Exposing herself to the higher ups in Chicago’s political scene was not her idea of maintaining her privacy. The senior partner didn’t feel like going to the charity gala, so he gave Achilla his ticket anyway in case someone else wanted to go. She ignored it at first, until she found out Xerxes organized the event. Now she had her opportunity to meet the man responsible for her father’s death and take him down once and for all.
She grabbed the black dress and rested it on her chest as she looked in her full-length mirror. No, Achilla wore the black dress on her last mission. She hung it back up and grabbed a purple, strapless dress and nodded her head. She hadn’t worn this one since completing her Seattle assassination. She laid it on her couch and returned to her reflection.
Achilla’s body underwent more changes in the past six years. She remained the same height and weight, but her muscles bulged like water balloons whenever she moved, and her abdominals were as flat and scaled as a tile floor. As Achilla lifted her breasts and examined her belly in the mirror, she flexed and watched her torso sculpt itself into a mountain range of muscle. She could no longer hide her physique like she could as a little girl, but there was no need. It benefited her as a personal trainer to look this way, and no one could fathom her true strength, not even with a body like hers. Only her restraint matched the raw power inside those muscles.
Xerxes wasn’t stupid. He knew someone was killing his people, even if he didn’t know who she was. After Seattle, his checkpoints had military grade security, but they were no match for Achilla. She could withstand grenade blasts from point blank range and derail moving a train from its tracks before it reached its next shipment of children to transport. Achilla had yet to test the full limits of her abilities, but she estimated that stopping a tractor trailer at full speed was not out of the question.
She also added more martial arts to her repertoire. After reviewing her last skirmish with Ailina, Achilla knew she had to develop her grappling along with her striking. She mastered Tai Chi, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Judo and incorporated them into her fighting style. Now the next time she found Ailina, there was no situation she could lose. Achilla was sure she had no weaknesses in a fight, and she trained for that day by embracing the pain she found this morning.
Achilla grinned at her ripped body and flexed her biceps. She had to tone it down tonight and feign normal physiology if she wanted to get close enough to terminate Xerxes. So she would wear purple with matching heels and earrings for the gala and move with the grace and softness of a normal woman only to strike like a praying mantis when she cornered her prey.
Achilla sighed, relaxed her muscles, and ambled to the kitchen. Her tile floor cooled the soles of her feet as she opened the refrigerator and pulled out a carton of liquid egg whites, a slab of turkey bacon, a bag of black beans, and a couple tomatoes. She guzzled a bottle of water as she pulled out her pan and heated it on the stovetop before she poured her pre-melted coconut oil. She then grabbed a knife and tossed both tomatoes in the air, slicing them with the blade, catching each slice and balancing them in her palm before setting them in the pan. Achilla whistled Lauryn Hill’s “Killing Me Softly” as she poured the liquid egg whites over the tomatoes and sprinkled the black beans, inhaling the aroma of her breakfast. She cut the turkey bacon and left them in the opposite end of the pan until they sizzled and filled the apartment with their salty scent. She then returned to her bottle of water and took another swig.
That was her morning routine before every kill, and it never failed. Achilla spent six years surviving everything Xerxes could throw at her. Tonight, no mistakes. Xerxes was as good as dead. Achilla scooped her breakfast onto a plate, stabbed the egg whites with her fork and ground each morsel in her mouth before gulping it down. She ate in silence as she rehearsed her plan.
How will this new Achilla fare against Xerxes and Ailina? You’ll have to read this Sunday to find out! Don’t forget to pre-order your ebook at 50 percent off by using the promo code DQ83W at this link.
Keep reading, my friends.