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Assassins Anonymous

Author Rob Hart On Tour
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“The best kind of thriller. . . . Suspenseful, sentimental, and ultimately redemptive, Assassins Anonymous is a can’t-miss novel.” — S. A. Cosby,  author of All the Sinners Bleed

In this clever, surprising, page-turner, the world’s most lethal assassin gives up the violent life only to find himself under siege by mysterious assailants. It’s a kill-or-be-killed situation, but the first option is off the table. What’s a reformed hit man to do?


Mark was the most dangerous killer-for-hire in the world. But after learning the hard way that his life’s work made him more monster than man, he left all of that behind, and joined a twelve-step group for reformed killers.

When Mark is viciously attacked by an unknown assailant, he is forced on the run. From New York to Singapore to London, he chases after clues while dodging attacks and trying to solve the puzzle of who’s after him. All without killing anyone. Or getting killed himself. For an assassin, Mark learns, nonviolence is a real hassle.
1

Why is a caterpillar wrapped in silk while it changes into a butterfly? So the other caterpillar can't hear the screams. Change hurts.

                -Rory Miller, Meditations on Violence

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Now

Adrenaline is the ultimate painkiller. It doesn't last very long. But in those white-hot moments when your gut gets pierced by a bullet, or a knife cleaves your skin, you would be amazed at how little you feel it.

It screws with your perception of time, too. For most people, when pain is screaming for attention like a starving toddler, everything is a senseless jumble of limbs and grunts. The world moves at twice the speed, while you hover above your body watching the mayhem unfold.

But when you've been at this long enough-and I've been at this long enough-time turns into a thing you can hold in your hand. You can rotate it and examine the angles. You end up confronting things about yourself.

Like why you're sprawled on a cold linoleum floor, amid the shattered remains of a flimsy folding table, covered in cheap coffee and leftover donuts. You wonder which of your sins summoned the man who put his boot to your chest and sent you flying.

When I woke up this morning, I thought I didn't need a meeting. Those are the days when I need a meeting. So I dragged myself to the basement of St. Dymphna's on the Lower East Side. A tiny church, so forgotten it might as well be forsaken, tucked away in the wilds underneath the Williamsburg Bridge.

The details of the meeting aren't important.

What's important is stopping this guy from killing me.

He's that kind of tall where you wonder if he has to duck through doorways. He's right-handed. Not bulky, but the veins on his forearms are raised like ridges on a topography map. On his left forearm is a tattoo: a single black dot, surrounded by four more, like five on a die. His dark hair is buzzed to his skull, except for a narrow strip of black Mohawk. He's wearing cargo pants, black boots, and a navy thermal. I recognize the glassy deadness in his eyes because I see it in the mirror every morning. He might be Russian. He hasn't spoken yet, but the kick, his stance, and the smug confidence read as Systema.

I push myself to standing, careful not to slip on the spilled food. He's about ten feet from me. He should have tried to overwhelm me while I was down, but he hasn't done that. Instead he's sizing me up with a look of recognition and excitement.

I think he knows who I am.

Which means he's either insane or very confident.

"We can still talk this out," I tell him, glancing down at the floor. "I'd offer you a donut but we're past the five-second rule."

He smiles with the left corner of his mouth and mutters, "Kozyol."

Russian it is.

As soon as the insult leaves his lips, he comes at me, fast.

Too fast.

He's so excited about proving something, he's not paying attention to the floor. Three steps and he lands on a chocolate-frosted donut that causes him to slide forward. It interrupts his flow, which is all the opening I need.

In one movement I bend down, pick up the shattered coffeepot by the black plastic handle, and swing the jagged edge of glass at his leg. I'm hoping to hook it behind his knee and sever something important, incapacitate him, because I need to know who sent him. But also, it's not like I can kill him.

In this place, of all places.

He jerks back and I miss him by a hair. Same thing on the next three swings. I'm hunting for nonlethal cuts, but he's that kind of Bruce Lee fast where you see where he starts and finishes but not all those parts in the middle.

Already I'm feeling gassed. My muscles are covered in dust and cobwebs. It's been a while since I pushed myself. I go for the leg again but swing too wide and lose my balance. He uses his momentum to come back around and put his boot into the side of my head. I move with the blow and combat roll into a standing position.

The adrenaline is doing its job. The pain is outside, knocking at the door, but the disorientation is inside pouring a cup of tea.

I set my feet, ready for him to charge. The glass on the coffeepot is too fragile for it to be an effective weapon, but it's something. So of course, he reaches into his belt and pulls out a short black switchblade. It looks sharp enough to cut through the hull of a tank.

Another sign of his confidence. He could have knifed me at the start. I didn't hear him until he was right behind me, which is not the kind of thing most people could brag about.

He's here to test himself.

He holds the knife behind him, away from where I could effectively counter or knock it from his hand. He puts that veiny left forearm out like a shield. Knives are dangerous in the hands of idiots, but there's nothing worse than someone who knows how to use one.

He takes small steps toward me now, gauging the distance. Hopping forward a little before stepping back, daring me to swing. I'm matching his stance, forearm out, wrist facing me so he can't get at the tender part on the inside.

But I'm desperately outmatched.

What this guy doesn't know is that I will do anything within my power to avoid killing him, even as the most savage part of me roars with hunger to do just that.

While he puts on a show, I take a moment to breathe. Inhale for four seconds, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold my lungs empty for four. It calms my nervous system enough that I can focus.

The coffeepot is useless, so when he decides to strike I throw it at his face. He turns and staggers slightly to protect his eyes, which lets me come around low on his dead side and go for the knife. If I can control it, I might be able to walk away from this with a few cuts, maybe some light puncture wounds, without taking it handle-deep in my chest.

I get one hand over his wrist, and the other over his hand, then shove my shoulder into him, creating distance and pushing the blade away from me. From here it's chess at a hundred miles an hour. If I can throw my knee into the back of his, I can fold him to the ground and gain control. Get the knife arm down, use my leverage to keep it there.

But he's strong. He yanks back hard, creating an opening, and then the two of us are struggling for the weapon.

My fingers slip on something wet and it's harder to maintain a grip.

That's when my experience with adrenaline betrays me, and time gets fuzzy.

A jumble of limbs and grunts, an eternity in an instant.

He pulls away, a look of shock on his face.

His hands are empty. So are mine. I know the knife didn't land on the ground because I would have heard it. My heart is flooded with an acidic sense of regret.

Almost made it to a year.

I search him for the knife's handle, hoping it's a nonfatal wound. I can apply pressure, call an ambulance, tie off a tourniquet-whatever it takes to save this guy's life.

Except I don't see the knife anywhere.

And he's looking down at my stomach.

I follow his gaze to where the knife is sticking out of my left side.

"Oh, thank god," I say, gently touching the edges of the wound.

That's when the pain sets in, crashing into me like a wave, sending me to the ground. I roll onto my side, so as not to push the knife in deeper. Every nerve in my body flares to life and screams directly in my ears.

That's the thing about adrenaline-it's the ultimate painkiller, but it doesn't last very long.

He stalks toward me, and I think, This is it. I wonder what brought him here, how he found me, why he's doing this. It'd be nice if he would monologue a bit, but he doesn't seem the talkative type. I guess it doesn't matter. You could fill a stadium with the people who wish me dead.

And even though I didn't get to complete my steps, didn't get to make amends-maybe this is what I deserve. Dying painfully on the floor of a church.

He squats in front of me and pats me down. He pulls the small, battered notebook out of my breast pocket, flips through it, and nods. Seemingly satisfied that he got what he came for, he leans down to my ear, so close I can feel the heat of his breath, and says, "Disappointing, kotenok."

That just stings. Kozyol means "goat" but is pretty much Russian for "motherfucker." Kotenok means "kitten."

And also he stabbed me.

Just, overall this guy is a dick.

I start laughing, that my ego is my primary concern when I'm bleeding out, but I don't think he hears it. I'm pretty sure he's gone. I roll onto my back and stare at the fluorescent lights buzzing overhead. Through the pain, I am thankful.

Dying with my sobriety intact feels like something.

That said, maybe I still stand a chance. Blood is flowing around the knife but it's not oozing, and I don't smell shit, which means there's a decent chance it missed my intestines. All I have to do is keep the knife in, let it hold things together until I can find some kind of help.

The knife is the only thing keeping me alive, like a finger in a dam.

Footsteps behind me. The Russian reappears in my field of vision and gives a sheepish little wave, waggling his fingers at me. Then he reaches down and grasps the knife, pulling hard, yanking it out of me. That one overloads my system to the point I can't see straight.

"See you soon," he says.

I press my hand to my gut.

Hot blood gushes between my fingers.

This wasn't what I expected from the day.

2

Mathilda: Is life always this hard,

                or is it just when you're a kid?

Léon: Always like this.

                -The Professional

West Village, Manhattan

Earlier That Day

The timer goes off, the blare of it snapping me out of the trance induced by the rhythmic tapping of the jump rope. I stoop to pick up my phone from the surface of the roof and shove it into the pocket of my hoodie, gaze out over the rooftops of the West Village, and breathe in the brittle air.

It's a beautiful day.

Down the stairs and back in my apartment, I hang the jump rope from its hook next to the door. P. Kitty waddles over to his food dish in the kitchen and yowls, demanding tribute. I pull out a can of chopped chicken hearts and liver and dump it into his dish, give him a little scratch on the top of his big dumb orange head as he shoves his face into the bowl.

Part of me wants to stay home and watch movies and take a night off from processing deep emotions, but Kenji will be waiting for me at Lulu's and I don't want to stand him up. That's enough to get me in gear. The temperature is somewhere in the twenties, but ten minutes of jumping rope is still enough for a sweat, so I hop in the shower, rinse, and get dressed. Then I make sure P. Kitty's water is filled. He ate half his food and retired to the couch, transformed into a shapeless ball of orange fur.

"No parties while I'm out," I tell him.

He doesn't stir.

I grab the trash and head for the door, then realize I forgot my notebook. It's on top of my tattered, beaten copy of the Big Book-the textbook for Alcoholics Anonymous-which is in its spot of reverence, next to the paper crane Kenji gave me in Prague all those years ago. I tuck the notebook into the pocket of my jacket and feel a bit safer.

The window is open a crack-the apartment holds heat like a pizza oven-but it looks too narrow for P. Kitty to wriggle through, and I'd rather not come home to a sauna, so I leave it.

I walk down a floor and knock on the door of the apartment directly below me. There's a shuffling sound from the other side, and the door cracks open, an eye peering out at chest level. It widens with recognition and Ms. Nguyen opens the door. She's wearing a heavy bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, her gray hair pushed flat against her scalp by a red headband.

"Trash service," I tell her.

Her face breaks into a smile as she holds up a small white plastic bag tied neatly at the top. "You're so sweet."

"Call it even for feeding my cat while I'm away. But you have to cool it on the treats. He's getting chubby."

"He's not chubby, he's big-boned," she says. "And if he's looking for food, it means he's hungry. You don't feed him enough."

"Agree to disagree."

"Do you need me to watch him over Christmas? Are you going anywhere?"

"I'll be the same place I am every year. Upstairs, drinking whiskey, watching It's a Wonderful Life."

"No family, no girlfriend?" she asks. "Or boyfriend?"

I shrug. "I don't do Christmas. I didn't get the BMX bike I asked for when I was a kid. It went downhill from there."

"Okay, Scrooge, I'll be making almond cookies for my son and his kids on Christmas Eve if you want to stop by." She raises an eyebrow. "I could use a strong set of hands."

"Doesn't matter how many times you hit on me, I'm not going to sleep with you."

She laughs and reaches up to smack me on the chest. "Like you would be so lucky. Thanks for taking the trash, Mark."

"See you tomorrow, darling," I tell her, heading for the stairs. "And stop sneaking food to my cat."

She calls after me: "Stop starving him."

I hit the street and drop the trash in the bins, then point myself toward the Lower East Side. Normally I would walk but at this point it's probably better to take the F, so I hustle over to West Fourth, then run down the stairs and manage to jump on a car as the doors are closing.
A firstCLUE Book of the Week
A Criminal Element Most Anticipated Read
A People Magazine Suspenseful Summer Read

Assassins Anonymous is the best kind of thriller. A kinetic river that moves inexorably forward to a soul-stirring conclusion. Rob Hart has asked the questions I feel we are all afraid to answer. Can we ever truly change? And if we do, can we ever truly forgive ourselves? Suspenseful, sentimental and ultimately redemptive, Assassins Anonymous is a can't-miss novel.” —S.A. Cosby, author of All the Sinners Bleed

“Absolutely wonderful! From concept to execution (so to speak!) Assassins Anonymous sets the standard for smart, compelling, nonstop crime fiction—all told in the resonant voice of a natural born storyteller. I read Hart’s book in one sitting and I am positive you will too. Bravo!” —Jeffery Deaver, author of Hunting Time

“Rob Hart’s Assassins Anonymous isn’t just a great, brutal, action-packed hitman story—it’s a simmering character study that digs deep into what it’s like to struggle with addiction. Few books can balance being a thrilling page-turner and heartfelt personal saga, but Hart makes it look easy.” —Alex Segura, author of Secret Identity

“Hart’s latest wears its myriad cinematic influences on its sleeve. Escalating stakes and precisely choreographed action sequences keep the pages turning… Bombastic whiz-bang fun.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Hart has a knack for high-concept crime fiction.” – The Washington Post

Assassins Anonymous is hilarious and irreverent without ever falling into the trap of being ridiculous. With his dry sense of humor and self-deprecating nature, Mark is a fantastic narrator. Add to that some global intrigue and a dash of romance, and this novel is an immensely satisfying read.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“In a novel packed with explosive fight scenes and non-stop action, Rob Hart has written a fresh, thoughtful and surprisingly self-aware lead character in former assassin Mark, who’s trying to start a new chapter of his life. Assassins Anonymous has an emotional center I didn’t expect in a book about a professional killer. As a long time fan of Hart’s, this is one hell of a ride, and certainly his best book yet.” —Jennifer Hillier, author of Things We Do in the Dark

“This book is fast, brutal, and slick—an adrenaline cocktail with a double espresso chaser. So good I wish I’d written it first.” —Deanna Raybourn, author of Killers of a Certain Age

"If John Wick was more of a talker, you'd get Assassins Anonymous:  the ultimate assassin's assassin who's not afraid to grapple with the issue of morality" —Alma Katsu, author of Red London

"As a devoted reader and writer of assassination, conspiracy and black-ops thrillers, I can say without hesitation that Rob Hart has knocked this one out of the park. A perfect mix of unforgettable characters, realistic action, wry humor, and unpredictable twists.” —Steven Konkoly, author of the Devin Gray series.

Assassins Anonymous is hilarious and irreverent without ever falling into the trap of being ridiculous.  With his dry sense of humor and self-deprecating nature, Mark is a fantastic narrator. Add to that some global intrigue and a dash of romance, and this novel is an immensely satisfying read.” —BookPage (starred)

“A high-speed thriller that manages to burrow deeply into [an assassin’s] past and present—and the future he dreams of. A wild and hugely entertaining ride."—firstCLUE

“Page-turner of the decade! I promise you won’t be able to put down this fantastic novel once you start reading. Assassins Anonymous is an instant classic.” —David Heska Wanbli Weiden, author of Winter Counts

“Hart continues to entertain and thrill.” —Booklist

“Mark is committed to abandoning his killing ways – until he’s attacked after an Assassins Anonymous meeting.  Investigating the assault, Mark is aided by a handful of friends, a fluffy cat, and a cache of tricked-out goodies that would make James Bond’s Q green with envy.” —Boston Globe

© Michael McWeeney
Rob Hart is the author of The Paradox Hotel, The Warehouse, and the Ash McKenna crime series, and the co-author of Scott Free with James Patterson. He’s worked as a book publisher, a reporter, a political communications director, and a commissioner for the city of New York. Hart lives on Staten Island. View titles by Rob Hart

About

“The best kind of thriller. . . . Suspenseful, sentimental, and ultimately redemptive, Assassins Anonymous is a can’t-miss novel.” — S. A. Cosby,  author of All the Sinners Bleed

In this clever, surprising, page-turner, the world’s most lethal assassin gives up the violent life only to find himself under siege by mysterious assailants. It’s a kill-or-be-killed situation, but the first option is off the table. What’s a reformed hit man to do?


Mark was the most dangerous killer-for-hire in the world. But after learning the hard way that his life’s work made him more monster than man, he left all of that behind, and joined a twelve-step group for reformed killers.

When Mark is viciously attacked by an unknown assailant, he is forced on the run. From New York to Singapore to London, he chases after clues while dodging attacks and trying to solve the puzzle of who’s after him. All without killing anyone. Or getting killed himself. For an assassin, Mark learns, nonviolence is a real hassle.

Excerpt

1

Why is a caterpillar wrapped in silk while it changes into a butterfly? So the other caterpillar can't hear the screams. Change hurts.

                -Rory Miller, Meditations on Violence

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Now

Adrenaline is the ultimate painkiller. It doesn't last very long. But in those white-hot moments when your gut gets pierced by a bullet, or a knife cleaves your skin, you would be amazed at how little you feel it.

It screws with your perception of time, too. For most people, when pain is screaming for attention like a starving toddler, everything is a senseless jumble of limbs and grunts. The world moves at twice the speed, while you hover above your body watching the mayhem unfold.

But when you've been at this long enough-and I've been at this long enough-time turns into a thing you can hold in your hand. You can rotate it and examine the angles. You end up confronting things about yourself.

Like why you're sprawled on a cold linoleum floor, amid the shattered remains of a flimsy folding table, covered in cheap coffee and leftover donuts. You wonder which of your sins summoned the man who put his boot to your chest and sent you flying.

When I woke up this morning, I thought I didn't need a meeting. Those are the days when I need a meeting. So I dragged myself to the basement of St. Dymphna's on the Lower East Side. A tiny church, so forgotten it might as well be forsaken, tucked away in the wilds underneath the Williamsburg Bridge.

The details of the meeting aren't important.

What's important is stopping this guy from killing me.

He's that kind of tall where you wonder if he has to duck through doorways. He's right-handed. Not bulky, but the veins on his forearms are raised like ridges on a topography map. On his left forearm is a tattoo: a single black dot, surrounded by four more, like five on a die. His dark hair is buzzed to his skull, except for a narrow strip of black Mohawk. He's wearing cargo pants, black boots, and a navy thermal. I recognize the glassy deadness in his eyes because I see it in the mirror every morning. He might be Russian. He hasn't spoken yet, but the kick, his stance, and the smug confidence read as Systema.

I push myself to standing, careful not to slip on the spilled food. He's about ten feet from me. He should have tried to overwhelm me while I was down, but he hasn't done that. Instead he's sizing me up with a look of recognition and excitement.

I think he knows who I am.

Which means he's either insane or very confident.

"We can still talk this out," I tell him, glancing down at the floor. "I'd offer you a donut but we're past the five-second rule."

He smiles with the left corner of his mouth and mutters, "Kozyol."

Russian it is.

As soon as the insult leaves his lips, he comes at me, fast.

Too fast.

He's so excited about proving something, he's not paying attention to the floor. Three steps and he lands on a chocolate-frosted donut that causes him to slide forward. It interrupts his flow, which is all the opening I need.

In one movement I bend down, pick up the shattered coffeepot by the black plastic handle, and swing the jagged edge of glass at his leg. I'm hoping to hook it behind his knee and sever something important, incapacitate him, because I need to know who sent him. But also, it's not like I can kill him.

In this place, of all places.

He jerks back and I miss him by a hair. Same thing on the next three swings. I'm hunting for nonlethal cuts, but he's that kind of Bruce Lee fast where you see where he starts and finishes but not all those parts in the middle.

Already I'm feeling gassed. My muscles are covered in dust and cobwebs. It's been a while since I pushed myself. I go for the leg again but swing too wide and lose my balance. He uses his momentum to come back around and put his boot into the side of my head. I move with the blow and combat roll into a standing position.

The adrenaline is doing its job. The pain is outside, knocking at the door, but the disorientation is inside pouring a cup of tea.

I set my feet, ready for him to charge. The glass on the coffeepot is too fragile for it to be an effective weapon, but it's something. So of course, he reaches into his belt and pulls out a short black switchblade. It looks sharp enough to cut through the hull of a tank.

Another sign of his confidence. He could have knifed me at the start. I didn't hear him until he was right behind me, which is not the kind of thing most people could brag about.

He's here to test himself.

He holds the knife behind him, away from where I could effectively counter or knock it from his hand. He puts that veiny left forearm out like a shield. Knives are dangerous in the hands of idiots, but there's nothing worse than someone who knows how to use one.

He takes small steps toward me now, gauging the distance. Hopping forward a little before stepping back, daring me to swing. I'm matching his stance, forearm out, wrist facing me so he can't get at the tender part on the inside.

But I'm desperately outmatched.

What this guy doesn't know is that I will do anything within my power to avoid killing him, even as the most savage part of me roars with hunger to do just that.

While he puts on a show, I take a moment to breathe. Inhale for four seconds, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold my lungs empty for four. It calms my nervous system enough that I can focus.

The coffeepot is useless, so when he decides to strike I throw it at his face. He turns and staggers slightly to protect his eyes, which lets me come around low on his dead side and go for the knife. If I can control it, I might be able to walk away from this with a few cuts, maybe some light puncture wounds, without taking it handle-deep in my chest.

I get one hand over his wrist, and the other over his hand, then shove my shoulder into him, creating distance and pushing the blade away from me. From here it's chess at a hundred miles an hour. If I can throw my knee into the back of his, I can fold him to the ground and gain control. Get the knife arm down, use my leverage to keep it there.

But he's strong. He yanks back hard, creating an opening, and then the two of us are struggling for the weapon.

My fingers slip on something wet and it's harder to maintain a grip.

That's when my experience with adrenaline betrays me, and time gets fuzzy.

A jumble of limbs and grunts, an eternity in an instant.

He pulls away, a look of shock on his face.

His hands are empty. So are mine. I know the knife didn't land on the ground because I would have heard it. My heart is flooded with an acidic sense of regret.

Almost made it to a year.

I search him for the knife's handle, hoping it's a nonfatal wound. I can apply pressure, call an ambulance, tie off a tourniquet-whatever it takes to save this guy's life.

Except I don't see the knife anywhere.

And he's looking down at my stomach.

I follow his gaze to where the knife is sticking out of my left side.

"Oh, thank god," I say, gently touching the edges of the wound.

That's when the pain sets in, crashing into me like a wave, sending me to the ground. I roll onto my side, so as not to push the knife in deeper. Every nerve in my body flares to life and screams directly in my ears.

That's the thing about adrenaline-it's the ultimate painkiller, but it doesn't last very long.

He stalks toward me, and I think, This is it. I wonder what brought him here, how he found me, why he's doing this. It'd be nice if he would monologue a bit, but he doesn't seem the talkative type. I guess it doesn't matter. You could fill a stadium with the people who wish me dead.

And even though I didn't get to complete my steps, didn't get to make amends-maybe this is what I deserve. Dying painfully on the floor of a church.

He squats in front of me and pats me down. He pulls the small, battered notebook out of my breast pocket, flips through it, and nods. Seemingly satisfied that he got what he came for, he leans down to my ear, so close I can feel the heat of his breath, and says, "Disappointing, kotenok."

That just stings. Kozyol means "goat" but is pretty much Russian for "motherfucker." Kotenok means "kitten."

And also he stabbed me.

Just, overall this guy is a dick.

I start laughing, that my ego is my primary concern when I'm bleeding out, but I don't think he hears it. I'm pretty sure he's gone. I roll onto my back and stare at the fluorescent lights buzzing overhead. Through the pain, I am thankful.

Dying with my sobriety intact feels like something.

That said, maybe I still stand a chance. Blood is flowing around the knife but it's not oozing, and I don't smell shit, which means there's a decent chance it missed my intestines. All I have to do is keep the knife in, let it hold things together until I can find some kind of help.

The knife is the only thing keeping me alive, like a finger in a dam.

Footsteps behind me. The Russian reappears in my field of vision and gives a sheepish little wave, waggling his fingers at me. Then he reaches down and grasps the knife, pulling hard, yanking it out of me. That one overloads my system to the point I can't see straight.

"See you soon," he says.

I press my hand to my gut.

Hot blood gushes between my fingers.

This wasn't what I expected from the day.

2

Mathilda: Is life always this hard,

                or is it just when you're a kid?

Léon: Always like this.

                -The Professional

West Village, Manhattan

Earlier That Day

The timer goes off, the blare of it snapping me out of the trance induced by the rhythmic tapping of the jump rope. I stoop to pick up my phone from the surface of the roof and shove it into the pocket of my hoodie, gaze out over the rooftops of the West Village, and breathe in the brittle air.

It's a beautiful day.

Down the stairs and back in my apartment, I hang the jump rope from its hook next to the door. P. Kitty waddles over to his food dish in the kitchen and yowls, demanding tribute. I pull out a can of chopped chicken hearts and liver and dump it into his dish, give him a little scratch on the top of his big dumb orange head as he shoves his face into the bowl.

Part of me wants to stay home and watch movies and take a night off from processing deep emotions, but Kenji will be waiting for me at Lulu's and I don't want to stand him up. That's enough to get me in gear. The temperature is somewhere in the twenties, but ten minutes of jumping rope is still enough for a sweat, so I hop in the shower, rinse, and get dressed. Then I make sure P. Kitty's water is filled. He ate half his food and retired to the couch, transformed into a shapeless ball of orange fur.

"No parties while I'm out," I tell him.

He doesn't stir.

I grab the trash and head for the door, then realize I forgot my notebook. It's on top of my tattered, beaten copy of the Big Book-the textbook for Alcoholics Anonymous-which is in its spot of reverence, next to the paper crane Kenji gave me in Prague all those years ago. I tuck the notebook into the pocket of my jacket and feel a bit safer.

The window is open a crack-the apartment holds heat like a pizza oven-but it looks too narrow for P. Kitty to wriggle through, and I'd rather not come home to a sauna, so I leave it.

I walk down a floor and knock on the door of the apartment directly below me. There's a shuffling sound from the other side, and the door cracks open, an eye peering out at chest level. It widens with recognition and Ms. Nguyen opens the door. She's wearing a heavy bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, her gray hair pushed flat against her scalp by a red headband.

"Trash service," I tell her.

Her face breaks into a smile as she holds up a small white plastic bag tied neatly at the top. "You're so sweet."

"Call it even for feeding my cat while I'm away. But you have to cool it on the treats. He's getting chubby."

"He's not chubby, he's big-boned," she says. "And if he's looking for food, it means he's hungry. You don't feed him enough."

"Agree to disagree."

"Do you need me to watch him over Christmas? Are you going anywhere?"

"I'll be the same place I am every year. Upstairs, drinking whiskey, watching It's a Wonderful Life."

"No family, no girlfriend?" she asks. "Or boyfriend?"

I shrug. "I don't do Christmas. I didn't get the BMX bike I asked for when I was a kid. It went downhill from there."

"Okay, Scrooge, I'll be making almond cookies for my son and his kids on Christmas Eve if you want to stop by." She raises an eyebrow. "I could use a strong set of hands."

"Doesn't matter how many times you hit on me, I'm not going to sleep with you."

She laughs and reaches up to smack me on the chest. "Like you would be so lucky. Thanks for taking the trash, Mark."

"See you tomorrow, darling," I tell her, heading for the stairs. "And stop sneaking food to my cat."

She calls after me: "Stop starving him."

I hit the street and drop the trash in the bins, then point myself toward the Lower East Side. Normally I would walk but at this point it's probably better to take the F, so I hustle over to West Fourth, then run down the stairs and manage to jump on a car as the doors are closing.

Reviews

A firstCLUE Book of the Week
A Criminal Element Most Anticipated Read
A People Magazine Suspenseful Summer Read

Assassins Anonymous is the best kind of thriller. A kinetic river that moves inexorably forward to a soul-stirring conclusion. Rob Hart has asked the questions I feel we are all afraid to answer. Can we ever truly change? And if we do, can we ever truly forgive ourselves? Suspenseful, sentimental and ultimately redemptive, Assassins Anonymous is a can't-miss novel.” —S.A. Cosby, author of All the Sinners Bleed

“Absolutely wonderful! From concept to execution (so to speak!) Assassins Anonymous sets the standard for smart, compelling, nonstop crime fiction—all told in the resonant voice of a natural born storyteller. I read Hart’s book in one sitting and I am positive you will too. Bravo!” —Jeffery Deaver, author of Hunting Time

“Rob Hart’s Assassins Anonymous isn’t just a great, brutal, action-packed hitman story—it’s a simmering character study that digs deep into what it’s like to struggle with addiction. Few books can balance being a thrilling page-turner and heartfelt personal saga, but Hart makes it look easy.” —Alex Segura, author of Secret Identity

“Hart’s latest wears its myriad cinematic influences on its sleeve. Escalating stakes and precisely choreographed action sequences keep the pages turning… Bombastic whiz-bang fun.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Hart has a knack for high-concept crime fiction.” – The Washington Post

Assassins Anonymous is hilarious and irreverent without ever falling into the trap of being ridiculous. With his dry sense of humor and self-deprecating nature, Mark is a fantastic narrator. Add to that some global intrigue and a dash of romance, and this novel is an immensely satisfying read.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“In a novel packed with explosive fight scenes and non-stop action, Rob Hart has written a fresh, thoughtful and surprisingly self-aware lead character in former assassin Mark, who’s trying to start a new chapter of his life. Assassins Anonymous has an emotional center I didn’t expect in a book about a professional killer. As a long time fan of Hart’s, this is one hell of a ride, and certainly his best book yet.” —Jennifer Hillier, author of Things We Do in the Dark

“This book is fast, brutal, and slick—an adrenaline cocktail with a double espresso chaser. So good I wish I’d written it first.” —Deanna Raybourn, author of Killers of a Certain Age

"If John Wick was more of a talker, you'd get Assassins Anonymous:  the ultimate assassin's assassin who's not afraid to grapple with the issue of morality" —Alma Katsu, author of Red London

"As a devoted reader and writer of assassination, conspiracy and black-ops thrillers, I can say without hesitation that Rob Hart has knocked this one out of the park. A perfect mix of unforgettable characters, realistic action, wry humor, and unpredictable twists.” —Steven Konkoly, author of the Devin Gray series.

Assassins Anonymous is hilarious and irreverent without ever falling into the trap of being ridiculous.  With his dry sense of humor and self-deprecating nature, Mark is a fantastic narrator. Add to that some global intrigue and a dash of romance, and this novel is an immensely satisfying read.” —BookPage (starred)

“A high-speed thriller that manages to burrow deeply into [an assassin’s] past and present—and the future he dreams of. A wild and hugely entertaining ride."—firstCLUE

“Page-turner of the decade! I promise you won’t be able to put down this fantastic novel once you start reading. Assassins Anonymous is an instant classic.” —David Heska Wanbli Weiden, author of Winter Counts

“Hart continues to entertain and thrill.” —Booklist

“Mark is committed to abandoning his killing ways – until he’s attacked after an Assassins Anonymous meeting.  Investigating the assault, Mark is aided by a handful of friends, a fluffy cat, and a cache of tricked-out goodies that would make James Bond’s Q green with envy.” —Boston Globe

Author

© Michael McWeeney
Rob Hart is the author of The Paradox Hotel, The Warehouse, and the Ash McKenna crime series, and the co-author of Scott Free with James Patterson. He’s worked as a book publisher, a reporter, a political communications director, and a commissioner for the city of New York. Hart lives on Staten Island. View titles by Rob Hart