“YOU CAN’T SIT in silence all day,” Axel says, glaring at me with concern.
If that’s what he thinks, he has another thing coming to him. I can stay silent for a lot longer than just a day. I readjust my position on the couch in the waiting area of this torture office warehouse, giving him the inclination that I can actually sit here in silence all day.
Axel is seated in front of me on a metal coffee table with his forearms leaning on his thighs. I’m guessing he thinks that if he stares at me long enough, I’ll tell him what he wants to hear. That being, whoever made the mistake of not securing that psycho bitch well enough, is forgiven. Either that or he’s truly scared I’m going to walk away, though I can’t imagine he’d be that concerned about something so insignificant. I’m replaceable. They can find another dummy to throw into the faces of their convicts.
“When do I get paid?” I ask.
“Who said anything about money?” Axel asks, lifting his head and staring me square in the eyes. You have to be fucking kidding me.
“You hired me. Normally, when a person hires another, there is compensation involved,” I argue.
“Right, but we told you we’d take care of you and give you food, room, and board. I’m pretty sure we’ve done that, no?”
I sit up straighter on the couch, feeling the rush of blood fill the inside of my head. The headache I had from last night has exacerbated tenfold from being clocked in the head by the psychopath down the hall. “So, basically, you’re going to use me as a punching bag so none of you get your pretty faces damaged, and then you’re not going to pay me. Do I have this right?”
“You think we all have pretty faces?” Everett chimes in from behind the front desk. What is he even doing over there? He’s been tapping a pen against the counter top for the last thirty minutes while I hold ice up to the side of my head.
I give Everett a glaring look, ignoring his question. “You know what you need?” Axel says, standing up and leaning over to the front desk for his phone.
“A new job?” I ask.
“Training,” he responds, ignoring my suggestion. Axel looks back at Everett, giving him a look I’m glad I can’t see.
“Who’s going to train her?” Everett asks.
“Well, we’re both well versed in Krav Maga and a few other martial arts,” Axel tells him. “We can train her.”
Everett laughs while leaning back in his chair. He’s laughing so hard his chair almost flips over backward. “Yeah, sure, we can do that. We’re here to pass on our years of hard earned skill.”
“What the hell are you two talking about and what is Krav Maga?” I ask, looking back and forth between the two of them.
Everett stands up from his chair and rolls the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows. The cocky smirk playing across his face tells me nothing good will come out of the next few minutes. What I do know is, neither one of them better come anywhere near me right now.
Axel mimics Everetts moves and rolls his sleeves up too. They both untuck their shirts and release the top two buttons. They’re circling around each other like two angry dogs. After a long minute of staring each other down, they begin to wrestle. Neither of them are making physical contact but at the same time, they are clearly displaying what they would do to a person if the situation arose. It’s a type of martial arts I’m not familiar with, nor have I ever seen, and the objective appears to be death rather than pain.
I lean back into my seat, watching intently, studying each of their moves, feeling intrigued to learn more. Breathlessly, they separate and walk toward opposite corners of the room, both with hands on their hips, both with their gaze locked on the ground. “That’s Krav Maga,” Axel says. “It’s the most intense form of martial arts—it’s what the Israeli’s use as their hand-to-hand combat technique.”
“And you want to train me to fight like that?” I confirm.
“It can’t hurt,” Everett interrupts.
I stand from the couch, feeling a little loopy and off-balance. “I thought you wanted me to interrogate, persuade, and mind-fuck. I wasn’t aware you needed me to beat the shit out of people too,” I tell them as I walk toward the only exit I know of.
“Wait,” Axel says. “Fight is never our intention. Protection is, though.”
“Great well, have fun protecting yourselves,” I say, entering down the dark hallway.
They let me go. They let me make it all the way to the exit. They let me leave. The instant the cold hits my bare flesh and the wounds running along my face, I realize I’m back to nothing. I’m back to having no real identity, no money, no family, and no friends. Though if I have to choose between all of that and having my face dented on a daily basis, I’d rather be a fucking bum on a street in Boston.
Outside of the hotel, I find the black SUV we were in last night. I’m not sure why Chuck would be here now considering their only job today was to torture that bitch in the warehouse, but I’m sure he has a good reason. I walk past the SUV, but not too far before hearing my name.
I suck in a cold breath through my nose and turn toward the open window, taking a couple of steps closer. “Where would you like to go?” Chuck asks.
“I’m not working with them anymore, so you don’t have to drive me anywhere, but thank you anyway,” I tell him.
Chuck shrugs his shoulders. “They all have their days, Harley. This job doesn’t come without a hefty price tag and most of the time, the bad days outweigh the good. How about I pretend like I don’t know you quit, and I take you where you want to go?”
I look at Chuck for a long second and without much further hesitation, I open the passenger door and slide in. The window we were just speaking through closes and he takes the vehicle out of park. “They told me to take you where you wanted to go,” he confesses. “You’re too valuable to lose.”
“Damn it, Chuck,” I groan. Chuck flashes a caring gaze in my direction.
“How the hell am I valuable? Look at my face. Do you see what their last convict/client did to me? Now they want to train me in some twisted martial arts shit? I’m below average in height and weight, which doesn’t exactly give me a good leg to stand on when it comes to fighting people. The physical part of fighting has never looked appealing to me. It’s the mental fighting I’ve always been intrigued by.”
“Buckle up, kid,” he tells me.
I peel the seatbelt away from the door and wrap it around my body, clicking it into place. “I can’t be convinced to stay,” I tell him. “You’re wasting your time. I should never have applied for their job, or whatever they want to call it.”
Chuck pulls away from the curb and merges into the traffic. “You didn’t apply for the job, Harley,” he says.
“What are you talking about? I knocked on the door, inquiring about the free room and board.”
Chuck laughs under his breath and takes a turn onto a narrow side street. “Do Axel and Everett strike you as the type to put out a help wanted sign?”
This should have crossed my mind. At any point in the past week, I definitely should have considered this being a setup. “But how did they bait me in?”
“Hun, I’m happy to help you and bring you to and fro, but I’m not their mouths,” Chuck says, through a huffing laugh. Unbelievable. Kind of. “So, with that out of the way, is there somewhere you’d like to go?”
I look down at my hands, observing the purple and blue bruises encircling my knuckles from when I tried to fight back. I should not have been in that situation, but it wasn’t because of something one of the guys did or didn’t do. It’s because my music didn’t work. It has always worked. It failed me this time and I need to know why. “The prison, please.”
“Pardon me?” he asks, glancing at me briefly.
“The prison,” I repeat. “I have a friend I need to visit.”
“Harley, this isn’t my business, but that’s no place for a girl like you to be, don’t you think?”
I glance away from my clenched hands and over to Chuck. “You’re absolutely right. I have no business being there.” I look away, facing the dark window. “Take me there, please.”
Chuck doesn’t argue or ask any further questions. Instead, he drives in the direction of the prison. Every few moments, he glances down at his smart watch, seeing messages pop up—messages I can’t see from here. Axel must have tabs on where we are or he has the SUV tapped. I knew that by them letting me walk out of the warehouse so easily, it would only lead to another situation I’d have to navigate through.
We pull up to the prison and I remove my shoulder-belt. “Thanks for the ride,” I tell him.
“I’ll be waiting here for you,” he says before unlocking the doors. I figured he’d be staying here, as well.
I make my way through the normal routine of entering the prison, enduring the security check and questions, then finally led back to Dr. Philips. I know he’s going to be irate when he sees me, but I need him to answer my question. I sit in front of the thick paned window facing Dr. Philips who has yet to look me in the eyes. He’s holding his head up with his hand and nodding with disappointment. “What the hell happened to you?” he mutters.
“I’m fine,” I tell him.
He snaps his head up, gritting at me with anger. “The hell you are!”
“I need you to answer a question for me,” I tell him.
He narrows his eyes and clenches his fists down on top of the short white table beneath the glass that separates us. “You tell me what kind of trouble you’ve gotten yourself into and I’ll answer any question you want.”
“It was a misunderstanding,” I tell him.
“Says every battered woman,” he quips.
“I’m not a battered woman, Dr. Philips. A woman did this to me.”
He lifts his hands up in defense. “I’m not insinuating anything,” he argues. “Who are you working for?”
“I can’t tell you that,” I say.
“You promised me you weren’t going to be getting yourself in trouble. That was the deal,” he argues.
“I’m not. I’m helping for the greater good,” I reply, leaning back into my chair, feeling a pain sear across my cheek.
“How did you get this job, Harley?”
I close my eyes and lean forward, but past Dr. Philips. “It doesn’t matter.”
“They found you, didn’t they?” My lack of answer and facial expression gives him the response he’s looking for. “What do you need to know?”
I lower my voice to a level most can’t hear, “I used the music. I conducted it the exact way we had done, but it only partially worked.”
“Christ, I can’t believe you’re practicing,” he says.
“I told you, it’s for the good.” Is it? I’m still not completely sold on this.
He takes a minute to digest my question and rubs at his forehead with his thumb and index finger. The veins on his neck bulge and he sighs heavily before reopening his eyes. “You sat the person down, set up the music, placed the headphones on, and set the volume to the three-quarter mark?”
Headphones. “I used a speaker,” I tell him.
He shakes his head. “No, that won’t work. I’m surprised you got anything out of it. You see,” he motions the act of holding a pair of headphones and points to his hand. “The music only radiates properly through the speaker of earbuds, because of the contact with the inner ear canal. You simply just made her confused and a little dizzy. It wasn’t enough.” How could I have been so stupid? Of course that’s why. I wasn’t thinking at the moment. I haven’t been thinking straight since that moment.
“Right, because the brain waves… I messed up,” I tell him.
“Do you know why doctors and psych specialists refer to their business as practices?” he asks. I feel like his comment is a bit condescending. “We’re constantly learning the art of our business. I conducted research for thirty-five years before you came along, Harley. Don’t be naive enough to think you can learn these tools and perfect them in less than a few years.” He seems irritated and angered with me as if I were mocking his findings and practices, which was never my intention. I’m trying to utilize what he uncovered and developed, especially since he can’t do that while behind bars.
“I understand,” I tell him.
He looks down in thought, then continues, “I know you’ll never walk away from this, even though I wish you would. The damage the two of us have already caused should be enough to keep us from wanting to learn more. But you’re like me, and while I don’t want to support the trouble you seemed to have found yourself in, I’m still damn proud of you, kid.”
“Three years left,” I tell him. “It’ll go by quickly.” I place my hand against the window and stand up from my seat, offering him a smile against the pain radiating along my face.
All I want is a second chance at that woman. I want to show her and Axel that the Dark Dove method is solid. I’m just an amateur. Regardless, I still have a decision to make. I’m not one for physically fighting. I enjoy the science and the research, even the testing, but this morning was too much.
I check out of the prison and head toward Chuck’s SUV. I hear the doors unlock as I come to a reaching distance and I open the door to slide in. “Thanks for waiting,” I tell him.
“No problem, Isabelle.” Fuck. I glance over, finding Axel now in the driver’s seat. Should have seen this one coming.
“Give me a break,” I groan. “God, it’s like being watched by a tiny little camera. I’d even go as far as assuming you’re watching me shower, dress, and all the other fun stuff that comes along with me, huh?”
“No,” he says simply.
“You were probably watching me before I applied for your stupid job too, right?”
He doesn’t answer me this time so I look over to judge the look on his face. He’s smirking, he’s proud and smirking. “You were the one we needed, Harley. You are the one we need.”
“You’re a sick bastard.”
“You have one thing right,” he says. “In any case, why the hell were you in that prison yourself?”
“It’s none of your business,” I’m quick to spit out.
He exhales with frustration. “Great, well, I don’t want you in there alone again.” He turns the key in the ignition and peels out of the lot.
“You don’t get to tell me what to do. You’re not family, you’re not a friend, you’re not a boyfriend, and you may or may not still be my boss. All-in-all, I think that means you don’t get to tell me what to do,” I lecture.
Going faster than necessary down this empty road, Axel skids off toward the edge of a building and throws the gear in park. His seatbelt flings against the door, causing a metal against glass thud. He turns around and grips my arm, yanking me to face him. “I’m not getting into detail right now but I’ve known you for a lot longer than you realize. I’ve watched you become the researcher and expert you are. I waited for you hit your prime within your career, then I waited for it to deflate, disintegrate, and blow up in your face. Then I made my move, then I made you mine.”
“Yours?” I ask with anger. “Are you some kind of sick stalker?”
“And you have on of those accusations right too.”
“You’re pissing me off,” I tell him. “And sort of scaring the crap out of me.”
Axel grabs my chin firmly within his grip, causing pain from the bruises. “When you watch someone take part in a passion that few understand, and that person looks at danger with intrigue rather than fear, it creates an unbreakable bond, whether acknowledged or not.”
“You’re not making any sense, Axel.” My voice seems softer than it did a minute ago and my heart is pounding faster than it has since the moment I met him. In conjunction with the pain in my face, my body goes numb with confusion.
His hand tightens a little more and his face moves in toward mine as his eyes widen with a burning glare that emits an invisible heat. “This doesn’t have to make sense,” is the last thing he says before he crushes his lips against mine. The back of my head slams against the seat and my senses are instantly overloaded with the scent of cologne, the taste of mint, and the sensation of fine chin hairs scraping tersely against my sensitive skin. My heart has fallen into the depths of my stomach and I do something I haven’t done in years: I give up all control. Axels inhales thickly through his nose, leaving me with what feels like little air. Or maybe my lungs have deflated from shock. As our mouths remain connected with intensity, his hand loosens from my chin and sweeps gently against my cheek before cupping the back of my head. I feel frozen, iced over, and yet like I’m on fire at the same time. The thought of this moment happening has only vaguely crossed my mind, but for the simple fact that I thought he hated me.
The pressure from his mouth against mine gives and he cautiously pulls away, leaving me with a glimpse of untangled lust swimming through his eyes as his bottom lip hangs with an uncertain look of shock. “I’m sorry,” he says.
“For what?” I barely get out.
“Losing the urge to fight.”
“Fight?” I question.
“I shouldn’t have done that.” He slams the SUV back into drive and pulls out on the street, driving much faster than he should through back roads until we arrive at the hotel. He turns the hazard lights on and steps out, running to my side and opening my door for me. “Let’s go.” He takes me by the arm, leading me to the exit door of the warehouse, and while I want to tell him to stop because I fucking quit a few hours ago, my lips are still tingling, my heart is still pounding, and I just became way more excited about whatever it is he wants me to do next—even if that’s being tackled to the ground in a lesson of Krav Maga.
Please note: these episodes are not edited.
Copyright 2016 - Shari J. Ryan