EITHER THE LIGHTS in this bar are blinking, or it’s closing time. Either way, there’s no way for me to really know the answer my own question at the moment. I spin around, looking for one of the four guys. Everett went to the restroom about five minutes ago and I know Axel is still pissy somewhere here. I haven’t seen the other two in hours—they could have gone home for all I know.
“Ready?” Axel’s voice echoes in my ear. “You look a little lost, but I suppose I would feel that way too after drinking my weight in fruity mixed drinks.”
“Very funny,” I tell him, feeling a crackle in my voice. Axel’s hand wraps around my arm and he tugs me toward the exit. I’m still looking around for Everett but the place almost cleared out and I don’t see him anywhere. “Where’s Everett?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Axel says.
“Well, is he okay?”
“Yeah, Harley, he’s fine,” he snaps back. As we continue walking out onto the front curb, I notice a black SUV sitting out front, and we’re heading toward it. “Get in.”
I slide across the leather into my seat, finding Everett already here on the other side . His head is resting on the back of the seat and his eyes are closed. “Everett, are you okay?”
He grins and laughs through a snort. “Yeah,” he mutters, keeping his eyes closed. I look over at Axel and he’s narrowing his glare at Everett and inhaling sharply. Which I wouldn’t do in here because it smells like brand new car covered in dirty gym socks.
“You know, the hotel is only three blocks away,” I tell Axel.
“Do you want to carry him home?” Axel asks me.
“No,” I say, trying to hide the humor I’m feeling inside.
We start driving in the opposite direction of the hotel, which I’m guessing is where Everett lives.
I keep my eyes peeled as we navigate through the downtown streets of Boston and into a residential area. “Wait here,” Axel says to me looking over his shoulder.
He comes around to the other side of the car and drags Everett out, and I notice that Everett is hardly coherent as he’s dragged out of the car.
Well, this is awkward. The driver rests his hands on the steering wheel causing the cuffs of his pressed, white shirt to rise above his wrists. It looks like he has the same tattoos as Everett, but what would I know, being half in the bag and all. Still, it makes me a little uncomfortable.
Despite it feeling like twenty minutes since Axel left, he slides back into the SUV and rests his arm on the door, staring out into the street with a contemplative glare in his eyes.
“Go ahead and take us back,” Axel says as he glances over to the driver.
“Absolutely,” he says.
“Is there going to be an issue having you on board?” Axel asks without looking at me.
“Me?” I ask with a raised brow.
Axel and the driver both glance at each other. “Well, I’m not talking about Chuck,” he snorts. “Chuck, here is trained in every weapon, close combat, and evasive driving technique that we know of. When things go south, Chuck points things back north, usually before any of us even get to help. When our lives are at stake, Chuck has one-hundred and ten percent of my trust, so yes, Harley, I was talking to you.”
“What do you mean then?” I snip. “What issues could I cause?”
Axel sighs and shifts his weight around. “Look, we can’t have you and Everett acting the way you did tonight, and then carry on with business, as usual, the next day,” he says simply.
I twist in my seat, facing the back of his head. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware I had to conduct myself in a particular manner while in a bar. Maybe next time you take me out to a public setting, you could lay out the ground rules first.”
“It’s easy,” he says before a long pause. “Don’t fuck Everett. I need him to be thinking properly at all times. We all need to be thinking properly, even if we let loose a little.”
Wow. Okay, that’s a little much. “We were just dancing,” I say, questioning his accusation.
He chuckles demeaningly. “You may have only been dancing, but I think we both know if you didn’t have clothes on, you might be pregnant after what I watched tonight?”
If I weren’t buzzed from the amount of alcohol I consumed, his words would be a cause for either anger or embarrassment—neither of which, I feel right now. Instead, I spit something ridiculous out: “Jealous?”
He glances over at me with a squint to his eye. “Just stop talking,” he says, clearly irritated.
The SUV pulls up to the hotel and I sort of expect Axel to dump me here and head home, wherever home might be for him, but instead, he follows me inside.
When the elevator doors close around us, I raise my brows with question. “What are you doing?”
“Making sure you get to your room?”
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be just fine.”
“Yeah, just like Everett,” he mutters.
I place my hands on the bar in the elevator and look at Axel for a long minute. Staring this man down would never work; he’d be inside of my head as fast I could get inside of his. “Have you ever considered loosening up a little? Who knows, you might actually enjoy the time you aren’t torturing p–”
Axel’s hand slaps around my mouth and he presses me further into the corner of the elevator. His face is inches from mine and his eyes are burning against mine. “There are cameras all over this hotel, he whispers. Do not talk about our business in public. Ever. Do you understand?” Taken aback by his sudden rage and aggression, I find myself still and hardly nodding an agreeable gesture.
The doors open while he still has me cornered and his hand wrenches around my wrist, pulling me out and down the hall faster than my legs want to cooperate. We get to my room and he pulls out a key and shoves the door open. “You are jealous aren’t you?” I ask with my faulty sense of confidence.
“I have no reason to be jealous. If I want something, I take it,” he says, surely.
“You would think that way, wouldn’t you?” I ask him.
A cynical grin stretches across his lips. “I don’t yet have a reason not to think that way.”
“We’ll see,” I tell him, walking to the door, opening it and waving him out.
He inhales sharply through his nose with an anger I see swimming through his eyes. “A new case came in. The subject is being transported to our custody tonight. I will meet you here at seven tomorrow morning. I wouldn’t suggest being hungover.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” I tell him as he walks out the door. “Oh, and thanks for a lovely night, Axel.”
He slaps his hand against the door, a couple feet above my head. “I know you think you have me all figured out,” he says quietly, in nothing more than a rasp. His other hand reaches for a strand of my hair and he twists it around his finger, lightly tugging on it before releasing his grip. “You’re not even close, Isabelle.”
I jerk my head backward, moving away from his reach. “It’s Harley.”
“And I know your past, Harley.”
His words drive through me like a serrated knife and I move away from him completely. He takes his hand from the door and it closes between us, leaving me with nothing more than the last words he dropped on me.
With the door closed, my eyes glaze over while I stare through the wooden slab and my mind slips to a memory I have done my best to forget…
The metal cuffed around my wrists are tight enough to leave marks and bruises, but I force the pain to disintegrate into the back of my mind as the man in front of me tries to manipulate my thoughts with nothing more than a heated staring contest. I hold my focus on his eyes, unfaltering, unblinking.
The clamp around my finger is connected to a machine—one they think will determine whether or not I’m speaking the truth. I can control that too.
The questions are endless and my answers are non-existent. “What’s next?” I ask the man. “Are you going to rough me up until I cave?”
The man pushes away from the metal table we’re sitting at and paces the room, back and forth a dozen times, trying to create paranoia. I follow his every step with my eyes, grinning gently at his attempt to crack me. “I don’t want to get violent, but you’re leaving me with no choice.”
“You have to follow rules. I don’t,” I tell him. “That’s the only difference here.”
“Fine,” he says. Walking over to the wall near the door, he messes with a small box that looks like a thermostat and turns back to me. “I’m getting a cup of coffee. Want anything?”
I look down at my wrists, which are connected to the table I’m seated at. “No, I’m good.”
“I’ll be right back,” he says with a wink.
Six hours pass with no sight of this governmental agent. There hasn’t been a speck of sound or action inside or outside of this small room since the man left. The heat was cranked to a sauna level and this is his way of making me sweat it out. The only thing he has caused, however, is a migraine and irritability.
The door reopens and the man walks in with a cup of coffee in hand. “Anyway, where were we?”
“You left me in here for six fucking hours. That’s where we were,” I seethe.
“I had to get a cup of coffee,” he explains, grinning wryly.
“Don’t you have rules you’re supposed to follow?” I ask.
“No rule specifies how long it takes to get a cup of coffee, right?”
“Whatever,” I say, leaning back into my chair, as far as I can go without moving my throbbing wrists.
“You’re going to tell us, Isabelle. You don’t have a choice,” he says. “You’re wasting your own time and creating your own pain.”
“Do what you need to do to me. I’m not giving you what you want.”
The man sits back down in front of me, folding his hands on top of the table. “See, here’s the funny thing: Professor Philips is behind bars already, and the rest of your worthless friends are dead. You’re protecting no one and this is all for nothing.”
“Or, maybe this was the plan all along,” I tell him. “Maybe I’m here to get inside the heads of you and your worthless little friends. Just maybe, he had the ending to this exact situation worked out long ago.”
“Who?” he retorts.
The banging sound might be in my head, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming from the door of my hotel room. What the hell?
I glance over at the alarm clock, finding it’s only six in the morning. The sun isn’t even out. Come on. I want sleep. “What?” I shout.
There’s no answer. Goddammit. I pull myself out of bed, feeling a throb erupt on both sides of my eyes. Oops. Opening the door, I’m greeted by Everett, coffee, and a bag of something. “Breakfast?”
“Did Axel send you?” I ask. Nope. Axel did not send you. I’m pretty sure about this.
“Nah,” he says. “I figured you feel just about as awesome as I feel right now and we have somewhere to be in an hour.”
I’m in no mood to argue and I turn back for the bed, letting him in. “Fall asleep with your bra on last night?” he asks with quiet laughter.
“You have to be shitting me,” I groan, climbing back into bed.
“Axel’s pissed, huh?” he asks.
“That’s putting it lightly,” I say, pulling the sheets over my lap.
“We’ve been friends for fifteen years now and the guy literally has two different moods. Pissed or slightly amused,” he explains.
I don’t find this shocking. Those are definitely the only two emotions I’ve seen him show over the past week. “So then, what’s his story?”
Everett hands me a coffee and a muffin. “That should soak up some of the alcohol,” he says through painful laughter. As I begin nibbling on the muffin, Everett sits down in a chair and lifts his feet, resting them on the edge of my bed. “Axel’s story isn’t a pretty one. We’re all here for our own reasons, you know?”
“Yeah, I know that. So, what’s his?”
“That’s not my story to tell,” he says, sipping on his coffee.
Everett and I quietly eat our breakfasts and suck down as much coffee as possible before the hotel room door opens again. Axel decided not to knock and instead, just enter as if it’s a normal thing to do. I could have been walking around here naked for all he knows. Maybe that’s what he was hoping. Jokes on him, though. I’m still in my clothes from last night. “You’re twenty minutes early,” I tell him.
“Was I interrupting something?” he asks, looking at Everett. “Glad to see you’re alive and moving this morning.”
Everett looks at me with a chunk of muffin hanging from his bottom lip, holds up the back of his hand next to his mouth and mutters, “He’s totally not even slightly amused.” While I want to laugh at Everett’s remark, I decide it’s best not to piss Axel off even more than he is.
“The only thing interrupted this morning was my sleep,” I argue.
“Dude, I just brought her breakfast, figured she’d need it after last night,” Everett says as he gets up from his chair and wipes his mouth on his sleeve like the gentleman he is. I close my eyes, again, trying not to laugh.
“Hmm. Well, looks like you’ve eaten, so maybe now you can go get dressed,” Axel tells me in a scolding kind of manner.
I tear the sheet off my lap and grab my clothes from the desk across the room. Feeling both of them stare at me as I close myself into the bathroom, I can’t help but wonder what kind of conversation they’re about to have.
I jump into the shower, quickly rinsing off and wash my hair—kind of stalling a little.
Though, stalling and all, I’m out within five minutes and dress quickly to ensure I’m completely ready by seven, which is when I was expected to be ready.
Stepping out of the bathroom, I find Axel and Everett in the heated discussion I assumed they were having. I’m not sure what the context is, but I know Axel was pretty pissed at him last night. “I’m ready, whenever you two are done bickering like an old married couple,” I tell them. Axel peers down at his watch and presses his lips together with defeat as if he were hoping to have something else to hold above my head. “I told you’d I’d be ready by seven.”
I follow the two men down into the warehouse and to our “room of the day”. I could really use some more answers on the “why-the-hell” of what we’re doing. Is this it? They just fuck with people’s heads on a daily basis?
“What’s the story, boys?” I ask.
“She murdered every member of her family—her husband and two kids,” Axel says.
“So, what’s she doing here?”
“Her husband was the chief scientist at a very secret, underground nuclear facility in Texas. We’re here to get answers.”
“Why us?” I ask Axel.
“We don’t use the word, ‘why’.” He unlocks the door and shoves me inside. “Have at her.”
After regaining my footing, I look back at Axel with question. “Get answers,” he mouths.
“What are the fucking questions?” I mouth back.
He just smiles at me. That’s what he does. He smiles like that’s supposed to give me all the answers in the world.
Everett has disappeared, once again and now I’m starting to wonder where the hell he keeps going every time there’s an interrogation going on.
A dilapidated looking woman is seated on a chair in the corner of the room. Her legs are parallel to the legs of the chair and her head and plastic zip-tied hands are hanging between her legs.
Axel stomps his foot once on the ground and the place echoes with a thud. Her head snaps up and a dazed look coats her face. “Where the hell am I?” she asks as her dull blonde hair falls over her face.
“What are you doing here?” I ask her, trying to sound confused.
“You fucking brought me here,” she grits.
“I’ve never seen you once in my life,” I tell her, walking closer. What the hell am I going to ask her?
“Don’t try and screw with my head, little girl,” she tells me. Little girl? She can’t be more than ten years older than me.
I shrug. “I wouldn’t know how to mess with you,” I explain.
“I’m supposed to be electrocuted today and I’m going to be electrocuted today without offering your pretty boyfriend back there any of the answers he’s looking for.” Oh, she’s good, trying to get under my skin. This woman is clearly skilled in holding information hostage.
Nuke facility. “They found it. They know what you’ve been hiding—what your husband was hiding. So, we’re not trying to extract information from you. We just want to know why he did it?”
“You don’t know shit,” she tells me.
“You’re right,” I tell her.
I turn to Axel, who actually doesn’t look as confident as he has the last couple of times we’ve been in this situation. “It’s a lost cause,” I tell him. “Can I have that speaker? We can leave her with a little music while we talk in the hallway.” I turn back to the woman. “I’d hate for this nice woman to hear anything we’re saying.”
Axel tosses a small speaker and I pull my phone out of my back pocket, setting up the playlist I have. Turning the volume up to a level above comfort, Axel opens the door for me and I walk out.
We wait in silence in the hall. Axel is searching through his phone and I’m planning out my next move while staring through the wall in front of me. “Does this work every time?” he asks.
“From my experiences, yes,” I tell him.
“And what are those experiences?” he questions.
“I’m sure you already know. You’ve done your research, right?” I ask, smirking.
He rolls his eyes and I grab his wrist, looking down at his watch. “It’s been forty-five minutes. It’s time.” Axel reopens the door and I walk in, finding the normal dilated pupils taking up most of the brown in her eyes. Her head is slightly bouncing around and her breaths are erratic. Perfect.
I turn the music off and walk back up to her, kneeling in front of the chair she’s seated on. “In Texas, underground, your husband had a lab. The town of…”
“Statinville,” she utters.
“Thank you. Seems like the perfect place to conduct unknown research, being an old western unpopulated area. He must have been gone all the time, though, leaving you as lonely as you could be. I guess I understand why you did what you did,” I tell her.
Her bloodshot eyes dart down to me and her right wrist tears at the plastic zip-tie holding her hands together.
The next six seconds become a blur as blows from her knuckles hit my face; blood is dripping down my throat, and my head is spinning at an alarmingly fast rate. When I force my eyes open, Axel has already knocked her out cold, trying to yell something at me but all I can hear is a muffled, echoing ring. My vision is fuzzy, but I see Everett and Luke now too and they’re dragging the woman out of the room. I feel helpless as if I can’t move. I can’t move.
I close my eyes, shutting out the scene I don’t want to watch, and it feels like hours before I’m lifted from the ground and perched on a table. “Open your eyes,” Axel tells me as my hearing gets clearer.
I struggle to do what he says, but I manage to pry them open enough to see the concerned look on his face. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I mutter.
“Jesus, I pulled her off of you as quick as I could but those first few blows got you good.” He’s not listening to me. This isn’t what I want to do. This is why I have forced myself to become homeless. “Come on.” He pulls me off the table and drags me down the hall into a clean white room where Declan is waiting with medical supplies. Ice is pressed against my face and Axel takes my hand to hold it in place while Declan grabs some other medical supplies—gauzes and ointments. Seconds pass and my chin is resting in the palm of Declan’s latex gloved hand as he layers on an ointment that burns. “Take a deep breath,” he says.
I don’t. I don’t want to breathe. I don’t want to blink. I don’t want to move. A bandage is placed across my cheek and Axel takes the ice from my hand and holds it in a different spot. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I say again.
“She should have been constrained with metal cuffs. I don’t know why she had zip-ties,” Axel mutters.
“I don’t care,” I tell him.
“You got our answer, though,” he says with a warm smile. Who the hell smiles like that when looking at someone who probably looks the way I do right now.
“You’re fucked in the head,” I tell him.
“Aren’t we all….”
Axel’s thumb sweeps against my cheek as he continues to hold the ice in place, and the sensations confuse my nerves. “What’s that music of yours called?”
I stifle a painful laugh. “Dark Dove.”
Axel’s smile grows a little wider and slightly crooked. “Funny…that’s how I would describe you. Dark Dove.”
“I want to go,” I tell him.
“No, you don’t.” Despite the pain my face is in, what makes me feel far worse, is the simple fact that this man has gotten in my head; he knows my truths when I’m telling lies, and he’s reading my thoughts when I’m covering them up. He also knows I can’t truly walk away now.
Read the next episode now! Episode Five
Please note: these episodes are not edited.
Copyright 2016 - Shari J. Ryan