His words sound wonderful, but I’d be a fool to trust them. He used me to get to John just like he used Brianna to get to Benet. The only reason he didn’t sleep with me is because I happen to have higher standards. I decide to let it go. As sincere as he thinks he’s being, he won’t change my mind on this particular subject. After a moment of not speaking he finally asks, “Are we good?”
“We’re good,” I say, monotone.
He looks at me, probably trying to figure out what I’m thinking. I’m not good. I’m lying, and I hope that comes across my face loud and clear. Whether he believes me or not, he doesn’t have any more time to try and convince me. We’ve been parked at the air strip for ten minutes already. Michael grabs our gear and starts toward the door of the van. He stops just before exiting.
“Perhaps one day you’ll tell me about the lucky bastard you gave your heart to.”
“Perhaps,” I state.
He nods once before stepping out of the van. On the plane ride over only business is discussed. We go over egress points in and out of the warehouse, the width of the perimeter that will be secure, and contingency plans. The plan is to capture Benet, but if that isn’t feasible then the orders will change to kill. That decision is left up to Michael’s discretion. As the plane starts its descent Michael gives one final order.
“If I get captured there is a substation here in Dublin I want you to get to.”
Confusion plays across my face.
“Just listen,” he says, annoyed. “I don’t want you to be a hero and try to save me, just go. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, I understand, but I’m not leaving you behind.”
“Yes, you will, Shyira. That’s a direct order.”
“Fine,” I say out loud. No fuckin way.
“Good. Now, the substation is located at an old ale factory at the end of the canal in Swords. Listen carefully, I wasn’t supposed to tell you due to the fact they would be completely vulnerable to an attack. This substation is full of analyst with no field ops in it, but you’ll be safe there until Delaney can extract you.”
I nod, gathering my belongings to exit the plane. I stick my knife in my outer left thigh holster. My Beretta, with its extra magazine, is secure on my hip. Michael’s artillery is a little different. He has his knife, and a semi-automatic tactical rifle strapped across his back. The plan is for me to enter the building solo, while Michael watches the perimeter.
We stepped out of the plane, spotting two men standing at the front of the black SUV. The men will stay at the air strip with the plane, while Michael and I take the SUV to the warehouse. The keys are left in the ignition as the two men walk towards the plane and we head toward the car. The ride to the warehouse is twenty minutes from the air strip. It’s a smooth, easy ride, but way too dark outside for me to make out anything. Ireland is a beautiful, green country. A country I would give anything to see in the light of day. I can only imagine her green plush rolling hills and wildflowers in the background. Michael is quiet the entire ride. The way we left things on the plane, I didn’t expect him to have much to say. Not that he ever does, anyway. The car stops while I’m deep in my own mind. My eyes focus off in the distance on a large warehouse of some sort. We’ve reached our destination. From here on out it’ll be by foot. It’s a good mile away, but we make it there in about four minutes. I’m a little winded, but as my adrenaline kicks in I no longer feel the exertion of my run. We stop behind a big tree where Michael spots three snipers on the roof top. He grabs the silencer out of his duffle bag, screwing it onto the muzzle of the rifle. The snipers are easy to spot with our infrared goggles. Michael takes aim, firing three quick shots, dropping all three snipers. I love watching him work. He’s an artist, and death is his canvas.
I take off running as soon as he’s done clearing my path, reaching a tree next to the building. I climb it in order to gain access to the roof. It isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I actually climb it with ease. I scurry across a branch hanging over a portion of the roof. Stepping onto the roof, I test my comm.
“I’m on the roof. Do you copy, Michael?” I anxiously awaiting his response.
“Copy that. You’re clear to proceed. Over.”
That’s all I need to hear. I try the window into the warehouse, but it’s locked. Setting the duffle bag down, I take out the suction cup glass cutter and cut a perfect circle out of the glass. In order for me to unlock the window, I carefully reach my arm in, unlatching it from the inside. There’s only one way down as I peer in from the roof. I dig into the duffel bag, grabbing the repelling gear. I latch it securely onto the beam before hooking it to myself. Three seconds later, I’m boots on the ground.
I radio to Michael. “Boots on the ground. Over.”
Quietly, I move toward the door on the balls of my feet, continuously checking my surroundings as I go. It’s obvious Benet and his men don’t use this part of the warehouse. It’s dark and dank in here with empty ale barrows scattered about. Empty boxes are strewn here and there. The dust on the old metal desk is at least an inch thick. Listening as I get closer to the door, I can hear voices coming from the other side, and they’re close. I move closer to the door in order to get a better listen. Big mistake. They may not use this part of the warehouse, but they sure as hell patrol it. The door flies open, smacking me in the face, hard. Even dazed, I know I’m bleeding. This confusion is nothing compared to when the flash bang goes off. My senses are completely disrupted. My eyes are blinded, ears ringing, and head dizzy as shit. I have no clue which way is up. I feel like I’m floating as the world starts to right itself. The haze is starting to dissipate. I quickly realize I’m not moving of my own free will. I’m upside down with my stomach pressing uncomfortably on something hard and sharp. Oh, shit. I’m slung over someone’s shoulder. I’m going to be sick. And just like that, the power of suggestion makes it reality. There’s no holding back my vomit. It comes out violently, and without warning. My throat and nose burn as the stomach acid coats both, making it extremely hard to breathe. Things start getting hazy again, but I do hear something right before the darkness takes me. It’s the man that has me slung over his shoulder yelling, “Fuck!”
Everything’s fuzzy with flashes of bright lights. It has my head feeling like it’s in a vice. Slowly sound starts to come back as I hear garbled voices in the background. Garbled voices soon become men yelling.
“She did not come here alone. Fan out and find whoever else she brought with her.”
Michael. My inner companion warns. We’ve been agreeing a lot lately, so I thought I’d give her a break. I try to move my arms, but only feel the burn as the rope chafes my wrists. Can’t anything be easy? My throbbing head keeps shifting my focus. Shit. I have a concussion.
In trying to move my arms, I unwillingly capture the attention of some not so-friendly people. The shortest of the men surrounding me steps forward. From his profile picture, I know exactly who he is. Oscar Benet.
“So, this is what the Collective looks like now? Beautiful and deadly. Between you and Brianna, I think I might have to rethink my recruiting options,” he says, eyeballing me.
Yuck. Taking a page out of Michael’s book I say nothing, keeping my face clear of emotion. I learned from the best. Oscar laughs as he kneels down so he can look me in the eyes when he speaks.
“That’s cute, but you will talk one way or another. I don’t like hitting women,” he says grabbing my face, hard. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t.”
Oscar pushes my face away with such force, I rock backwards in my chair. This is going to be fun.
“Shall we get started, then?” he asks, with pleasure.
“It’s obvious Brianna gave me up since you’re here and she’s not. I’m prepared to offer you the same deal I offered her. It’s safe to assume she doesn’t need it anymore, am I right?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” is the only answer he’s going to get out of me.
“Okay, I’ll bite. Who are you, and what are you doing here? This is a remote location. How did you come by it?”
“I have amnesia, and I got lost,” I say, smugly.
Oscar rears his hand back, smacking me across the face with the back of it. My head snaps to the right with the force of it. I instantly taste the metallic flavor of blood as it fills my mouth. I guess he didn’t like my answer.
“I told you just because I don’t like hitting a woman doesn’t mean I won’t.”
Duly noted. I look down and see another pair of shoes next to my chair, and hear whoever is standing there, laughing. You think this shit is funny? I’ll show you funny, asshole. My inner companion snarls. I gather all the blood pooling in my mouth and spit it on the very nice, very expensive pair of loafers. The sharp pain and blurred vision come almost immediately as his fist connects with my cheekbone. I feel my cheek split, instantly, as the warm liquid streams down my face. I start to fall over in my chair, except Oscar catches me, putting me upright. Such the gentleman. The pain is incredible, but fortunately my cheekbone isn’t broken. That much I know. It takes too much effort to hold my head up right now, so I let it fall as Oscar scolds his minion. My control is at its breaking point and the pain in my head is indescribable. I have to fight the need for self-preservation over the need of the mission. The adrenaline has my hands sweating, and my heart in my throat. What’s known in medical terms as: fight or flight response, is quickly approaching flight. And the fact that I can’t move is making me freak out.
The Collective taught all of us how to handle interrogation tactics, but it was just that, training. This is no training exercise. Closing my eyes, I focus. I need to remember my training. I clear my mind, slowing my breathing. I find that place inside me where no one can hurt me. Not being the typical recruit, I didn’t have some horrible childhood that drove me to a life of crime like the rest. I had a mom and dad who loved me. Who, most likely are still mourning my death two years later. Just thinking about it, I know I can’t go there. It makes me sad. If I stay there, I won’t be safe. They would break me. I keep searching. Finally, I find the one place I feel safe. The one place where no one can hurt me. And I’m not with my mom and dad. No, I’m back in my apartment. The first night I became, officially, a member of the Collective. I’m dancing with Michael as he gently caresses my hands with his own before pulling me close, holding me tight in his strong arms. I don’t think I’ve ever felt safer than when I was in his arms. I could’ve stayed that way forever. That’s what I will hold onto. The memory of him. I slowly open my eyes, refocusing on the task at hand. My head lifts with a new-found confidence.
“How many did you bring with you?” I hear Oscar ask.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just a girl who lost her way.” I grit out with impunity.
“Don’t be a dumb bitch,” Oscar grits out in return.
“Now you’re just being rude,” I respond, casually.
Oscar looks to his right where his man is standing. He gives a nod. I feel the sharp, stabbing pain as the blow to my ribs comes fast and hard. The searing pain shooting through me with each breath tells me my ribs are broken. I lean over as far as my bonds will allow, taking short shallow breaths, trying to control the pain. I hear the shuffling of feet and find the strength to look up. What I see is not what I expect. No, Michael, explodes in my head.
“Throw him in the cage.” Oscar directs his men. “We’ll see who squeals first.”
Glancing to the left of where I’m sitting are two cages. They’re a little more fortified than a dog cage, but no bigger than one you’d house a large dog. The men throw Michael in, and he lands hard, hitting the back of the cage, not regaining consciousness. I can’t take my eyes off him. I notice Oscar studying my response to Michael, but I don’t care. After he sees what he needs, a wicked smile plays across his face.
“He one of yours?” Oscar asks me.
I remain silent, never looking away from the man I had been waiting on to save me. The man who could never be beaten nor captured. The deadliest man in the world. The man I love. My mind is screaming at him, trying to induce him to wake up. To move. Anything. With all my focus on Michael, I don’t see the slap coming from Oscar. I only feel the sting of it before the metallic taste of blood once again fills my mouth. My face feels numb and big. I can barely see out of my left eye. My mouth is so swollen, I can no longer keep my lips together. I can only imagine what I must look like.