The Hurting Game

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Chapter 17

The door swung open so fast it rammed into the wall, the lock broken, and then Nicolas shot the first man he saw. The man was digging through a bag and didn’t see it coming. He collapsed, and Nicolas took in the scene before him.

The other four men whirled on him with increasingly furious and confused expressions. Three of them gripped a squirming, terrified Iziah. The boy stared at him through pleading, tear-filled eyes, letting out a muffled cry. Rage shot through Nicolas, and he raised his gun, shooting one of Iziah’s captors. There was a spray of blood. The boy screamed, face contorted in horror. The remaining men scattered, two pulling out weapons and charging at Nicolas. He fired at one, but he dodged. The other leaped on him, swinging a knife. Nicolas caught the man’s wrist and kept it from striking him. Then he kneed the man with all his might and shot him through the chest. His eyes widened, and blood oozed from between his lips as he sank to the floor.

The second man came out of nowhere, locking his arms around Nicolas’ throat and jerking him back.

Iziah collapsed when the men released him, his legs like jello, head spinning on his shoulders. A dead man lay next to him. His eyes were frozen in shock, bulging from his head. Blood poured onto the floor, and he felt a thin spray sticking to his cheek. Iziah yelped scrambled away from the man, terror coursing through him. Nicolas had barged through the door moments ago, and two of the men struggled with him. Iziah swung his head about in an attempt to locate the third.

The man with the yellow eyes crouched nearby, giving Nicolas a hate-filled scowl as he pulled a pistol from inside his jumpsuit.

Iziah looked to Nick, wide-eyed, as he fought one of the men. Would he notice?

The yellow-eyed man started to stand, but Iziah lunged forward, jumping on the man’s back and prying at his grip on the gun. His head was splitting. The man let out a stream of obscenities, jerking on Iziah’s arm in an attempt to dislodge him. Agony coursed through his sprained wrist, and he groaned through his teeth. Iziah wrenched on the gun and managed to pry it out of the man’s fingers. It clattered across the tiled floor.

The man growled, reaching back and grabbing a handful of Iziah’s hair, ripping him off his back. Iziah cried out in pain, gripping the man’s arm. Normally, he won these sort of fights, but he was in too much pain. Black clouds flooded his vision.

Iziah pounded on his assailant with his fist, kicking and struggling, but the man threw him to the floor. Twisting, Iziah scrambled back frantically. The man loomed over him. To the side, he heard another gunshot.

Nicolas grappled with his assailant. His back was against the wall, and he had no leverage. The man pried at the gun in his hand, pushing it toward his face. Sweat soaked his face. He kneed the man, heaving, and shoved him back. The man’s hands were still on the gun, and he drove the muzzle toward Nicolas. His face was contorted in rage. Nicolas moved his head out of the way, straining, and the gun went off several times, blasting ammunition into the floor. After four shots, it started clicking. That was the end of his eight bullets.

Rage coursed through him.

They needed five men to go after one eighteen year old kid?

Nicolas wrenched an arm free and slammed the butt of the pistol into his assailant’s head. The man dropped to his knees, groaning, and Nicolas kicked him several times to keep him down. Then he turned to locate Iziah.

The man with the yellow eyes leaped on Iziah, straddling his body and grabbing the gun. Horror coursed through him. Iziah thrashed beneath the man with all his might, clawing his face. The man gritted his teeth and ducked away from Iziah’s hands. Sweat streamed down his forehead and soaked his shirt. The man’s hand clamped down on Iziah’s throat, choking him. Iziah pried at it, his eyes wide. His lungs heaved and struggled for breath. The man turned the gun in his hand and swung it at him.

Iziah threw his arms in front of the face as the man pistol-whipped him. Pain stung his arms, and he writhed, trying to throw the man off. He was crushed under his assailant’s weight, and the hand on his throat pinned him to the floor. Several times, the butt of the gun hit his injured hand.

“Nick!” he choked out. “Nick!”

A shadow fell over them.

Nicolas dragged Iziah’s assailant back and slammed him into the cupboard, knocking the gun from his hand. It dropped to the floor. The man gave him a hate-filled scowl, snarling, and threw a punch that caught Nicolas across the cheekbone.

Iziah scrambled to his feet and ran out of the kitchen, pale-faced, clutching his side.

Nicolas swung at him, but the man dodged, and his fist plowed into the wooden cabinet. Pain shot through his arm. The man shoved him back, snarling. All at once, an arm locked around Nicolas’ throat, cutting off his air. The other man had recovered. Nicolas choked, gripping his assailant’s arm and thrusting his elbow into his ribs. His assailant grunted but didn’t release him. The man with yellow eyes grinned at him and balled up his fists as if to throw another punch.

Nicolas heard an audible thunk, and the man behind him let out a choked sound, collapsing. Nicolas turned to see Iziah run at the man with yellow eyes, wielding a baseball bat. The man’s eyes widened, and he lunged to the side, avoiding Iziah’s swing. He looked around, and, realizing his companions were dead, ran out the door. Nicolas was about to give chase when Iziah whipped around and hurled the bat at him. Nicolas dove out of the way, catching Iziah’s arm and wrenching the bat from his hands. He demanded, “What the hell, kid?”

The wild look left his eyes, and he stared at Nicolas blankly.

Nicolas sighed, tossing the bat to the floor, and walked to the open door. The hall was empty, and he heard the van screech out of the parking lot. He ached from the blows he’d taken. Sweat soaked the back of his shirt and trickled down his face. “I told you to leave, you idiot,” Nicolas growled. “What did you think would happen? You...”

He turned and fell silent. Iziah stood where he left him, his head ducked, crying quietly. His arms hung limp at his sides, tears streaming down his cheeks. There was blood on his face and droplets staining his shirt. At first Nicolas thought it was from one of his attackers, but then he spotted a wound on Iziah’s forehead. The bodies on the floor were very still. Holding his ribs, Iziah sank to the floor, leaning against the kitchen counter. The anger inside Nicolas dissipated when he realized how shaken the boy was. Iziah clutched his hair, his chest heaving as he choked between sobs, “What am I gonna do? W—what the hell am I gonna do?”

Nicolas stood there a moment, then came forward and crouched in front of Iziah. His brow furrowed with concern. They needed to leave, but he was afraid to push Iziah. The boy was already falling apart. Nicolas thought he might be hurt, but he didn’t see any injuries besides the blood on his head. “Hey, kid,” he murmured. “It’s alright.”

He put his hands on the quaking, heaving shoulders.

“It’s okay. You’re safe now.”

After a moment, Iziah looked up at him through red, bleary eyes. His breaths came in shallow gasps. Terror was etched into his face. Nicolas pulled him into an embrace, and Iziah didn’t struggle, sobbing into his shoulder, fingers clutching the front of his shirt. It was strange to see him looking so vulnerable. As Nicolas held the boy, his eyes scanned the bodies strewn around them. Someone wanted Iziah dead. He wasn’t sure what to do with the kid, but he couldn’t leave him here. A hint of impatience came through him. They needed to leave as soon as possible...but he didn’t think Iziah was in any state to be rushed.

The moment his sobs began to subside, Nicolas said, “We need to leave.”

Iziah nodded faintly and pulled back, wiping his eyes. He was still trembling, a scared, haunted look in his eyes.

“Come on. Wash the blood off your face.”

Nicolas stood and helped Iziah to his feet, leading him to the bathroom. Iziah stooped and turned on the faucet. Nicolas waited while the boy washed his face. Part of him wanted to take Iziah to the hospital to make sure he wasn’t hurt, but that didn’t seem like a good idea. Last time, they must have figured out Iziah was alive by checking hospital records. And they might look for him there. The police station, maybe? That seemed risky too. Nicolas didn’t know why Iziah was in danger, but if he was involved in something illegal, he would be arrested. Besides, a police station was the last place someone like Nicolas wanted to go. So what should they do?

Iziah dried his face. His head had stopped bleeding, so the wound didn’t seem to be serious.

“Iziah. You can’t stay here. I want you to go pack. Just grab the necessities and leave the rest.”

Iziah nodded without saying a word and hurried past him, walking into the bedroom.

Nicolas walked out and quickly searched the bodies. None of them carried wallets or I.D.s. Curses rose to his lips. If he’d caught that last man, he could have searched their van. The bag didn’t hold anything of use. Just some rope and revolting equipment. Once he was satisfied that there was nothing to be found, he straightened. Now that the shock of the moment had worn off, he noticed that the apartment was clean. Seconds later, Iziah emerged with a bag slung over his shoulder, as if he’d already been packed. The look of terror had faded from the boy’s face, leaving a disconnected, blank expression in its wake.

“Come on.” Nicolas grabbed his arm and hustled him out the door.

There was a chance that his assailant would return and bring backup, and Nicolas’ remaining ammunition was in the car. The sun hovered over the horizon behind an ominous layer of clouds. The air smelled like rain. Iziah stumbled beside him, hissing through his teeth and holding his ribs.

“Are you alright?” Nicolas asked doubtfully.

Iziah didn’t reply, avoiding his gaze.

Nicolas hurried to the car and shuffled Iziah into the passenger seat before climbing in and starting it up. They pulled out of the parking lot and into the road.

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