The Hurting Game

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Chapter 31

Iziah sat in the silence without moving. Without breathing. Listening to the clock tick and the heating unit hum and the television play in the next apartment. It was pure torture. But then, he’d already decided he wasn’t going to sit here and wait this out.

Iziah didn’t move for a good fifteen minutes, breathing, listening to the pounding inside his head. Nicolas had been making his plans for the last two days, so Iziah had a lot of time to think. Most of his thoughts were a chaotic jumble, but one thing stood firm. He couldn’t let Nick die because of him. And that was why he couldn’t let him go to the meeting alone.

He hauled himself to his feet, wincing. His head and ribs ached, after his late night skirmish with Nick. It had been shameful...breaking down in front of him. But it felt good to have things out in the open, and Nick was the one person he could trust. Without the hit man, he had nothing. Iziah walked across the room and into the kitchen, downing a pain pill. The apartment smelled like pizza. He glanced at the box, but his stomach writhed, threatening to rebel. A smirk blossomed across his face as he looked around. Normally, Nick’s apartment was spotless, but right now it was a mess. There were papers strewn about and dishes filling the sink. Iziah had tracked mud into the carpet days ago, and neither of them had bothered to clean it up. Iziah had really thrown a wrench into things, but strangely enough...Nick didn’t seem to mind.

In the foster homes, they’d yell at him when he did things wrong. Call him stupid and selfish and ungrateful. Threaten and punish him. Nick got angry, but he was never cruel. He just accepted Iziah with his flaws and rough edges.

Iziah smiled faintly, then walked across the room, pulling on his hoodie. He swallowed back nausea as scenes flashed through his head, all involving scenarios in which Nick was caught by the Crimson Serpents. If Nick was lucky, they’d kill him right away. But if they used him to get at Iziah, they would hurt him. Torture him. Maybe do what they’d done to Iziah. He cringed, a shudder running down his spine. Iziah couldn’t begin to picture them managing that with Nick, but it still made him feel sick.

Nick needed backup, whether he liked it or not. Iziah had known Nick wouldn’t take him. Frankly, Iziah didn’t want to go, but nothing in him would sit still while Nick was in danger. Besides, he’d thought things through. Nick had told him where they were meeting; Iziah could hide on the roof above and keep watch in case something went wrong. If the Crimson Serpents tried anything, he would call the police or cause some sort of distraction.

Iziah pulled on his shoes. If he was lucky, he’d have enough time to make it back to the apartment before Nick. After all, Nick would be enraged if he found out that Iziah sneaked out a second time.

And for good reason. Iziah was putting himself in danger despite all Nick’s precautions.

But Iziah had to make sure Nick made it out of there. He couldn’t stand the thought of him never coming back. Of waiting and waiting and waiting in the eternal silence.

After slipping into his hoodie, Iziah also put on one of Nick’s jackets. The weather channel said it was 38 degrees outside. Pulling up his hood and hoping the dark clothing would conceal him, he walked to Nick’s desk. Inside the drawer was the gun Nick left for him, smooth and black and gleaming darkly. Iziah picked it up, surprised by how heavy it felt. Nick had shown him how to use it, but he’d never let him hold it. Perhaps he thought Iziah would have no need for it. Iziah tucked the gun into his pocket and headed for the door, taking a long breath.

Before, he’d been terrified, everything in his body screaming with the need to escape. But now he had a plan, and he couldn’t feel anything.

Nicolas parked several blocks away from the area where they were meeting. There were numerous dingy bars on this end of town, with the occasional apartment complex and abandoned factory. The occasional car hurdled down the road, throwing moisture into the air and momentarily blinding Nicolas. Graffiti covered the brick walls of the nearby buildings, and the pavement was empty except for the occasional bum. Huge office buildings loomed to the north, dark shadows in a darker sky. The scent of garbage filled the air. Nicolas’ stomach recoiled as he walked down the sidewalk, checking his watch. He would arrive early enough to get in position.

The bag with the rifle inside was slung over his shoulder. He didn’t think he’d need it, since the explosion would be enough to do the trick, but he wanted to be prepared. His eyes wandered the area as he wove walked down the empty sidewalk. He wondered if anyone was out here, watching him. Waiting.

The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. But he tried to maintain a calm, studied stance. It wouldn’t work to his benefit if they knew he was nervous.

Nicolas turned off the sidewalk, heading down an alley. It was packed with full, rusty dumpsters, and puddles speckled the pavement. Sweat was beginning to bead on Nicolas’ forehead. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end.

He rounded a corner. The back door of the bar was to his right. There were several garbage cans nearby, and the pavement was littered with wrappers and old cigarettes. No sign of life. Nicolas scanned his surroundings, standing still. It was dark now that he was out of reach of the streetlamps, but he appeared to be alone.

“Bastards,” Nicolas mumbled, choosing his position in the corner of the alley. He leaned against the wall, pulling a cigarette out of his breast pocket and lighting it, taking a drag.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement. Without moving his head, he looked toward it. It had come from the broken window in a building opposite him. He let out a faint growl, putting away his lighter.

So they were going to be sneaky, were they? Try to scare him?

He just took another drag of his cigarette. This was starting to piss him off. Maybe it would be better to leave and get Iziah out of here. The Crimson Serpents would come after them, but maybe they could leave the state – get so far out of reach that no one would find them. Nicolas was just standing to leave when he heard footsteps around the corner of the next building.

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