It didn’t take Iziah long to arrive on the scene. Nick had told him where they were meeting, and Iziah immediately recognized it. While he usually spent his time in Faceless territory, he’d visited the place on occasion.
It was surprisingly quiet, even with city center looming to the north. Iziah hurried down the deserted sidewalk, his hood pulled up, Nick’s jacket tight around his shivering body. The pistol was a comforting weight in his pocket. There were old bars and gas stations along with buildings that looked like they hadn’t been used in years. The scent of rotting food and vomit filled the air and made him all the more nauseated. Shivers ran down his spine, and he glanced over his shoulder anxiously, shivering running down his spine. He’d never know if someone was watching him.
It was his own fault for wandering out here. But he couldn’t leave Nick to himself. He trusted his friend, but he didn’t trust Gray.
When the bar came into sight, he accelerated, beginning to pant with the effort. His head ached, and he kept a hand on his ribs. While the pain wasn’t nearly as intense as it had been, everything still hurt. Iziah stopped before he reached the bar, looking around. Nick was meeting with Gray in the back, and he didn’t want to get too close and risk being caught. Iziah swallowed hard, considering his options. It wasn’t any use standing on the sidewalk where he couldn’t see anything. His eyes wandered to the old, boarded-up building next to it. Maybe he could get onto the roof and watch from there.
Iziah walked around the side of the building cautiously. It was clean with the exception of a few cigarette butts. The building wasn’t very tall, and there were boarded windows along the wall. Beneath one was a sturdy dumpster, half-full of garbage. Iziah climbed onto it and put his hands on the wall, looking up at the edge of the flat roof. Taking a long breath, he stepped onto a crack between the boards and lunged upward, groping with one hand. His fingers curled over the side. For a moment, his other arm flailed in the air, then he managed to throw it up next to the other. Throbbing pain shot through his chest. Panting, he braced his legs against the wall and slowly hauling himself onto the flat roof.
Iziah lay there a moment, winded, before looking around. It was wet, speckled with puddles, and there were several large, lifeless generators. There was a stack of rotting hardwood on the far side of the roof. A structure jutted up in the middle with a door.
Once he’d caught his breath, Iziah rolled over and pushed himself to hands and knees. Since the building wasn’t very tall, he crawled along the roof to avoid being seen, heading toward the back end. Sweat trickled down his forehead. Hopefully he would be able to see into the alley behind the bar.
Gray Hanes and three other men came around the corner. Nicolas straightened, dropping his cigarette and grinding it into the pavement with the toe of his shoe. Gray was of average height, with salt and pepper hair. Nicolas had only seen him once before, when he was in a casino, and he wasn’t as well-dressed now. Gray wore a long heavy jacket, his hands tucked into his pockets, a cool look on his face. He reminded Nicolas of all those salesmen that he saw on television, with their polite smiles and ulterior motives. He gave Gray a rage-filled snarl. He had no intention of being polite toward the man that sent the Crimson Serpents after Iziah.
Nicolas’ eyes wandered to the two other monolith men. They were both carrying guns.
They stopped several yards away, and Nicolas scowled. “Need any more firepower?”
Gray smirked. “We wanted to come prepared in case you decided to try something stupid, Mr. Pierce. I’m sure you understand. We don’t take men in your line of business lightly.”
Nicolas glanced behind them. No one else appeared to be coming, and he had them right where he wanted them.
“I’ve tried to hire you, Mr. Pierce. How come you never respond?”
Nicolas looked at the man through narrowed eyes. “I work for businessmen.”
Gray let out a light chuckle. “I’m a businessman.”
“No. You’re a scumbag that sells drugs to kids.”
“Speaking of which.” The man raised his eyebrows. “Where is the boy? I certainly hope you have him waiting nearby.”
Nicolas smirked. “He’s not here.”
One of the men holding a rifle shifted, his brutish face twisting into a deeper frown. Gray sighed. “Now, now, Mr. Pierce. I thought that you didn’t allow yourself to get involved in these sort of matters. You really don’t want to fight this battle with me.”
While the man spoke, Nicolas slipped his hand into his pocket, gripping the remote that would detonate the explosives. He was going to be closer to the explosion than he would have liked, but he didn’t think he’d take too much damage. “I know you’re used to getting your way, but I’m not handing Iziah over. He’s not a threat, now that he’s effectively had the fight beat out of him.”
“And just let him get away with killing one of our members?” Gray scoffed, shaking his head. “I don’t think so, Mr. Pierce. We take threats to our membership very seriously. You’re lucky we haven’t made you account for the four that you left in that little bastard’s apartment.”
Nicolas smirked. He couldn’t begin to feel sorry for those men. Someone that would hurt others like that – so cruelly and mercilessly – didn’t deserve to walk on this earth. Nicolas had always functioned as a trash collector for humanity. This situation wasn’t any different. “Well, I am a killer. It shouldn’t be any surprise to you.” Nicolas pressed the switch on the remote and braced himself to dive to the side.
But nothing happened.
Curses rose to his lips, and he fought to contain them as rage swelled inside him. What went wrong? He’d checked the connection numerous times, and...
“No, that doesn’t surprise me at all,” Gray said. Then he grinned. “Is there something wrong, Mr. Pierce?”
Nicolas scowled, instantly realizing that Gray had something to do with this. He was going to have to resort to shooting them.
“You’re a man of many talents, aren’t you? Well, fortunately, so am I. I thought it was strange that you’d want to meet so far back when it would be safer for you near the streets. But, of course, you wouldn’t want to take that many explosives into a populated area. The police would be there in mere minutes. Good thing I decided to check out the place before meeting you.”
Nicolas gritted his teeth. He hadn’t expected the man to be so experienced. And the explosives had been inside the buildings on either side, so it seemed unlikely that Gray would find them.
“Now,” Gray folded his arms, “why don’t you tell us where you’re keeping that kid, and we can all be on our way.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
Gray stared at him through narrowed eyes for a moment before his lips twisted. “Oh, I see. Got attached to the boy, did you? Seems like a dangerous thing in your line of work. I thought you were better than that, Mr. Pierce.” When Nicolas didn’t reply, the man continued, “I guess not. Did he tell you what my men did with him? Sounds like they had quite the time of it. I’ve never seen him myself, but I think ‘pretty’ was the word they used. And boy did he have a sweet ass.”
In a instant, Nicolas had pulled out his gun, but, just as quick, the thugs pointed their rifles at Nicolas.
Things were going sour. That much was clear to Iziah. He was curled up behind a generator near the edge of the roof, peering over. Terror shook his body, and he felt like a coward. They would never see him up here. They would never suspect. But he was still afraid of what would happen if they found him.
Though the breeze garbled their voices, he understood most of what was being said, and sweat began to bead on his forehead.
He clenched his fists, gritting his teeth and trying to calm himself. Since when was he so easily shaken?
One of the men pointed a rifle at Nick, and Iziah’s eyes widened, his heart exploding into action inside his chest. Nicolas had been wrong to come here. And try to kill them nonetheless! Was this Nick’s way of trying to prove he was in control of the situation?
Iziah wanted to pull away, to squeeze his eyes shut and yell to release the tension building inside his body, but he couldn’t move. Couldn’t tear his eyes away.
Nick couldn’t die.
Iziah shook with rage. What had the idiot been thinking? And he’d gotten on Iziah’s case when he went after Shawn? This wasn’t much better.
He had to create a distraction so Nick could get away without being shot. Iziah pulled the gun out of his pocket and slowly cocked it, taking a long breath. It would be a long run back to the apartment. Especially since they would be looking for him. But there was no way in hell he was going to let the Crimson Serpents take anything else from him. Not while he still had a measure of control.
Iziah braced himself and pointed the gun.
Nicolas laughed, unflinching as the men leveled the guns at his chest. “You don’t want to do that.”
“Why not?” Gray demanded.
“Because if you do, you’ll never find Iziah.”
Harrowing, grating silence. A look of rage spread across Gray’s face. “Very well then. If you want to play that game, we can make you talk.”
Nicolas smirked. He wanted to open fire, but he knew they would shoot him the moment he took his first shot. “Really? Because the kid will be long gone before you ever get anything out of me.”
“How long do you really think it will take us to figure out where you live?” Gray snarled. “You might have covered your tracks, but I have dozens of people looking for your place. It won’t take them long.”
Something cold seeped into the pit of Nicolas’ stomach, but he tried not to let it show on his face. What would Iziah do if he never got back? If they found the apartment?
“You’re not going to talk? Fine. I was hoping that you could be reasonable, Mr. Pierce, but I suppose I should have expected this from you. You’ve always been too good to deal with people like us. Well, we don’t play the same games that your kind does. We don’t have the same rules.” Gray looked toward the men.
They started toward him, pointing their rifles. Nicolas was just fingering the trigger when a gunshot assaulted his eardrums.