The Hurting Game

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Chapter 35

Neither of them got much sleep that night. It took a long time to get the apartment in order. Nicolas didn’t want to leave the place a mess for his landlord, so he insisted they get it as clean as they could. Iziah stuffed his scant belongings – consisting mostly of clothes – into his bag. Nicolas had bought much of the furniture in the apartment, but he intended to leave it. No point in keeping it when they didn’t know where they were going. That evening, he washed all the dishes and mopped the floor while Iziah scrubbed the mud-stains out of the carpet. He expected the boy to complain, but Iziah didn’t say a word, whistling cheerfully.

By the time they got the place in order, it was long after midnight, and they collapsed in exhaustion. The next morning, Nicolas wakened as the sun rose outside his window, squinting, his head aching. Everything felt strangely disconnected, as if none of this was real. He would miss the place, but not much. The job was exciting and paid well, but even that had lost its appeal.

Iziah had somehow ended up in his bed, curled up with a blanket tangled around half his body. Nicolas couldn’t remember if it had started out that way or if he climbed in after Nicolas fell asleep.

“Hey,” Nicolas grunted, nudging the boy with his foot. “Wake up.”

Iziah grunted and rolled over, his eyes shut.

Nicolas grumbled and hauled himself out of bed, stretching. There were still several things that needed to be done. Part of the reason he had been so hesitant to leave his job was that it wasn’t an easy thing to walk away from. Many of his clients would be worried about the information he bore. Katharine would handle of most of it, destroying the computers and giving their bosses a sense of security. But he wanted some old photos off the computer before it was gone. Walking out of the room, Nicolas picked up the phone and dialed her number. It was seven in the morning, but Katharine kept odd hours. After several rings, she picked up.

“Good morning,” she chirped. “How did the meeting go?”

“Not well. I’m leaving town.”

“Oh. All right. Are we aborting?”

“Yes,” Nicolas replied. “Listen, there are a bunch of family photos on my computer that I don’t want to lose. I’d get them myself, but I don’t want to be spotted. Could you download them to a drive and bring them to the apartment.”

“Sure thing. But they better give me a raise when you’re gone.” She chuckled.

“Agreed. It’s been a pleasure working with you, Kath.”

“You too. I’ll be there in an hour.”

That was that.

Nicolas showered and ate a cold slice of pizza. It was strange seeing the apartment so clean. He’d always kept it neat, but it usually looked lived-in. Now it felt empty, like a showroom. He tried to shake off the feeling, reminding himself he wouldn’t be alone during this move. Nicolas looked through the door of his bedroom. Iziah was still asleep. He rolled his eyes, lips twisted in amusement, and gave the boy a shake. “Oi! Iziah, get up!”

Iziah grunted, pulling the blanket over his head.

“We’re leaving in an hour.”

“I scrubbed your floor,” Iziah grumbled, batting the man’s hand away. “What more do you want?”

Nicolas laughed. “Get up and shower. If I’m going to be cooped up in the car with you all day, you’d better not stink.”

“Fine, fine...”

Nicolas walked out of the room and into the kitchen, peering into the fridge. There wasn’t much to eat, but he poured himself a glass of orange juice. Iziah emerged from the bedroom after a moment, looking rumpled, then shut himself into the bathroom. While the boy showered, Nicolas opened his laptop and checked his email. There was nothing from Gray. He hadn’t been sure whether or not to expect a dirty email after their disastrous meeting. Nicolas closed the laptop, slipping it into his bag, and glanced out the window. Dark, ominous clouds hung low in the morning sky. Far below, he heard the storm of traffic.

He wished he had time to sell his car and get a new one. That would help in their effort to disappear. But that precaution would have to come later.

After several more minutes, Iziah emerged, now dressed and showered. He looked more awake, with eyes that were round with excitement. “When are we gonna go?”

“Katharine is bringing something by in half an hour. Then we’ll be ready.”

“Good.” Iziah walked over and sat on the couch, squirming, as if he couldn’t hold still. He began digging through his bag, making sure everything was in order. “You’re sure about this? You could just ship me off on a bus.”
“Not after the stunt we pulled last night. Gray will have it out for both of us.”

Iziah looked at him and smirked. “So much for not getting involved, eh?”

Nicolas shrugged, draining his orange juice. “It’s probably better like this anyway. I needed to get out of that job, I just never had an excuse.”

Someone knocked on the door. Nicolas stood to answer it, then stopped, frowning. His first thought was that Katharine had arrived, but that didn’t make sense. He’d called her on her home number. There was no way she could have gotten to the office, downloaded the pictures, and arrived here. “Katharine?” he called.

No response. His stomach went sour with dread.

“Shit!” He whirled around, trying to remember where he’d put his gun. The one that Iziah used was empty, sitting on the desk, and the other was in the bedroom. He dashed toward the latter.

“What’s wrong?” Iziah asked anxiously.

Just then, Nicolas heard a crack, and the door swung open. Nicolas snatched the gun out of his bedside drawer, looking over his shoulder in time to see a group of men pouring in. He ran forward, cocking the gun, and bellowed, “Iziah, get down!”

Iziah leaped to his feet and threw himself behind the desk.

Several men had guns while others carried blunt force weapons like crow bars and night sticks. Six of them rushed into the apartment, and Nicolas had no way of knowing if there were more outside. They’d found his address.

Nicolas fired at the first man, who fell to the floor screaming in pain. The next swung a crowbar at him. It caught his hand and knocked the pistol away. Nicolas cursed as pain shot through his fingers. He dodged a second swing and leaped on the man.

Iziah heard thumps and crashes from behind the desk. His heart pounded wildly in his rib-cage.

They’d come for him.

Sweat streamed down his face as he peered over the top of the desk. Nick had managed to get a hold of a crowbar and was swinging it like a madman. But there was no way he could win against so many attackers.

Iziah grabbed the gun off the desk, but it was light – there was no clip in it. He ripped open the desk drawers and pulled out the contents, searching frantically. His hands shook, slowing his progress. Every time he heard a cry of pain, he looked up in terror, but Nick was still fighting. He wanted to jump to his feet and throw himself into the fray, but he knew he wouldn’t be much use with the broken ribs and sprained wrist. He had to find some damn bullets!

Curses rose to his lips. He scattered papers across the floor in his effort to locate a clip.

A thug lunged across the table, grabbing Iziah by the collar of his sweater. Iziah yelped. The man grinned and started to pull him over, but Iziah grabbed a nearby lamp and slammed it against his attacker’s face. The man cried out in pain, recoiling, and Iziah slipped back, wrenching open another drawer. He nearly cried with relief when he spotted three clips. He snatched one up, trembling hands loading it into the gun. His eyes flicked to the side. One of the men had grabbed Nick in a choke-hold, and Nick thrashed, roaring with fury. Then, Iziah heard a familiar, rapid snap snap snap. One of them had a taser.

“Nick!” Iziah bellowed. He cocked the gun and aimed at the nearest man, but a boot suddenly slammed his rib-cage, knocking Iziah to the floor. Pain shot through his body, and the gun went off, leaving a bullet-hole in the wall. Before Iziah could scramble up, a weight smashed down on his back, crushing him. His cheek was forced against the wooden floor. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nick collapse, his assailant still jamming the taser into his side.

“Nick!” The word came out as a choked cry.

Several men searched Nick while another began poking around the apartment.

Iziah thrashed, but his captor gripped his arms behind his back. Iziah’s chest heaved with panic. Another man knelt by his head, blocking Nick from view. A familiar, clammy hand clamped down on the back of his neck and forced his face into the floor.

“Well, well.” The voice left Iziah choking on terror. “Iziah Mallory. You’ve been causing quite a lot of trouble, haven’t you?”

Nick was unconscious. Was there anyone in the next apartment that would hear them? Someone that might stop the men from doing what they pleased? Iziah writhed beneath his captors, crying, “No! No! Gawd, no! Please! Let me go!”

“Shut him up!” snapped one of the thugs. “We’re not here to play, Ian. We have to leave before the police show up.”

Ian – the yellow-eyed man – let out a faint snort. He stood and moved out of Iziah’s line of sight. They must have been sent to deliver him to Gray. Iziah looked at Nick through wide, pleading eyes, silently begging him to wake up. Nick had a bloody nose and a split lip, his head hanging to one side.

Iziah heard a tearing sound and felt something tough and sticky wrapping around his wrists. He gave a violent jerk, trying to pull free, and screamed, “Help me! Somebody please help me!”

A hand suddenly tangled in Iziah’s hair and slammed his head into the floor, bloodying his nose. He gritted his teeth in pain as his vision spun. Then the man wrenched his head back, and Iziah felt his hot breath against his ear.

“Be quiet,” Ian snarled. “Or I will hurt you.”

Iziah tried to regain control, shaking with terror, desperate to alert someone of what was happening. His jaw throbbed all the way up into his skull. He nodded, and, after a moment, Ian released his hair. Iziah let out his breath as the agony in his neck faded.

They wrapped several more layers of tape around his wrists before moving to his ankles. Everything in Iziah screamed with the urge to kick and struggle, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. He gasped for air, sobs threatening to burst from his chest. He couldn’t cry in front of them. When they were finished, they climbed off him and rolled him onto his back.

Iziah stared up at them through wide eyes before trying to glare. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of the men tuck Nick’s laptop under his arm. Ian stooped down, the ring of tape in one hand, and Iziah tried to keep steady. Ian grinned at him, running his tongue over his thin lips. “We’re going to have lots of fun.”

Iziah scowled. Dread seeped into his stomach, and he was trembling all over. If he hadn’t been bound, he would have kicked the man. Ian pulled off a strip of tape, and, before Iziah could react, pressed it over his mouth. Iziah tried to pull away, muffled whimpers rising in his throat, but Ian’s hand came behind his head, holding him in place. He wrapped it around Iziah’s head and over his mouth several times.

“Hurry it up!” someone snapped.

There were sirens in the distance.

Two men hauled Nick’s limp form up between them, heading toward the door. Another went ahead as a lookout. Ian smiled before grabbing Iziah and throwing him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Iziah squeezed his eyes shut, trying to escape the situation.

Trying to lock himself in his mind.

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