(The Murderous) Beauty and the Beast (Who Fell In Love) ~Book #3 in The Hands of Fate and The Cosmos

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Chapter 2.


Chapter 2. // The Interviewee

RAPHAEL

The annoying beep of the alarm did not help the pounding in Raphael’s head. Memories of the night before filled his head and he groaned, finally aware of the sleeping figure next to him. He lay in his bed for a while longer, the self-hatred growing stronger with each passing second. He got off the bed after what felt like half an hour, hoping not to wake the person who occupied the bed with him. His muscles ached and he stretched them out, satisfied with the cracks and pops he heard. Without looking back, he walked straight out of his room and into his kitchen, internally happy to see the workers there, eating and cooking, yet he didn’t show it. They all greeted him in their native language and he returned the greeting moodily, then picked up a plate of food which was prepared just for him. The only sound was that of their eating and the plates clanking against each other and the metal of the sink.

“Mister Rossellini, would you like me to get rid of the woman sleeping in your bed?” Ursula, the eldest worker he had with him, and his second mother-figure, inquired as she came from the direction of his room.

“Yes please, Ula. That would be nice.” Raphael replied, avoiding her steely gaze. She snapped at two female workers to assist her and they scurried off, but Ursula remained. Soon enough, the sound of scraping chairs and quickly retreating footsteps filled the quiet kitchen and Raphael internally groaned.

“That’s right. You had better not do it out loud.” She said sternly, and he chuckled as she took a seat across from him. He dreaded looking up at her, for he knew exactly what she would have said to him; the same thing she always said whenever he got completely intoxicated, brought a strange woman home and slept with her.

“Ael, you need to stop this, because when you find her, it’ll affect your relationship. Please, please take my advice.” Her voice and touch on his forehead was gentle, and the self-hatred sky-rocketed at this point.

He knew that it would affect his relationship with his true other half; but it’s been so long, almost sixty years since the burning desire to search for her arose in him, and he’s had no luck; his companions haven’t been much help after the first twenty years.

He didn’t want Ula to know that he had fallen deep into depression a long time ago, and drinking was one of his painkillers. He didn’t want her to know that he had lost all hope of finding her, and planned that for the rest of his life, his cycle would be: work, drink, hook-up, repeat.

But Ursula already knew of his little ‘plan’, and she was not going to let him go through with it. She knew how much he’s been going through, and she doesn’t want him to become like her son, Ingrid, that she lost due to the same situation. If only he’d let her, or even his family in to help; the burden wouldn’t feel so heavy.

They sat across from each other in silence, while Raphael finished his breakfast. His mind went into work overdrive, and Ursula sensed that he didn’t want to talk about the matter anymore, so she stood up, walked around the counter to him and kissed his forehead like she always did, then left the room. The man sighed deeply.

He despised this feeling.

He despised feeling weak and vulnerable. He wanted to scream and cry and burn the world down into nothingness; for if he couldn’t find his love and happiness and everything good, then no one should have it. Then he would sit in the ashes and the rubble and despise himself even more, for then he would truly be alone.

Raphael felt the warm liquid leak from his eyes and spill onto his cheeks, and he wiped them away swiftly.

“Fucking weakling!” one of the voices he grew to despise echoed in his head, and he screamed back at it. “They belong to you too, you bastard!”

The presence retreated from the forefront of his mind, and he sighed again.

Finally looking up at the clock, he saw that if he didn’t leave now, he’d be late for a meeting. Raphael did his usual routine, and for some reason, the self-hatred that grew when he looked at himself in the mirror wasn’t there. Raphael wound up staring at himself for much longer than usual, trying to figure out why he no longer felt a burning hatred for the reflection. To his surprise, his reflection rippled and warped into a different image, as if there was a disturbance in a pool of water. Now, it was like he was watching through a one-way glass.

His blue eyes changed into dark brown ones; his featured morphed from masculine and rugged to feminine and soft. Behind his ribcage, his heart fluttered about in circles, bumping into his lungs and slamming against his bones. His hand shook as he raised it to the glass, touching the surface, but not the person. Ursula watched him silently, a smile gracing her time-worn face.

“The time is finally here. I must prepare the house for when she arrives.” Ursula thought to herself, before clearing her throat. Raphael jolted and snapped his head in her direction, a sheepish smile blooming on his face after the shock subsided. “Sweetie, we all know you’re very handsome, but you have somewhere to be and you’ll be late.”

The man chuckled, feeling slightly embarrassed, but the feeling dissipated when he remembered all the other embarrassing situations Ursula has walked in on before. She left, and his head snapped to the mirror again, and he felt the familiar sense of self-hatred as he was greeted with his own reflection once again.

~~

Walking into the massive garage, Raphael picked a set of keys off the board suspended on the wall and walked towards his usual BMW. The drive to his destination was as mundane as it could be; he had the radio on to temporarily drown his thoughts, and he glanced out of his window once in a while, watching the scenery change from massive trees and massive houses in between them, to gradually less and less trees, and more skyscrapers. The image of that soft-featured woman was imprinted at the back of his mind, and lifted his spirits. Even those traitors who left when he needed them felt ecstatic, and wouldn’t stop pacing and murmuring to themselves; he raised the volume of the music to drown them out.

Raphael drove straight through the city and to the developing commercial section of it. The building in progress belonged to his father, who wanted to go into the hotel industry, and have his younger sister, Rayne, run the hotel, and even name it in her honour.

“Rayney Days Hotel.” His father had said jokingly, his deep, rusty laughter was contagious, and Raphael found himself laughing too, despite the fact that his sister was not at all amused. She still smiled lovingly at her father and older brother though, and proposed a better idea.

Once he arrived in the space designated to be the parking lot, he saw the black van already parked closer to the back of the building and mentally swore at his tardiness. He killed the engine and quickly got out, stalking towards the other vehicle. As he drew nearer, his hearing picked up the faint sound of a conversation. “Dude, we got here two minutes ago. Relax; the Rossellini’s are people of their word.” A faintly American voice said reassuringly and another voice, much deeper with a German accent replied. “I know, but I’m nervous. And I have to pick up my little one from her mother’s.”

“Well then gentlemen, this meeting will be short.” Raphael said, startling the duo with his sudden appearance. “Mr. Rossellini! Nice to see you again.” The man with the German accent said, holding out his hand.

“Please, Jorgen. Mr. Rossellini is my father. We’re on first name basis anyway.” The man chuckled as they shook hands. “Right, right. I keep forgetting. Oh! Where are my manners? This is my brother, Edgar.” Jorgen placed a hand on Edgar’s shoulder and pulled him towards Raphael. Edgar stuck his hand out and Raphael shook it, noting that he was as nervous as Jorgen was.

They discussed a lot over the phone, so this meeting was just to sign the papers and finalize everything. They went over the terms and agreements of this treaty, which will include the Borlongan clan in the selected few which are protected by the Rossellini’s.

A clan had to be very noble and trustworthy to even be considered worthy of protection. They needed to be able to pull their weight as well, because heavy dependence of the Rossellini’s was not acceptable. How can you strengthen yourself if you keep leaning heavily on another?

They finished business, and the men departed, going their separate ways. On his drive to work, his mind stirred and his secretary’s voice filled his head. He took a deep breath and prepared himself for something that was rare, but expected. Lost in thought, he didn’t realize that he had already pulled up to the massive building’s parking entrance, that is, until he crashed into the barrier, startling both himself and the security guard sitting in the booth. He braked to a stop to compose himself, a shallow pant escaping him. The security guard walked up to his window, eyes wide and body quivering.

“Sir, are you okay?” he asked and Raphael nodded, still a bit disoriented. Quickly regaining his composure, he turned to the guard. “Have you seen anyone suspicious come through here?” the guard shook his head.

“I got here about five minutes before you came in, sir.” Raphael nodded, then drove off to his normal parking spot on the same floor as his office. Mind stirring even more, he walked cautiously to the door leading him straight to his office. He surveyed the large room, where he spent majority of his nights and even holidays. Nothing was suspicious, so he walked across the room to another door, which lead him to his PA’s office, which was empty and waiting a new person to inhabit it, and surveyed the room.

Still, nothing.

A scream echoed from outside, and his feet moved quickly to the main door and threw it open, the scene of his secretary having a gun pointed to her forehead, and a man rummaging through the cabinets greeted him unpleasantly. An inhuman growl escaped his throat and everyone stopped dead in the tracks. The perpetrator’s eyes grew wide with fear, and his secretary grew limp with relief.

With the distraction, the woman slapped the gun away from her forehead and landed a punch to the holder’s nose. Before the rummager could strike her, he was caught by the throat and roughly jerked away, then forcefully slammed against the wall, the pictures which lined it shaking violently, and a few falling to the ground. “Who sent you?” Raphael hissed through gritted teeth, tightening his hold around the perpetrator’s neck. The man, pale, with a defiant look in his forest green eye said nothing, but he did spit at his captor.

Aggravated and extremely insulted, Raphael wasted no time, and roughly twisted the man’s neck to the right, satisfaction growing as he heard the snap, and felt the man grow limp. He loosened his grip and the perpetrator dropped to the ground, a lifeless sack. The other intruder watched his partner’s lifeless body with horror and sadness, his form quivering ever-so slightly, and blood slowly trickling from his nose. He looked up at Raphael, his hands releasing the folders and gun, and raised them in surrender. The businessman smirked.

“Smart choice.” His hand wrapped around the collar of the intruder’s shirt and he was dragged into the massive office. The secretary, with a pounding heart, cleaned up the mess that was made, making a note of her cousin’s new aura. A grin possessed her face as she reorganized, mentally making note that a new employee was due today, and that the family must know of the good news. This new techie was going to be her best friend, one way or another.

Her fingers curled around the black landline on her desk after putting everything back in place, and she quickly dialled the number to her boss’ house, impatiently tapping on the desk as the phone rang. The elderly Italian voice she grew up with answered, and she quickly shot the questions burning the tip of her tongue since a few minutes ago. “Is it true? Is it really time? She’s here? Do I have immunity to smack him if he’s being stupid?”

The woman on the other end chuckled; a graceful, old time-y chuckle. “Yes, sweetheart. I found out this morning when I caught him staring at himself in the mirror with something that wasn’t complete hatred. And yes, you have complete immunity.” The younger woman shook her shoulders with glee. “Keep an eye out for me, okay?” the older woman requested, before hanging up. The younger agreed, and they said their goodbyes, then the secretary began her day’s work.

Meanwhile, in the office, the intruder was tied up to a chair, pure silver knife at his throat and his feet in a bucket of water. With a piranha in it, gnawing away at his feet.

“I need answers, scum. Who sent you, and what were you looking for?” Raphael’s voice was low and menacing. The perpetrator remained silent despite the fact that he was terrified and in pain, and did not want to die just yet.

He had a wife, and a baby on the way. He wanted to know the gender. He wanted to teach him or her what he was taught, and what he learnt on his own. He wanted to be a good father.

But he had sworn not to give away his purpose, or else he would be killed by that microchip planted in his chest. He’d rather die than give himself away.

Little did he know, the businessman was not taking the silent “no” for an answer.

A few minutes later…

Raphael was thankful that the walls of his office were soundproof. This man screamed like a terrified woman in a horror movie.

He leaned against his desk, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up, and arms crossed over his chest. He was pretty annoyed; there was business to attend to, and here he was, torturing and interrogating one of the two men bold enough to break into his office, hold his cousin at gun point, and attempt to steal files of important data. The other intruder’s lifeless body was dragged into the office by his cousin, who silently slipped in and out.

Raphael picked up the remote and pressed the blue button again. The screams resonated through the room, and Raphael rolled his eyes, releasing the button. “I’ll stop once you tell me what I need to know.” The screaming died down, and the man panted heavily.

“O-okay, fine. Fine. I’ll talk. It was-“

Blood splattered everywhere.

Raphael’s ears rang, and blood dripped all over him. It was not obvious who it was. All enemies trying to bring the Rossellini’s down planted something remotely in the men sent to do the dirty work. Instantaneous kill if they were about to reveal who it was. “Lovely.” He murmured, wiping off as much blood as possible from his face. He walked into his closet, picked out a clean set of clothes, and went into the relatively small bathroom to wash off.

He tried out the mirror again, and received the same result: no burning self-hatred, but sadly, no image of that beautiful person. He was still quite astonished; no burning self-hatred was a new feeling to him. It felt so odd and unnatural, but he had no time to question it. He needed his office clean for his interview with the new employee. Seeing as that was impossible at the moment, he would settle for one of the conference rooms.

Her qualifications were quite impressive, and he was lucky enough to be the only one to hear of her from Hunter. From what he said to him, she had left school about four years ago, but stayed home to help her mother out, and didn’t have time to go her own way.

He didn’t want to admit it, but he was excited. He was always happy to open up the office to a new person, despite how big his business was and how many employees he had. It was like all him employees were family to him; he hated admitting it to his father and Val, but it was true.

He avoided all the mess by passing through the empty PA’s office, and rolled his eyes at his cousin’s catcalling, sticking his middle finger up at her as the elevator doors closed, chuckling at her maniacal laughter. He sighed as the elevator smoothly rode down into the lobby, and practiced his façade in the elevator’s mirrors. By the time the doors slid open, he was the heartless, ruthless, merciless SOB that everyone knew and feared, but secretly admired. The people parted like the Red Sea and internally, he didn’t give a shit as much as it looked like on the outside.

He smelt her before he spotted her.

Her scent was intoxicating: jasmine, burnt sugar, and something else he couldn’t quite place.

She was at the counter with Olivia. Raphael pretended that he didn’t notice her, but his companions, the other occupants of his body, were so pleased and happy. It was unusual to Raphael; those annoying voices were always angry since they left him to do the searching on his own. One barely spoke, and the other only spoke shit.

But now, the shit talker was yapping like a happy dog.

Well, technically…

Anyway.

The silent one said the word he was waiting to hear for sixty years, and this feeling of bliss spread through his body. Even from the side, he thought that she was gorgeous; absolutely breath-taking. But he needed his breath to pull off this façade of calm collectiveness.

He leaned against the counter, and from the corner of his eye, he saw that she took a small step backwards, noticing that he would basically tower over her. One very dirty comment from one of the now very active and elated occupants of his body, and a hopefully unnoticed shiver later, he finally spoke up. “Olivia, send someone to clean up my office, and call Hunter to let him know of the incident. Also, order lunch for my office; we have a staff meeting at 12:30. Did the interviewee come yet? She’s very late.”

Still observing her from the corner of his eye, he saw a shiver faintly course through her, and how she shook her head, as if she were mentally scolding herself. He smirked slightly, and his companions chuckled evilly.

“Oh yes, little one. Shivering is not the only thing I’ll make you do.”

Raphael rolled his eyes, and Olivia’s shoulders shook softly in amusement. “Sure thing, Mr. Rossellini. The interviewee is standing right next to you, sir. She may not need an interview after all, given that she just fixed the problem with the system.” His eyes finally rested on her, and he swallowed his shock. It was her, the woman in his mirror.

He wished that she was like those other women, who wore something skimpy and hoped that it was classy enough to actually get the job, but at the same time, he was glad that she was professional and wore something appropriate. He saw that she took another tiny step backwards, to enable herself to look at him properly, since he did tower over her. “Mr. Rossellini.” She said firmly, sticking her hand out. Raphael gently took her hand, but gave it a firm shake. The little fireworks exploding on his skin made him feel weak, and he laughed internally.

“This tiny woman is already bringing me to my knees. Ula and my mother would be so happy to meet her.”

He spoke. “Ms. Augustine. A pleasure to meet you. Already hard at work I see?” the smile that graced her face was so quickly dropped, he didn’t have time to admire her. She responded. “The problem presented itself, and I tackled it.” He nodded in approval, mouth quirking up slightly. Raphael wanted to roll his eyes at the little comment the quieter occupant made, but remembered that he had to keep it professional.

“The job is already yours, Ms. Augustine, but I still need to interview you, for business purposes.” The tiny woman nodded firmly. “Sure thing, sir.”

“I prefer daddy, but, that could work too.”

“Oh my God, dude!”

“What?”

“Oh, don’t play innocent.”

Raphael gave a single nod, then turned towards Olivia, inaudibly sighing then rolling his eyes, causing the woman to snicker silently. “I almost forgot. Send flowers to my mother and Caia. And book a flight for Taj to visit.”

He hasn’t seen his younger brother in almost a year, and now that this tiny woman has entered his life, having his little brother around would be interesting to observe, since he trusted Taj’s gut feeling more than anyone else’s.

Caia, one of his best friends, was terribly ill, and he always felt relieved when she wrote him back or called, scolding, but thanking him for the flowers.

And he simply adored his mother; why not send her flowers?

Olivia nodded, and Raphael faced his ‘future wife’ as the annoying voices claimed. “Follow me.” He turned away, and strode off towards the elevators. From the reflection off the elevator doors, he noticed that she was taking large steps to keep up with him.

“Ah, she’s so tiny. I love it.”

Should we hold her hand to pull her along? I feel like we should do that.

“Not yet. She doesn’t have the scent of our kind; she smells mundane.”

“Plus, I don’t see anything extraordinary, and there is no glamour. So, she’s definitely mundane.”

“And what about being professional? Holding hands on the first encounter? You make me laugh.”

Do you know how much I dislike the two of you?

“Love you too, Raphael.”

The elevator doors slid open, and Raphael stepped in, the petite woman following him. The doors closed and the metal box lurched up smoothly, and he watched as she drummed her fingers against the strap of her bag to some unknown song. He groaned almost inaudibly, and was thankful that she didn’t hear him.

“So, Ms. Augustine. I understand that you attended Oxford and completed your Computer Science and Software Engineering courses with flying colours, earning your Masters. I also understand that you have a Doctorate and a few more Masters. What else did you study?”

He saw how she was startled, and how she clenched her fist that still quivered by her side as she turned to face him. Yet, she couldn’t meet his eye. “Please look at me, princess.” For once, he wasn’t annoyed by the other occupants.

“I majored in the pure sciences, Psychology, Geography, Literature and a few languages: Spanish, Latin, German, and Mandarin; just to name a few.” Their eyes finally met, and Raphael felt like he was melting. He was extremely impressed, not that he wasn’t already from her resume and Hunter’s word.

“My baby is a brain box. A little smart ass. I am complete.”

Shush, let me focus.

“But those chocolate orbs. They’re gorgeous. No wonder we’re so obsessed with chocolate.”

Seriously, let me focus.”

“That is very impressive Ms. Augustine. Your skills would come in handy once we decide to do business with other companies and countries.” The smile that pulled up at the corner of her lips made him melt. Her cheeks were softly tinted, and that incited another dirty comment from the occupants of his body.

“Thank you, sir.” Her voice was so soft and angelic; he always seemed annoyed at soft-spoken people, but now, he really didn’t mind her. He never thought it would be possible to fall so fast, but he was, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He’ll need to question Hunter when he arrives. Hopefully, this interview will give him more information about her.

He surprised himself by giving her a small smile in return.


Raphael never thought that he would be excited to see Hunter.

The interview with Katherina went fairly well, and Val was more than excited to call his mother. The blinds were open, and he could still see her chatting animatedly with the phone between her ear and shoulder, while typing on the keyboard.

He couldn’t be annoyed, no matter how hard he tried to sink into the mood. Just meeting her, being in the same room, knowing that they’re going to be working closely to digitize the company and improve its overall function; his heart couldn’t stop slamming against his ribcage.

The side door, leading to the parking lot outside his office opened and he stood abruptly, the swivel chair bouncing against the glass window. Hunter stood at the door warily, with two carpets tucked under his arm and his kit of supplies dangling loosely from his fingers. “I’m guessing it went well?” he finally asked, after a stifling minute of awkward silence.

“Yes, extremely.” Raphael replied, arranging his already neat desk. “I’d like to ask you about her. You know, how you met, what she is like.” Raphael hated feeling nervous, but here he was, fiddling with the cuffs of his shirt and sweat slowly rolling down his back. Hunter smirked as he walked into the office.

“I’d be happy to tell you all of this again while I work. Mind telling me where the bodies are?” pointing to the bathroom, Raphael sat in his chair again, attempting to calm his heart. Hunter’s voice echoed from the bathroom. He listened as he listed off some admittedly admirable traits about Katherina: her generosity, kindness, selflessness, determination. Things that would make an employer hire.

“Katherina and I met at school. She was the brain box and stereotypically, bullied by those brave and cunning enough to do it while her brothers were there with us. At first, we never really talked. I’d just ask her questions about the homework and she was nice enough to help me. That’s one thing about her,” he chuckled, “she was always ready to help, even if they were he bullies. But, when I beat up a guy that was trying to-“he paused, the air thick with the implication, and Raphael snapped the desk lamp that he was relocating.

Hunter’s sigh didn’t have an echo, and Raphael turned his head, still holding the broken lamp in his hand. He had two rolled-up carpets on his left shoulder, while his kit was in his other hand. Raphael sometimes forgot that Hunter was not just a human. He continued.

“After I helped her, we started to get closer. At one point, we even dated.” Hunter smiled fondly at the memory, and Raphael tried to be a good friend and smiled, but he was suppressing a possessive growl. “But then, she started drifting away, and I know I should have been there for her, but, I was selfish. I’m still not over the fact that she forgave me. We’re only friends but, I still think about her sometimes.” The growl could no longer be held in. it rippled through his chest and Hunter cautiously stepped back.

“Is there something I’m missing?” Hunter asked slowly, slightly adjusting the rolled-up carpets on his shoulder. Raphael gulped, not ready to look at his friend. His cheeks burned as he murmured, “She’s my mate.”

Hunter grinned. No wonder he was acting so… weird. He never knew Raphael to be fidgety, or to blush. But here he was, avoiding his gaze and awkwardly holding a broken lamp because of something he said about Grey. “Raphael. It’s okay. I’m really happy for you. I hope you tell her soon.” Raphael met his gaze then.

“She’s human, Hunter. I don’t want to scare her.” The last words came out as a whisper, and Hunter shook his head, carelessly dropping the carpets and his kit, then walked towards him. Hunter was cautious; Raphael wasn’t a big ‘physical contact’ person. He placed a hand on the larger man’s shoulder, who looked at him almost like a scared animal.

“She knows about the supernatural kind, Raphael. It’s okay. I think you should tell her; when she’s ready.” Raphael gulped and nodded, and Hunter released his shoulder, hauling the two carpets over his shoulder and picking up his kit again. The man was also taller than him, which added to his terrifyingly powerful aura. He stood up from his chair, crossed the room in a few steps, and opened the side door for Hunter. “We’ll talk soon.”

Raphael nodded, a weary smile on his face. “Come out for drinks tomorrow?” Hunter smiled and nodded. “Sure thing, boss man.”

Raphael and Hunter nodded to each other as a goodbye, and as Hunter drove down, he couldn’t help but smile to himself. ‘Still good for each other, after all this time.’

Connected to the charger on his dashboard, the phone vibrated. For a split second, Hunter broke eye contact with the traffic, and pressed the green button. “Hey, Sammy. What’s up?”

“Anything new?” Hunter kept his eyes on the road, struggling not to grab the phone and put it to his ear. Despite being the only breathing person in the vehicle, he was still alone with two men who might be wired. Whoever is on the other end could still be listening. His stomach dropped at the thought.

‘Oh God. Grey might be in danger.’

Shaking his head, he snapped out of his thoughts. “Yo! Are you still there?” Sam asked, the sound of clinking glasses in the background. “Yeah, I’m here. I sent Z to deliver the file to you. He should be there any minute.”

“Cool. I’ll let you know how it goes. How’s home looking, by the way?” Hunter inaudibly gulped. Grey and Sam didn’t know he wasn’t home; they didn’t know he was within driving distance of them. “Everything’s great! The house is coming together nicely and your aunt and cousins are doing fine.”

It wasn’t a complete lie. He did speak to Grey’s mom for the day, and she did say that all was well. The lie was about the house. It was already completed.

“Awesome. Talk to you when I get back; I think that’s Z right now.”

They said their goodbyes and hung up. Hunter sighed and continued his journey out of the city, to the site. R and J were already waiting for him at the entrance to a large building, where the bodies would be inspected and disposed of. The building loomed against the grey sky, their hues almost similar; its large, wide chimneys slowly puffed ink black smoke.

Silently, the two men opened the back of the van and pulled the carpets out, and replaced them with two ‘clean’ ones that would be used for another ‘clean-up’. Hunter waited until the men disappeared behind the faded red ‘Employees Only’ door, then left.

~~

The scent of alcohol, sweat, drugs and sex assaulted Raphael’s senses. The club was packed, the crowd rolling like a wave to the electronic music. He picked up the scents of a few of his employees and shook his head, wondering how they could stand this. He enjoyed a night out, but not this annoying music and so many people in his personal space. He inched along the wall, trying his best to avoid the suspicious stains and sweaty humans and supernatural kind alike that were close by. Towards the back, near the bar, there was another door guarded by a buff security guard who looked tiny compared to Raphael. He stood before the man and he waited, checking his watch.

“What are you getting me into, Hunter?” he murmured to himself as his eyes darted around his surroundings. The dark wooden door opened, and Hunter stood there in his usual attire: a form-fitting shirt and jeans. “Boss man! Glad you could make it.” Hunter grinned and gestured for Raphael to follow him. “You said drinks, Hunter. Not whatever this secret place is.” Raphael chided once the door closed behind them, and the annoying electronic music was muffled; he lost some tension in his body. “We are getting drinks; free drinks. I know the guy who owns the place, and he owes me big time, so this is his payment.”

“Slavery?” he joked, and Hunter shot him a feigned look of hurt. “No, unlimited drinks.” Raphael shook his head, and they entered the bar. This time, the walls were stone instead of painted drywall, and there was a raised platform in the centre, equipped with instruments and microphones. Chairs and tables surrounded the platform, and the bar was situated on the right. To the left however were openings in the wall, covered with velvet curtains. One of them was drawn, and Raphael could see a four-post bed. He wrinkled his nose when the smell of sex attacked his senses and shook his head, turning his attention to Hunter.

He sat at one of the tables closer to the stage and Raphael followed, glancing around as more people came in and filled the tables. A skimpily clothed waitress made her way to their table and smiled seductively at Hunter. “Hey sugar, what can I get you?” she asked in an American accent as she touched Hunter’s shoulder. “Just keep the beers and liquor coming baby.” She winked at him, “You got it, honey.” She walked away, casting a seductive glance at Raphael, and he raised an eyebrow.

All the tables were filled, a cacophony of laughs and conversation filling the air. Suddenly, all the lights went out and a womanly scream echoed through the room. The raised platform was illuminated, and a curvy figure stood there, hands on her hips. Her tongue ran across her top lip, and the patrons cheered loudly. “Hey, hey pretty people.” Her voice rung out and Raphael froze. He was just coming to know it, but he recognized that voice. “Leticia?” he asked, staring at the stage where the woman in a tight blue dress stood, counting the band in and singing into the microphone as the crowd cheered for her.

“You know Lumi?” Hunter leaned on his elbows, his eyes darting from the stage to Raphael. “Yes, she works in the finance department.” Raphael responded, still staring at her. Just today he saw her during a regular meeting. “Then you are absolutely going to adore Luna.” Hunter said, grinning secretively. Raphael raised an eyebrow at him, but Hunter simply grinned, turning his attention to the stage and began to cheer. The waitress returned to the table and they each downed a bottle of beer. Raphael was still on his second bottle, whereas Hunter had surpassed his seventeenth.

Raphael’s phone buzzed in his pocket, and he quickly fished it out and saw that his head of security was calling. He turned to Hunter. “Hey!” he called out over the music, gaining his attention, “I have to go. Something came up.” Hunter shook his head vigorously. “No, you can’t leave yet! You gotta see Luna!” Raphael stood, his phone and keys in his hands. “I can’t. Some other time, okay?”

Hunter attempted to stand to stop Raphael from leaving, but he lost his balance and wound up plopping back in his seat as Raphael exited the building, and drove to his office.

The head of security was pacing at the front door when Raphael arrived. Relief visibly flooded his body upon seeing the large frame of his employer and he went right into ranting. “I got an alert that someone broke in, and I drove down here as soon as I could. My son is going to kill me for bailing on him on game night. But anyway, when I got down here, the door was open and some trail of black goo was leading outside, but there wasn’t a trail inside. I have no idea what it was, but I cleaned up as best I could, and sniffed out each floor, but there wasn’t a lingering scent.”

Raphael placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright Henderson. We’ll have to increase security, but that could be dealt with in the morning. Go home. If there’s another breech, let me know as soon as it happens, okay?” The man nodded, eyes wide. “Y-yes sir. T-thank you.” Raphael nodded, and the two men departed for their homes, Raphael calling Hunter on the way.


Grey slipped through the shadows, sprinting as fast as she could back to the bar, hoping that Lumi was still performing.




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