Bonus Chapter: Zac Attack
Bonus Chapter: Zac Attack
Bonus Chapter: Zac Attack
5 years ago:
“You think you can pull it off?” Lars asks bluntly.
“Done it before, can do it again,” I answer with certainty in spite of being slightly hesitant on the inside.
“You’d better or you can forget your future in this company,” he states in warning.
He has a sh*tload of power to lord over me. He can easily crush me and take it (all the wealth) from me. He reminds me of that fact every so often. I have no choice but to comply - my entire future rests in his hands. The consequences of failing will resort in me going to jail (for all the illegal doings he has me on call for) or me losing the only place I have to stay (his mansion) and the only salary I have (that he pays me).
“Just get the shipments and get out,” he advises strategically. “You know the drill.”
He has nothing to lose, whilst I have everything to lose. It’s my name that is at stake, not his. He’s the mastermind behind it, but I’m the one pulling it off. I’m working the front scenes whilst he’s loving the background scenes.
I sigh and nod, turning to leave his office, but his voice halts me, “Oh and Zac?”
I spin around to face him once again, “Yeah?”
He narrows his hazel eyes at me threateningly, “Don’t get caught, my brother’s already trying to get me arrested for other things.”
I don’t blame Jeffrey for hating his brother. Lars is a true psycho. As for the unspeakable ‘other things’…I don’t even want to know. But what counts in the end is the fact that I need Lars. Unfortunately, he knows that and exploits my circumstances to his will.
“You got it,” I reluctantly agree as I push out his office, an immediate frown gliding onto my face as I contemplate how this will go down. If I am to ever get caught, Lars will no doubt let me take the fall for it alone. He’ll make a clean getaway.
Mumbling a series of profanities under my breath, I start to take a jog down all the stairs of the building as I head out to the reception area on the bottom floor. I stop short when the attractive secretary of the building spots me and greets me coldly, “Mr. Stokes.”
I smirk in realization. She’s still bitter about that. I never called her back. “We got to stop running into each other like this, Stace,” I grin in mockery, trying to take my mind off the matter at hand. I don’t like to think about what I do for a living.
Stacey glowers at me fiercely, but I can’t bring myself to care. I have more important things to focus on.
Someone snaps their fingers loudly and repetitively in front of Stacey’s face as if beyond annoyed. My attention is caught as I finally acknowledge the petite blonde standing before Stacey’s table with a frown on her face, one matching that of my own.
“Um Stacey something surname, I’ve waited long enough,” the feisty blonde turns back to briefly motion to me before making it crystal clear to Stacey, “you can deal with this animal later.”
I raise an eyebrow when I realize that she’s referring to me as the so called animal.
“You’re wasting my time and quite frankly, you suck at your job,” the blonde continues on with her pathetic protest.
Stacey looks at the girl in apology, “Sorry Ma’am,” she forces out, “how can I help you again?”
Knowing Stace, helping the blonde is the last thing she wants to do.
“Can I just see Lars Lawson, please?” The crazy blonde begs impatiently, trying to plead and reason with Stacey as if to sway her. It’s obvious that the girl is desperate. “I know you said that I have to schedule an appointment with him, but I really have to see him. Can’t you slot me in? I’ll try to make it quick. I’ve come a long way to see him. I need to see him. I can’t wait any longer. Please.”
Stacey begins to shake her head at the girl, but I’m quick to step in, “I’ll take her,” I interrupt on impulse, not thinking straight as I volunteer myself up to the task.
The girl turns to face me, her oddly familiar hazel eyes lighting up in relief, “Really?”
I nod, “Absolutely,” I answer in sarcasm. I wouldn’t say I would if I didn’t mean it.
Stace turns to me in bewilderment, “Zac, you can’t just-“
I place my finger against her lips, willing her to shut it, “Ssh,” I command.
Stacey scowls and swats my hand away before shrugging at the girl as if to allow it. The blonde breaks out into a smile as a result.
Stacey warns before I can leave, “You’re responsible, Stokes, if Lars questions this. You know that he doesn’t appreciate being caught off guard.”
I shrug, playing it off cool, as I address the next word to Stacey, “Fine.”
“Your funeral,” Stacey chimes carelessly. She’s not exactly my biggest fan right now.
I start walking back toward the direction of the countless stairs, but then stop to glance back over my shoulder at the dubious girl, “You coming or what?”
She nods with uncertainty floating through her eyes as she quickly catches up with me. She follows me up the stairs, “Not one for elevators?” She makes conversation as if genuinely chatty when not pissed off like she was a few seconds ago.
“Not when they’re in maintenance,” I answer back dully as I slowly but surely lead her in the direction of Lars. She must have some death wish if she wants to see him this badly. If anything, I’d be trying to avoid him and steer clear of him as best I can. If I could, I’d be on the other side of the damn planet.
“So, how do you know Mr. Lawson?” She questions in interest.
I groan as I peg her down for what she is, “Great, you’re one of those talkative ones.”
She scoffs as if not taking the insult in at all, “Great, you’re one of those obnoxious ones.”
A subconscious grin finds it’s way onto my face as I turn back to glance at her, “Got spunk huh?”
“Only when it’s needed,” she shrugs, blunt as ever.
Satisfied with her answer, I go on to answer her initial question, “Lars is my stepdad.”
“Didn’t realize he…” she trails off, “nevermind.”
She seems astounded by the news, but I continue on recklessly, “He left my mother and my mother left me. Needless to say, my mom and I aren’t exactly close. I work for Lars ’cause if I don’t, he’ll kick me out and I’ll lose everything. I have nowhere to go. Without him, I’m nothing, and he knows it. It’s called manipulation - blackmail. Let’s just say that it’s like paying off a debt.” I explain, telling her more than I should. I can’t help it. It seems she wouldn’t care either way so I might as well vent to a complete stranger. It’s not like I’ll ever see her again.
“Wow,” she states as if disappointed, “he sounds like a real jerk.”
I chuckle humorlessly, “That’s an understatement.” I change the subject quickly and smirk tauntingly down at her when I see her breathless and struggling, “You’re not very fit, are you?”
“Oh shut up you looney tune! Stairs are a real struggle,” she retorts back confidently, unfazed by my rudeness.
Curiosity gets the better of me, “How do you know Lars?” I eventually return the question.
“I don’t,” she answers casually.
“Well you’re in for a wild ride,” I comment beneath my breath knowingly. She has no idea what’s coming.
“I know,” she replies back, making it evident that she heard me.
“You do?” I quiz.
“Trust me, I have an idea,” she answers back.
“You said you’ve come a long way just to see him, why?” I ask for the sake of asking.
“That’s classified,” she says as she sprints the last few steps up, shoving her way past me before falling to her knees to catch her breath. “How damn big is this building?!” She queries in horror. “His office just has to be on the top floor?” She huffs at the top of the stairs as she waits for me to catch up. I hold back a grin, amused as first impressions would have it.
“This way,” I lead her down some empty hallways. There’s barely any offices on the top floor because it’s a fairly new building. I stop just outside his office, his door now fully closed. I gesture to the door, “You’ll find Satan in there.”
I turn to leave before I end up being late for the illegal shipments coming in today, but she stops me:
“I’m Aqueela by the way.”
I nod, “Good to know,” I smirk down at her, shamelessly taking her appearance in, “Aqueela.”
She smiles brightly, not acknowledging the fact that I’m hitting on her when I’ve made it obvious, “Thank you for helping me…um…?” she trails off in search of a name.
“Zac,” I answer in ease, “Zac Stokes.”
“Thank you, Zac,” she finishes in a rush, “I owe you one.”
“I’m busy right now, but I’ll be free tomorrow night,” I openly flirt, finding my curiosity on her peeking.
“Yeah, but unfortunately, I’m busy on whatever night you’re not busy,” she replies back, blatantly turning me down.
“Too bad,” I sigh in defeat.
“I have a boyfriend,” she winks at me, letting me know that she had caught onto my flirting a long time ago. She was deliberately ignoring my passes. “Besides, it would be awkward…”
“Why?” I question, at a loss.
“Because we’re practically family.”
Before I can ask anything more, she slams open the door without even knocking. She barges straight in as if she has the right to do so. She’s determined, clearly on some sort of mission. She closes the door after her, but I don’t move. I stare at the closed door in confusion and end up eavesdropping on their entire conversation.
Who the hell is this person?
“Who are you?”
I don’t bother to wait for his manners and instead help myself to the seat across from him, “I go by Aqueela. They sometimes just call me Lawson.”
Seemingly unfazed and unstartled by the revelation, my father merely leans back in his seat as if to inspect and analyze me, “You look just like her. The resemblance is uncanny.”
“And you look just like the inside of a trashcan. The resemblance is uncanny.” I snap at him, beyond rattled that he’d even dare mention my mother.
I came in the hopes of building a proper relationship with him. However, after speaking to Zac (my supposed stepbrother), there’s nothing in my father worth restoring. He’s using Zac, what’s to stop him from using me too?
“I knew you’d find me eventually, especially after that kid phoned a few months ago and told me you were looking for me. It seems he didn’t quite deliver the right message,” he tells me coldly, referring to when Jay called him, “or you wouldn’t be here.”
I fold my arms over my chest and hold my ground as I prop my sneakers onto his desk, “Oh he did, I just didn’t really care much for your words,” I rise up to defend Jay. In spite of him hating me right now, he’ll forgive me when I get back in a month’s time.
“I don’t have time for this. You shouldn’t have come after me. I’m busy. You need to leave,” he orders, but I refuse to budge. He scans my furious expression and points back to the door as if I’m some kind of worthless dog, “Out.”
I answer in sarcasm, pretending to be unoffended, “Nice to see you too, dad.” I shake my head at him stubbornly, “I don’t take orders from you. You haven’t even been around to give me orders. Besides, you owe me a lifetime of your time.”
“I don’t owe you anything,” he argues, not seeing it. I definitely got my brains from my dad, he’s a moron.
I decide to open his eyes for him, “That’s where you’re wrong. You owe me everything,” I inform him bitterly. He falls silent under my convicted stare, “I traced you down in the hopes of forgiving you and getting past all the crap you’ve put me through. You abandoned me and left me with an unstable Yolanda. You’ve never contributed to my school fees or any fees really. You haven’t even been around, ever. I can barely remember the last time I saw you.” I breathe out in despair, “But maybe my mistake was thinking that there would be something in you worth knowing. There clearly isn’t.”
“I’m not leaving without a souvenir from the world’s greatest rubbish dump,” I take one of his pens and get up, heading for the door. I’m walking away with dignity. This might be the first time I’ve ever been that majestical voice of reason.
He cocks his head to the side and halts me in place with his scrutinizing glare, “Wait.”
“Why should I?” I interrogate in aggravation, biting back on all the words I can think to call him.
“Just meet me tomorrow. We can talk,” he suggests. “Please,” he tries to reason, making an attempt to apologize.
“I’ll consider it,” I hiss bitterly, “but no promises.”
He’s finally putting in some effort.
Of course, I’ll be there.
When I hear that the discussion coming to a fast close, I take a sprint downstairs and disappear out the building before my apparent stepsister catches me in the act of eavesdropping. Trust Lars not to mention the fact that he’s got a blood-related daughter. I had no idea. I didn’t even know he had family before my mom.
After messing around all afternoon in Lar’s mansion, I eventually head down to the harbor and sneak in at midnight. I’m not losing all the wealth Lars has offered me by stuffing this up. I’m just gonna have to go through with it again.
The guys whistle upon spotting me, knowing me well by now. I pull my hood over my head, keeping my eyes trained on the floor, trying to keep a low profile. I get out of the truck and walk over to the usual crowd to make the exchange, all the while being careful not to be caught off guard. I’ve gotta keep alert if I don’t want to get caught blindsided.
“Phoenix,” the one in charge of things on his end addresses me stiffly. We’re weary of each other, hence the fake name.
“Raiden,” I greet tiredly as I light up a cigarette. I motion to the guys unloading off of the small boat quietly, “You got my stuff?”
“We always hold to our end of the deal. You know that,” he gestures to his guys to load my truck with the illegal shipments.
I’m getting sick and tired of all Lar’s bull. I don’t have any other choice, I owe him. He’s respected and well known in the business world. If people find out that his business is currently taking a dip, he’ll be a laughing stock. With the drastic drop in profit and the sales decline, committing fraud is his only way out. He can’t afford to buy parts for the cars he sells, hence shipping over parts illegally. It’s to bring down the price and his new suppliers seem to be doing exactly that. They’re unaware that it’s all for Lar’s own personal gain. I’m just along for the ride, hoping to see this through and benefit out of it. I want to reap the rewards when Lars gets back on his feet.
I nod at the lead - Raiden - once the truck is loaded, the job done.
“Pleasure doing business with you, Zac,” Raiden says coldly.
I freeze, but recover quickly and play it off in ease, “How did you find out?” I question and spin back around to face him, referring to the fact that he’s no longer calling me by the name ‘Phoenix’.
“We have our ways,” Raiden stares at me challengingly as if waiting to see me crack under the pressure.
For the first time since getting involved in this gig, I lift my eyes to his and take off the hood, “Stay out of my business,” I warn threateningly. I throw my cigarette down on the floor and step on it as I turn back for the loaded truck. I should get out of here before the stakes get any higher for me. My reputation is on the line. My name is now out in the open. If they find out anything more, I’ll take the fall and Lars will be out in the clear and deny everything. If there’s one thing Lars does well, it’s covering his tracks. He’ll make it look like I was the only one involved.
“You can try and cover it up all you like, Zac, but someday we’re going to find out who you work for,” Raiden tells me in warning. I visibly stiffen at the thought of them finding out that it’s all Lars. I’ll lose everything. “We’re going to drag you down to hell with us until we know. I want to meet your superior and I won’t stop until I do. Mark my words, Zac Stokes, we’re going to find out.”
“Why bother? You got your money, what more do you want?” I ask arrogantly, lost as to why they’re now raising hell when we’ve through this before a couple of times. Raiden isn’t the one who steals the car parts. He doesn’t even know that there are car parts in the crates. He just does the shipping, but lately, he’s been getting cocky and demanding. I knew it was only a matter of time.
“He or she is paying for the shipments every month, it can only mean that your boss is loaded - my bets, someone at the top. I’ll make more money through blackmailing him or her for selling us out cheaply. Getting the crates here without getting caught takes a lot. I’m sick and tired of being taken for granted. I should be earning more money. If blackmail is the way to more cash, then so be it. If your boss isn’t compliant, I’ll just expose him or her for fraud. Either way, you lose,” Raiden informs me, aware that whatever it is we keep shipping over, it’s illegal. “I guess you could say that this was our last transaction. Don’t call anymore. We’ll be in touch when I find out who it is.”
“You can’t blackmail us when you’ve been part of it all along. You knowingly ship over illegal goods,” I reply back fiercely, frustrated as panic sets in. I need to talk my way out of this.
“You’re right, but I have a feeling that if this all sinks, you and your boss will drown quicker. The stakes are higher for your side and you know it. I’m willing to take the risk, are you?”
I don’t stay to hear the rest of his threats.
I’ve really stuffed up this time. I’m in way too deep, in way over my head. No doubt they’ll find out that it’s Lars behind all of it and when they do, I’ll lose everything. I hurriedly leave before I cause any more trouble.
By the time I get back to Lars to update him on how things went down, it’s practically early morning. I don’t even get the chance to warn him that he’s being sought after because he starts talking over me. I shut up and listen to what he has to say, trying to prolong it for what it’s worth.
“An unexpected occurrence has happened. A blood relative of mine is in town,” he states calmly as if unfazed by the fact. It’s obvious he couldn’t care less about his daughter. Then again, I see his point. She has the worst timing.
I shrug carelessly, “So?” I ask absentmindedly, my thoughts drifting back to Raiden’s threats.
“So she can lead my brother right to me or have me charged on child abuse. Neglect is a form of abuse,” he answers icily as if I’m stupid for not seeing the problem quicker. “If people were to find out…”
“She’s desperate, use that,” I suggest, trying to cover my own ass. He raises an eyebrow in query. I suck in a deep breath and come out with it, “Look, I really messed up. Raiden knows who I am. I don’t know how. All I know is that he’s now looking for you. I had to make sure I wasn’t being followed here.”
Lars slams his fist on the office table as a result, “Dammit Zac! One job, Zac, one job!”
I wince, “He wants to bring you down and control you through blackmail. He knows he’ll get money out of it.”
“Did you, at least, get the shipments?”
I nod, “That I did. They’re at the warehouse.”
“Who’s to say that your boss can’t be a young female?” He, all of a sudden, questions.
“What?” I ask, lost to the idea that has sparked. I know where he’s going with it, but I don’t want to jump to my own assumptions.
“You said she’s desperate, now I’m using that and taking your advice. I can easily forge her signature onto all documentation. All you have to do is persuade Raiden, without him realizing it, that Aqueela is the one ordering the parts illegally,” he carefully explains. “You just need to start being around her more and less around me. If they follow you, you’ll lead them right to her.”
I shake my head in protest at the soulless idea, “I didn’t mean use her like that-“
“At first, I saw it as a problem, but after readjusting my view, I now see her as the solution,” he tries to convince me into seeing it his way.
I don’t budge on my opinion, “She’s your family. I don’t think-“
“If I go down, Zac, you go down with me. You’ll lose everything. Is that what you want?” He manipulates me, making me reconsider.
I shake my head to myself as I think over it a second time.
Still hesitant to agree, I tear my eyes away from him in defeat and drop my head in shame, “Fine. I’ll do it,” I say, thinking of myself in the moment. In this life, you gotta look out for yourself ’cause no one looks out for you.
“Good,” Lars says in turn. “I’ll spend time with her if it means keeping her here until this all blows over. If she takes the hit, we can flee the country before they find out that she’s innocent. Trust me on this, it will work in our favor.”
“What if they go after her?” I ask. I don’t want this going too far, but the lies are escalating out of control.
“They want her supposed money. They’re not going to hurt her because they need her,” he tries to reassure me that she won’t get hurt and I find myself believing him for the moment.
“You’re framing her for the fraud?” I seek to clarify.
“Exactly,” he answers shamelessly. “Better her than us?”
“Right,” I agree silently.
Nothing in this world is for free.
“I’ll get right on it,” I assure him in confidence before leaving with a guilty feeling setting in my veins.
The following day, I pick up the phone and dial the number Lars gave me before grinning into the phone upon hearing her voice, “Hey stepsis, wanna hang?”
Over the next couple of days, I do what Lars asked of me and manage to spend all my mornings with my stepsister, aware that Raiden’s probably got guys constantly watching my every move.
Eventually, I gain Aqueela’s trust and become her ‘friend’. It’s just her real friend, Mason, who still seems skeptical of my motives.
Everything seemed to be running smoothly right up until that point where they took her aside and proceeded to interrogate and threaten her. I wasn’t there, but she was in a state when I got to her. She put the pieces together and found out that we’d set her up. She went off the rocker. She went ballistic and berserk with rage. She was so disgusted that she wouldn’t even look at me afterward. I tried to explain, but she wasn’t interested in hearing me out.
I couldn’t stop her from going after Lars, but I definitely could give him a heads up…
I bang open his door, “Fraud? What the hell Lars! I won’t be part of this!”
I trusted him. I trusted Zac. After a month of knowing the two, they’ve already done me in by setting me up. If I was hesitant about returning back to Jay, all doubt in my mind has now been erased. I hate it here. I miss my real family back home.
Lars glances up at me calmly, feigning innocence, “What is the problem?”
“I was walking home today when three guys stopped me and started interrogating me on your business. They were threatening to expose me for fraud and for illegal shipments. They’re convinced that I’m working with Zac. It’s become apparent to me that it’s you they want, not me.” I tell him nonchalantly before the anger resurfaces, “You two have been using me this entire time. You both planned for me to take the fall,” I say bitterly, severely hurt. “I just wanted a real family. Why couldn’t you let me have that, even if it would be just for a month?” I look away before stating the obvious, “You don’t even care.”
“Correct, yes,” Lars agrees as if he isn’t even remotely remorseful of his actions.
“You deliberately put yourself before me. If things took a turn for the worse, I might not be standing here right now,” I try to get the message across, but he’s not fazed in the slightest. He’s indifferent towards the effect it would have on me had his plot been successful.
He’s only concerned with one thing, “You won’t tell anyone, because if you do, I’ll say you’re part of it,” my father threatens me too. I’d feel safer with Raiden and his guys.
“I’m not Zac!” I hiss at him upon losing my patience. “You’ve got nothing on me so go ahead and do it, I dare you.” I challenge, refusing to back down. He’s a monster. I turn around and head straight for the exit, ready to call the police and turn him, Zac and Raiden in.
However, my father always has to have the last say:
“I left you all those years ago because you’re a burden, Aqueela,” he shakes his head in repulse, “a mistake. People like me, and like that fool that phoned me on your behalf, are better off without you. You hold people back from achieving. They strive along with you only to fail. You set them up for failure. You can’t move on, so you keep everyone back with you. If I’m selfish, then you’re taking after me.”
I tense up upon hearing his words, doing my best to try and not let him get to me. Nevertheless, his words strike a nerve in me. I’ve been feeling like a burden on Jay for some time now. It’s a touchy topic because I know I’m dependent on him. I’m helpless without him. I can’t help but consider just how heavy a burden I must be on him. All his life he’s defended me. I’m just an endless weight on his shoulders. As Mason would say, I’m a leech. I use his money, his house, his everything and give nothing back in turn. He’s right, I’m selfish. If anything, I really am holding Jay back from his dreams and hopes for the future. He’d be so much better off without me and I’m pretty sure he knows it, but just doesn’t want to accept it.
“I know you,” he continues as if trying to brainwash me into his will, “you won’t say anything because you know that no one will believe you over me. I’ve worked in the business field for years. People know me. I have a good reputation. I have a great name. You don’t stand a chance.”
“Put your money where your mouth is and let’s bet on that,” I mutter as I storm off to my car, feeling broken on the inside by my father’s blatant rejection and the evident fact that he will never accept me as his daughter, as family.
I waste no time in taking to the streets, completely distracted as I mull over his harsh words…
“Way to go you asshole,” Mason scowls, “thanks to you and Lars, she landed up in a car accident.”
My eyes widen at the information, “Is she okay?” I ask on impulse, concerned.
“Find out yourself,” he snarls, beyond infuriated, as he walks away.
Feeling like crap, I take out my phone and dial the cops, giving them an anonymous tip on Lars without exposing myself. Unfortunately, by the time they act and take the initiative to look into the case, Lars has already left New York. He’s always one step ahead of everyone. He suspected I’d out him and left me to take the hardest hit.
The truth comes out and I find myself serving time. It’s only two years later when I hear that Aqueela almost died because of my actions. There was more to the accident than anyone thought.
There’s been a lot of unforeseen consequences to my decisions, including Aqueela’s newfound hatred for me:
“Stay far away from me Zac!” She shouts in fury as she heads over to Keagen’s place.
I can’t stay away. I need to be forgiven first.
I ignore Mason’s glares as I go after her, but Laiken tugs me back, “Not now Zac. Later.”
I nod, my respect for him overshadowing my need for a second chance. The guilt is overwhelming. I can’t even blame her for hating me. In a way, it’s my fault she never returned back to Minnesota. I’m accountable for the mess.
“If she leaves and goes back to Minnesota, I swear I’ll kill you,” Mason crosses his arms over his chest as he tries to pull off an intimidating stance.
“You can try,” I taunt and grin when he steps forward as if to start something.
Laiken gets in the middle. He intervenes and pushes us away from each other, “If you guys are gonna kick each other’s asses, at least have the decency not to do it in my house. You wreck it, you replace it. That’s my terms and conditions.”
I stare at Mason in irritation, “I don’t know what your problem is. She’s not even into you.”
“Then why do you see me as a threat?” Mason fires back.
“Because you’re always around her,” I admit, annoyed.
“You think I’m a threat?” Mason asks rhetorically before elaborating, “Then just wait until she goes back to Minnesota.”
“What you on about?” I raise an eyebrow, my eyes darting from him to Laiken in question.
“You haven’t met Jay Taylor yet,” is his only response.
Laiken snickers knowingly.