The small Japanese man concealed himself within the shadows of the stark, empty room. The single light above me swung back and forth slightly like a pendulum, helping me to keep time. I swished the thick, coppery blood to the front of my mouth, spitting it at his feet before rasping:
He let out a derisive chuckle.
“You’ll have to do better than that.” He quipped, carefully masking his native accent. I wasn’t a fool. I knew where I was.
I leaned my head back against the cold metal of the chair, chuckling darkly. My ribs throbbed with the motion. Broken, I thought bitterly. But not the worst pain I’ve endured. Not by a long shot.
“Shall we go another round?” He asked, as if his words would somehow frighten me into spilling the truth. I tilted my head forward once more, squinting through the shadows, just barely making out his form. I shrugged as much as the ropes that bound me to the chair allowed. I knew our time here was limited. If my ass of a baby brother was able to pinpoint my location.
This job, for lack of a better word, had gone nearly as planned. Even this small hiccup of being captured wasn’t enough to completely derail what I’d come here to accomplish. His right hand man was dead, hopefully being picked apart by a menagerie of sea creatures at the moment. No one crossed our family and lived to tell. I made sure of that.
My back ached from sitting still for so many hours, my legs feeling crumpled nearly to my chest. Being a giant, as my brother so lovingly referred to me, had its perks, but it also came with drawbacks. Like when I’d had to have a bed custom made to accommodate my six-foot-eight frame. How I longed for that bed now. I made a mental note to tell my father I was taking a sabbatical after this job, damn his needs.
“How about I get a round of questioning. Even the odds a bit.” I said. My throat was parched, my lips cracked. I’d pummel my brother when he came through those doors. I’d lock him in my basement for four days without food or water and see how he faired. The thought brought a ghost of a smile to my face.
The man chuckled in response, but I gave him no other option as I continued. I needed to buy myself a small bit of time.
“How’s your wife?” I said huskily, the deepness of my voice echoing around the square room. It wasn’t a real threat; I’d never cared much for harming those who didn’t deserve it. But idle threatening, well, that’s where you got your answers. Most of the time.
“And your new baby…girl? Is it?” I asked to the darkness. I wriggled my tied wrists, the ropes biting and cutting into my flesh. My hands had been numb for a while now. I heard him step forward, though he still remained well within the shadows. The leader of such a feared branch of the mafia wasn’t likely to show himself to just anyone. But I knew exactly what he looked like, could picture him and his small family clear as day in my mind. I knew the terror that would be gripping his heart right now, even if he didn’t appear to have one. Every man had a weakness. I knew he’d be wondering who’d spilled his secrets, knew he’d kill off anyone he suspected of double-crossing him.
Good. Let there be chaos within his ranks once I was safely home.
“You think you have the upper hand?” He asked smoothly. I could taste his fear. It gave me strength. I smirked in his direction.
“No,” I admitted through gritted teeth, adjusting myself to ease the pressure on my left side. I wondered idly how many ribs had been broken this time. I sighed once the pain eased.
“Just trying to hold a polite conversation.”
Where the fuck was Jonah?
As soon as I knew I’d been caught, I’d sent him my distress signal. I doubted they’d found the small chip embedded in my wrist that pinged my location every hour. How like him, to take his sweet ass time. Every minute that passed without him coming to my aid was another day locked in my basement.
“You’re so cavalier, for a man in such a precarious predicament.” He said, artfully changing the subject back to me.
“My mother raised a gentleman.” I said. I heard his dark laugh once more.
“Not an ounce of fear, or so my men have warned me.” He noted. I leaned my head back again, growing tired of the back and forth, the cat and mouse.
“You’re a giant, a beast they say,” he stepped forward again, likely to appraise me at a closer distance, like a man choosing a horse to buy at auction. I felt my eyes piercing the darkness, wide and searching, wanting to see for myself this intrepid leader. As much as I desired to one day kill him for his transgressions upon humanity, I also found I respected him. He knew how to run his business with precision, much like my own father. It was a trait I admired, a trait I’d watched and kept note of for the entirety of my life. One day, it would all pass to me.
“They say your eyes are as cold as your soul. That you speak very little. That you let your actions do the talking for you.”
I snorted, only causing more blood to congeal in my mouth.
“They say you have nothing to live for, or to die for. I must applaud you, for that. You truly are a formidable opponent—beast. I feel regretful to waste such talent.”
There was no talking my way out of this one. There was only buying time. He wanted to toy with me, I wanted to give myself a chance. He was right, though; no fear ran through my veins. It had been beaten and bred out of me. Us Fordson’s had a reputation to uphold, and we did just that. The men of my lineage had built an everlasting empire, and I’d be there to ensure it remained strong.
“It must be true, then, if everyone’s saying it,” I coughed, spitting out more blood. If I could bounce my knee to bring some feeling back into my legs, I would. His men had been smart to tie down my legs as well. I reminisced on how I had managed to get captured, for it had only happened to me twice now in my twenty-eight years on the planet.
The first had been a reckless mistake while I was in Paris. I’d finished my job and decided to congratulate my then twenty-year old self with a bottle of expensive champagne. After that night and the subsequent abduction, I’d never drank again. This time, however, the man I’d killed had somehow managed to send his location and distress signal before I ended him. I was swarmed by twenty or so armed men within minutes. With a tranquilizer dart the size of my thumb sticking out of my right ass cheek, I was done for.
He stepped forward again, this time raising into the light a shiny metal object. Staring down the barrel of a gun hadn’t frightened me in years. I stared straight at it, sucking in my last breath between my teeth, curing my brother for being so idiotic and slow. My funeral expenses would come from his paycheck. It had to be written in my will somewhere. I had no last words, no regrets other than I hadn’t had the fair chance to strangle the son of a bitch in front of me. He’d done more harm than I ever would be capable of. But that was life. And it wasn’t fair.
I refused to close my eyes. He’d not have the satisfaction of breaking me in my final moments. Instead, I smiled, welcoming the inevitable.
My smile broadened, though, as I heard a cacophony of gunfire, followed by a massive explosion that left my ears ringing and my lungs filled with powdered drywall. The man flew forward at the blast, though I stayed rooted to my spot; they’d drilled my chair down into the concrete.
Through the smoke and crumbling doorway waltzed my younger brother, the brains to my brawn. He was the opposite of me in every way possible; short, chubby, nerdy. He wore glasses because of his shitty eyesight, his black hair was a mass of curls atop his head, and he’d failed every physical test we’d been put through as boys. He blamed it on the asthma. But I’d never been happier to see him in my life.
“About fucking time.” I growled. He picked his way over the rubble, rolling his eyes.
“In case you haven’t noticed, Nicholas, you’re in the fucking jungle. Kinda takes a while to get here unnoticed,” he said as he withdrew a pocket knife and began to slice through the ropes that had been binding me for days.
“Yeah well you owe me. Big time,” I said as I rubbed my freed wrists. I was wobbly as I stood, but there was no time to waste.
“Yeah yeah whatever, let’s go,” he prattled, leading the way out with not a care in the world; all the guards were dead.
Home. It felt strange to be here after four months away, though to be fair it was always an adjustment coming home from a job. I sighed heavily as Jonah pulled off the main highway and onto the windy gravel road that was my driveway. The night was dark with no moon, the roads wet with the constant rains we received in this part of the country. I chose to live secluded, high up in the mountains, surrounded by tall pines and evergreens. Mostly so I’d have no visitors, though also as a precaution. In my line of work, you could never be too careful.
My large home loomed above us in the distance, the houselights on. I sighed, knowing who was on the other side of the door. I winced as Jonah lurched to a stop, likely on purpose. My ribs throbbed as the seatbelt cut painfully into my shattered bones. I shot him a death glare, but he only gave me a toothy grin in return.
“Thanks,” I said, opening the door.
“Oh, you’re so welcome, prince Nick.” He said with sarcasm.
“By the way, the Baptiste’s are throwing a party this weekend. You’re coming.”
I slammed the door shut, closing myself in once more so I could give him my most menacing look.
“I hate those fuckers.” I growled, running a hand through my dark, spiky hair. It never did what I wanted it to do.
“You just want to go because Evette will be there.” I snipped. It was Jonah’s turn to glare now. I’d known of his crush for years, and though it was pathetic to watch him try to spit game with a girl way out of his league, I was his big brother. It was sort of my duty to help him.
“Fuck, fine. I’m not driving.” I said. He grinned as I rolled my eyes and opened the door once more. My bed was beckoning me.
“Consider it your repayment!” He called as I slammed the door shut and crunched up to my front door. I unlocked it, stepping into warmth and the familiar scent that home always emits. I tossed my keys into the bowl on the table in the hallway, hearing the TV blaring some cheesy movie. Wind rushed past the windows as it howled outside.
A petite, sixty-something woman rounded the corner, a huge smile plastered to her wrinkling face.
“Hey, Mrs. Potter,” I smiled. She held her arms open wide as she walked to me before gently embracing me.
“Oh Nick,” she chided, touching a soft hand to my bruised face, worry in her eyes.
“It’s nothing,” I assured her, standing straight once more, giving her my most convincing look.
“Well, I just stopped by to dust and drop off some groceries once I heard you were coming home,” she smiled, crossing her arms and taking in my bedraggled and jet lagged appearance. She shook her head, chuckling.
“Thank you.” I said kindly. Mrs. Potter was a nice enough woman, but I’d seen her fiery side. She could give my mother a run for her money. Maybe it was her precise British accent that made her more formidable than she truly was.
“I’ll let you rest up, dear,” she patted my arm, reaching for her rain jacket and purse. She was under the impression I worked for the FBI. I snorted inwardly at the deception, but I appreciated her discreetness all the same.
I held the door open for her, feeling the cool night air seep in.
“Drive safe,” I nodded to her, surreptitiously grabbing at my aching ribs. She waved dismissively, ambling over to her small red car.
I closed the front door, turning around and leaning against it. Finally, I felt my shoulders relax, felt the tension leave my body. I was home, alone, within my walls, my fortress—my safety. I turned my head, catching sight of my face in the hall mirror. Shit. My dark blue eyes contrasted against the dark purple bruises that smattered my sharp jawline. I rubbed my chin, feeling the stubble, needing a shower and a shave. I knew sleep would prevail, though.
I heard his nails on the hardwood floors before I saw him round the corner. I smirked, patting my leg as my three-year old German Shepard, Kai, caught sight of me and bounded forward. It seemed he’d been too invested in dinner to care who was at the door. We’d have to correct that.
“Hey bud,” I scratched between his huge pointy ears, chuckling as he bounced around me. I stood straight, saying: “Bed.” He immediately bounded up the stairs and to the left, knowing his way to my room. I followed, my feet heavy as I ascended the steps, pressing my ear to my shoulder near the top so my forehead wouldn’t smack the ceiling. I’d learned the hard way that this world wasn’t made for giants.
I pushed open the french doors at the end of the hall, my eyes scanning my untouched bedroom. Mrs. Potter was hired to clean every room of this house, with the exception of mine. I flicked on the switch, illuminating the massive four poster bed and custom mattress. At least my job paid enough for such luxuries. I closed the doors behind me, locking them out of habit. Kai found his bed on the floor and an old bone he’d forgotten about. I snorted, making my way to my closet and pulling off my clothes as gently as possible. I knew once I slept and awoke, the pain would be a thousand times worse. Time was the only healer, though.
I stood naked between the bed and the bathroom, torn between a hot shower or sleep. I growled, stomping to the left and into the master bath, cranking the shower on full blast and as hot as it would go. Steam filled the cavernous room. Whoever had designed this house originally must have had a woman nagging at him; the shower could easily fit ten people, and situated up two tiled steps, nestled into what looked to be a window seat, was a jetted tub. One that actually fit my body. Although I’d never admit it, it was my favorite feature of the house. I’d sit and stew and watch the wind play in the evergreens on a cloudy day, letting my mind be blank.
I stepped into the boiling water of the shower, feeling it cascade down my tired, sore muscles, letting it wash my memories of the past four months away.