Forgiven

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The Long-Awaited Meeting

Chapter 47:

The email was sent about thirty-seven minuets ago. She must have missed the sound of the notification in the middle of the event’s commotion. This made her worry that she might have lost the one chance to meet the informant and to get the answers she longed hoped to find out. Her eyes scanned the surrounding as her mind struggled to recall the layout of the venue. The west hall was probably the place where renovation work was still being carried. She remembered one of her colleagues telling her about it and expressing how angry he was that an area they planned to utilize was going to be shut down for some much-needed renovation after some serious flood damage.

Lesly glanced at Alec and wondered how she was going to meet the informant with him around. It was unlikely that the man would reveal himself to her if she brought him along. She knew it was dangerous. She knew Alec would lose his wits if she left on her own, but it had to be done if she wanted to have those questions answered. There was no other way. As such, Lesly clutched her purse, lifted her dress and took hastened steps towards the west hall without checking with Alec or even notifying him about the message she received.

The sounds coming from the venue grew duller and duller the further she got away. When she finally arrived at the entrance to the west hall, she found the chains around the door handle undone. Someone must have tried to unlock the door and get in before her, possibly the informant.

Lesly yanked the heavy chain away, and walked in. The place was dark and abandoned. Only one bulb was left on in the vestibule, but it helped her see how disorganized and chaotic the place was. It was obvious that the renovation work was almost over. However, the place was still in need of cleaning and tidying up. Most of the tools were left on the floor, possibly because the work was not completely done yet.

Lesly took a couple of steps further into the abandoned hall. The smell of fresh paint was so overpowering that it felt suffocating. Her eyes scanned the area for a guy in a hoodie, but there was no sign of him. Perhaps she was too late. Perhaps he had changed his mind. Perhaps she had missed him. It was better for her to head back to the crowd before she found herself in a precarious situation.

The moment the thought registered itself into her consciousness, her phone began vibrating in her purse. At first, she thought it was Alec trying to locate her, but when she picked her phone out of her purse, she noticed that it was an unknown caller. Hesitantly, she swiped the screen and lifted the phone to her ear. A harsh whisper came on the other end of the line.

“Where are you?’

“The designated spot,” Lesly answered cautiously. She was still not sure whether the person who was talking to her was indeed her informant.

“Where is that, Lesly?”

The dark-haired woman was alarmed. If that were indeed the informant, he would have known where she was. Her eyes scanned the area nervously as her feet took quick steps towards the entrance. Coming here on her own was a big mistake. She had to leave immediately.

“Lesly, where are you?” The unknown caller asked again urgently.

She did not answer him. Her hands shook as she contemplated hanging up for fear that he might be able to track her through her phone. As if he sensed this thought, the stranger began talking instantly.

“Someone is using my email account to contact you. Whatever instructions you received, that wasn’t me. Get the hell out of there!”

She froze in her tracks. Standing right in front of the entrance was an individual dressed in black from head to toe. His face was covered with a ski mask, but his cold gaze told her that it was the same person who assaulted her in her apartment months ago. It was confirmed now. The unknown caller was telling the truth.

With a shaky voice that barely rose to a whisper, Lesly spoke the only two words that could save her.

“West hall.”

“He’s there, isn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“I’m on my way.”

Her grip on the phone tightened. She lowered it and tried to think of a way to escape. She knew that the back exit was locked which meant that the only way to leave this place was through the entrance he was currently blocking. The assailant began taking slow steps towards her. The cold gaze he kept locked with hers chilled her to the bone. She had to act fast before he got to her.

Lesly tried to search for something, anything, in her surroundings to use as a weapon, but he was quicker. In an instant, he had her arm gripped behind her back as he pinned her against the window. He grabbed her phone first and threw it on the floor. His foot smashed it to bits, rendering it unusable. Then he yanked the bracelet out of her hand forcefully, tearing her skin in the process, and threw it out of the window. His finger wrapped around her neck next as he pulled her away from the entrance and further into the hall. He had her pinned against one of the columns of an arch a bit further away from the entrance. His gloved fingers dug deeper and deeper into her neck.

It was difficult to breathe. The more she struggled for air, the tighter his grip got. Her vision became blurry. Her world began to spin out of control as darkness began to creep in through the edges. She thought it was the end. She thought that this was the way she was going to die. She could feel her strength leaving her gradually. Her feet could no longer support her. Her body slumped, yet he still kept his hold around her neck.

Just when she began to think that there was no way out of her predicament, he released her. She fell to the floor as she began coughing and gasping for breath. He took a couple of steps back and leaned on the other side of the arch as he waited for her to catch her breath.

“We finally meet again.”

Lesly was still having difficulty regaining control of her respiration. Panic was beginning to settle in, making the natural act of breathing more arduous than before.

“Do you have any idea how difficult you’ve made my job the last couple of months?”

“I thought we already established that I don’t have an answer to whatever you wanted to ask me,” Lesly muttered with difficulty.

“You don’t have to worry about that. The source of the leak can answer my questions himself when he gets here. You just called him, didn’t you?”

“It wasn’t him,” Lesly tried to lie, but she knew from the cold smile of the assailant that she had failed miserably.

“Who did you call then? That guy Reid you came with?”

Lesly said nothing. Her left hand simply gripped the injury the bracelet left on her other one as she contemplated the implications of what he just told her.

“Let him come,” the assailant announced. “I’ve got questions for him too.”

“He’s got nothing to do with this.”

“Oh I beg to differ. He’s the reason I haven’t been able to get to you this entire time, but that’s not why I’m interested in him.”

The masked man began tightening the gloves which had become somewhat loose while she was struggling against his hold. His gaze was focused on the task as he spoke to her.

“You know, I’ve been following him for a while. I never managed to get close. There’s always someone shadowing him, much like how there’s always someone shadowing you. I did manage to get two of my suspicions somewhat confirmed, however. One, he is not who he pretends to be, and two, he and I are definitely after you for the same reason.”

“And what might that reason be?”

“The Davis scandal.”

“He knew nothing about it before I told him.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” the assailant commented. “Given his prior contact with the parties involved in the incident, I’d say he knew all about it. He might’ve pretended not to know anything so as not to alert you to the real reason why he approached you, but I assure you. He’s working for someone.”

“What…parties was he in contact with?” Lesly asked reluctantly.

The stranger shrugged, “I’d say Victor Lang for one. Something tells me he was sent under the old man’s orders to get to the source of the leak as well.”

“It can’t be. I told you. He’s got nothing to do with this entire mess.”

“And how certain are you of that?”

“I’m…certain,” she finally whispered, but it was more to convince herself than to convince him.

The stranger smiled coldly, “Well, seeing how you have this blind trust in him, I gotta say the guy certainly knows what he’s doing. I bet he managed to get you to tell him everything he needed to know. I’ve always admired people like that. They take their time with their targets, and they do get results. I could never do what they do, though, because I don’t have the patience.”

The assailant straightened up, took slow steps towards Lesly, and hunkered down in front of her.

“You seem confused. Did the possibility never cross your mind? What do you know about him really?”

Lesly simply stared at him with no answer to offer. When the assailant did not get any response from her, he gripped her chin forcefully, causing her to wince and brought her face closer to his.

“Collins,” the masked man spoke menacingly, “let’s not pretend that you haven’t had your suspicions. Surely, you’ve noticed that he holds so much influence for a mere employee at the DA’s office. Now why is that?”

Lesly took one shaky breath and tried to answer him, “I don’t know.”

“You do know, Collins. Dig a little deeper.”

“I don’t,” her voice quivered. Her head hurt so much from trying to make sense of everything he said. There was too much that her brain needed to process and keep track of and so little time to get everything in order. She needed to stay alive. She needed to escape. She needed to distract him long enough for anyone to be able to track her. She needed to make sure no one would get hurt. She needed…

The faint sudden sound of something metallic hitting the floor drew the attention of the two of them to its direction. Thinking that it was either the source of the leak or that Reid individual coming to her aid, the masked man tried to cover her mouth. His intention was to keep her from screaming and lay low until he managed to lure whoever came further in, but he did not count on Lesly finally finding the resolve to pluck the knife she strapped to her thigh and to stab him with it. She wanted to aim for his neck and get the matter over and done with once and for all, but he moved in the last possible second, causing her to miss his neck and to hit his shoulder instead.

He stifled a cry of pain as she forced it further in against his struggle to remove it. His hands covered hers and tried to get her to pull the knife out, but she kept on forcing it in with every ounce of power she had. He eventually succeeded in getting her to drop her knife and pinned her to the floor. His mouth whispered every profanity he could think of as he tried to get her to stop struggling. She would not, even when he struck her a couple of times. Lesly forced one bare hand into his wound in an effort to debilitate it him long enough to release her. The moment he did, she tried to crawl away and escape, but he dragged her back, threw his entire weight over her and began choking her. His voice came out in a harsh whisper as he spoke to her.

“You bitch! You think I won’t do it? You think I won’t finish you off?”

His hands released her momentarily. His cold eyes observed her with interest. A sadistic smile claimed his lips as he watched her gasp for breath before he went right back into choking her again.

“Wanna make your final moments more interesting?” He spoke to her as his fingers dug into her neck. “Let me let you in on something else. Victor might have thought that he got to every single individual involved in the scandal, but he forgot one person, me. Do you remember me, Collins?”

Lesly’s heartbeat began to quicken. His voice as it gradually rose above the usual whisper began to draw on one horrid recollection after another. Despair claimed her as the realization that there was no way out of her predicament finally began to hit her. Her eyes teared up as she watched him remove the ski mask that kept his face hidden from her this entire time. He wanted his face to be the last face she saw before she breathed her last breath. Lesly shut her eyes in an act of defiance that could be her last. She felt his fingers release her neck. She heard him talk to her, demanding that she look at him, but she refused to grant him the satisfaction.

Eventually, he pulled on her hair so forcefully that she winced in pain. His voice sounded menacing against her ear as he began to remind her of what happened to her five years ago and how they planned to finish her off back then had it not been for the leak. She looked at him then. Her feeble fingers found the metallic cold end of something lying on the floor close to her hand. She did not know what it was. She did not know if it could help, but her blind desire to survive forced her to pick it up. Feeling triumph over the fact that he finally got her to look at him, the man continued to talk down to her. He was completely oblivious to her hold on the newly found weapon. Before he knew it, she stuck it in his neck. His blood poured all over her as she summoned every bit of strength she had left to sink what looked like a screwdriver further into his flesh. His eyes grew wide in shock as he struggled feebly to get her to remove it, but she kept on pushing it in. Her steely gaze never left his the entire time. Eventually, he fell on top of her, quashed and lifeless.

Lesly did not know that she was holding her breath until her lungs were forced to exhale sharply. The man’s heavy weight on top of her continued to crush her, but she was so focused on filling her lungs with air that she could not pay heed to anything else. Eventually, the feel of the warm crimson liquid soaking through her dress demanded her attention. It was gushing on top of her and into the hand that still had an iron grip on the weapon lodged into the lifeless body on top of her. This finally jolted her into one horrid realization after another.

Panic began to settle in once more. Her breathing quickened as she struggled to push the dead body off of her. When she eventually succeeded, she crawled back in horror and pressed herself against the cold wall. Her eyes were fixed on the inanimate lump that had now began to bleed on the floor instead of her. The tool she released was still firmly lodged in the man’s neck. Lesly wanted to hold her hands to her head in a futile effort to calm herself, but the moment she felt the stickiness of the man’s blood against her face, she started freaking out even more. Her eyes stared at her hands in horror and she almost lost it.

With her heart pounding fiercely in her chest and her mind barely keeping up with everything that had just happened, she found the darkness settling into her vision again. She tried to resist it, but she could not overpower its violent grip on her consciousness. With her strength leaving her body gradually, the darkness eventually won and sent her into a wretched state of oblivion.

The dull noise continued. It buzzed about despite the darkness that enveloped her world. Voices spoke in the distance. They were warm and familiar, but their words were incomprehensible. The pain in her neck persisted. The throbbing in her head rose in intensity as her senses began to be roused back into awareness. Her eyes fluttered open as a blurred figure knelt before her. He wanted her to say something, but she did not know what it was. His hand reached for the side of her face as he spoke again. His voice was warm, gentle, and most importantly familiar, yet she could not exactly tell what was familiar about it.

He left her and stood up. A feminine voice she recognized too well began talking to him. The owner of that voice soon came into her blurry field of vision and cast a look at her. She knelt down and placed a hand on her cheek before she spoke to her. It took the owner of the voice a couple of more tries to get her to respond.

“Lesly, can you hear me?”

Lesly tried to talk. Only a faint moan came out. Her eyes tried to focus on the duo around her, but the blurriness would not go away. The only thing she could make out in her dazed state was the friendly presence of a certain redhead.

The redhead turned around and began talking to the hooded figure. Nothing they said made sense to Lesly. Only bits and pieces registered themselves on her mind. Their conversation went on for a few minutes. They would turn to her direction every now and then before glancing towards the exit. The hooded figure knelt next to her again and tried to get her to talk to him. His words were not clear at first, but her hearing soon began to comprehend what he was trying to say.

“Lesly, if you can hear me, please say anything.”

She tried to answer him, but it was too difficult to speak.

“She’s not fully conscious, yet,” the feminine voice explained to the hooded figure.

“I need to talk to her.”

“You won’t be able to.”

“Michaela…”

“You have to leave now before he finds you,” the redhead instructed urgently.

“But…”

“There’s no telling what Lang might do if he sees you here. You have to go.”

The hooded figure stood up and stared at the redhead. She cupped the sides of his face as she spoke to him again. “She’ll be fine. I promise. I’ll look after her. Now go.”

The next time Lesly blinked, she saw him walking away.

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