I pride myself on sagaciousness and unfailing intuitions. Such inherited dispositions helped me sail through life, giving me honed foreknowledge for beneficial outcomes. Hard-heartedness and unrelenting, mercilessness abetted amoralism. I can enter any situation, unsettling or threatening, smirking with self-assured determination and resilience. Like tonight, for example, I willingly stepped into a mob of segregationists with nothing to lose.
The white supremacists hadn’t predicted my arrival. They sat inside the sanctuary of their protective four walls, imbibing harsh alcohol and snorting cocaine like it was to be extinct.
Held up behind the brass-railed bar, one male noted my arrival and blew the whistle, calling upon the Nazi’s arrogant leadership.
Overweight, bald, pierced and inked, Mortiz regarded Brad with a quizzical squint, recollecting a time when my right-hand man checked in for solitude and a bottle of Blue Label. It came as no surprise to me when Moritz addressed me formally and with the utmost respect, understanding in his soulless eyes. He offered me a firm handshake and exquisite tasting malt, cleared a corner table, and joined me for an overdue conversation.
Moritz expressed veneration. He didn’t want hostility or warring between the white supremacist hate group and the syndicate. In actuality, the foolish man wished for amalgamation.
I laughed, insulting his original proposal.
Nathaniel Alzaim is biracial. He’s from Trinidadian origin and deserves paramount respect, irrelevant to his skin colour.
He’s also my brother. I love him.
Moritz warranted a bullet between the eyes for such nonsensical disrespect.
My impromptu decision to cut our meeting short kindled the awareness of his men. The second Moritz’s brain shattered and scattered up the walls, cacophonous upheaval commenced.
Brad fought alongside me until the final body dropped to the ground.
I clenched the knife handle, blood dripping down my fingers. Encircled by strewn dead bodies, a gruesome bloodbath, I wiped the blade over my trousers, rolled up my shirt sleeves and ambled around the bar. On the floor, hiding, a middle-aged man cowered behind trembling hands. I voiced commands, ordered him to stand, removed three digits and whistled tunes while he shrieked and pleaded for compassion.
The coward always squeals truths.
Stealing his final breath, I extracted his heart and burnt the building to the ground.
I shan’t be getting any sleep tonight.
Showered and changed into a new suit, I stand in the belly of Club 11′s alleyway, awaiting Nate’s arrival. Brad, bored and cold, complains religiously under his breath. “Relax,” I sighed, lighting a cigarette. “He’ll be here.”
“Nate’s taking the fucking piss. It’s cold and bitter.” He fixed his crotch. “I swear, my balls have shrivelled up to the back of my ass.”
I exhaled a ribbon of smoke to the night sky, propping my foot to the wall behind me.
He tugs on a grey beanie hat, spots Cherry, grunting his disapproval. “Ah, fucking Christ.” His lip ticked in disgust. “Get rid of her.”
“Gentlemen.” Her sultry voice raked my flesh, the heels of her six-inch heels alternately clicking on the floor. She bestowed me a warm, fond smile, but the adoration in her crystal blue eyes heightened for the man to my right. “Brad.” She snuggled into her faux fur coat. “You ain’t been around lately. Is the Boss working you too hard?”
That’s code for “Are you fucking someone else?”
“I have a life outside of the whore house, Cher.” He eyed her with haughty disdain. “And better pussy.”
Pretending not to eavesdrop, I stifled a wince. I have never claimed to be a gentleman. I am far from chivalrous, but his delivery can be brutal.
Everyone’s gone to town on Cherry, including me. It’s Brad, though. He’s the end goal. The guy she’d choose if he were willing. Senseless, I thought, tossing my cigarette to the floor, snubbing it under my shoe. Brad’s never going to settle down, not after everything he’s endured. She holds out for him, though, in the hope he’ll reciprocate such affections—pointless.
“What about you, Mr Warren?” she sniped, but her terseness isn’t for me. “Do you require any assistance?”
Cherry’s plan to rouse Brad’s jealousy has the opposite desired effect. He pays no heed, too busy checking messages on his phone. “No,” I respond in a bored tone. “Go home, Cher.”
Hallowing her cheeks, she clicked her tongue, eyed Brad once more, and then sauntered down the alleyway.
Knowing it’s safe to return, Brad stuffed his phone into his back pocket and lifted his head. “She’s doing my fucking nut it.”
I fought against rolling my eyes. “If the idea of Cherry repulses you, quit sleeping with her.”
“I try,” he lied, fixing his shirt buttons. “Her tongue piercing makes it difficult to stay away...” He smiled mischievously. “You understand.”
Cherry gives decent head—usedto give decent head. I haven’t spared her any time in months, and that’s not changing anytime soon. I’d trade blowjobs and meaningless fucking to have Alexa in my arms, anyway.
Again, thinking about Alexa accelerates my heartbeat. It’s usually a painful ache, but after my encounter... It is different. I am not angry, grieving, mournful or guilt-ridden.
I might be losing my goddamn mind.
Brad’s weak argument might hold grounds.
But that violent urge and all-consuming desire to need someone as much as I needed Alexa... That is what passed with that blonde this afternoon—the same magnetism every time I held the woman I loved.
I am not careless or stupid. My woman, disguised for reasons unfathomable, stared directly back at me. No amount of deliberating with the men will tell me otherwise.
I felt it.
But what does this mean?
Why would Alexa hide from me? It doesn’t make any sense... Brad’s right. Is he right? Am I looking into purposeless details, hoping for precision?
No. Today means something.
Why did she run?
What reason did she have to flee?
I was thoughtful, charming and winsome. Yes, I flirted a touch, testing the waters. Not enough to frighten or offend the woman. She didn’t want to leave. We equally valued and appreciated our proximity—
“Bossman?” Brad sliced through my indecisive thoughts and mental blathering. “Are you okay over there?”
Inhaling deep breaths to calm frantic breathing, I wiped beaded sweat from my eyebrow. “Nate has arrived.”
Disregarding ponderous concepts, I lead Brad to Nate’s vehicle. He flung open the driver’s door, demanding to drive. Honestly, his idiosyncrasy for chauffeuring is comical.
Nate should slap him, but a confrontation with the brothers is uncharacteristic. He’d rather hand the reins to Brad and reside in peace and quiet.
I collapsed on the passenger seat. “Why do you allow Brad to order you around?”
Relaxing beside Josh, Nate lifts a noncommittal shoulder.
“Don’t side with him,” Brad half-joked, winking at Nate via the rear-view mirror. “I get itchy feet in the back. Ain’t that right, Nate?”
Nate shook his head, falling into conversation with Josh.
“You equipped Josh?” I asked, loading the Desert Eagle with bullets.
Josh paled, nodding his head vigorously. He needs to snap those moralities, or else he won’t last two minutes alongside these men.
Brad drove at piston speed, wading the Bentley through slow-moving vehicles.
Only forty-five minutes passed until he steered the car down long country roads, shrouding us in overgrowth, tranquillisation and darkness. He cut off the headlights, the engine followed shortly after.
Mounting the car onto miry grounds, Brad fixed the handbrake, and we climbed out in unison, doors slamming behind us. “I hate fields,” exclaimed Brad, rubbing his frozen palms together. “It gives me the shudders.”
Readjusting his ball cap, Nate scoffed. “Quit complaining all the damn time.”
Quiet yet vigilant, Josh shadows in our footsteps, checking the weight of his firearm.
Wandering in an area of a sown wheat field, the men whacked obstructing spears aside, shoes sloshing into the mud and stagnant filled potholes. “I swear I can hear fucking hissing,” Brad husks, eager to reach the other side. “Christ, do we have rattlesnakes in London?”
Nate’s throaty laughter reverberated. “Surely, you ain’t scared of no garden worms.”
“Worms?” Brad mused, tugging his beanie to his brows. “No, I’m not scared of any worms. Snakes? Yeah, I am most definitely terrified of those slithering cock biters.”
“You presumptuous wanker.” Snorting, Josh pulls a hand down his face. “What makes you think those snakes would be interested in your pecker?”
“Don’t ever insult my chopper,” Brad warned, pausing to point a reproachful finger. “There’s nothing pecker-ish about what’s swinging between my legs.”
“So you continuously tell me.” Josh uses a twig to smack his way through long wheat spears. “Every fucking day.”
“Yet you doubt me.” Smirking cockily, Brad outstretched his arms. “Do you need me to satiate your nonsensical cynicism?”
“If he flaunts his cock, I’ll rip it off,” Josh whispered to Nate, and they both snickered.
“I don’t like Josh,” Brad lied, pulling a displeased face. “I think you should kill him.”
Nate exited the field first, heading straight to the rickety bridge, ambling carelessly over a slow-paced ravine, water cascading in rock crevices.
I am right behind him, stopping to ask Brad why he’s procrastinating near moss-covered boulders. “Are you coming or what?”
Shifting the lump in his throat, Brad shoved Josh aside, causing the poor lad to almost slip down the muddy bank and then gripped the rope, advancing with cautious treads.
Nate missed a step, caught his footing.
“Stop rocking the fucking boat,” Brad barked, holding onto the ropes with agitated firmness. “I mean it, Nate.”
Nate ignored him, arming himself and returning to dry grounds.
Accepting a pre-rolled joint from Josh, I balanced the roach in my mouth, lit the end and inhaled a lungful.
Nestled between obscuring woodlands and black skies, a cottage-like home crouched low into the rock-strewn embankment, made up of grey stones, dirty panes, a thatched roof and smoking chimney.
I exhaled a slither of smoke and handed the joint to Brad.
“If I’m not back in fifteen minutes?” I said, directing to the building. “Wreak havoc.” I leave the men, their conversation fading into the distance.
Fallen leaves crunch under my weight as I pace. I climbed over the three-inch cobbled wall, entering the garden. Pin in hand, I inserted the sharpest point into the lock, picked it and granted myself entrance.
Silence and blackness greeted me. I closed the door, tossed the pin and strode through the adorned wooden-slatted hallway. It’s oddly accommodating, considering the diabolical exterior.
I almost put a foot into the kitchen, noted the uneven floorboard and sidestepped, dodging. It feels cold, unlived. Opening the fridge-freezer, checking produce dates and leftover meals, I place a palm atop the terracotta casserole dish on the stove—warm.
Snapping on a pair of leather gloves, fingers stretching the leather, I hunt the property, room-by-room, finding nothing but fusty, smelling furniture and threadbare runners. Assured it’s a dead end, I returned to the hallway, ready to leave, when a padlocked cupboard door summoned me.
Rattling the lock, tugging, I lengthened another pin and keyed the deadbolt. It popped open, falling to the floor with a loud thump. Descending the haunted ambience, hand blindly coming to the wall for light, I found it and illuminated the basement. I stopped at the bottom of the insecure stairs and looked around. Adjacent shelving units mounted the walls on either side of the room, showcasing countless key-locked boxes.
My inquisitiveness intensified.
Again, I picked a lock, selecting the first box. Cracking open the lid, tossing it to the side, I delved through miscellaneous items, including half-used cosmetics, makeup, hairbrushes and hair rollers, a blood-stained negligee.
An unnerving shiver crept along my spine.
Dropping the box, I selected another, repeating the process. Colouring books, dried-up felt tips, crayons and craft supplies. I emptied everything onto the floor, scattering children’s toys, odd shoes—junior, Peyton shoes and soiled frilly socks.
I felt sick.
Spearing two hands through my tousled hair, I inhaled a sharp breath, unable to calm my increasing anxieties. “Dates,” I read aloud, 2005, scribbled across a box in a permanent black marker. “Fuck.” I counted through timelines, searching for the 80s and 90s collectables.
Bracing on one knee, I removed layers of dust from the bottom shelves, rummaged through each container, close to relenting. The lid popped off. I paused, a white and yellow summer dress slipping into my hands. I thumbed the daisy stitch work.
“My mother loved to dress us up,” Alexa told me, climbing onto the bed in my oversized T-shirt, straddling my waist. “Hideous dresses, Kathy claimed. My sister was a ‘jeans and shirt’ type of girl.”
Repulsed, I scrunched the little girl’s dress into a tight fist.
“Why are you smiling?” I asked, my hands curling around her neck.
“I just am, Liam,” she whispered, all-smiles against my lips. “Can I kiss you?”
I unclipped a Victorian aesthetic etched silver locket. It is an old portrait of a beautiful woman, dark pin-up hair and prominent cheekbones, full lips yet a misleading smile. She’s miserable, I thought, smoothing my thumb over the image.
“So, your mother is to thank for this smile,” I rasped, tracing Alexa’s lips with a finger. “I assume you inherited her beauty.”
“She was a very attractive woman,” she admits with an edge of coyness in her voice. “I have her eyes, but it’s Kathy who received all my mother’s good genes.”
I loathed her sister with a passion. “Stop living in Kathy’s shadow,” I said, and I meant it. “She’s unworthy.” Her hands to my cheeks, she peppered her lips along my jawline. “You’re beautiful.”
She hid in the groove of my neck. “You always say that.”
I turned my head, facing her. “That’s because I always fucking mean it.”
Tucking the locket into my pocket, I stood, kicked the box across the room, dispersing Alexa and Kathy’s childhood—an old, leather-worn photo album knocked into the bottom shelf. I shouldn’t look. I should walk away.
Crouching, I gingerly lifted the album, composed myself. It belonged to Adaline Haines. It’s her collection of memories, some images with, who I speculate were friends, but mostly, her daughter’s stare back at me. From garden picnics, festive seasons to seaside trips, the trio went everywhere together while Adaline crafted her pictorial memoir. And, although all three share unarguably flawless features, the youngest, Alexa, dominates the images. Even as a child, her genuine smile and pretty face, brings light to their darkness.
I smiled, removing a photo of Alexa and her mother, sliding it into my wallet.
Resoluteness soared. I refuse to let him keep this sick, twisted shrine. I light a cigarette, balance it between my lips, crammed boxes with clothes—children’s clothes, ones that belonged to many victims—and set the room ablaze. I collected camcorders and dated tapes and conveyed the box to the stairs, and that’s when I noticed a trap door, concealed beneath an oriental rug. “Fuck.” I put the cameras on the bottom step, kicked the rug aside, yanked the rusted handle and peered underground.
I don’t have long before the fire spreads.
Unlocking my phone, selecting the torch option, I shone a light into the hidden cellar. What smelled like rotten flesh and decomposed bodies wafted. The stark stench brought tears to my eyes.
Coughing into my arm, I shoved the phone in my mouth, latched onto the square ledge and lowered myself in the low-hung floor cavity. I had to crouch, haunch my shoulders to wander through. Threaded gossamer clung to wooden beams, and airborne dust particles misted past my face.
Out the corner of my eye, a ghostlike form crawled into a dark alcove. Temples thudding, heart sinking to my stomach, I held the phone, illuminated the...shivering, naked girl. Hollow-cheeked and skin-and-bones, the girl glimpses at me through filthy fingers, hissing like a feral animal as I close in. “I am not going to hurt you,” I assured, slowly declining to one knee. “I’m getting you out of here.”
Puffy eyed, timid and lachrymose, she lowered her guard, letting me see her face. Aquiver with fear, she whimpered. Her dry, blue lips, wobbling. She was uncomfortable under my intense gaze and, in a state of speechless shock, I bored into those hazel-coloured eyes. “What’s your name?” I whispered, mesmerised by her. “How old are you?” Young, I thought. In her early twenties, maybe. “Here.” Taking off my suit jacket, I lifted it between us. “Put this on.”
“He’ll kill me,” she murmured, flinching away from me.
“Bajramovic will have to get through me first.” I tossed the suit jacket at her filthy feet. “Put it on.” At my commanding voice, she snatched the jacket, threading the material over her arms—I looked away when she stood, not wanting to see her naked breasts. “Let’s go.”
“How do I know you aren’t like him?” She asked in a shaky voice, and I refrained from berating her. “I don’t trust men anymore.”
Her disgusted misandry isn’t my problem. “You don’t have to trust me,” I said, pointing to the ceiling. “However, this place is minutes away from burning to the ground, so, unless you want to burn to death, I suggest you follow my lead.”
I left her with those heinous thoughts, scuffling back to the latch. Warm coloured pallets licked the walls above and blanketing smoke impeded vision. “Come on,” I coaxed, sensing her behind me. “I’ll lift you through.”
Taking my hand with vibrating fingers, she focused on my chest, avoiding my eyes. I gripped her waist, blocking persistent body odours and urination, elevating her above. She choked on thick smoke, scattered backwards, and waited for me to resurface. I pulled myself up and across the entranceway. “Get up.”
The roaring fire and licking flames clambered the walls, claiming every gruesome story in its wake. I snatched the box and took the steps two-at-a-time, shoving her into the hallway. “Keep moving.” I closed the door to conceal and slow down the burning process. “Stop delaying. Just move.”
She latched onto my shirt sleeve. I frowned, biting my tongue to stop myself from chastising her. Her fingernails pierced my elbow, bare feet pattering against the floorboards.
I forced her to keep up with my long strides, reaching the front door—and she flinched, hands flying to her face, blocking the frigid breeze and full moon.
Brad discerned us first, cocking his head, slicing his judgemental eyes “Bossman,” he said warily, ditching Nate and Josh, leaving them by the rickety bridge. “Who the fuck is that?”
I had no reasonable response. “I found her beneath a trap door—”
“Blaire,” she whispered in a quiet voice I almost missed. “My name is Blaire.”
Josh and Nate ambled closed. While Nate raked his concerned eyes over the girl’s petite frame, Brad murdered her with a disproving snarl.
“Blaire.” I scowled, taking her by the elbow. “Go with Nate.”
“No.” She protested, shaking her head, backing up. “I don’t want to be with too many men. If you let me go, I promise not to tell anyone—”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Brad barked, ripping the beanie hat from off his head. “We ain’t done fuck all wrong, Blaire. You should be thanking the Boss for saving your ass.”
“I’m sorry—and thank you,” she cried, holding out her hands, creating an imaginary wall between us. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I am scared. I don’t want to hurt anymore.” She tripped over a moss-topped rock, her backside colliding to the floor, a pained whimper from her lips. “I’m broken.”
“No. Liam, please,” Alexa sobbed, face scrunched up in frustration. “I need to leave.”
“No.” I stand my ground, hating how she perceives herself.
“Why do you even care?” she screamed, spinning in my arms, glaring up at me with such devastating despondency. “Can’t you see that I’m not worth this shit? I’m broken, Liam! I’m fucking broken!”
I’ve had enough. “You’re not fucking broken!” Before another protest escaped those pretty lips, I fisted her hair and shut her up with my mouth. I had to have her—couldn’t get enough of her. “Baby,” I groaned, tongue coaxing her lips to part. “Alexa, kiss me.” She melted in my arms, relenting, completely giving herself to me. I captured her cheeks in my rough palms. “I want you.” Biting her lower lip, I backed her up against the sideboard. “Alexa.”
“Liam,” she gasped, clinging to my shoulders. “Take me.”
I abruptly tore through her dress, ravishing her neck with open mouth kisses. The material pooled around her feet, and I hoisted her into my arms, devouring her mouth with raw, fervent kisses.
“Oh,” she moaned, fisting my hair, desperate for me. “Liam...”
I know, Baby. I feel it, too.
“Christ,” Brad complains, seizing Blaire’s wrist. “She’s a bastard nut case.”
“Let me handle this,” Nate intercedes before Brad lunges the girl into the river. “Blaire, I am not going to hurt you. As you can see,” he motioned to the burning cottage, highlighting its uncontrollable state, “that fire is getting a little out of hand. It’s time to get the hell out of dodge.” Before Blaire protested, he picked her up like a rag doll, hurling her over one shoulder. She screamed, thrashed and kicked, punching his backside with closed fists. He didn’t flinch or blink. He simply marched ahead with Josh traipsing close.
I kneaded my chest, requiring hard drugs or alcohol. I don’t know what to do about the girl. I’ll let her stay with us, for a short while, until I find her a place or get her back on her feet.
Blaire’s heinous condition mirrors Alexa’s past. In actuality, their likeness is uncanny. Not only their similar backgrounds, but they bear a strong resemblance: lustrous dark hair and striking hazel-coloured eyes. Perhaps Blaire can counterbalance—
“No,” Brad snapped, wearied and jaded. “What the fuck is that look?”
His wayward tongue is starting to hit a nerve. “You better watch how you speak to me, Brad,” I spat, shoving his shoulder, stepping up to him. “The last I checked? I was Command. I was the Boss. I sit on that fucking chair, dictating to you, not the other way around. Do I need to remind you who runs shit around here? Do I need to show you the level of my forbearance? You,” I point, biting down on my knuckles. “You need to learn your fucking place before you lose it.”
Resigned yet fuming, Brad shook his head, the muscles in his jaw ticking. “She won’t replace Alexa,” he said the unthinkable, daring me to deny subconscious thoughts. “No amount of drugs and alcohol and women and meaningless fucking is going to bring her back. You mightn’t appreciate my emphatic mouth, Bossman. But that’s who I am. That’s the reason you hired me because I don’t have any qualms standing up to you and bearing truths. Sure, you don’t always appreciate honesty, but you seek mine, regardless, and that fucked-up bitch is going to be nothing but a goddamn thorn in your side. Let me take her to the nearest hospital and ditch. She’s not our problem.”
Blaire’s one of Flamur’s victims. “Alexa would want me to help her.”
“Alexa’s dead!” he yelled, anger and impatience, clawing at his flushed features. “When are you going to get that inside your head—”
I jawed him with a right hook.
Brad stumbled, back knocking into a tree. He didn’t touch his busted lip—wouldn’t dream of showing me vulnerability. Instead, he licked pooling blood, veneering his upper teeth with fresh crimson.
I glared at him with bated breath. “Where’s your compassion?”
Brad glowered in disgust. “The same place yours used to be.” He stormed off, hands burrowing inside his trouser pockets.
I stared at the place he once stood, needing Her voice of reasoning more than ever.