Flamur Bajramovic's existence hangs on by a thread. At this stage in his ongoing torture, his unpredictable, precarious lifeline might end sooner than anticipated.
Three weeks before gruelling, excruciating torment and suffering—thanks to Blaire for coordinating me to Timothy Andino—I located Bajramovic and brought him to secreted vaults beneath Club 11's cellar.
Soundproof walls, windowless exterior and reinforced concrete compartments with electronic steel gates, the incommodious structure, utilised for uninterrupted, ceaseless oppression.
It's where hyperventilating starvation induces paranoid delusions, hallucinations and imaginary friends become your voice of reasoning.
It's also entertaining to watch.
Bajramovic suffered systematic, sadistic beatings until his swollen, unrecognisable face required medical assistance. His immobilised jaw compromised breathing. Nate administered intravenous antibiotics to clear infections and performed maxillomandibular fixation. It'll be six weeks before wire removal—how inconvenient.
I could end his misery right now, put a bullet in his skull, wrap my hands around his throat, snap his neck. It's too easy, though. And unfulfilling. What's satisfying about a quick death? Men like Bajramovic merits an unbearable departure. Sadistic violence and merciless, barbarous torture methods are more appropriate.
Crouching beside his semi-unconscious body, I raked my eyes over his naked, trampled form, blocking out the urination, excrement and vomit stench. "I can take it away," I whispered, listening to his hitched breathing. "I have the power to put an end to your suffering, Bajramovic." I used my finger to drag hair from his brow. "If you give me what I want."
His bloodshot eyes lolled, sweat-slicked hair sticking to his discoloured face. "I...do not...know..." He gasped, his chest-rattling. "Kill me."
I stood, nudged his hip with my shoe, rolling his groaning, lethargic body across the concrete. "Wedge something up this fuckers ass," I ordered Nate, and Flamur barked a slew of foreign lingo. "I want him squealing like a bitch by the time I come back."
With Brad in tow, I leave Nate and Josh to deal with the frenetic Albanian, ascend the steel staircase and enter the cellar.
Brad closed the door, muting Bajramovic's inconsolable screams. Good. I hope he suffers. I want him to feel every sharp object, every peeled layer of skin and every penetrated wound. It's his comeuppance for the traumatised victims and parents left with the aftermath. He'll encounter harrowing affliction for the ones who lost their lives. And, at the heart of it, he will bellow apologies and regrets for touching Alexa.
"Flamur is not going to talk." Brad ruffled his hair. "He's going to die with those secrets."
"He will," I assured, tearing through a whiskey crate, picking two Macallan bottles. "I got it all figured out, Brad. Trust my judgment."
He popped a chewing gum bubble. "Are you going to clue me in?"
"I will reveal it all soon." Unlocking the cellar door, I enter the hallway adjacent to the bar. "I'm waiting for the final pieces first."
Ambling through the bar, passing half-naked dancers and well-dressed male servers, I head to the office. Loud clubland music and customers, enjoying a night of carousing. Strobe lights and techno reverberations sporadic the walkway, which suits Brad and his wandering eyes. He falls back to work his charm on assembled, glamorised females, his skilful lasciviousness guaranteeing an eventful night. He remembered me and jerked his chin, an offer to join him. To his right, a bodacious redhead sips through a straw, winking her approval.
I pinned her with superior derision, gave her my back and proceeded ahead. The long line of security straightened as I rounded the corner, impeccable discipline.
Cherry and her favourite alliance, Cora, await my arrival at the door. I punched the code, opened the door and set the Macallan stock on the minibar. "What can I do for you?" Losing my suit jacket, I drop it over the chair rear and become seated.
"Tonight's takings, Sir." Cherry organises bundled cash across the desk. "And Cora needs to report sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour with a client."
"Are you incapable of filing a complaint by yourself, Cora?" I eased back in my chair, lighting a cigarette.
Cora reddened under my questioning glare. "Yes, Sir."
"So, why is Cherry discussing this matter on your behalf?"
Clearing her throat, Cherry plucked imaginary lint from her corset. "Sir—"
"That'll be all," I cut her off, signalling to the door.
Cherry brushed a palm down Cora's arm, leaving and closing the door.
"Sit." I open the drawer and slide a piece of paper across the desk. "Did you fear for your life, Cora, or were you uncomfortable with the client's advances?"
"Uncomfortable, Sir." Sitting, she picked up a pen and rolled it between her fingers. "She's not a regular, Mr Warren. Tonight is our first encounter."
"She?" I asked for clarification, and she dipped her head. "Interesting. How did she pass security and enter private suites without signing a nondisclosure agreement?"
"I don't know, but she had an exclusive gold membership card, so I had no reason to suspect her or anything..." Straightening in her seat, she fixed her olive green balconette, a satin piece that complements her dark, oiled and glitter-shimmered complexion. "Am I in trouble?"
"Did you say or do anything you shouldn't?"
She shook her head. "But I did decline her booking."
"Is that when she made unsuitable comments or gestures?"
"Yes, she groped my breast while exposing hers and then became aggressive when I threatened to call security. I know it sounds ludicrous, but it felt staged, Sir. I am not convinced she's attracted to women."
Cora's bisexual. She's one of few women who work for me that'll accommodate female clients, and it's unlike her to raise concerns. "Do you think she had an ulterior motive, Cora? I sense that's where this conversation is leading."
"Yes, Sir. I reckon there's a hidden agenda—"
A member of security knocked on the door, poking his head inside. "Kellie's downstairs, Boss. She's causing quite a scene, so how do you want us to handle her?"
"I'll handle Kellie." I put out the cigarette, calling him inside. "Stay here with Cora until I get back."
Buttoning up my suit jacket, I leave the office, hearing Kellie's ranting expletives echoing from downstairs. "Fuck's sake." Taking the stairs two at a time, I reach ground level.
Encircling security blocked Kellie's aggressive onslaught, preventing her from landing idle slaps and ungraceful kicks. "That's enough," I snapped, and the men stepped aside, poised yet frustrated. "What the fuck is wrong with you?" I shoved her shoulder, backing her up against the wall. "Quit fucking hounding me, Kellie. It's unbecoming."
"I am sick to the high heavens of you avoiding me!" she shrieked, landing a powerless fist to my chest. "You can't do this to me, Warren. I am invested!"
My men sliced secret glances to each other, not uttering a word.
"We need to talk—and before you rudely interrupt me, know that I don't give two shits about these men. I will say what I have to say in front of them, and you will regret what comes out of my mouth, Warren. That's a damn promise."
Her devious grin increased any reservations I had. I snatched her elbow and dragged her down the hall with unnecessary force. "You are starting to make my skin crawl," I snarled through gritted teeth, flinging open the fire exit door, lunging her into the cold night. "I don't have regrets, Kellie. I own past mistakes and sleep peacefully at night. You are a mistake. I don't feel contrite about fucking you because you're a decent lay, nothing special, but enough to have filled a void in my life. It ended," I added, and her lower lip wobbled. "Now it's time to move onto the next man and leave me the fuck alone."
"Who is she?" she asked, and I growled under my breath. "I want a name, Warren. I want to know how you managed to pursue another woman when you assured me nobody else entered our relationship."
"Our relationship?" I said in disbelief, spearing a hand through my hair. "I don't need to justify myself to you. You are insane." I knocked her forehead with the heel of my hand, and she whacked my mockery away. "It's irrational, Kellie. You don't show up at my office and lay down the law—"
"You don't answer my calls," she roared, shoving my chest, almost losing her footing. "You do not respond to my messages, Warren. What choice did I have?"
My blood fired hot. "We're not doing this anymore." Hands in my trouser pockets, I jerked into her breathing space, a deadly promise in my sharp eyes. "I already told you that I'm with someone else—"
"I'm pregnant," she spat, folding her arms and tapping her foot.
Her gleeful confession was a harsh slap to the face, a well-needed reality check. I don't want children. Fatherhood isn't on the table for me. In saying that, if I were foolish enough to impregnate someone, it wouldn't be the likes of Kellie. I am not tying myself to this nutcase for the rest of my life.
"Desperate," I grimaced, unsure if I protected myself each time we were together. "Is that what you've succumbed to, fabricating a pregnancy to try and mislead me? Do I look fucking stupid to you? I never, ever, fucked you without a condom, so don't stand there and ram responsibilities down my goddamn throat. If you're knocked-up? It's got nothing to do with me—"
"Oh, you think I'm lying?" she goaded, and her triumphant expression sent my emotions into a chaotic riot.
Needing to be away from her, I flung open the door.
"That's right, Warren—storm inside and ignore the problem. I'll be seeing your sorry ass in court in nine months for child support." I slammed the door in her face, muffling her beating fists and wild antagonism. "You're a coward, Warren! I fucking hate you!"
Closed fist to my mouth, I slumped my back to the wall to regulate my breathing. "Not a word," I ordered, and security nods. "Back to your stations."
I returned to the office in a state of confusion. Cora stands on my arrival, holding the signed complaint out for me. "I filled in the details—" I snatched it from her hand, chucked it in the drawer. "Do you need anything else before I leave?"
"Get out—both of you." I loosened my shirt collar and sat on the desk edge, watching the club in full-swing through the window.
Behind me, the door clicked, the two co-workers providing me with soothing silence. "Fuck." Nerves shot to hell, I fumbled with the contents in the drawer, grabbed Rizla and rolled a blunt. I need to stop shaking. Rage spikes at my insides, a painful reminder of my carelessness. "Bitch."
Balancing the roach between my lips, I lit the end, taking a drag, inhaling momentary detachment. It's enough to take the edge off, to clear my thoughts and calculate my next move.
My phone jerked on the desk, and Kellie's name flashed on the screen. Forcing myself to calm down, I answered the call. "I'm filing a restraining order," I lied, envisioning a blade slicing across her throat. "If that doesn't work...?"
You are dead, bitch.
Expelling smoke to the ceiling, I collapsed on my chair and kicked my feet onto the desk.
"You have less than ten minutes to hide everything before the police raid the club," Alexa whispered, and I bolted upright, my heart sinking to the hollowness of my stomach. "Kellie's bleeding to death." While she spoke, I loaded perimeter surveillance on the monitor and located Kellie's sprawled body at the rear alleyway, a tall figure looming above her. "She'll die soon, but if someone finds her, there is a chance of survival. I don't know what you intend to do about that?"
I eased my vice-like grip to the mouse, a genuine smile on my face. Clicking the codes, I zoomed in, outlined her guarded yet beautiful features. I knew it—I felt the intensity between us the day she bumped into me. "Who's calling?" I said in a soft voice, wanting nothing more than to hold her, to protect her from whatever mess she's gotten herself into.
Alexa glimpsed over one shoulder, checking her surroundings. "Vick."
I had countless questions. I need to know the lies behind her fake death; I need to understand why she hasn't come to me and why she's portraying to be someone else. I narrowed my eyes to the gun clasped in her tight fingers and cursed. No, I cannot summarise any of this. Her uncharacteristic behaviour is indecipherable and perplexing.
My jaw aches from grinding my teeth so hard.
Soon, I thought, unable to steer my longing gaze from the screen.
"Victoria," I lengthened the name she'd provided, knowing how much my haughtiness peeves her. "I don't expect anyone to clear up my mess, least of all a beautiful woman."
Her head snapped up, spotting the camera. "You can't see me from that angle." Yes, I can. My eyes toured the length of her body, admiring her chosen outfit and slender legs. "Nice try, though."
You have no idea, baby. "Leave the gun," I ordered; I'll hide the evidence, so nothing falls back on her. "You don't want the law catching you with a weapon, Victoria. Let me handle it for you."
"No," she responds with stubborn unwillingness. "You're running out of time."
I am itching to leave this office and bolt in her direction. It hurts. Seeing her this close and doing nothing hurts. "I can spare five minutes to listen to your voice."
On the screen, Alexa put her back to the wall. Her eyes revisit the camera, and it had me wondering what she was thinking. I am "oblivious" to her existence, so if she has no plans to "inform" me, why did she come here tonight? What is she hoping to gain from her recklessness? It's almost as if she wants me to uncover the truth, to reassure her that everything is going to be okay.
I don't make promises, but for Alexa Haines, I'll overturn London to ensure she's safe and has the answers she deserves.
While watching her, I send camera shots to the printer for Nate to uncover her location, to give me a sense of clarity.
She ended the call—ended our conversation—and it struck me to the core. It felt too final, too decided.
I watch her walk away.
Beneath the desk, I retrieve the print outs and place them in a folder on the tiered filing tray for the morning.
On the surveillance, I see Brad and the head bouncer arguing with two suited men.
I sighed, tightening my cufflink as I paced to the entrance. Authoritative arrival inconveniences me. I don't need this level of scrutiny while the club's packed to the rafters.
Smoothing two hands over my head, I neaten my hair, slipped between gathered security, guarding the main doors, and attached myself to the pointless commotion. "Officers," I clipped, undermining their detective status. "What can I do for you?" In the background, wailing sirens and police vehicles mount the curbside, the customers, social smoking and observing the disturbance. "All this for little old me?" Rocking on the heels of my feet, I tucked my hands in my pockets to stop myself from impulsive fist throwing. "How astonishing."
The leading detective, brassy in his cord textile suit, crossed his muscular arms, an apparent gesture to instil fear, I presume. "We have strong indications that you committed an indictable offence, and there is illegal material on these premises, which is of substantial value. If we do not enter the premises it can hinder the search and place citizens in danger, or, in your case," he said with a sardonic lip twitch, "it'll launch conspiratorial promptitude of drug distribution to which is a felon."
Detective number two pipes into the tedious conversation. "Do you know the verdict for a charged drug baron, Warren? The maximum sentence for intent to supply drugs is up to life imprisonment, specifically Class A substances, for example, cocaine and heroin. That's a lot of years for you to be playing about with."
"I'm familiar with the Drug Trafficking Act 1994," I said sardonically. "And my rights."
"Then isn't it within your best interest to co-operate and avoid maximum charges?"
I didn't obtain delivery from Gateway tonight. Is that what Kellie reported? Is that why Alexa killed her? Shit, did she witness our argument and Kellie's pregnancy bullshit? Fuck's sake. She didn't need to hear that.
"It's within my rights to say," I put us nose-to-nose, "fuck you."
Brad squeezed my shoulder, keeping it there. "You must have reasonable grounds to search Warren's property, i.e. reliable information, hard facts, suspected terrorist activity, or witnessing his illegitimate act with your own beady little eyes," he said, wiggling two fingers across the detective's face. "Even if your hunch tells you there's material in this building, you cannot conduct a search without an issued warrant from Magistrates' Court, which takes," he glimpsed at his wristwatch, "only three hours. How blissfully liberating." Winking, he tongued a toothpick to the corner of his lips. "I'll make some coffee when you get back."
Holding up my hands in mock surrender, I forced a smirk. "I promise to keep it clean until your return, detective."
"Son of a whore," he seethed, stepping up to me. He pushed his nose on mine, probing me to use aggression. "You are not indestructible, Warren. You'll face the law, eventually."
"You're right. My mother was a whore," I said, not concerned or perturbed by his offensive vitriol. "Your insult has zero effect on me. I care not for my mother nor her whoring ways. Now," I point to his humming SUV, "do yourself a favour and get the fuck away from me."
"Or you'll what?" he inquired, praying he can noose my fucking neck with "assaulting an officer" charges. "You don't scare me, Warren. You're small-time compared to us."
He is an opprobrious, foolish old man. I own the metropolitan and the justice department. Besides, if I encounter disadvantageous consequences, I know many judges who owe me a favour; however, Keeping my head above water is becoming cumbersome. I am already tackling problematic situations. Magniloquent men in substandard suits should be an afterthought.
I succumbed to effortless ennui. "I'll see you in three hours, gentleman."
Knowing I had the right to refuse entry, the detectives masquerade their furiousness and fall back, yelling for their pointless team of officers to retreat.
I watched each member of the law sink into cars while murmuring in Brad's ear to take care of Kellie's dead body. He didn't ask questions. It was not applicable under the circumstance. He'd more than likely raise this conversation tomorrow, though. "Nate," I said, and he stood alongside me. "I want those two detectives dead before the weeks out."
He clicked his earpiece. "Of course, Sir."
Goosebumps misted along the length of my spine. Across the street, beneath a stationed lamppost, Victoria lingers at the corner, her back to the wall, foot propped up behind her. I took one step forward, and her leg dropped, ready to run.
What the hell happened to us?
I rub a hand along my stubble jaw and elevate my brows, a silent gesture to show I appreciated her input tonight.
"Isn't that...?" Nate bored into me with bulging eyes. "Holy shit."
Confident that I wouldn't follow, Alexa curbed a smile and disappeared into the night.
"I'm beyond confused," said Nate, scratching his brow. "What's going on?"
"I don't know," I answered, finger rotating my thumb ring. "I fucking love that woman, regardless."