SACRIFICE (Book Two: The London Crime King)

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Chapter 9

Liam

Cheek meshed to shimmering marble floor tiles, I awakened with a painful hard-on, fenced in by phantasmagorical women—naked women, I might add.

Our joint, inextricable limbs hindered movements. "Go away," I croaked, closing and reopening my eyes. No, I still see variegated hair shades: short, long, unruly, matted and sweat-slicked. "Fuck."

I tried rolling onto my back, but the boneless weight on my arm numbs the process. I craned my neck, swept a gaze over the attractive, tall and curvaceous brunette, sleeping beside me. Her perky breasts pressed up against my side, leg cocked over my thigh, pinning me to the ground. She has a decent face, beguiling features and is that a tongue piercing?

Fucking. Hell.

My cock, I thought, examining the functionality of my semi-hard arousal.

Christ, I cannot remember anything. I jogged my memory, recall messaging Nate, relaying orders and then showering.

Yes, I definitely showered, ordered takeout and smoked a few joints.

What about the women, though?

I pondered harder for a perspicuous resolution.

Deeply emotional, grief-stricken and despondently comfortless, I'd sniffed cocaine, listened to nostalgic music and avoided the men.

Last night, however, possessed by intoxication and concupiscence, I wrestled against heartbreak and bereavement, invited women to my home and lost myself with incessant meaningless sex.

I shared alcohol and drugs with these women—do not know when or how I initiated foreplay or fucking. I assume such actions transpired—I wouldn't be bollocked-naked otherwise.

"Hey, handsome," the blonde purred into the nook of my neck, draping an arm over my waist. "It looks like someone's ready to play."

"I concur." Grasping the base of my shaft, the woman with plump lips and dark, lustrous hair nestles between my thighs. "More than ready." Tongue peeking out, she ravished the underside of my length and, in a carnal, transfixed state, I licked my dry lips, awaited her hot mouth to engulf me. "Mm," she moans, sucking me, deep. "Do you like that?"

She had hazel-coloured eyes, adorned with thick, fake eyelashes. I give credence to her beauty, but she's not Alexa—none of these women surpasses or outperform my love. "Stop," I ordered, flinching from the woman nibbling my earlobe. "Enough."

"You heard him," Nate drawled, and I sighed with relief. "Get dressed and wait in the foyer. That's an order."

"Grouchy," one quips, standing in nothing but a lace thong. "You sound jealous, baby."

Baby, I thought, freeing myself from the leaching web, stumbling to my feet.

Through tired, bloodshot eyes, I search for discarded boxer briefs, coming unstuck. Nakedness is the least of my quandaries, though. "Nate," I said tightly, looking for used condoms. Unnerving chills slithered up my spine. Surely, I hadn't acted so recklessly careless. "I..."

"It's covered," mumbled Nate, comprehending my dilemma. "You're not moving quick enough," he barked at the blonde, clicking for the others to wait near the exit.

Placing my hands onto the kitchen counter, I put my back to the room, overheard Nate's low, threatening voice. He forces them to sign something before administering six morning-after pills. I only breathed when the door slammed in their departure.

Modelling all-black attire, Nate sits on the leather U-shaped sofa, signs the nondisclosure agreements and slips them into a leather-bound folder. "Am I permitted to speak freely?" He doesn't look at me when asking such questions.

I tightened my jaw. "No."

He tossed a pen onto the coffee table. "Sir, I am not just an employee. I am one of your most trusted men and advisors—I am also an active part of The Brotherhood. With this in mind, I am inclined to express how irresponsibly foolish you behaved." He unzipped a black holdall, chucked sterile, screw-top containers onto the coffee table. "You allowed unidentifiable, untrustworthy women into your home—a home where you store illegal drugs, weaponry and confidential documentation. Not only did you fall asleep and give them free-reign to your privacy. You gave them access to unrepeatable keepsakes, irreplaceable diamonds and exposed the safety of your men."

I snatch a cigarette packet off the counter, balanced one between my lips. "I lapsed and had a moment of weakness. Fucking sue me."

His green eyes burnt with venomous rage. "A tryst and sleeping with a bunch of escorts are more than a moment's weakness, sir. It's downright fucking senseless and fathomless."

"Watch your mouth," I warned, and he slumped against the leather in frustration. "Don't forget who you're talking to, Nate."

"What if I hadn't come here?" he mused, resting his elbows on his knees. "In a years' time, you'd have women knocking the damn door, demanding childcare and hush-hush settlements."

Filth and regret shrouded me in spine-chilling dread. "You obviated the problem to prevent such tragedies."

"That's irrelevant." He pinned with me a scathing glare. "Sir, for once, just set the tyrant bullshit aside and listen—"

"I am a megalomaniac who likes to fuck. Divesting me of power and women is pointless, Nate. I am who I am—"

"Correct," he interjects, rubbing a hand down his face. "You're a smooth talker with the ladies. You own an empire and always get what you want. Contrariwise, you never, ever, lower your goddamn guard and expose your vulnerabilities. It's not you. You don't make those lousy fuck ups—ever." His eyes searched mine. "It's not your style, right?"

Heart thumping, aching, I averted my gaze, knowing his innocuous yet passionate speech came from a good place.

"You need to piss in those," he reproached me softly, "so that I can screen you for sexually transmitted diseases."

I light the cigarette, exhale a calming breath. I am not in the mood for small talk. I'd rather sequester in the penthouse, alone.

Nate watched me thoughtfully, rotating his thumb ring. "What's on your mind, sir?"

"Besides the fact Brad warrants a backhander for this shiner," I motion to my black eye, "not much."

He curbed a smirk. "I stand by his decision. You were too inebriated—ready to kill your own. Putting you to sleep was the best possible outcome for everyone."

I don't correct him. I know he's right. "He's still catching a slap."

"Brad's expecting as much." He stood, gingerly magnetised toward me. "Sir?"

An immobile pain strained my chest. "It didn't work."

His eyebrows burrow into a hard scowl. "What didn't work?"

"Did you see the women? I selected a variety, and one of them..." I thought about the brunette with hazel-coloured eyes. "She resembled Her." Picking them is a blur to me, but, when I roused and found that pretty, infectious smile, I understood prior demands. "She looked like Alexa."

Nate remained tongue-tied, allowing me to continue.

"If loving, craving, grieving and needing her makes me weak?" I whispered, blinking back undesired tears. "Then, I am weak."

He placed a cautious hand on my shoulder. "Until that moment in your office, I hadn't realised how much Alexa meant to you, sir. You're good at masking your emotions."

"It's how I learnt to survive," I tell him, blowing out a cloud of smoke. "It's how I learnt to breathe, surpass and overcome enduring suffering and life's difficulties. Impassive detachment worked. I can do and say what I want and still sleep peacefully at night.

"And then I met Her. Alexa Haines." I smiled in sentimental thought. "Like a breath of fresh air, Alexa collided into my life, so unassumingly perfect yet indelibly flawed. I had this intense urge to protect and save her from self-destruction, to bring her into our fold and abolish her grave demons.

"The day she ruined my Saint Laurent emblazoned shirt with that damn coffee," I add, and he chuckled, "I knew she was different. The gravitational pull and connection? Fucking mind-blowing, Nate. Even if she'd never tracked me down, I'd have gone looking for her because I craved her that much. Such desires only intensified. Understand?"

He dipped his head.

"Now, I am in love with a ghost," I said throatily, putting out the cigarette in a ceramic ashtray. "I, Liam Warren, will die loving the woman who claimed my heart. So yes, I misbehaved, imbibed drugs and alcohol and fucked my way through nameless women to forget, but I am only human. I hurt and bleed the same as everybody else. Immaterial to my notoriously high-status and bogus apathy."

I stormed past him, collected the sterile containers, urinated in the bathroom and prayed my dick didn't fall off.

***

"Feel the pressure—your backs against the wall. Love is gaining on you. You're just about to fall. If you're afraid to love, afraid to take a chance. You better hide your feelings. Get out while you can," Nate sings, feeding the steering wheel between his hands. "'Cause you'll be going loco down in Acapulco. If you stay too long."

I watched his horrific display with a grimacing snarl.

"You'll be pulling out your hair, drowning in despair with a whole lot of nothing on your way to nowhere," he proceeds in an oddly melodic voice, saluting the driver parked to his right, waiting at the traffic light. "You search for paradise—" I killed the music. "Sir, what the fuck? That was the best part." He beeped the car horn, prompting the driver in front to move along. "Man, I was going loco in Acapulco!"

"Fucking hell," I groaned, hangover irritating my temples. "It's too early for this shit."

"It's never too early for the Four Tops," he droned, turning the street corner. "Plus, it's hardly early. Look at the sun." He diverts into a drive-thru. "It's booming on us."

I rolled my eyes. "What the fuck are you doing now?"

He wound down his window.

"Hello," a robotic voice chimed through the intercom. "Can I take your order please?"

"Can we get two double-sausage-and-egg-McMuffins? Two large coffees—black," he emphasised, poking his head out the window. "No sugar, or that fake shit. What do you call it? Sweetener? It leaves a bad taste on my tongue." He pursed his lips. "And chuck in some of those hash browns—extra crispy. I love those things."

I huffed out an exasperated sigh, head resting to the headrest.

Jerking the vehicle forward, he waits at the second window. He paid for the order, tossed a brown paper bag onto my lap and balanced our coffees in the cup-holders. "Pass me a muffin, sir."

I slap greasy fodder onto his palm. "Since when did we eat this shit?" I asked, sinking my teeth into late-breakfast. It's pretty edible, actually. "What's the sauce?

"Barbecue," he confirms, chewing hash browns while driving with one hand. "I whispered an add-on—knew you'd protest otherwise."

I sipped the coffee, nose wrinkling in disgust. "This tastes like piss." Opening the window, I hurled our unpalatable beverages into passing shrubbery.

His eyes protruded. "I didn't even get to taste mine." Scarfing the reminder of his food, he scrunched-up the rubbish. "So, your text message."

I light a cigarette, blow smoke through the window crack.

"The judge," he drawled, easing on the accelerator and merging onto the M4, "Gary. I located his file and ran a soft background check. His squeaky clean, sir."

No, Gary Pattison is far from righteous and honourable. It's called money, power and influence. He's fortunate enough to sit at the pinnacle of an authoritative table. Such privileges guarantee legal protection and safeguards inexcusable benefits.

Nate noted my unwillingness to comment. He steers the car onto the uneven tarmac, kills the engine and turns in his seat to face me. "I'm not allowed to ask questions." Glimpsing at the church building, he clicked his tongue in short deliberation. "Well, your guy's here, so what's the plan?"

"Let's go." Opening the car door, I soared from the passenger seat, smoothed a hand down my shirt.

Ascending the concrete steps in unison, Nate opened the main door, stepped aside for me to enter.

Stained-glass windows cast many-hued shadows on the medieval floor, the church, a marvellous quintessence of concave and baroque architecture, immersing me with empty chills and sickening anxiety.

"Take me to church," Nate sings, dipping his fingers into holy water, half-heartedly blessing himself. "Okay, I am going to hell for this."

I threw him an amused smile. "Hades was on the table beforehand."

"Still," he shivered, his condemning eyes digesting monumental shrines, "I get the feeling the eternal fires of hell just added me to insufferable torture chambers."

"We haven't done anything," I assured him, and he breathed. "Yet."

"Sir," he whisper-shouts, following me through the wooden pews. "Look at Jesus."

I found Jesus' gaze. His ostentatious graven image dominates the back wall—an all-seeing eye, sacrilegious denouncing and warding off wicked wrongdoers. "I didn't know you abide by Catholicism fate, Nate."

"I don't," he stated firmly, cutting the Lord's son with a scathing glare. "Having said that, entering hallowed grounds and spilling sanctified blood is something fucking else entirely."

Husky laughter vibrated in my chest. "Again, I will ask, who said anything about killing somebody?"

"You are Liam Warren." Nate produced a mordant, knowing look. "There ain't no other reason for us being here."

Touché.

I entered the vesting room and skimmed over the sacristy items. "What's his role?" I lifted gold-plated cast-off altar bells, pinged them. "Gary, I mean."

"Choir service," he explains, opening a bread box. "They look like stale milky buttons." He pops one through his lips, tongue cleaved to the top of his mouth. "These motherfuckers don't melt."

I tossed a lavabo towel at him. "Why are you eating those?"

"Always wondered what sacramental bread tasted like." He regurgitated mush onto the towel. "Overrated."

Unlocking another brown door, I entered an unilluminated narrow hallway, admiring long-stretched vitrail windows.

My footsteps faltered.

Thanks to my distressing past, profound perspicacious abilities characterised and aided me through life. I sense fast-paced danger, deadly threats and inexpugnable gruesomeness. I am no soothsayer, but I am sharp-witted.

"Have you read the bible before?" Nate thumbs through stockpiled hardcovers on the bookshelf. "What about mythology?"

I reach for the Desert Eagle, clammy fingers curling around the cold handle. Pausing near a closed door, I close my eyes, listen to a muffled disturbance on the other side—another unspeakable memory to tarnish my thought process.

"Fear not," Nate reads a passage, "for I am with you."

I abruptly kicked the door handle, dismantling the flimsy lock.

Throned behind a mahogany desk, Gary bellowed from his seat, frantically fixing his unzipped trousers. "What is this?" A hot flush threatened his puffy cheeks. His emitting arousal permeates the humid, stuffy air. "Warren?"

Gun pointed at his head, I rapt my knuckles onto the desk, unable to steer my promising glare. "Get up," I ordered, and a young boy crawled into my peripheral vision. "Stand."

"I can explain—"

"Shut up!" My angry voice slices through Gary's pathetic whimper. "You. To the wall."

Aquiver on restless legs, the young lad, whose eyes never left mine, pressed his back to the wall.

"Nate," I barked, and his shadow befell on me. "Who is the Devil?"

"The personification of evil," he said in a hushed, distressed tone.

"And what is the extent of Satanic power?" Gary almost stood; I jerked the gun. "Move one fucking muscle, and I'll end you."

"Immutability," Nate proceeds, glaring at the man cowering behind his desk. "Profound immorality and wickedness." Diverting his attention to the lad, he asked, "How old are you?"

"Eleven," he whispered, nerves rattling his bones. "Please can I go home?"

I smoothed my finger over the trigger, aloofly watching the lad. "Have you read the bible?"

His white robe buries his small frame. "Yes."

"Then you understand that evil is incarnate in the Devil," I said, and he nods. "A fallen angel who terrorises the world through evil. As his servant, do you see how easily I can allure innocent souls to my saviour?"

He flatted his lips.

"I asked you a question," I shouted, the muscles in my shoulders coiling.

"Yes," he sobbed, chapped lips wobbling. "I think I understand."

"I was sent here today to fortify a tribunal of penance." I tower over him, deliberately instilling fear. "My God is not yours. He's the worst of our kind, and he's very fucking angry. That man," I cocked the gun, and Gary pleaded his pitiable excuses, "is not the Lord's servant. He is a wolf in sheep's clothing, prying off the innocence of a young boy."

The boy's wet eyes eased to the floor.

"This will be your last encounter." I fist his collar. "Learn the proverbial principle. See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. If you leave and spout your mouth off about what's transpired here today, I will reappear beneath the safety of your bed and drag you to satanic infernal. Have I made myself abundantly fucking clear?" He glanced at Gary for guidance. "Don't look at him. He's nothing but a demonic soul masked in misleading vestments."

I shoved him toward Nate, who dodged the lad's blundering fall. His knees crashed against the floor.

"Repeat," I ordered, and he scampered toward the door. "Now."

"You are the Devil's servant," he cried, wiping tears from his cheek. "And you will come for me—for all that I have witnessed."

I stationed to Gary's side, landing a harsh squeeze to his shoulder. "If what?"

"If I talk." He cried for his mother under breathless whimpers. "See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil."

"Good lad." I tipped my chin to Nate. "See him out." I wait until they're gone, spin Gary around to face me. "I am going to pretend that I didn't just walk in here and see a kid's head between your thighs."

He swallowed an audible gulp. "I can explain."

"Yes." Tucking the gun into my trouser waistband, I unbuttoned my suit jacket and perched onto the desk ledge. "Do clarify why dignitaries abuse their power."

"You're no better," he retorts, fingers whitening as he clung to the armrests. "Who are you to judge me, Warren? You're one of the most corrupt assholes to roam the streets of London. Need I remind you, that, if it weren't for my adjudicator position, you'd be a convicted felon, rotting in a prison cell."

Fair enough. "I never required nor pleaded judicial misconduct."

"No, but your loyal goon did," he spat, easing back in his seat. "Bradley Jones. That son of a bitch audaciously entered my private home and held a gun to my head."

"Really?" I asked in a bored tone. "What possessed him to act so inappropriately?"

His shaggy grey eyebrows met in the middle. "A little birdy tells me that Chief Superintendent Reginald Burden is a friend of yours," he speaks slowly, punctuating each syllable. "Tell me, Warren. How much does it cost to have such an influential man in your back pocket?"

I laughed dryly. "I fear that you were misinformed, Gary. I look after Reginald, yes, but it's me who invertedly holds the power cards. In actuality, why don't we put your ludicrous hypothesis to the test?"

Unlocking my phone, I dial Reginald's number and put him on loudspeaker. "Before you speak," I explained, watching the seconds tick over on the screen, "I want to point out that Gary Patterson's listening."

Reginald stayed silent.

Nate reappears, locking the door behind him.

"Gary's upset," I tell him, dusting lint from my suit sleeve. "He believes it was you who shared classified information with Brad Jones." I looked at the sweating pig. "My uncontrollable goon," I enunciated, boring into him with dark eyes, "threatened poor, childlover Gary at gunpoint."

"I found hidden evidence," clarifies Reginald, clearing his throat. "A young kid tried to press charges back in the 1990s—the same kid went missing two days later. Patterson had close friends and allies at the metropolitan when he was just a Barrister."

"Uncharged nor sentenced," Gary stressed. "I wasn't convicted—I most certainly had nothing to do with any kid's going missing. Listen, I don't want any trouble, alright? I'm a good guy. I work hard on the stands and offer my services to the catholic community—"

"And fuck little boys," Nate pipes up, pure rage in his dark aura.

Gary stared at the phone. "Chief, Brad Jones promised you'd take care of any backlash if I acquitted Warren's charges. He was looking at a minimum of fifteen years." His eyes jerked, greeting judgmental ones. "Possessing two firearms, throwing knives, banned knuckle dusters and Class-A drugs—not to mention assaulting a police officer. I did you a favour. Instead of lording it over me? You should be thanking me for infallible ruling and generosity."

"I don't articulate such gratitude, so don't take it personally. Reginald," I quipped, and he addressed me. "Delete Gary's file and send him abroad."

Reginald sighed into the receiver. "Warren."

Puzzlement moulded Gary's hardened features.

"Reginald," I said once more, enjoying the fact that I am getting under Patterson's skin. "I am going to make a mess. I expect you to clean it."

"Of course," Reginald agreed, the chair he sits upon groaned as he changed positions. "Anything else?"

"Yes, actually." I took out a pocketknife from my inner suit pocket. "Confirm how much I pay you to be in my back pocket."

"What?" Reginald asked, and I imagined his confused countenance. "I am forever at your service, Warren. You pay me nothing for I am eternally appreciative of all you've done for me."

"Interesting." I end the call. "What were you saying about me needing others?"

Gary glared at me beneath rutted eyebrows, fingers laced together on his thighs. "You're a bully, Warren."

"I know," I agreed, flipping open the honed blade. "And you're a sexual predictor who's about to lose his cock."

He bolted out of his seat, but Nate's unseen flying fist shattered his jaw. Roaring in excruciating pain, Gary slumped onto the chair, begging I show mercy.

Snatching his wrist, I overturned his hand and stabbed the blade through his palm, nailing him to the armrest. "I am callously cold-hearted, bloodthirsty, ruthless and violently unforgiving." Flipping open another switchblade, I forced his other hand to the chair and stabbed through his meaty flesh. "I am arrogantly conceited and obsessed with power."

Nate yanked Gary's purple, and gold stole, forcefully knotting it over the man's wailing mouth.

I unzipped Patterson's belt buckle. "I am not, however, an advocate of child molestation." I accept a serrated knife from Nate, snatch the man's cock and brandish the pointed edge. "I draw the line with that one." Penetrating his girthed flesh, I sawed through his flaccid member and butcherly vasectomised. "Keep him still."

Through bulging, teary eyes, Gary thrashed in animalistic contortion, rupturing his lacerations. Blood trickles down his involuntarily shaking hands, lingering dews thickening at his fingertips.

Ripping the cloth from Gary's mouth, I stuffed his amputated cock down the back of his throat and then lighted a cigarette while he chokes himself into silence.

"Alexa was molested," I whispered, but Nate's familiar with the Haines case. "I am hardly ignorant to these unspoken travesties. I know how dark this world can be, but her historical abuse left me with a sense of advocacy. Now, I am not saying that I'll go looking for these crimes; however, since knowing her, I feel the need to do more than pretend heinousness doesn't occur around me."

"You'd never leave a child alone in a room with a monster, sir," he assures, extracting the blades from Gary's lifeless hands. "Don't blame yourself for what happened to Alexa. Not when she was a child. Not when that building burnt down."

His bolstering words had the opposite effect.

"You just saved that kid," he goes on, wiping the blades against his black trousers to remove blood. "And God knows whoever else this," he slapped Gary's head, and it sagged forward, "fucked up monster tarnished."

Nate loathes paedophiles. Who doesn't? After what happened to his younger sister, I sense these unpleasant circumstances cut him deeply. And I imagine they resurface bad memories, ones he buried. "How is your sister?"

"She's good, sir. My aunt said she made some positive progression. She goes out with friends to socialise and stuff." He shrugged. "Got herself a boyfriend."

"Boyfriend, huh?" His disapproving snarl inwardly tickled me. "Fret not, brother. If he hurts one of ours, I'll be sure to pay him a visit."

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