It was a torrential downpour when Ian opened the front doors and greeted Mr. Green with a welcoming smile. “Good evening, sir,” Ian said. “We weren’t expecting you for another hour.” A flash of lightening lit up the entrance followed by an immediate crash of thunder. “That’s quite a storm,” Ian gasped, helping Mr. Green remove his wet trench coat. “I’m afraid Daisy isn’t ready. Would you like to wait in the Lair for her or shall I have another companion accompany you?”
“No, I don’t mind waiting,” he stated curtly. “I don’t want another companion.”
Once inside the Lair, Mr. Green took a seat at the bar and ordered a Scotch on the rocks. He drank it down in one gulp and ordered another. The thunder was so loud it could be heard even in the depths of the Lair and he noticed the bartender jumped at one of the blasts.
“It’s really coming down out there,” Mr. Green remarked.
“Yes, sir. I imagine it is.”
“Tell me about yourself,” Mr. Green said, causing the bartender’s eyebrows to raise slightly, as if he were surprised by the question. “I’m stuck here until my friend comes, so I thought we could talk.”
“Oo-kaaay,” the bartender retorted, acting as if no other client had ever tried to engage him in small talk. “What would you like to talk about?”
“Not politics or religion,” Mr. Green joked. “How about we start with your name?”
“I’m Benjamin, but most of my friends call me Ben.”
“Have you always been a bartender?” Mr. Green asked.
“On and off,” Ben answered while washing a glass in the stainless steel sink and drying it with a white towel he had slung over his shoulder.
“Tell me,” Mr. Green rested his elbows on the bar, “how does one go about getting a job here? I mean, they must background check the crap out of you.”
“Not really. You kind of have to know somebody to get your foot in the door.”
Mr. Green lifted his empty glass to indicate he’d like another Scotch on the rocks and watched the bartender flinch ever so slightly when the thunder crashed overhead. “You don’t like storms?” He asked.
Blushing just a little, the bartender shook his head. “My granddad was struck by lightning when I was a kid. I’ve been jumpy in storms ever since.”
“Geeze, that’ll do it,” Mr. Green grimaced and took a sip of his freshly poured Scotch. “So, how’d you get your foot in the door here? Do you know the owners or something?”
Ben lifted his gaze from the sink and stared at Mr. Green. “No,” he said poignantly. “I don’t know the owners. Never met them.”
“So who hired you?”
“Ian. He interviewed me and offered me the job and here I am.” Ben lifted his hands, palms up.
Mr. Green smiled. “Are you allowed to sleep with the women or is that against company policy?”
“Unfortunately, that’s a big no-no,” Ben chuckled.
“That is unfortunate.”
Ian rushed to the back door and opened it into the alley just as the black limo pulled up and the valet escorted Kira through the door. “What took you so long?” Ian snapped at the valet. “Mr. Green has been waiting. You know we don’t keep our high paying customers waiting.” Grabbing Kira by the arm, he pulled her down the hall and into the dressing room. “Get ready quickly,” he barked and then meet me at the entrance to the Lair.
Kira sat down in front of the make-up mirror and stared through her own reflection. She felt hopelessly trapped. Where was Frank? How long was Landon going to keep her locked up? Were Michael and Mallory all right? Landon had promised that as long as she did everything she was told, he would leave her kids alone; so she tried desperately to let that be her motivation toward submission, but it was hard. She wanted to hear their voices. She wanted to talk to Audrey. She wanted to tell Frank she was sorry.
“Why the long face?” Kira looked up and saw the Cher-look-alike standing behind her, staring at her through the mirror. When Kira didn’t answer, she slinked over and sat down in the chair next to her. “You in some kind of trouble?”
Kira’s throat felt dry and it wasn’t that she couldn’t speak, it was that she didn’t know what to say. “Trapped,” was all she managed to get out before her eyes began to tear.
“Listen, if somebody downstairs is mistreating you, you gotta tell Lucas,” the Cher-look-alike said, but Kira shook her head.
“That’s not it,” she said softly, fighting back tears.
The Cher-look-alike leaned in close and hugged Kira tightly, almost too tightly. Kira was about to push away when she felt her lips against her ear and heard the Cher-look-alike whisper, “I’ve got a Taser for you. Get dressed and meet me by the costumes.”
Dressed in a red evening gown, gold stilettos and diamond laced gold earrings, Kira followed Ian down the hall toward the Lair. The lights flickered several times as the thunder roared overhead. “I trust we will have no more episodes like last night,” Ian said to her.
“No, we won’t,” Kira answered quietly. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s more like it,” Ian uttered and then opened the door to the Lair, ushered her inside and locked it behind her.
The moment Mr. Green saw Kira approaching, he requested a key to a private room. Ben handed him a key. “The candles have been lit and there is a chilled bottle of champagne in your room, just as you requested,” he said.
Mr. Green took Kira by the hand and led her to the room. “You’ll be happy to know I’m completely sober,” she uttered sarcastically, stepping inside.
“That’s promising,” he retorted. “I wish I could say the same.”
“I’m guessing you won’t get punished if you pass out on me,” she spewed.
Mr. Green closed the room door and locked it. “Punished?”
Kira rolled her eyes. “Forget it.”
Pulling her close, he whispered in her ear. “Have they hurt you?”
Kira swallowed the lump trying to form in her throat and shook her head. “No,” she lied and could feel his scrutinizing eyes upon her.
With his lips pressed against her ear, he whispered, “Don’t speak loud. I’m going to turn on some music to try and drown out our voices. Remember, we have to make this look believable.”
Landon’s words replayed in her mind. Do what you’re told and your family might live through this. She forced a smile, but she knew it was a thin disguise. She could tell that Mr. Green could see right through her. In fact, something felt different between them. Was it because she was sober?
Thunder crashed overhead and the lights flickered off and then came back on. With soft music playing and a glass of champagne in her hand, Kira tried to force herself to relax. Where was the arousal and desire she felt two nights ago? Why was she here? Why was it so important to Landon that she make Lucas happy?
They sat on the end of the bed and sipped their champagne in silence. The tension in the room felt palatable and Kira began to worry that if she didn’t please him, he would complain to Lucas and she would end up in the punishment room again. Mr. Green set his champagne glass on the floor and then brushed her hair away from her neck and planted a tiny kiss just beneath her ear lobe. “We need to talk,” he whispered as he drew his lips back.
Kira turned slightly to face him and he quickly grabbed her chin and angled her head the other way, staring at her neck. “Where did you get this mark?” He asked.
“This dot and tiny bruise.”
Kira shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking a…” He pressed on her neck and Kira shot off the bed. “Ouch!” She yelped and grabbed her neck.
Leaping to his feet, he pulled her close, speaking more to himself than to her. “That mark was made by an injection, a syringe. Since you’re still sore I’m guessing it was administered within the last twenty-four hours.”
Kira’s heart was racing as she tried to recall what had happened the night before. The last thing she remembered was copping an attitude with Ian and then waking up in her hotel room.
Mr. Green placed his hands around her face and spoke softly. “You’ve got to trust me,” he said. “Can you do that? Can you trust me?”
Tears filled Kira’s eyes and though she tried to feign strength, she knew it was obvious that she was breaking under the pressure. She wanted to go home. She wanted to be with her family. She wanted this nightmare to end. “How can I trust you? I don’t even know you.”
“But I know you,” he mouthed. “I know you.”
“You don’t know me because if you knew me then you would know that I don’t want to be here, but they won’t let me leave while you’re requesting me,” Kira cried. “You’ve made me a prisoner!” Her voice escalated and she pushed his hands from her face. All of a sudden she was consumed with rage. Hot anger was pulsing through her and without thinking she smacked him across the face as hard as she could.
A moment later someone banged on the door. “Open the door immediately or we will open it for you,” Ben demanded.
Mr. Green opened the door. “Is there a problem?” He asked. “Because I have made it very clear that I do not wish to be disturbed.”
“My apologies,” Ben uttered. “We were under the misconception that your interaction with Daisy had become less than agreeable.”
“I assure you, our interaction is quite agreeable,” he smirked. “The only thing not agreeable is this interruption,” he scowled.
“Again, my apologies. I will make sure you are given the utmost privacy,” Ben stammered and Mr. Green closed the door and locked it. He then turned up the music a little louder and pulled Kira into his arms as if to dance.
“I don’t know if they heard the slap or if they are watching, but we’re going to have to make this look more believable,” he said and then whirled her around and unzipped the back of her dress. “We’re going to have to get into the shower. It’s the only safe place for us to talk.” Her dress fell to the floor and a tear trickled down her cheek. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was face the humiliation of being naked in front of Mr. Green again; but what choice did she have? She carefully slid her panties and the Taser to the floor and buried them beneath her crumpled dress.
The three shower heads pounded water against her skin and she couldn’t deny that the steamy warmth was soothing. Mr. Green wrapped his right arm around her waist and she leaned back against his chest. “Do you remember what I told you the other night?” He spoke into her ear. “Do you remember that I told you that the only way I can protect you is to keep requesting you?”
Her memory was fuzzy. His words triggered flashes of relevancy from their previous shower experience, but exactly what had been said she couldn’t recall. Whirling around to face him, Kira forcefully put her lips against his ear and whispered, “If you want to protect me then let me go. All I want to do is go home and as long as you’re requesting me, I can’t.”
He spun her back around and pulled her against him, draping his arm around her shoulders and moving his lips closer to her ear. “Four women are dead because of me. You’re going to be the fifth unless I can figure out how to stop it.”
Kira’s eyes widened and then she shut them as tightly as she could. None of this was making sense. Had he killed four women? Was he threatening to kill her or was he genuinely concerned about her wellbeing? A part of her wanted to melt into a little ball of sobs and beg to be taken home and the other part was so filled with rage that she envisioned taking a bat and beating everyone in sight. She felt like a caged animal, trapped inside a circumstance she couldn’t control and caused by a mistake that was inevitably going to ruin her life.
“Kira, you’ve got to trust me,” he whispered and in that brief moment it felt as if time stood still. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest but everything else felt surreal. Slowly turning to face him, Kira stared into his deep green eyes. How did he know her real name? Before she could open her mouth to speak, he continued. “I know who you are and I know about the note left in your trashcan.” He pulled her close and held her head against his chest, leaning his head down and speaking softly into her ear. “If I stop requesting you, they will kill you. This is my fault. Somehow, it’s my fault. When Christine was murdered I thought I could find out something if I came back here, so I did and I requested Misty. When she wound up dead, I should have stopped coming but I thought the only way to catch the killer was to keep coming back. I came back and requested Ilesia because she was African American and I thought that if I was dealing with a serial killer who had already murdered two Caucasian women, than the likelihood of him murdering an African American was slim.” Mr. Green’s voice cracked with emotion. “I was wrong and it cost Ilesia her life.” He exhaled. “But how could I find the killer if I stopped coming to the very spot where he was selecting his women? So I came back and requested Miranda.”
Kira was breathless with fear as he poured his confession into her ear. She didn’t know what to do. Was he sick? Was it possible that he had killed these women and not known it? Was he completely insane or could his story be true?
“Miranda and I were together for weeks and the killing stopped. I kept coming back, searching for clues and decided that the killer must have been satiated by those three. I thought it was over and then Miranda was murdered.” His voice shook. “All that time I had been searching for a connection between the women and the connection was me.”
“I don’t believe you,” Kira muttered, her body beginning to tremble. “You killed them didn’t you?” Kira stepped away from him and crossed her arms over her body. “You’re crazy and you just don’t remember killing them…”
Mr. Green neared her. “You have no reason to trust me, but you also have no other option.” He angled one of the shower heads so that it splashed against the glass door, making a louder sound and better masking their voices. “I thought the connection was this place, I didn’t realize it was me until today.” His eyes searched hers. “Kira, you’ve got to believe me.”
Tears streamed down her face. She didn’t know what to believe and she didn’t know what to do. She could start screaming, knowing the bartender would rush to her rescue, but then what? Landon would drag her back to the Adams Mark where she’d remain a prisoner, and for how long? If Mr. Green stopped requesting her, would Landon and Lucas set her free? Or was Mr. Green telling the truth and she would become the next victim? The sound of thunder crashed overhead and the lights flickered.
“The note left in your trashcan tells of the four women killed and mentions a fifth, stating that you control whether she lives or dies,” Mr. Green whispered. “How do you control that?”
“I don’t know,” Kira uttered. “I don’t know what’s happening.”
The lights flickered again. “We need to talk outside of here,” Mr. Green said. “What time do they let you go home?”
Kira stared at him, unsure of whether she should tell him that she was being held captive. She didn’t know what to say so she just stared. He must have seen her fear and conflicted emotions because he placed his hands on the sides of her face and brushed his lips lightly against hers. “I won’t let them hurt you,” he promised. “I’ll find the killer and stop him, but I need you to trust me with any information you have. It’s the only way I can protect you.”
A loud burst of thunder felt as if it shook the building, causing the lights to flicker and then go completely out. The music stopped playing and Mr. Green turned off the shower and handed Kira a towel, which she quickly wrapped around her body.
“Sir?” Ian’s voice came through the door, followed by three rapid knocks. “I am sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to let you know that we are having some electrical problems due to the storm. We should have the problem resolved shortly.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Green hollered through the door. “We quite enjoy the candlelight so take your time.”
They listened as Ian walked away from the door and asked Ben to follow him.
Mr. Green immediately turned to Kira with a crazed look in his eyes. “Let’s go. Now,” he whispered.
“What?” Kira gasped. “Go where?”
“Let’s get out of here.” He took her by the shoulders. “You don’t want to do this anymore, right?” He asked and Kira nodded. “And I can’t stop requesting you because someone here…someone linked to this place…murders any woman I stop requesting…” He paused and took a deep breath. “So the only way to ensure your safety is to get you out of here.”
Kira studied his eyes and her heart started to race. This was a crucial, life-altering moment. This was the moment when she had to make a life or death decision. Trust a stranger who could very well be a serial killer or trust Lucas, who had drugged her and beaten her, and Landon who had kidnapped her and threatened her family. “Okay,” Kira mouthed breathlessly. “I’ll go with you.”
“Get dressed,” he ordered. “Quickly.”
They both began putting on their clothes and Kira carefully slid the small Taser into the bustier of her dress without Mr. Green noticing. In those brief moments she had devised a plan. If he was successfully able to sneak her out of The Candy Shop, she would then Taser him, steal his car and go to the police. If he was unsuccessful she would tell Lucas that he had tried to kidnap her, hoping they would blame him and not view her actions as an escape attempt.
The lights were still out when they opened the private room door, slid quietly out and locked the door behind them. They left the candles burning and turned on the shower so it would appear as if they were still inside of the room. Mr. Green took Kira by the hand and led her across the Lair and down the hallway toward the exit. “It’s always locked,” Kira whispered, but she was wrong. This time the door had been left unlocked, probably because Ben left only momentarily to help Ian with the electrical problems and planned on coming right back.
“Do you know the layout down here?” He asked.
“Yes,” Kira whispered. “We need to take the hallway to the right, passed the dressing room and follow it as it curves further to the right. The employee entrance opens into an alley in the back of the building.”
As they started down the hall, they heard footsteps coming toward them in the darkness. Kira’s breathing quickened and she thought her heart might pound right out of her chest. Mr. Green squeezed her hand.
All of a sudden a bright white light blinded them. “Where are you going?” Ben asked, shining a flashlight into their eyes.
“He wants me to put on something sexy,” Kira lied without missing a beat and forcing a seductive smile. “He says my dress covers a little too much.”
“That’s right,” Mr. Green chimed in. “I’d like to see her in some lingerie.”
Ben lowered the light to the floor. “Well, you passed the dressing room. It’s back this way.” He strode passed them with the light out in front when Kira did something she never thought she’d have the courage to do. As if a warrior had taken over her body, she pulled the Taser from her dress and zapped Ben in the back of the neck. He dropped like a wet sack of sand, twitching on the floor.
Mr. Green’s mouth fell open with what could only have been sheer disbelief and then he quickly took her by the arm and they raced down the hall toward the back door. The rain was beating the pavement as they ran through the alley, down the cobblestone street and up to the lot where the valet had left Mr. Green’s car. She stood shivering in the downpour while he reached his hand beneath the front grill, retrieved a lock box with a spare key and unlocked the driver’s door. Climbing across the seat, Kira’s foot got caught in her dress and she fell forward, slamming her chin against the dash, but there was no time to stop and cry. Mr. Green pushed her into the passenger seat, jumped in and they sped off.
After a few moments of intently staring through the passenger mirror, in anticipation of Lucas’ men coming to chase them down, Kira began to catch her breath and loosen her grip on the Taser.
“I don’t think we’re being followed,” Mr. Green said. “But, just in case, we’re going to switch vehicles.”
Fifteen minutes later they pulled into a Jiffy Lube, drove around to the back and into an opened garage. The door immediately began to close behind the car. Mr. Green killed the ignition and instructed Kira to get out. She froze. Had she made the worst mistake of her life? Was this where he killed all of the women? Her grip tightened around the Taser. Mr. Green looked down at the weapon clutched in her hand. “I hope you’re not planning on using that again,” he uttered.
“Only if I need to,” Kira rebutted.
Disappointment flashed in his eyes but was quickly replaced by a sense of softness. “That’s fair,” he said.
She followed him two garage doors down, where there sat a black Chevy Traverse. Pulling open the passenger door, he gave her a small smile. “You’re chariot, my lady.”
She took a deep breath and climbed in. After all, where else was she going to go? She had no identification, no phone, no wallet or money and no car. What’s more, she had left her shoes in the private room back at The Candy Shop, which was a wise decision because she wouldn’t have been able to run down the cobblestone streets in stilettos. Still, oddly enough she felt even more vulnerable in bare feet.
Mr. Green started the ignition and the garage door behind the Traverse immediately opened. “Whose car is this?” Kira asked.
“I can’t tell you and it’s better if you don’t know. Let’s just say that sometimes it’s good to have friends in low places,” he answered with a wink.
“Where are we going?”
“I’ve got a place in mind. You’ll be safe there until I can find out who’s behind this whole thing.”
Questions danced through her mind, but Kira felt too exhausted to engage in conversation. She was hungry and wet and cold and tired. She wanted to go home and forget everything that had happened, but that wasn’t going to happen. When Mr. Green headed out of the city and toward South County, Kira watched carefully, making note of every turn and every street name. On the off chance that he was a crazed killer and she could Taser him and escape, she needed to know how to find her way back to familiar turf. He took highway 55 passed the city of Arnold and then exited onto what looked like an old country road, leading deep into a wooded area. A few miles down, he turned right onto a gravel road and followed it as it wound through the trees. Kira grew more and more anxious. Was he taking her into the woods to kill her?
Pulling up to a small cabin, Mr. Green killed the ignition. “It’s not five-star, but it’s a roof overhead,” he said and placed his hand on the door handle. “You ready to make a run for it?” He asked.
She gripped her handle and on the count of three they both leapt from the Traverse and dashed through the downpour and onto the front porch. “Wait here,” Mr. Green said and then left her standing at the front door as he disappeared around the side of the house. Kira was trembling inside and out. She was as much afraid of him as she was afraid to be there without him.
A moment later, the front door opened and Mr. Green motioned her inside. Flipping a switch on the wall by the door illuminated the room in dim lighting and Kira was able to see that there was a small kitchen to her left, a round, wooden dining table and four chairs to her right, a family room straight ahead and what looked like a bedroom off of the family room to the left. Mr. Green strode quickly across the family room, into the bedroom and reappeared carrying two dark green towels. He handed one to Kira and she wrapped it around her shoulders and began to towel dry her soaked hair. “If you need to use the bathroom, it’s through the bedroom,” he explained.
Kira shook her head. The truth was she did sort of have to go but she didn’t want to take her eyes off of him even for a moment. She wasn’t going to give him any advantage.
Mr. Green dried his hair with a towel and then slung it over his shoulder. With a loud exhale, he walked into the family room and behind a small desk which sat in the far right corner next to a stone fireplace. Opening the top desk drawer, he retrieved what looked like a black wallet and then closed the drawer and walked back toward Kira.
Placing the wallet in her palm, he took two steps back and said, “Open it.”
Kira stared at him, unsure of what to think.
“Go on,” he prodded. “Open it.”
She slid the two sides of the wallet apart and flipped it open, shocked by what she found. It was a shiny silver badge that read Special Detective. Her gaze lifted from the badge to Mr. Green. “My real name is Rocco Sterling,” he said and Kira could hardly believe this was happening. “Do you know who I am?”
Kira’s mouth went completely dry as fear gripped her and she slowly nodded her head up and down.