“Do you think I’m scared of your threats?” Ezra asked. “You can try pulling the trigger, and forget about saving your brother or mine.”
My fingers on the gun faltered for just a fraction of a second and then tightened around it again. I pressed the gun to his side. “Keep driving to the location.”
Ezra opened his mouth to say something, and then thought better of it and pressed his lips together. His eyes straight ahead of himself. And then I noticed as he slowly reached for his phone that was wedged between the seat and his thigh.
“What the hell are you doing?” I demanded.
“We need backup, we don’t know how far this guy has gone to set us up for a trap in that abandoned place so unless you want us all to be toast, you would let me call Agent Flint.”
I thought of that for a moment. Was Ezra telling the truth? What if he called Flint just so he could hand me over to the agent so he could be free to go there alone?
“You’re lying.” I said.
“Think what you want to.”
“Call Agent Flint and put him on speakers.” I said because I wasn’t confident that Ezra wouldn’t act smart.
Ezra pressed speed-dial. Flint answered the call on the first ring. “Ezra.”
“I want you to come to Boulder Street, Garden Avenue. It’s a ghost town. Take position outside of house number zero-seven-two. And be discreet about it. Park your car at a distance and walk the rest of the way. No one should see you.” Ezra explained.
“And why exactly am I taking orders from you?” Flint asked.
“Because you need the promotion and you wanna go to Washington D.C, which I don’t.”
Flint was quite on the other line for a second because Ezra had pointed out his weakness. “Care to fill me in on what’s going on?”
Ezra told Flint about the message I received and that he was going to help me end this.
“I’ll ask Scott to accompany me.” Flint said.
“No, don’t bring your partner. You have to come alone. And bring a gun with you.”
The call ended and I lowered the gun from Ezra’s side. I had no choice but to believe him. My only shot at saving both my brother and Jack was to trust Ezra. After all, his brother’s life was in line too. A single mistake would cost us a lot and I knew Ezra would never risk Jack’s life. Then again, the brothers had competitive behaviors. Both of them at one point had suspected the other for the killings and I had no doubt in my mind that Ezra was fighting an inner battle of siding up with the law by doing his job and protecting his brother.
There was tension brewing in the atmosphere. “Do you think that Jack?”
Ezra gave me one sharp look and that told me I’d hit the bulls-eye. “Don’t even think about it for one second. My brother is innocent, and I hope yours is too.”
“I hope so.” I heard my voice tremble.
Ezra parked the car a few houses down. We argued in the car for five minutes, it was mostly him coaxing me into sitting in the car with all the doors locked but I reasoned that I wanted to be there to help him. He continued to glare at me until he finally gave up and told me to stay by his side.
“I can protect myself, you know.” I said as I jogged behind him to keep up with his pace. It was chilly for a summer night.
“I’m sure you can, considering how you threatened me with that gun. I have no doubt you can pull the trigger when you need to.”
I froze and Ezra kept walking. Realizing that I wasn’t following him, he stopped midway and turned. He walked back to me, placed his hands on either side of my shoulders and pulled me in a hug.
“It’s for the best. If either of them are the killers, we would do them a favor. Don’t you think killing them is better than you watching your brother or your boyfriend walking to court each day and having the media, the judge; the people take hits at them? Can you sit in the same court and face all the loved ones of the innocent people they killed? Can you shoulder the guilt? Can you live your entire life being judged for something you never did?”
My throat was clogged with emotion. Ezra patted my head. “I know you don’t want that either, and so I’m hoping we don’t face the situation when we walk into that house.”
We resumed walking. “When we were little…” I said, “We used to play house with the other kids. I used to dress up as a bride and pretend to marry a boy in our neighborhood. Ken used to always walk me down the aisle. It’s something we did for fun. And then one day, I saw him crying. We were just kids, he was six at that time and I was nine. I asked Ken why he was crying, and he said he was upset because I would leave him eventually and we wouldn’t be together after I got married. That made me sad, Ezra. I want him to see me get married and start my own family; I want to see him become a Vet that he’d dreamed to be. I don’t think I can bear to see my brother get killed.”
“I’m sorry about all this, Riley. I wish things were different too.”
The moon was full today; animal howls came from the forest that surrounded the area. The path we walked was lined up by abandoned houses. At one point there was a nuclear disaster in this town caused by a chemical factory. Several hundred people died, or were permanently disfigured, babies born prematurely. And eventually, people moved out. No one wanted to live in the town any longer. The houses that may have been filled with laughter and life now remained abandoned and empty.
We stopped outside an old little one-story house. Ezra had to wipe the dust off the number plate to see numerals zero-seven-two. I opened the rusted gate and walked inside. The lawn was overgrown, and all I could see was the dark windows of the house staring back at us like two accusing eyes. The French windows were almost broken from their hinges. Something rattled behind us and the gate made an eerie creaking sound. Ezra and I stood guard, pulling out our guns. We looked behind our backs, and realized it was just the wind making the gate rattle.
Ezra told me to stay behind him as he walked to the front porch of the house. He nudged at the door which gave away easily.
“Don’t make any sound.” He warned me before we crossed the threshold and entered the house together, guns raised.
He indicated for me to close the door behind him. As I pushed the door, the room plunged into darkness; the only light was the moonlight streaming from the open windows. The wooden floors creaked as we walked further into the house, keeping a vigilant eye in our surroundings.
“Why isn’t Jack here?” I whispered.
Ezra appeared as confused as I was. “Let’s check all the rooms and then let’s go upstairs.”
“Or you can go upstairs and I’ll check down.” I suggested.
“You want us to split up?” Ezra asked me, his expressions asking me if my brain had completely abandoned common sense. “Riley, either of us could die here if we’re not careful. There’s absolutely no sound here and that’s even more sinister. He gave you this address and yet I don’t know why I feel like we shouldn’t have come here.”
There was a staircase leading to the first landing. The banisters all covered in dust and some of the wooden planks for the steps had caved in. Ezra would have to do some acrobatics to get to the floor. He had a regular gym regime that he followed because of his FBI job so I had no doubt that he would do it without even breaking a sweat.
I was just worried; there were chances the steps would cave in more due to his weight, and plummet down into the basement. “Maybe I should go upstairs, and you can look through the rooms down here.” I said.
“No. I’ll be on the top, you’re below.” He said and then scratched his head and tried to hide a smile. “That sounded wrong. I wasn’t making any crude jokes with my brother’s girl, I swear.”
I hit him playfully. “Alright, I’ll be below.” I teased him back.
“If there’s anything wrong, just holler and I’ll be there in a second.” He commanded.
“Aye aye, Captain.”
Ezra handed me the torch that he’d taken from the glove compartment of his car and climbed the broken stairs like an Olympic pro champion on his way to get his gold medal, and left me all alone on the floor. I blew out a breath and looked at the long empty hallway leading to more darkness. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frightened because my heart was beating wildly. This was a savage killer who’d killed so many, and if it really was Ken, it didn’t make me any less anxious.
I kept going because the lives of the two men I loved were in danger and I needed answers.
I wanted to finish this.
I checked two rooms to find them completely empty. Next, I stumbled upon an old music room. An old vintage gramophone was sitting there collecting years of dust. A piano that had seen better days, there were also two chairs by the window.
Suddenly the piano started playing; I spun around to face the person who was playing it, only to find a black cat jumping on the keys.
“Meeeoowww…” The cat cried and jumped out through the open window.
Strange. The piano was even tuned as if someone had lived here not too long ago.
I left the room and looked at the last two remaining ones facing each other. I just had to go through these, if I didn’t find a single person or a clue, I would call Ezra and we would have to find somewhere else to hunt for our respective brothers.
I understood what this was. The killer had given an address, and asked Jack to be there. Of course he wasn’t stupid enough to believe that I would prefer sitting home while my brother’s life was in jeopardy. He knew I would come, and so would Ezra.
He was probably around somewhere laughing at us. It was yet another game.
But this time he’d changed the rules. There were several players, neither of whom trusted each other.
I tiptoed my way to the doors and opened each one with caution. One was a dining room; the other was another formal sitting room. And I found nothing suspicious there. When I walked back to the foyer, I felt equal measures of disappointment and relief. I was ready to call out for Ezra when my eye caught something else.
A stain on the floor. How had I missed it? Due to the darkness, I couldn’t be sure. I walked towards it and flashed the torch-light in the spot. Something dark stained the wooden floor. The stain seemed fresh. I crouched down below, and touched it.
It was blood.
I followed the trail and it led me to a closed door, and it reminded me that Ezra and I hadn’t checked one place yet. The basement.
My fingers trembled as I reached for the knob and turned it slowly. There was a staircase leading down into the basement. The steps were smeared with blood. I bit back a sob; I kept telling myself that I had to stay strong. I didn’t know if I was prepared to see Ken or Jack as one of the victims. Was I perhaps too late to save them?
I thought of calling Ezra from upstairs but then decided against it. What if the killer did something worse if he realized we hadn’t followed his rules? What if I’d stumbled upon Ken in the basement who was still alive? Maybe it won’t be too late for him.
My left hand quivered over the torch but I held it tightly in my hand, I pulled out the gun once again with the other as I descended the stairs slowly. When I reached the landing, I was afraid to even move the torch light around the space as if I would encounter something I didn’t want to see. I covered my nose and mouth; there was a stench in the room, the smell of rotting flesh.
The trail of blood ended at the far corner of the room where a chair was placed and a person was seated on it.
And then another thought crossed my mind. What if it’s not a person at all? What if it’s a dead body? My mind and body screamed at me to run for the hills but I couldn’t. I was thinking about the worst. I wasn’t ready to see another one of my loved one tortured and dead. Cautiously, I walked towards the chair, keeping safe distance and flashed the torch light on the person.
Bound to the chair, covered in blood, the man squinted his eyes at me and then flinched as if being hit. “Don’t! Please don’t hurt me!”
He raised his bloodshot eyes towards me and sighed in relief, “Riley, oh thank god, you’re here.”
A.N: I had to split the ending chapter into two because it turned out longer then I expected. Chapter 43 should be up soon. ciao!