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Letters in Red

Letters in Red

Written through a haze of chain smoke and whiskey by: Bruce McDonough

Shakespir version. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved.

To Cheyenne, a loving mother who showed me how to create something out of nothing…

Chapter 1

The night was dark and cold, the city was preparing for the first snow of the year. In a field outside the city, not far, but far enough for what it was used for – a young woman ran, barefoot, toward the city. Toward the bright lights of salvation, she wouldn’t make it of course, she had been missing for almost a month and anyone that was still looking wasn’t going to find her.

She’d been running so long her feet were bleeding and from her lungs she exhaled fire with every breath she took, the way one runs when they’re being chased. What was chasing her in this field so far away from civilization? It was a man, or at least that’s what they will say when they caught him, but was he really? Who could say? Regardless, none of that would help her now. He was closing in. She couldn’t see him, she couldn’t hear him, but she knew he was there, always there.

In another time, in another place, things might have been different, but tonight was her night and she was his prey. The highway was in sight, for a moment she thought she might make it. Get to the road, stop a passing motorist, and ride away to freedom and a lifetime of therapy bills. Her pursuer had other plans, it was the second night of the full moon and it demanded blood as it always had and, like the loyal servant he was, the man never failed in his charge.

The girl tripped as she scrambled for the embankment trying desperately to make it up to the highway. She was not fast enough. A sharp pain and heavy weight pressed down upon her. She couldn’t breathe and all she could taste was blood. The man pinned her down. His grip, tight like the powerful jaws of the woodland monster he believed himself to be, felt like a vise on the back of her neck. The four razor sharp claws on his other hand had pierced through her lungs and out the other side from the force he hit her with, but he did not stop there. Over and over he stabbed and slashed and howled and cursed until all that remained were bloody bits of meat on the side of the bloodstained hill where she had once been. Her body, nearly cut in half, was dragged away. The ritual was complete and the moon was satisfied.

The phone rang, jarring Wayne from his sleep and the terrible dreams that came with it. He had tried to block them out with whiskey, but it didn’t always help. On this night he dreamt of Brianna Baker, the second of seven victims. It wasn’t surprising as he had been going over the case files for the last several days. Committed by a murderer who was both cunning and disciplined, the most dangerous of adversaries. A case like this one comes along once, maybe twice in a career. For Wayne Miller, a private detective, this was not the case. He had solved many cases like this in the past, in fact, he had developed quite a reputation as a younger man. He was still in the army the first time the FBI had tried to recruit him.

At a young age, Wayne enlisted in the military and subsequently fought in the war that came later. He opted out of officer school and went to work as a private eye. Years went by, he made a good living, and his fame grew. After years of hunting the most demented and vicious things the country had to offer Wayne had finally had his fill of the blood and violence and settled down in the city he now called home.

Wayne was a good soldier and a better detective, but life has a way of testing even the most lionhearted of men. He sat up on the couch where he had fallen asleep in his cheap, rent controlled apartment in a neighborhood he should not have been in. His wife had awoken him from his nightmare, she called late at night, sometimes after a few glasses of wine, and left angry drunken messages for him to listen to later. They would start off civilized, but almost always withered down to curses and threats, he would listen to them anyway and chalk it up to punishment for being a bad husband.

Between the job and the bottle she had had enough and wanted to call it quits. She had filed for divorce a few weeks earlier, he hadn’t signed the papers yet, and she was getting impatient. He kept telling himself and his wife that it would be different, but it never was. She had gotten tired of his excuses.

On the table in front of him, and scattered about the floor around him, were the files, crime scene photos, and police reports that came with the case. A friend on the force had given him the files as a favor, though Wayne had no intention of helping, old habits die hard. The FBI had sent several agents to try and recruit him for the case but he refused. He had no intention of working for the government again, but he did not want the murderer to be left unchecked. The victims were all wealthy socialites, members of the city’s most prominent families, celebrities unto themselves. The case had achieved national fame, that along with the families of the victims were making things difficult for the FBI’s public image.

The killer, like most that came before him, had odd methods and rituals for his work. The first murder was assumed to be an animal attack. The victims were clawed and torn and bitten to mimic the damage a wolf would cause, which in the city was simply absurd. Between that and the fact the murderer only killed during the full moon the media had dubbed him The Wolf. Personally Wayne thought the moniker was silly and part of the reason why the public was so afraid. Unfortunately, silly or not, the killer was extremely skilled and well versed in police procedure. Every crime scene was absent of anything that could be used to identify a suspect. Victims appeared to be random, the only thing they had in common were rich parents. The Wolf did not discriminate, victims were both male and female and were not chosen based on race or color in any pattern that could be seen. Wayne had never seen a killer quite like The Wolf before and was glad it was not his responsibility to catch him.

His phone rang again, he assumed it was his wife had redialed and was summoning the courage to speak to her. Picking up his phone Wayne saw a number he did not recognize as his wife’s.

“Hello?” He answered as he cleared his throat. His natural speaking voice was low and gravelly, a side effect of his years of alcoholism. Looking at his watch the time was just after 3 P.M.

“You awake?” A young man’s voice asked from the other end of the phone.

Wayne coughed and cleared his throat again. “Yeah, yeah I’m up. What’s going on?” He asked as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

“We’ve got another one.” The voice on the other end said grimly.

“I’ll be right there. Text me the address.” Wayne said and hung up the phone. He stood up, knees and back popping as he did so, and stumbled across the poorly lit apartment to the bathroom. With two hands cupped together, he gathered water from the sink and splashed it on his face and neck. He didn’t have to worry about his hair, he kept it high and tight ever since his days in the military. He had an If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality when it came to his personal appearance.

Wayne was, and had always been, a very physically imposing man, even before his enlistment into the armed forces. Tall, broad shouldered, and thick muscled Wayne was a picture of physical perfection. He kept his face clean and shaven, his wife always said she loved his strong jawline and high cheek bones. His time in the desert brought out the red in his skin due to his Native American ancestry, his year-round tan never seemed to fade.

Since he worked for himself Wayne never felt the need to dress professionally, reserving suits for special occasions – weddings and funerals. He slipped into a worn, faded pair of jeans, a thick grey wool sweater, and an old leather jacket he had gotten overseas. Wayne had never found anything he enjoyed more than a good pair of boots and rarely wore anything else. His ID and gun were buried under a pizza box and his mail, some of it belonged to the last tenant, but they kept sending it to him anyway. With everything he needed either in hand or on his person, Wayne locked up and headed to the crime scene.

Chapter 2

The city’s night life was more bustling than it was during the day. The pinnacle of entertainment, enterprise, technology, and of course, crime. If viewed from the eyes of a tourist the city was beautiful beyond words, but like every city it did not advertise the filthy inner workings. The engine of blood and steel that held the whole thing together. It took Wayne nearly an hour to reach the crime scene. The Wolf would kidnap his victim’s on the first night of the full moon. He always chose the healthiest members of the families, it made for a more interesting hunt or so the theory went. It was suspected that he would hold them somewhere in the country away from the city, for that was no place for a wolf to hunt. Of course, the evidence of this only led the police to miles and miles of untamed forest where it was impossible to pick up any kind of trail.

Afterward The Wolf would always place the body in a very public place. Naturally the wealthy families of the city were hiring the best security money could buy, but even that did not deter The Wolf. During the time in between his hunts The Wolf would taunt the police with ominous letters daring them to catch him. A grim message to the influential and the authorities like he was saying Look! Look what I can do! And he could, and did, every time.

This time the body belonged to Regina Monroe, daughter of Lawrence Monroe, jewel of her clan. The Monroe’s were responsible for building over half of their fair city and owned nearly just as much of it in one form or another. Even The Wolf was thought not to be crazy enough to go after one of them. Regina’s body, what was left of it, was splattered outside the doors of her father’s company. Wayne was not all too familiar with the upscale portion of the city, but the arrogantly named Monroe Industries was not hard to find. The building struck out into the skyline like a monument to the willpower of humankind, or a testament to corporate greed and corruption, depending on how one saw it.

Once Wayne arrived on the scene a large crowd had already started to gather despite the freezing temperatures. The Monroe family was something of local celebrities and were adored by the general population. So, the passing of the beloved Regina in such a horrible manner was more than enough to whip the city into a frenzy. Perhaps that was The Wolf’s plan the entire time, to get the city to eat itself in a fear induced panic. Of course, no one would know for sure until the monster was caught.

It took several patrolmen to contain the crowd, which seemed to be gaining girth, and maintain the perimeter around the crime scene. The FBI was busy with their work, taking pictures and samples, cataloging everything they could find, relevant or not, and placing it into plastic bags. To anyone on the outside looking in the police department and federal government must have seemed like a well-oiled machine. Wayne suspected that was why the city was so upset they hadn’t stopped The Wolf from killing anyone else. Mixed in with the crowd was something far worse and much more dangerous, the press.

Under normal circumstances a reporter of any kind is a cop’s natural enemy. In the case of Craig White and Susan Rogers, a journalist and his freelance photographer, their relationship with Wayne had turned out to be very beneficial. An unlikely friendship had formed between Craig and Wayne after a case involving the murder of his boyfriend, a gay rights spokesman. Craig was highly invested in the case and worked with Wayne to find the killer. Since then they shared the burden of their respective occupations. Wayne and Craig often helped each other and exchanged information and favors.

Susan came into the picture some years later. To this day Wayne was not sure how they met, but a more perfect match he had never seen. Most journalists operated alone, but Craig was not most journalists. Together, using their own unique talents, they had shaken down untouchable criminals that even Wayne would not have gone near. Craig was something of a local hero, he wrote the articles and Susan took the pictures.

Wayne was not at all surprised to see the two of them in the crowd shivering in the cold like leaves on a tree. This was a high profile case and every reporter in the city would kill their own mothers to get in on the ground floor of the investigation.

“Detective!” Wayne heard a voice call out like a foghorn from the press side of the crowd, he knew it could only be Craig.

“What do you want, Craig?” He asked, his breath appearing as smoke with every word he spoke. Craig and Susan rarely spent time apart so Wayne was in no way surprised to see the two of them coming his way. Not much unlike his line of work theirs was a twenty-four hour a day job.

“You here officially?” Craig asked as he bullied his way through the crowd to where Wayne was standing, Susan followed in tow behind him.

“I was in the neighborhood.” He joked. “I got a tip, thought I’d check it out.” Wayne confessed, he knew Craig would have forced it out of him anyway.

“They’re saying that it’s Regina Monroe?” Susan interjected, rumors were spreading quickly through-out the crowd. Susan snapped a dozen pictures a second.

“Is it?” Wayne questioned as he took a heavy sip from his plastic coffee cup.

“Can’t tell. I don’t think they’re going to be able to get a facial ID.” Craig chuckled, Wayne said nothing. “Too soon.” Craig quickly realized the joke was in bad taste.

“I’m going to see if I can get some more information.” Wayne said and began moving toward the front of the line.

“Come see us when you finish!” Craig yelled over the sound of the crowd, Wayne waved but kept walking. The closer he got to the crime scene the worse it got. His profession had been romanticized for hundreds of years in every form of fiction known to man, but they never really got it right, or at least left out the gory details no one really wanted to know about. For example, the smell of a day old corpse is something only a handful of people can stomach.

This time, however, the smell was deceptive, like the body was not as old as it should have been, fresh even. Wayne had become uncomfortably familiar with the smell of death during his time in the military. Because of that he knew that the poor girl hadn’t been dead very long. The Wolf had always killed on the second day of the full moon and displayed the body on the third. There were several theories of what he did on the first day, but no one really knew. An odd method and ritual to be sure, but The Wolf never deviated from it, not once.

Detective Sean Palmer was an old friend of Wayne’s and he just so happened to be on the task force. Wayne often gave Palmer information, they had a tit for tat relationship. Palmer started the investigation seven months ago, the feds came in once The Wolf became classified as a serial murderer. That was not to say that Palmer was not good at his job, the government just wanted the case wrapped up quickly. Perhaps in this instance he was simply unlucky, saddled with a seemingly impossible mystery to solve with nothing but criticism and doubt from nearly everyone around him.

“What do we have?” Wayne directed his question to Palmer as he walked up to the police tape.

“A fucking mess.” He answered in a nasally voice as if he was coming down with a cold. His expression was grim like he was going to be sick when thinking about the scene later. Palmer was a short man with a round build, a grey stubbly beard that only seemed to grow on his neck, and a balding head to match. Cirrhosis of the liver was setting in, aging him prematurely, making him appear to be in his late fifties, while in reality he was only a few years older than Wayne.

“Is she really a Monroe?” Wayne asked, Susan’s remark had made him curious.

“We’re pretty sure she is. DNA will confirm it.” Palmer said as he flashed Wayne the young girl’s wallet. He could see her driver’s license but nothing else. The Wolf liked to carve up his victims with four, six-inch steel claws, hence the name. It was a homemade contraption with no way to trace it, another dead-end. They had yet to determine how The Wolf imitated the bite marks of a canine, there would come a day when Wayne would find out exactly how it was done and he would regret it the rest of his life.

Young Regina’s face and torso were badly clawed, she appeared as if she was mauled by an animal. Of course, that was the intention. Her insides were scattered and used to paint the giant glass double doors of her father’s building. The contents of her wallet identified the body as Regina. The massive amount and varied assortment of credit cards identified her as a Monroe. Any cash money she carried was gone. There were few other personal possessions around the body, Wayne assumed The Wolf wanted them to know who she was.

“Shit.” Wayne grumbled.

“Yep.” Palmer commented. “I shoulda been a fireman.” Palmer said under his breath.

Wayne scoffed. “I’m gonna venture a guess and say that no one saw anything.” He asked rhetorically.

“Not a damn thing.” Palmer said, he was clearly annoyed. “Even the security staff claims not to have seen anything. They got up to do their rounds, came back to this fucking mess.” Palmer told him.

“I’d appreciate it if you could sneak me some copies of the case files.” Wayne said.

“Hell no, if they catch me I’ll lose my badge.” Palmer refused, he always said something like that. He was always worried about getting caught, but he always came through. It was not the first time Wayne had asked for a favor, he had solved several cases for Palmer and felt he owed him. Palmer shook his head, huffed, and walked away. With a smile Wayne turned and left for his car, he had seen all he needed too.

The car, a 1970 AMC Rebel with its original pale green paint scheme; Wayne had rebuilt with his father, was parked a block away from the scene. One of the few things he took with him when his wife forced him to leave his house. Of course, she got the expensive, brand new SUV he was still trying to pay for. He had every intention of going home and going to sleep until he found two men in hand tailored black suits waiting for him at his car.

The two of them, obviously ex-military, didn’t say anything. Wayne just stood there and finished his coffee and tossed it into a nearby trash can afterward. Discreetly he brushed his jacket to the side and placed his hand on the butt of his Glock 19.

“Can I help you boys?” He inquired.

“We’re going to need you to come with us, sir.” They had a matter of fact way about themselves. A long black limousine was parked behind his car blocking him in, he had a feeling they were not going to take no for an answer.

“Where to?” Wayne asked, he half expected the two of them to try and force him into the car, though with the heavy police presence not far away Wayne felt safe.

“Mr. Monroe would like to see you.” The man in the black suit explained vaguely. Wayne knew it was a terrible idea, but he had to admit he was intrigued. The patriarch of the Monroe family was very well informed if he already knew his daughter was dead. It was this curiosity that had gotten him into more than one tight spot. He let his gun hand fall to his side.

“Lead the way.” He said hoping that his inquisitiveness wouldn’t be the death of him. A man like Lawrence Monroe did not send for men like Wayne simply to have them killed. This was one of those cases where his past accolades got the better of him. A man with that much wealth almost certainly thought he could buy anything he wanted.

The men loaded him into the limousine, only one sat in the back with him. He had no real reason to be cautious, but then again no one had ever sent armed men just to give him a ride. The guard that road in the back was completely silent as they escorted him to the estate of Lawrence Monroe.

Chapter 3

The estate was what one would expect from a family with more money than they could spend in a hundred life times. An awe inspiring mansion crafted by the best architect’s money could buy with grounds and landscapes so impressive they were breathtaking. Most importantly was the great wall made of iron and brick to discourage vagrants and would be thieves. The main gate was automated but, due to the recent events, it had armed guards at all the entrances on both sides of the wall.

The gate guard was told to expect them, but made the driver stop and show his credentials anyway. Once security was satisfied, the man pressed a button and the mechanized gate came to life and opened its jaws slowly, as if inviting prey into its mouth. The driver took his time on the gravel driveway, Wayne could hear the rocks crunching underneath the tires.

The house itself was undeniably beautiful and had an old look about it, like something out of a story his mother had read to him as a child. The guards from the car did not follow him. Wayne rang the bell twice and eventually someone answered, a particularly inauspicious looking man with a discouraging stare. Wayne imagined there was once a friendlier face for greeting guests at the door at one time or another, but those days were long gone. After a terrible thing like this, who could ever feel safe around strangers again? Wayne knew it would be some time before the halls of this house were filled with joy and merrymaking, if ever at all. The house was tightly gripped in gloom, so much so it seemed to weigh him down as he stepped across its threshold.

The guard led him into the parlor and requested he leave his sidearm at the door, against his better judgment Wayne complied. Directed back into the house he found Lawrence and Henry Monroe waiting for him in the den. Lawrence Monroe, a man advanced in age, looked every bit of his seventy years and was standing near the fireplace. His white hair was once golden blonde like his son Henry, who was the spitting image of his father. The two of them were both extravagantly dressed for the situation like they were about to address their board members instead of a common street detective.

Henry sat on a red velvet sofa that looked to be an antique while scrolling through his cell phone, seemingly unconcerned. Another, shadowy, man stood in the corner of the room. The very sight of him made Wayne nervous, he was beginning the regret giving up his weapon. Appearing to be more than just another security guard, the expensive blue three piece was a dead giveaway and suggested that he was much more than the rest. Wayne made sure to stand where he could keep the man within his line of sight.

“Good evening Mr. Miller.” Lawrence greeted him without looking up from the fire.

“Yup.” That was all Wayne could think of to say in return, he still wasn’t sure if he’d made a mistake accepting the invitation. Lawrence tore himself away from the fire long enough to pour himself a drink.

“I assume you know by now that my daughter was murdered.” Lawrence said rhetorically while pouring a rich, reddish brown liquid into his glass.

“I do.” Wayne muttered under his breath, Lawrence still heard him. “How do you know? If you don’t mind me asking?” Wayne had no intention of insulting the man but he was genuinely curious. He didn’t stop to think about how much money Lawrence had, which made his question beyond stupid.

“She was supposed to be home by now.” Henry spoke up, but did not look away from his phone.

“Is that unusual?”

“Yes.” Lawrence barked before his son could answer or say anything else. “She is never late.” He added.

“That’s a lot of assumption out of so little evidence.” Wayne said.

“The security team assigned to keep her safe lost track of her just before midnight.” Lawrence elaborated.

“Good help is hard to find.” Wayne said sounding, unintentionally, cold.

“At the rate he pays them they are hard to break away from, trust me.” Henry spoke up again. He received another mean look from his father.

“I’m sorry for your loss Mr. Monroe, but I fail to see why you brought me here.”

“I want you to find the man who killed her. This Wolf everyone has been going on about.” Lawrence waved an old newspaper around before throwing it into the fire.

“I don’t do that anymore.” Wayne refused. It had been a long time since he had actively investigated a murder. Sure, he handed Palmer a few hints every now and again, but he never let himself get invested in the outcome.

“Of course, these days you make a living chasing after cheating husbands.” Lawrence chuckled. He was being deliberately rude.

“I get by just fine.” Wayne scoffed. “If there is nothing else I’d appreciate a ride back to my car.” Wayne demanded. Lawrence stood there for a moment without saying a word.

“Counter offer.” Lawrence finally said while retrieving a file from the mantle and dropping on the desk in front of Wayne.

“What’s that?” Wayne asked.

“Leverage.” Lawrence told him and waited for him to read the file. It was a detailed account of a case Wayne was involved in years before. One of the first he worked once he finished his business with the government. A gay rights activist was murdered by a man named Robert Powell. The file read like a firsthand account as if Wayne had written it himself.

Officially he had never solved the case, it was a cold case and remained so to this day. Wayne knew that was not the truth. The truth was he had tried to find enough evidence to convict Powell but came up short. When he confessed his failure to the victims boyfriend things got worse.

Wayne found Craig at Powell’s home, emotional and angry, with a revolver in his hand. They both knew that Powell was guilty, but there was nothing they could do about it. Wayne had been around the block enough times to know he was beaten. Powell was not a particularly intelligent adversary, but Wayne’s hands were tied, in this case, by the rule of law. The evidence they had found wouldn’t have been enough in court.

Against his better judgment Wayne allowed Craig to do what he had gone there to do. It was a poor decision, but one that did not keep him up at night. As a matter of fact, Wayne hadn’t thought about it in nearly ten years, until this moment. He got rid of the weapon and helped Craig bury the body. Palmer investigated Powell’s disappearance, but came up empty and that was the last he had heard of it.

“How did you get this?” Wayne asked trying desperately to hide the shock in his voice.

“Does it matter?” Lawrence quipped, he had the upper hand and he knew it. “Now a man like you, a hero and war fighter, would have no trouble surviving prison. On the other hand, how long do you think your friend will last?” Lawrence threatened him through Craig.

Wayne knew he didn’t have a card to play. Turning Lawrence in would only incriminate himself and Craig along with him. It was a mistake of his own making and he had no one to blame but himself.

“Catching a serial killer doesn’t happen overnight” Wayne said.

“No, but if you’re half the man they use to write stories about I think you’ll pull through just fine. You won’t be alone of course.” Lawrence told him, motioning to the man in the corner who seemed disinterested in the proceedings. “My associate will aide you. He is rather skilled at hunting people. Once you have the killer’s identity he will see to it that justice is done.” Lawrence explained the terms and conditions of their agreement.

“If I do this.” Wayne shot a look to the man in the corner. “This goes away.” He held the file up in the air.

“Of course.” Lawrence agreed.

“With the understanding that this is never used against me again.” Wayne slammed the file back onto the desk, he used a tone of voice that was deep and intimidating. There was no sense in keeping it, Lawrence undoubtedly made copies.

“You have my word.” Lawrence assured him.

“Fine.” Wayne agreed reluctantly, they both knew his cooperation was inevitable.

“Now my men will escort you back to your vehicle. Good day Mr. Miller, my associate will contact you soon.” Lawrence bid him farewell and returned to his post by the fireplace.

The ride back to the city was more unpleasant than before. He had been played and there was nothing he could do but play along. The illogical timeframe was going to be stressful, not to mention the strange man, most likely a criminal, that he was being forced to partner with. The whole situation did not sit well with him, but then again it wasn’t supposed to. Blackmail was, by definition, a one sided affair.

Naturally when they returned him to his car there was a parking ticket tucked neatly underneath his window. That’s about right he thought to himself with a whimsical sigh. He snatched the ticket, nearly tearing it in half, and got into his car. Wayne was, like most men, filthy by nature. His car, on the other hand, was always clean and well maintained. It was the only possession he had that meant anything to him.

He stuck the key in the ignition and the car came to life with a thunderous roar. He was still irritated about his meeting with Lawrence, his stress was evident when he put his foot down and tore through the streets like a kid on a joyride. He had to get home, the sun was going to be up soon. If he had any chance in hell of solving this mystery he was going to need his sleep.

Chapter 4

Cyrus, the man in the corner, watched as Wayne was led away. He was a specialist, of sorts, but for lack of a better word he was a mercenary. The expensive kind. Far above the class of common rabble one could pick up on the streets or in a shady bar in the rotten parts of town. A man of his caliber was hard to come by, even for one such as Lawrence Monroe. He had been pressed into service not much unlike Wayne. Of course, prison was not enough to scare a man like Cyrus into submission.

In his long career he had made some very powerful people angry. The kind that had access to deep, dark places that didn’t officially exist. Cyrus wasn’t sure how Lawrence had done it, but somehow the man was able to ascertain his real name. For a man in his line of work that was the equivalent of a politician being caught with a dead hooker. He’d spent most of his adult life burying that name along with anyone that knew it.

Lawrence did not stand close to him and cleared away when Cyrus went to pour himself drink. Binding a man like him was much like chaining a large, unpredictable predator and you can never cage or befriend a wild thing. Even his physical appearance was unsettling. The expensive turquoise suit he wore masked a tall, toned frame, riddled with scars by people who, like Lawrence, had presumed themselves his masters. His chestnut brown mop of hair was slicked back in a stylish fashion. The paleness of his skin made his ice blue eyes a much more fearsome sight. He projected an aura that naturally made anyone around him tense, as if death were made meat and bone in his image. Being in the same room with him was a feat in and of itself and not for the weak of heart.

He poured himself a glass of scotch without asking. Cyrus was not concerned with courtesy or professionalism, which was reserved for paying customers. He drank a large mouthful and savored the flavor. He was concerned about working alongside a private detective, especially one of Wayne’s quality. Most of his dealings with the police finished in bribery or at the end of his gun. He didn’t know what Lawrence expected to come of this ill-conceived plan. He had no business hunting serial killers and no knowledge of police work. The whole thing was tedious and Cyrus wanted no hand in it, but his hands were not his own at the moment.

“Another puppet for your show.” Cyrus scoffed and lit a cigarette, again he did not ask for permission.

“The detective will be useful.” Lawrence assured him. His voice was trembling slightly like he was afraid.

“No confidence in my ability, Lawrence?” Cyrus shot him a glare that was not intended to put his mind at ease. He stared at Lawrence with his head cocked slightly. “I must say I’m a bit insulted Lawrence.” Cyrus smirked and closed the distance between them. Lawrence tried to take a step back but had nowhere to go but the fireplace, which would have been more acceptable at this point.

“Of course not.” Lawrence stammered. “I just want it done.” Lawrence stated.

“I would as well, were I in your position.” Cyrus’s attention had turned to a picture of his late daughter. “If my daughter was ripped to pieces and strewn around for all to see.” Cyrus commented crudely while he stared at the picture. Lawrence, finding his spine, slammed the picture face down breaking the glass of the frame.

“Remember yourself, Mr. Woodlock.” Lawrence threatened him. It had been a long time since Cyrus had heard that name.

“I do miss the old name.” Cyrus smirked. “Be careful how you use it, old man.” Cyrus warned. “Say it too many times and the devil may appear and put a curse on what’s left of your house.” Cyrus was no longer smiling. He stood close to Lawrence in a frightening manner, like he was deciding whether or not to kill everyone in the house.

“Get out.” Lawrence commanded and signaled for the guards to escort him out.

“Certainly.” Cyrus said finally, his decision had been made. Lawrence had come out on top this time. “I’ll do this thing for you.” Cyrus pointed his finger at Lawrence. “When it’s finished I will return and you will give me what I came for.” Cyrus growled his demands not at all concerned by the security that had gathered at his back.

“Yes.” Lawrence agreed with a whisper as if he finally realized the dangers of what he had done, he had the look of a man who had made a regretful decision.

From the security guard he gathered his things, Lawrence made sure he was unarmed before meeting with him. Morning was still a few hours off. Cyrus, having just blown into town, needed to find a place to stay. He had a feeling this job was going to last longer than he’d like and on top of everything he was being forced to work with someone far too close to law enforcement for him to be comfortable with. To make matters worse he wasn’t being paid either which made it sting much more deeply.

His taste ran on the expensive side, he had become accustomed to a certain lifestyle since he was a younger man, and in this town expensive was not hard to find. In his profession traveling light was more of a necessity than trade craft. Up and leaving at a moment’s notice would wreak havoc if he traveled with his entire wardrobe. A few extra suits, incidentals, and a bag of tools, small arms, and explosives.

In no time at all he found a suitable hotel. An elegant, yet modest, place. It had historical significance of some kind, the woman at the front desk told him why but he didn’t listen. That was the only reason it was still in business or so Cyrus thought. By request, he was given a room on the upper floors with a balcony and a view. The bellhop, a young man who was almost certainly on drugs, carried his belongings to his room. Cyrus tipped generously, he had just lugged a bag full of explosives after all, but not enough to raise suspicion or make his stay memorable.

At any given time Cyrus carried two guns, one under his left arm and another strapped to the small of his back. Along with those were an assortment of knives varying in length and design. After disarming himself Cyrus hung his coat on a rack and his jacket in the closet on a wooden hanger that had been provided.

As a young man he conditioned himself to go without sleep to the point where it was his default setting. It was not unusual for him to go days without sleeping. This was going to be one of his sleepless nights. He decided to order room service, a delightful steak dinner that had been recommended by the young woman at the front desk. Apparently, it was the chef’s specialty and it showed in his work.

After dinner Cyrus lit a cigarette, poured himself a drink, and opened up his laptop. He felt it would be a good idea to do some research on his new partner. Being that he was a normal citizen, for the most part, it was not hard to find out where he lived, his financial troubles, and the fact that his wife had filed for divorce. Of course that was not the good stuff.

Tales of Wayne’s exploits were well documented, if not slightly embellished, by national newspapers. They had painted Wayne as some sort of genius detective, one even compared him to Sherlock Holmes. Cyrus scoffed as he read the ridiculous article.

The best stories came from the FBI files Cyrus came across. Most of it was redacted and classified but the FBI was heavily involved in Wayne’s last case. Of the bits he could read claimed that Wayne was abducted by a killer he was hunting in Utah. The file speculated that, while in captivity, Wayne witnessed the deaths of both the officers that accompanied him and the children he had gone to save. The suspects were also killed, presumably by Wayne’s hand. He was under investigation for some time, but eventually he was cleared. That was the last time Wayne worked with the federal government or on a murder case of any kind.

“Tough break.” Cyrus said aloud to himself. The fact that Wayne had moved on made more sense now. Cyrus had found all he could without the aid of a hacker with skills superior to his own and with that Cyrus closed the laptop. The sun was rising over the city signifying that it was time to go to work.

Chapter 5

When Wayne arrived at his apartment he threw his coat over the couch, took off his shirt, and fell onto his bed. He didn’t even bother to take off his boots. He was tired, so tired he couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning for the first half hour he finally decided to give up and brew himself a pot of coffee. There was a time when he thought his body ran on the stuff.

Palmer had come through in fine style, like he always did. The only thing he was able to get his hands on were the pictures, he sent them via e-mail. Wayne looked through them, then again, and again. Refilling his cup for the third time he was frustrated, whatever answers the pictures held he just wasn’t seeing it. The way the bodies were cut up left them with very little to go on.

The only apparent advantage they had was the fact that The Wolf had a pattern, a definite way he went about things and never strayed from it. Normally that wouldn’t tell them much but in this case it did. Wayne wasn’t worried about the other murders, at present he was only concerned with Regina’s, getting himself and Craig off the chopping block was priority one.

The Wolf did the same thing every time. On the first night of the full moon he took them, hunted and killed the victim on the second night, and displayed their bodies on the third. It was always the same. The routine was important to him, possibly more important than the kill itself. Wayne went over the pictures again and what little notes Palmer had written in the e-mail.

There were several discrepancies in Regina’s murder compared to the others. She was abducted, murdered, and displayed on the same night which could only mean one thing. He was fairly certain The Wolf didn’t kill her and that Lawrence had known more than he had told him, or at least he suspected something was amiss. Wayne had a bad feeling, someone had went to a lot of trouble to make her look like one of The Wolf’s victims. He felt it was better to let Palmer and the FBI figure that one out on their own. If he was going to solve the case he couldn’t have the actual authorities getting in the way until he absolutely needed them. It was a bad idea which, ironically enough, was the reason he was in this mess to begin with.

The sun was up, he was tired, and he hadn’t made any headway with the information Palmer had sent him. Limited access to the case was the problem and the information Palmer gave to him was not enough. Unfortunately, the only friends he had left in the FBI had since moved up in the world which made getting anything else problematic. He was so wrapped up in the case files he almost didn’t hear the knock at the door. Being that he wasn’t expecting anyone that early Wayne approached the door with his gun drawn.

“You solve the case yet?” Cyrus asked with a sly smirk as soon as Wayne opened the door.

“What are you doing here?” Wayne asked with a tone that made it clear Cyrus was unwelcome. Wayne checked the hallway to make sure he was alone.

“You’re much larger up close.” Cyrus joked to lighten the mood, it did not work. Wayne was far from ready to have this meeting.

“You didn’t answer my question.” He grunted.

“I was told to help. This is me, helping.” Cyrus said sarcastically.

“That didn’t mean showing up at my house at 7:30 in the morning.” Said Wayne.

“If you can call this a house.” Cyrus commented as he looked inside the apartment. “Are you going to invite me in or are we going to do this right here in the hallway?” Cyrus inquired.

“You packing?” Asked Wayne.

“Are you?” Cyrus quipped. “If I was going to kill you I wouldn’t have knocked first.” Cyrus laughed, he did not seem to be taking things seriously. Wayne could not tell if it was his personality or if he was just plain crazy. Either way he let the man in against his better judgment which, admittedly had been very unreliable as of late.

Cyrus took a single step inside, but no further, he appeared to be worried about touching something. This was most likely due to Wayne’s current living conditions. The apartment was dirty so he didn’t hold it against him for not wanting to sit down. Wayne assumed it was cold outside, Cyrus was wearing a black wool overcoat that hugged his body on top of his suit, and both appeared to cost more than the apartment.

“So, what do you have?” Cyrus asked as he lit a cigarette. Wayne was not a smoker, but it never bothered him so he let it be.

“Not much.” Wayne admitted. “I don’t think The Wolf is behind it and Lawrence knows more than he’s telling us, or me at least.” He corrected himself, he assumed the hired gun may have known more than he did.

“Of course he does.” Cyrus chuckled. “A man like him doesn’t share the family secrets with the hired help.” Cyrus said, his point was valid. “If it wasn’t The Wolf then who was it?” Cyrus asked. It was a good question, one Wayne did not have the answer to yet. For all he knew it could have been anybody.

“I don’t know.” He filled his sixth cup of coffee and offered some to Cyrus who refused. “We’ll have to start from the beginning. Treat it like a new case.”

“How do you start?”

“We have to go back to Lawrence.” Wayne told him with a disappointed sigh. “We need to find out as much about Regina as we can. If we know more about her then we’ll know more about whoever killed her.” He explained. Cyrus did not seem to be following along due to lack of interest, not intelligence, but he agreed with a nod. Neither of them were thrilled about going back to that place.

“What do the cops know?” Cyrus asked, he noticed the files from Regina’s case on his laptop. “You have contacts in the department don’t you?” Cyrus asked rhetorically. It was not much of a stretch for him to assume Wayne had ties to law enforcement.

“They are still looking for a serial killer. It won’t take them long to figure it out though, we’ve got the rest of the day if we’re lucky.” Wayne guessed and finished his coffee.

‘Well.” Cyrus sighed. “Might as well get on with it.” He said. Wayne agreed and got dressed in the same clothes he had worn to the crime scene. Before going to the Monroe estate Wayne had to see someone, someone who needed to know what Lawrence was doing and would be helpful to their investigation.

Chapter 6

Craig sat at his poorly constructed plastic desk typing up the latest fluff piece for the morning paper. There was nothing he hated more than writing plain, insignificant articles for a paper that almost nobody read. The article was about an annual music festival gathering in the park the following weekend, which was being advertised all over town, meaning they were forced to participate as well. It made him consider quitting his job at least three times a day but he never did.

Susan, who was not helping at all, sat across from him lounged in an old leather chair doing the Sunday crossword. She had a thing about the crossword, she’d complained many times, but no one ever listened to her except for Craig. Technically she was not an employee, more of a consultant not much unlike Cyrus was pretending to be. Craig paid her by the photo, he was left largely unchecked so he made sure to give her enough to make a decent living.

Craig was a small, thin man, the kind of kid who spent his childhood being picked last in gym class. It was not hard to tell, at a glance, that he was the bookworm type and being a journalist came naturally to him. His hair was fair and often swept back to keep it out of his eyes with sun-kissed skin that went well with his green eyes and dark patch of freckles that stretched across the bridge of his nose and cheeks. For a young man of only twenty-six Craig fancied older fashions usually dressing in sweater vests and tweed jackets making him look more mature than he actually was.

Susan was the opposite with thick, wavy raven hair, cobalt blue eyes, and pale skin that complimented her Irish heritage. Being a mite younger than Craig, barely into her twenties, Susan dressed in dark, tight, revealing clothing that was popular amongst her gender. Craig often cautioned modesty but praised her beauty nonetheless. She tossed the copy of the crossword in the trash once she was finished.

“We should be looking into the Monroe girl.” She said aloud to get Craig’s attention.

“Wayne will give us something when he’s ready, until then we just do our day jobs.” Replied Craig from behind his computer monitor. He could feel Susan staring at him, unhappy with his answer. Her restless nature was one of the things he admired about her even if it did come with a price.

“The crossword sucks, again.” She huffed as she relaxed back into her chair.

Craig simply scoffed and kept typing. Susan did not have the patience to be a writer. During the slow periods she nearly drove him crazy. Obviously she preferred the hands on approach. They had been working together for a few years, he was sure she did not have many friends outside of the job. Neither did he, but they had each other and that was enough for them.

When they met it was not long after Craig’s fiancé had been murdered. He had been contemplating suicide for weeks. Wayne had asked him to help with a robbery investigation he had been working on. At that point Wayne was the only thing keeping him going, but Craig couldn’t expect him to be around all the time.

Craig had tracked the thief to a condemned building that the city hadn’t gotten around to demolishing. Susan had been squatting there since her foster-father threw her out on her eighteenth birthday when the state checks stopped rolling in. She was just a kid, scared and alone. He had been dealing with the same feelings and instead of calling Wayne they ended up talking for several hours.

In the end Craig offered her a place to live, on the condition that she stopped her thievery, and eventually he gave her a job. They found each other in a time when neither of them would have survived on their own. All her imperfections were more than worth the aggravation she caused him. She was like the annoying sister he never had.

Before venturing back to the Monroe estate Wayne made a detour. They ended up on the opposite side of the city at a battered, graffiti ridden brick building, the kind one would think was uninhabited were it not for the giant Elk Horn Review sign across the top of the entrance. An independently owned and operated newspaper, one of the last of its kind. It wasn’t taken seriously by most, though it was the most honest, reliable source of news in the city whether anyone knew it or not.

The original owner, the grandfather of the current one, named the paper after the street he grew up on as a child. The family kept the name after he was gone, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to very many people, but the business got by just fine. Craig had often suspected their financial stability was founded on illegal activity, considering his wages, though he never looked too closely into it. Paper sales were certainly not keeping them afloat.

For the sake of logistics Cyrus opted to ride with Wayne. It didn’t make much sense for him to follow Wayne around in the back of a cab. So far things were going well, for the most part. With the exception of Wayne’s insane No Smoking in the car rule. He did not understand the need to stop at a second-rate newspaper.

“What are we doing here?” Cyrus asked, he was confused about what they could find there.

“To see some friends.” Wayne answered as he got out of the car. He was being deliberately vague.

“For what purpose?” Cyrus asked slightly annoyed at Wayne’s childishness.

“Do you know why detectives hate reporters?” Wayne asked.

“That’s the question that keeps me up nights.” Cyrus said sarcastically.

“Because usually they are better at the job then we are.” Wayne admitted as they entered the building. The elevator was broken, naturally, and had been for some time. They were forced to climb four flights of stairs. Finally getting to the news room, it was a sad sight. A handful of employee’s sitting around their computers. The annoying click-clack of keyboards echoed through the dim, dusty room. The placed had an old musty smell to it, Cyrus disliked it immediately.

Cyrus followed Wayne across the newsroom floor. No one tried to stop them or even seemed to notice they were there at all. Wayne knocked on the door, but did not wait for it to be answered. Craig flashed a toothy smile as Wayne entered the room. Susan acknowledged him with a slight nod not much unlike that of a house cat welcoming its master home.

“Just the man I wanted to see.” Craig said with a smile, the smile quickly faded when he caught a glimpse of Cyrus.

“Craig, Susan.” Wayne greeted them.

“Who’s he?” Susan asked rudely.

“This is Cyrus. My new partner.” Wayne introduced him as if he were a stray dog Wayne had found on the way to see them.

“I thought we were your partners.” Craig half joked.

“It’s temporary.” Cyrus growled. An uncomfortable silence followed as it often did when Cyrus spoke.

“So, what brings you by?” Craig asked, not being able to take the silence any longer.

“Was it Regina Monroe?” Susan asked before Wayne could answer.

“Yes.” Wayne answered with a smirk.

“You owe me twenty bucks.” Susan said to Craig. To an outsider it may have seemed a cold and tasteless issue to wager on, but in their line of work dead bodies were commonplace.

“Yeah, yeah.” Craig mocked and waved his hand.

“I need a word.” Wayne said. “In private.” Craig and Susan shared a look.

“Fine.” Susan grumbled and left the room. Wayne shot an awkward glance at Cyrus.

“Seriously?” he asked, Wayne did not answer. “Fine.” Cyrus scoffed. Wayne took Susan’s seat once they were alone.

“Something’s wrong.” Craig noticed immediately. “Anything to do with your new, incredibly hot and terrifying partner?” Craig asked, he was clearly worried. Wayne didn’t know how to tell him that their backs were to the wall, he decided to get it over with quick like a band aide.

“Yeah.” Wayne scoffed. “Lawrence is using Robert Powell to make me work his daughter’s case.” Wayne said bluntly.

“What?!” Craig exclaimed, he hadn’t concerned himself with that case since the day Susan came into his life and treated it like a bad dream with the hope that the image would fade over time. It was hard and startling to hear the man’s name after all those years. “How much does he know?” Craig began closing the blinds in his office that overlooked the newsroom. He was pacing frantically and was on the verge of having a break down.

“Everything.” Wayne told him the truth. They were in it together and he knew hiding it from him wasn’t the right thing to do.

“What the hell is he going to do with it?” Craig knew exactly how damaging that information could be. “Because that isn’t something I thought would come back to bite us.”

“I know.” Wayne sighed. “Don’t worry, I’ll handle it, but I’m going to need your help.” Wayne said. It was not ideal, but Craig and Susan were the only people Wayne knew he could trust.

“Of course, I’m not going to prison over a piece of shit like Robert Powell.” Craig returned to his seat and took a deep breath to calm himself.

“You won’t.” Wayne assured him. “You may, however, have to tell Susan. We need all hands on deck for this one.” Wayne explained, that was a conversation he was grateful he didn’t have to be there for.

“That’s something I was hoping to end up on my list of deathbed confessions.” Craig sighed, telling Susan seemed to worry him more than the thought of prison.

“I know.” Wayne said. “I wish you didn’t have to do this. I should have stopped you then.” Wayne admitted.

“This is not your fault. Hell, you’re the only one who gave a damn. That mean’s something to me and it’ll mean something to her too. No matter how it changes our relationship we aren’t going to make you stand alone.” Craig stiffened up, trying to put on a brave face. His words were comforting.

“How does tall, pale, and scary factor into all of this?” Craig asked trying to take his mind off the dreadful thing they had done.

“He’s a mercenary Lawrence hired to kill whomever I finger as Regina’s killer.” Wayne answered.

“Is he dangerous?” Craig asked concerned that Susan was alone with him.

“I knew his kind during the war.” Wayne commented. “He’s more dangerous than we can imagine, but I don’t think we have to worry about him. Not right now at least.” Wayne scoffed, that was a problem for another time.

“So he’s going to kill The Wolf?” Craig asked.

“The Wolf didn’t do this.” Wayne told him.

“You’re sure?”

“Damn near.”

“This is getting pretty deep.” Craig said.

“It’s going to get deeper, I imagine.” Wayne speculated.

Cyrus found what passed as the break room, it used to be an office but was converted for the employee’s. That was where Susan had retreated and it felt like as good a place as any to wait it out. The refrigerator, which he checked first, was filled with prepared lunches and out of date condiments. It was disgusting and he promptly shut the door. The coffee pot was half full but still warm. He knew it was too much to hope that it was fresh, but he poured himself a cup anyway. He took a sip and nearly spit it back out. It was horrendous, even by his standards, but it was caffeine so he drank it anyway. He sat down at the table with Susan and lit a cigarette.

“You can’t smoke in here.” Susan said halfheartedly, not so much as complaining, more like she was setting up her defense in case management came in the room.

“It masks the taste of whatever this is.” Cyrus grunted as he took another sip.

“Are you a cop or something?” Susan asked looking him up and down.

“No.” Cyrus shook his head. “I’m more of a consultant.” He told her, it was the closest thing to the truth he could think of.

“What does that mean?” Susan questioned him like she was trying to catch him in a lie.

“I consult.” He answered sarcastically. She gave him a foul look.

“How did you come to be working with Wayne?”

“You ask a lot of questions.” Cyrus scoffed.

“Comes with the job.” Susan retorted quickly, she decided to keep the gloves on. “Any idea what Wayne needed to talk to Craig about?” She asked.

“Yes.” Cyrus answered bluntly as he took another sip of coffee. It wasn’t so bad after the first few sips just like cheap liquor.

“Want to tell me?” Susan looked as if she was close to beating the answers out of him. Cyrus couldn’t help but find her aggressive behavior attractive, he like her straightaway.

“No.” Cyrus told her. He wasn’t trying to upset her, but she just seemed to be in a bad mood.

“Why?”

“It’s not for me to tell.” He answered. “If you want to know so badly, go in and ask.” He told her.

“You’re kind of an asshole.” Susan commented.

“I’ll have you know people think I’m delightful.” Cyrus chuckled. She was clearly trying to fight it, but eventually Susan gave in and smiled as well.

“I’ve never known Wayne to work with anybody, apart from Craig.” Susan said.

“It was not up to us.” Cyrus admitted.

“How so?” She asked. He knew she was going to and decided to give her this one.

“Lawrence Monroe is a resourceful man. On top of being an insufferable jackass.” He said not giving her a straight answer but he knew she’d figure it out eventually.

“Mmm.” She grunted as she appeared to be working it out. Shortly after that Wayne came into the room and signaled for him to follow. Cyrus left the cup on the table thinking that someone would get to it. He gave Susan a simple nod, she did nothing in return. She was still trying to figure him out.

With the two of them gone Craig opened the blinds of his office so he could see. Susan was already in mid-march across the newsroom to his office. It was time to tell her what was going on. He was nervous, heart rate was rising, and his palms felt slippery. He thought it better to sit at his desk like somehow it would make him seem more in control than he actually was.

Lying wasn’t exactly the right term to use, but he didn’t tell her everything that had happened, very little, truth be told. Admitting to murder was not a good way to start a friendship, but now Craig felt like he was going to ruin it. Everything he and Susan were together was going to change and he feared that more than anything, but there was no real way around it. Not this time.

“What was that about?” Susan asked, Craig said nothing at first. It was a struggle to collect his thoughts on how to begin.

“Sit down. I need to tell you something.” He told her.

“What?” She asked and took her seat.

“I told you what happened to my husband.” Craig always referred to his partner as husband even though they were never married. The love of his life deserved a better title than partner and Craig had never found such love before or since. It felt right to think of him so.

“Yes.” Susan said calmly. She knew enough about him to know that something was bothering him.

“There are some things I didn’t tell you.” Craig began. “The night I found you I had every intention of killing myself.” He admitted. Susan showed no signs of surprise or shock. “Wayne called me and asked me to help him track down a thief, you.” He took a small bottle of cheap whiskey and a glass out of his top desk drawer. “He’s my friend and I owed him. So I thought, what the hell? One last case before I leave.” Craig poured himself a drink.

“Owed him for what?” Susan asked, she was confused. He knew she would be.

“I’m getting to that.” Craig took a drink to calm his nerves. “I followed the leads and went through the motions like I had so many times before. I followed them to this rot-infested house that even the junkies wouldn’t live in.” Craig couldn’t help but smile as he reminisced. “And I found this beautiful, filthy girl.” Susan laughed with him even though it was not their most pleasant memories. “And from the moment I laid eyes on you I knew that I was supposed to take care of you. I can’t explain it, but I was certain of it.” Craig’s voice was brittle and he was getting teary eyed and choked up but he did not cry. Susan was maintaining her composure well even though she shared his feelings on the matter.

“When we got home I flushed the pills I had planned on using and cooked you dinner.” Craig smiled.

“Why are you telling me this?” Susan choked out the words.

“I’m telling you this because you kept me going those first few months and I’ll always love you for that.” He told her.

“What’s going on?” Susan asked more sternly.

“After the police gave up on my husband the case went cold. Wayne was the only person willing to investigate. We finally found the man responsible, Robert Powell, but we didn’t have enough evidence to go to trial. We were going to lose.” Craig poured himself another drink and downed it just as quickly. “I wasn’t willing to let that happen. I broke into his house in the middle of the night and killed him. Wayne helped me cover it up.” Craig finally confessed, there was a calmness to his voice like a weight had been lifted. No matter the damage to their relationship it felt good to finally admit it out loud. “Somehow Lawrence found out about it and is forcing Wayne to work for him. If he refuses we both go to prison.” Craig filled her in. Susan was silent like she was processing what she had been told.

“What does he need us to do?” She finally said with no hint that she was angry with him.

“You aren’t mad?” Craig asked.

“Of course not. The man deserved to die for what he did. Yours wasn’t the only life that was saved that day.” Susan smiled gently and spoke in a soft voice. Craig knew that she loved him as much as he loved her, even if she didn’t spill her guts the way he did. Their relationship wasn’t perfect but it was theirs. “Whatever happens we’ll face it together and everything will be fine.” Susan assured him.

Chapter 7

They sat in silence for most of the drive. Neither of them had any wish to return to Lawrence’s house, being forced into business with him was bad enough. A man who had all but threatened to cripple the both of them if they were unable to find, capture, and kill the extremely elusive Wolf. A task that, from Wayne’s point of view, felt impossible. Wayne’s only hope rested on whether or not he could still do the job. He’d hoped those days were behind him and he could be an alcoholic divorcee with an empty bank account in peace. He just wanted to be left alone.

“Why are we coming back here again?” Cyrus asked breaking the silence.

“We need to find out more about Regina.” Wayne explained.

“And you think her father is the right place to go?” Cyrus criticized.

“No.” Wayne grunted. “But he will be able to tell us more about her. A girl as well-behaved as Regina isn’t in the system nor has a list of known associates.” Wayne continued.

“Normal people call those friends.” Cyrus chuckled as he interrupted.

“Yes, so we either ask the father or look through every tabloid she’s ever appeared in to find out who those friends are.” Wayne finished, he made no attempt to hide the aggravation in his voice.

“I don’t know how helpful he will be.” Said Cyrus.

“How do you know him anyway?” Wayne asked, he did not expect Cyrus to offer up any information.

“I don’t.” Cyrus told him. “I had never met the man before last night.” Cyrus finished.

“So you’re in this for the money?” Wayne struggled to hide his distaste.

“No, he found something that belongs to me and I want it back.” Cyrus explained. There was a hint of animosity behind his words.

“What is it?” Wayne thought he’d push his luck.

Cyrus scoffed. “Something I thought I lost a long time ago.” He told him. Wayne knew that was the most he was going to get. Must be important. He thought to himself as he studied the man, they spoke no more on the subject. Somehow knowing that Cyrus was being blackmailed as well made the situation feel less tense.

Once again they were facing the gate, it was just as ominous as the night before. The forecast for the day was sunny, but clouds had gathered over the estate. Neither of them could say what the house was like before Regina’s death, but nothing remained there now but misery and desolation. The surroundings seemed to imitate what was coming from inside as if the broken heart of the father was bending the fabric of reality.

Security was much lighter than the night before, as far as they could tell only the gate guard remained. He didn’t bother to check their credentials, he simply opened the gate and waved them through. Clearly Lawrence’s only concern had been for his daughter. Now that she was gone his own safety, let alone Henry’s, was no longer the costly priority it had once been.

They pulled up in front of the house and left the car where it was parked. They approached the door at a slow pace trying to extend the process. Before they could knock an elderly gentlemen with balding white hair in a tidy black uniform opened the door. The butler had resumed his duties in place of the armed security. Inside the house was as cold as the weather outside. They half expected to find Lawrence, drunk in a bathrobe, sitting in his own filth. Wayne couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose his son, especially in such a violent manner as befell Regina or maybe he just didn’t want too. Cyrus on the other hand, though not completely without sympathy, was far too angry at Lawrence to be concerned about his emotional state. The butler took them into the study where Lawrence was sitting behind his desk with more than one empty bottle of liquor and a photograph of his late daughter. His jacket had been discarded, both his sleeves were rolled half way up his arms and his tie was nowhere to be found.

The butler walked over to him and whispered in his ear, alerting his master to their presence. He looked up at them and immediately scoffed.

“Why are you not out catching the man who killed my daughter?” Lawrence grumbled. He was clearly drunk though his tolerance through years of alcoholism made him extremely functional.

“The Wolf didn’t kill your daughter.” Wayne informed him. Lawrence’s eyes fell to the picture of his daughter for a brief moment and then back to them.

“The job remains the same. You find him…” He pointed his skinny, frail finger at Wayne. “And you kill him.” the finger shifted to Cyrus.

“We have a few questions we need you to answer.” Wayne said trying to overlook his distaste for the man.

“Well, ask.” Lawrence patronized looking down his nose at them. Wayne retrieved a small black note book from the inside of his coat along with a ballpoint pen, he had to lick the tip before it would write properly.

“We need a list of friends, if she was seeing anyone, places she like to go, what she was doing the night she died. Things of that nature.” Wayne listed off the things they needed. Lawrence sat there staring at the picture, Wayne didn’t think he was going to be of any use, not in his current state of drunkenness. As he was ready to throw in the towel, Lawrence stumbled out of his chair and made his way over to a bookshelf built into the wall of his office. There were more pictures but one stood out to Lawrence. He gripped it firmly and tore the back of the frame off like an animal tearing into the flesh of fresh kill to retrieve the delicious meat from inside in the form of a picture. A second frame he attacked just as ravenously.

Once Lawrence was finished he walked the pictures over to Wayne, crunching the frames beneath his feet as he did so. “Prom.” Lawrence said handing over the first picture. “Regina and her best friend, the girl in the blue dress, Ashley Waters.” He said after thinking about it for a moment. Wayne was not surprised he had trouble remembering his daughter’s best friend. Lawrence didn’t strike him as the hands on type of father. “You can start with her, she didn’t have many other close friends.” He slumped back down into his chair. Wayne handed the picture of the girls to Cyrus, who gave it a once over to pretend he gave a damn.

“And the other picture?” Wayne asked, the other picture contained Regina and Lawrence with two other men, the first appeared to be around Regina’s age, the other was closer to Lawrence though a decade or so younger.

“That’s her and Curtis Walker. Her boyfriend.” Lawrence laughed and used finger quotes, Wayne noted it as odd. “Boy is taking it pretty hard from what I understand.” His laughter turned to stifled sobs at the thought of his daughter.

“Would it be alright if we saw her room?” Wayne asked.

“I don’t care.” Lawrence answered rudely. He spun his chair around so that he faced the window. They took that as their cue to leave.

The butler was kind enough to show them to Regina’s room as opposed to having them wonder about the house aimlessly. Henry’s room was in the same hallway as Regina’s, only three rooms further.

“I’ll speak to the son.” Cyrus said, Wayne agreed and they parted ways.

Wayne was grateful that Cyrus had enough sense to lure the butler away, which gave him the privacy required to search through Regina’s room. The room was, on the surface, what one would expect from a sixteen year old girl. Everything was neatly organized and put in its proper place. The room itself was spotless, clothes hung up, drawers were organized in a borderline OCD like fashion. To the untrained eye it would seem that Regina Monroe was the perfect daughter. Neat, organized, straight A student with perfect attendance. To Wayne it was the room of a girl who had to pretend to be who she appeared to be. Her text books were for advanced classes and there was an acceptance letter to one of the most prestige’s schools in the city. Probably offered a full ride too. Wayne thought to himself. All of this suggested Regina had above average intelligence, an even higher IQ than she let people believe, and if she had anything to hide it wouldn’t be in the obvious places. Underneath her mattress, in-between the pages of her books, desk and sock drawers were all clean. Wayne even checked the vents but found nothing. Half ready to start tearing down the walls Wayne went through Regina’s walk-in closet, it made him feel strange rummaging through a young girls clothes, but it did lead him to a significant find.

Regina really was the genius Wayne suspected her of being. Maybe she did it because of lack of parental supervision or simply because she could, he couldn’t say. Somehow the girl had built a false wall in the back corner of her closet, which was bigger than his apartment. The quality was good enough that he nearly missed it. It was a small hole surgically cut into the wall and expertly covered up, perfectly mimicking the surrounding surface. Inside was a square metal box secured with a small locking mechanism. Wayne hadn’t spotted a key during his search so he shook the box to determine its contents. Judging by the sound, the box was stuffed with something soft like paper, but there was something rattling around inside. There was no telling whether or not it was going to help his investigation, but in his experience secrets hidden behind false walls were worth looking into.

Down the hall the butler showed Cyrus to Henry’s room, which was empty.

“Where is the boy?” Cyrus asked the butler.

“He left last night and has yet to return.” The butler told him in a high-pitched voice.

Cyrus took the liberty of having a look around, after slipping the old man a fifty to take a smoke break, which the butler was more than happy to do. Henry was completely the opposite of his sister, nights when he was not spending his father’s money at clubs were spent with promiscuous women. There was nothing interesting in the room apart from a sizable and impressive prescription drug collection.

At Henry’s desk Cyrus found his shredder was full of paper, nothing he could make out of course, but it begged the question. What would a boy who did nothing but party and spend his father’s money need to shred? Henry’s computer was terribly easy to get into even with Cyrus’s limited computer skills. The browser history contained a ridiculous amount of porn, though he should have seen that coming, so it was his own fault. Once he waded through it all he found something interesting. A website connected to his bank accounts, all of which were either empty or overdrawn.

It did not take a detective to deduce that if the boy was broke then that meant either Lawrence had cut him off or the old man was going broke as well, the latter of the two seeming unlikely. Cyrus did not think there was much more to be gained from remaining in Henry’s room, he decided to see if Wayne had made any progress. Wayne, having the same idea as Cyrus, met him in the hallway.

“Find anything?” Wayne asked in a hushed voice.

“Maybe, you?” Cyrus replied. Wayne shook his head in confirmation and motioned for Cyrus to follow. Back in Regina’s room he showed Cyrus the box.

“Think you can get into this?” Wayne asked hoping Cyrus could pick the lock.

“Sure.” Cyrus answered and nonchalantly pulled a knife from his pocket, jammed the blade between the seal, and forced the lock open. Cyrus returned the knife to his pocket and flipped the lid open.

“I could have done that.” Wayne commented.

“Why didn’t you?” Cyrus sounded sarcastic, but he was really asking, Wayne did not answer as he dumped the contents of the box onto Regina’s bed. The box contained a large amount of cash money, almost thirty grand, several pieces of designer jewelry, expensive enough to hide instead of keeping on display in her jewelry box, and well over a dozen hand written letters. Cyrus’ attention was taken by the jewelry, which he snatched up to get a closer look. Wayne quickly took it from him and tossed it back onto the bed.

“What?”

“We can’t take any of this.” Wayne stated as he picked up the letters.

“I’m not going to steal it, I’m not a thief.” Cyrus said, he was lying of course. Wayne scoffed and shook his head as he unbound the letters and thumbed through them.

“Does it say who sent them?” Cyrus asked.

“No, but the hand writing is all the same. Looks like Regina may have had an admirer.” Wayne said as tucked the letters into his inside coat pocket.

“These pieces are expensive, rare, and custom made.” Cyrus stated as he examined an exquisite ruby necklace in the shape of an oval hanging on a thick silver chain.

“And?” Wayne asked.

“And someone other than her father bought them for her and women don’t buy their own jewelry.” Cyrus explained, Wayne still looked confused. “A piece like this is upwards of forty grand, someone’s going to know where it came from and they’ll know who bought it. I’m guessing it came with the letters.” He explained further. “Try to keep up detective.” Cyrus mused.

“How do you know that?” Wayne wondered.

“I wasn’t always enslaved by a rich asshole.” Cyrus joked.

“Could be from the boyfriend.” Cyrus suggested with his mind back on the task at hand. “Walkers are filthy rich too.” Said Cyrus.

“Really? How do you know?” Wayne was curious, he was amazed at how useful Cyrus was turning out to be.

“I make it my business to know where the rich people are.” Cyrus answered. Wayne realized he did not want to know any more than that.

“So, what now? We get the old man to tell us about this stuff?” Asked Cyrus.

“No, I found it hidden in the wall. Doubt Lawrence knows anything about it. There would be no reason to show the letters or gifts to her boyfriend either, she wouldn’t have hidden anything he had given her.” Wayne broke it down for him.

“Stands to reason.” Cyrus agreed.

“We need to take these with us.” Wayne said. They kept the letters and the necklace but left the money in the box and returned it to its hiding place. They ran into the butler on the way out, Cyrus gave him another fifty to keep quiet about the previous bribe and they eased their way out without drawing the attention of the master of the house.

Chapter 8

Cyrus read the letters as Wayne navigated the stop and go traffic of the lunch rush. The author used red ink and wrote in calligraphy that, to Cyrus’s eyes, was quite beautiful. They read like an amateur romance novel, the kind you find in the discount bin by unknown authors. At first they started much like one would expect. I love you and I need you more than the air I breathe, the author writes. Seemingly from the heart at first, it was easy to see how a sixteen year old girl would be drawn in by such honeyed words. With the passage of time the letters became more about sex and less about love, in graphic detail. Cyrus imagined Regina had written back, that was the only way to account for the escalation.

Apart from the author’s feelings, both above and below the belt, he mentions his jealousy and hatred of Regina’s boyfriend, Curtis, many times. If they were to assume the author was the killer, which Cyrus certainly did, then the letters were used to draw her in. A long con if ever there was one. Personally Cyrus never understood serial killers. An ironic thought given his status as a mass murderer, on more than one occasion, but there was never any psychological purpose behind it. His motivation was and had always been, for the most part, money.

“Did Henry tell you anything?” Wayne asked interrupting his reading.

“He wasn’t home. According to the manservant he left last night and didn’t return.” Cyrus repeated what he had been told.

“I thought you found something?”

“I may have.” Cyrus said but did not elaborate.

“Well?” asked Wayne.

“I suspect there were bank statements in the shredder.” Cyrus began as he kept reading the letters. There were parts that made him laugh and shake his head, but he did well to control his outbursts. “He left himself logged into the accounts his father had set up for him.” Cyrus paused for a moment, he had finished the current letter and quickly opened up another one.

“And?” Wayne barked trying to get his attention.

“And they were empty.” Cyrus stated.

“What?!” Wayne exclaimed.

“Yup. So, maybe he’s broke because daddy’s broke.” Cyrus suggested. “That would explain why Lawrence is partying like his parents are out of town.” Cyrus cracked himself up and followed up with a high-pitched chuckle.

“That’s actually not bad.” Wayne was further surprised by what Cyrus managed to uncover. Cyrus nodded in agreement and flipped to the next letter.

“Anything good in those?” Wayne asked referring to the letters.

“Depends on how much you like reading the intimate and private thoughts of other human beings.” Cyrus joked, but considered that very act one of his favorite pass times. “So far all I can say is that these are absolutely not from the boyfriend.” Cyrus continued before Wayne had a chance to yell at him. “Though I know why she felt the need to hide these. It’s the equivalent of a dick pic before cell phones were invented.” Cyrus smirked.

“Daughter has a secret admirer and the family may be on the brink of financial ruin. How the hell does that explain why Regina was murdered?” Wayne asked aloud.

“Could be its just Henry that’s in financial distress. He’s had multiple failed businesses. Could have killed her for her inheritance. You’d be amazed how many people have come to me with that in mind.” Cyrus carried on. Wayne did not react in the appalling manner as Cyrus had come to expect from him. Perhaps Wayne had finally come to terms with who he was and what he did for a living. Either way the conversation carried on, not skipping a beat.

“So we’ve got the brother who could’ve killed her for money, the boyfriend who could have killed her over the other man in her life, and the other man in question who could have killed her for just about anything.” Wayne speculated. At this point it was a coin toss. The suspect pool was shallow at this early stage in the investigation. Cyrus feared they would spend the entire day talking.

“How do we go about questioning them?” Cyrus asked. He didn’t bother to hide how bored he was at the mere thought of it.

“We need to track down Henry, if we are lucky he didn’t skip town. Craig can help tracking down the boyfriend and the bestie.” Wayne broke it down for him.

“I can look into this.” Cyrus said pulling the ruby necklace out of his pocket and admiring it.

“Susan will be able to help with that as well.” Wayne commented. Cyrus was excited to know he’d be seeing her again. “She knows her way around jewelry too.” Wayne said. They had made good time and were not far from the news station. For a moment it felt like they would wrap it up sooner than expected and the threat of certain death and imprisonment would soon be lifted.

Chapter 9

They were too late to meet Craig and Susan at the office. According to an awfully unpleasant woman who informed them, at length, that she was not a receptionist – Craig and Susan had stepped out for lunch. During the drive to catch up to them traffic went from a slow crawl to a complete standstill. Further down the street a delivery truck had jumped the curb, there were at least two fatalities maybe more, but they couldn’t see. Uniformed officers were doing their best to control the flow of traffic, but they were having trouble with the aggression of the public. Wayne was sure at least one of them was a rookie on his first day.

“So.” Cyrus broke the silence. “Why a detective?” he asked out of the blue.

“What?” Wayne was not expecting any sort of personal conversation.

“Why did you become a private detective? I read your service file. Just curious as to why you didn’t stay in the military. You had a promising career or at least you could have found more lucrative work in the private sector.” Cyrus expanded his question.

“That’s supposed to be classified.” Wayne was not comfortable with how much Cyrus seemed to know about him.

“It was.” Cyrus smiled. “Reading redacted government files is an art form.” Cyrus said, but was still looking for an answer to his question. “We’re going to be here for a while, thought I’d make conversation.”

“I didn’t want to work for the government anymore or for assholes like Lawrence.” Wayne told him.

“I can relate.” Cyrus commented. Wayne scoffed at the thought. What could he have in common with a man like Cyrus? As far as he was concerned they were two different people and there was nothing that would change his mind. “Better for the family I suppose.” Cyrus’s comment struck a nerve.

“Don’t talk about my family!” Wayne snapped. It was no surprise that if Cyrus managed to get his service records then it wouldn’t have been out of his reach to find a marriage license or birth certificate.

“Fair enough.” Cyrus withdrew his comment without apologizing. They rode in silence for the next two car lengths. “FBI try to recruit you?” Cyrus went on with his questions. Wayne responded with an exasperated sigh like he was on a road trip with a child who wouldn’t stop kicking the back of his seat.

“Yes.” Wayne answered through his teeth. “Been after me for a while now.” Wayne admitted without sounding boastful.

“Consulting on the Wolf case?”

“Yeah.”

“And you said no?” Asked Cyrus as they moved up another car length.

“I don’t work those kinds of cases anymore.” Wayne explained vaguely.

“Any particular reason?” Cyrus asked, but Wayne was certain that he already knew the answer or at least enough to piece it together.

“Last one didn’t go well.” Wayne grunted.

Years ago, not long after leaving the military, Wayne had worked several high profile cases. Kidnappings, robberies, missing persons, and murders – serial or otherwise. A family out of Texas, who had made their fortune through beef, employed his services after their youngest son, a six year old, was abducted. They offered him a fortune, but Wayne waved his fee seeing that it was a child that reminded him of his own son. The abductors turned out to be a couple. Wayne and the young officer that accompanied him were ambushed and taken prisoner.

After their capture the abductors forced them to watch as they burned four boys alive to cover their tracks. The lead Wayne had been following was a long shot, hence the single officer that was with him. The details of his escape were fuzzy, even to Wayne. He couldn’t remember what had happened after that. All he did remember was coming too outside of the old farmhouse covered in blood. Doctor could find nothing wrong with him physically. Later the abductors and the officer were found dead along with the children. Wayne could only tell them so much, the family were, justifiably, unhappy about how things turned out and tried to sue him once the FBI had cleared him of any wrong doing. The case was ultimately dismissed and Wayne never worked a criminal case again.

“I read the reports and the news articles. It’s a damn shame.” Cyrus said sounding uncharacteristically sympathetic.

“That’s what they say.” Wayne scoffed. “What about you?” He asked. They were making slow progress but were still bogged down.

“How do you mean?” Cyrus asked like he didn’t understand the question.

“How did you end up doing what you do?” Wayne elaborated.

Cyrus laughed. “Honestly, you’ll regret it if I tell you.” Cyrus told him. It was clear to Wayne that Cyrus was not the sharing type either. It was hard to blame him, murder for hire was a dirty business and Wayne was sure that he was better off not knowing.

Traffic finally let up once the officers waved them through. Craig and Susan were waiting for them at a Sushi restaurant they favored. Wayne had been there several times so he knew the way. He expected Cyrus to continue to question him about his early life, but much to Wayne’s surprise, he remained silent. Wayne was grateful. He did not like talking about the old days. The one thing the papers never talked about was the personal cost, not only his own, but the people he worked with and the families as well.

Chasing down vicious killers, rapists, and thieves had left its mark on him. It cost him his family and very nearly his sanity. Between losing friends and telling parents he couldn’t save their children Wayne had enough and washed his hands of the whole business.

They found Craig and Susan sitting in the back of the empty restaurant as if they were worried someone would sneak up behind them. Craig had ordered, but wasn’t eating, being forced to think of Robert Powell again had robbed him of his appetite. He was pecking away at his laptop while Susan ate. Wayne wasn’t sure if Craig had told her about Powell yet, if so she wasn’t taking it very hard. At the small table Wayne sat across from Craig and Cyrus from Susan.

“Any luck?” Craig asked eagerly as they sat down.

“Some” Wayne said as Cyrus motioned for the server. “Seriously?” He asked and gave Cyrus a confounded look.

“What? I’m thirsty.” Cyrus chuckled as he ordered a soda and began eating from Craig’s untouched plate with a pair of chop sticks.

“Anyway.” Wayne said as he turned his attention back to Craig. “We found these.” He tossed the letters onto the table. “Thought you might be able to do something with them. You like this kind of stuff.” He said referring to the calligraphy.

“Is that a gay joke?” Craig asked. “If so it’s a bad one.” He smiled, took the letters, and thumbed through them.

“Wow!” Craig exclaimed as he got to the more recent letters. “These are a little graphic for a sixteen year old.” Craig grimaced.

“I know right.” Cyrus laughed, the server returned with his soda and he drank it greedily.

“I know a guy who may be able to help but I can’t promise anything.” Craig examined one of the letters more closely. “I wouldn’t hold my breath though, nothing really stands out. Anything else?” Craig asked as he put the letter away.

“Found this with the letters.” Cyrus pulled out the ruby necklace and placed it in front of Susan. “I hear you’ve got some light fingers.” He flashed a smile at her.

“Where did you find this?” She asked picking up the necklace. She did not return the smile.

“In the wall with the letters. We have to assume it’s from the same person.” Wayne said.

“Someone is going to know about a piece like this. It’s worth a fortune.” Susan commented.

“That’s what I said.” Cyrus chuckled.

Susan smirked involuntarily. “I know a few people we can talk to, maybe dig something up. “ She didn’t look happy when thinking about the people she was referring to.

“Okay so, Craig and I will track down the letters. You two follow up on that.” Wayne handed out the assignments.

“Sounds like a plan.” Craig agreed, Susan and Cyrus were reluctantly on board as well. Craig paid the bill, Susan tipped, and they left the restaurant clear of their purpose and what was at stake.

Chapter 10

Craig lead them across town, after parting ways with their respective sidekicks, to a bookstore that specialized in rare volumes by authors Wayne had never heard of. The fallback career of Craig’s college roommate after failing as a writer. It was a hole in the wall. The sort of place that could only be found by people who knew it was there. It came as no surprise to Wayne that Craig would know about it off hand, being that he preferred books to television.

“Did you tell Susan about Robert?” Wayne asked.

“Yes.”

“How’d she take it?”

“Surprisingly well.” Craig scoffed. “She didn’t really say anything about it.”

“Well she always was a little out of it.” Wayne chuckled.

“Hell, she’s probably seen worse.” Craig said grimly.

“Taking her in was the right thing to do no matter how she feels about it.” Wayne tried to comfort him. Craig was more concerned about Susan than he was himself. It was admirable and one of the reasons Wayne respected him so.

“I can’t abandon her Wayne.” He said taking a deep breath afterward.

“You won’t. We’ll take care of this.” Wayne assured him, it didn’t matter whether or not he believed it as long as Craig did.

“I know.” Craig said, he was trying to convince himself as well. “It seems she’s taken a liking to your friend.” Craig laughed.

“He’s just as crazy as she is, might be good for her.” Wayne laughed with him.

A tiny bell, attached to the door, chimed as they entered the humble shop. The owner, Craig’s friend, introduced as Adam, sat behind the counter cataloging old books recently purchased from an estate sale earlier that morning. Adam was a young man, maybe a year or two older than Craig, and looked far too young to own such a place. He wore a blue knitted jacket with the sleeves rolled up and was a darker blonde than Craig, more the color of sand than the golden shade of Craig’s. Wayne deduced that the relationship between Craig and Adam once had a more than friends’ element to it. In all the years they had known one another Craig had never spoken of lovers outside of his husband, Wayne said nothing and gave them a minute to catch up while he looked around the shop.

The whole room had the musty old book smell that reminded Wayne of his high school library. Apart from Adam, and now the two of them, there were only two other patrons. Two kids, one boy and one girl, no older than eighteen, were arguing over what book to write their lit paper on. The boy was in favor of a classic science fiction novel, whereas the girl insisted on a romance in equal standing amongst the classics. The boy tried his very best, but eventually he caved as both the girl and Wayne knew he would.

Craig drew his attention away from the young couple by lightly tapping him on the shoulder. Adam waited for him, smiling, behind the counter. Wayne cleared his throat and retrieved a letter from the inside of his coat. One of the first, less explicit, letters.

“What can you tell me about this?” Wayne asked sliding the letter across the counter top. Adam unfolded the letter but stopped to put on a pair of thick reading glasses before doing anything else.

“My dearest…” Adam mumbled to himself under his breath before looking up at them with wide, shocked eyes. “Regina? As in?” He began to ask.

“Yes.” Craig answered. Adam gasped.

“You’re investigating the Monroe murder?” He followed up with a look of surprise and disbelief.

“The letter?” Wayne didn’t bother answering him. Half the city was waiting with bated breath for even the tiniest sliver of news about Regina, who may as well have been their princess. Craig would make sure Adam didn’t tell anyone about their level of involvement in the investigation.

“Right.” Adam went back to the letter. After reading the letter in its entirety he took a magnifying glass to examine it more closely. “The ink is homemade. A beginner wouldn’t do that. They’d just go with the first ink that was sold to them.” Adam said as he scraped off a sample with a small stencil knife. “If it’s made with anything rare or unusual I can find out, but it may take a few days.” Adam told them.

“That’s too long.” Wayne muttered and stroked his chin trying to think of another way the letters could be useful.

“What about the paper?” Craig asked.

“Unusual thickness, but other than that nothing. Fairly common among the more dedicated.” Adam replied with a frown. “I can tell you whomever wrote this has been practicing for some time. If that helps.” Adam appeared genuinely upset that he hadn’t been helpful. Wayne thanked him anyway and returned the letter to his pockets. Leaving Craig to say his good-byes to Adam, Wayne went back to the car. His phone rang before he got there.

“Hello?” Wayne answered.

“Wayne!” Palmer exclaimed, he was far too happy that he had answered the phone. This was not a social call. “Did you look over those files I sent you?”

“I may have glanced at them a time or two, why?” Wayne did not want to give away the fact that he was actually working the case.

“The feds don’t think The Wolf killed the girl.” Palmer informed him.

“Is that right?” Wayne feigned ignorance. He knew they’d put it together eventually, but it happened sooner than he expected.

“Yeah, they’re looking at me to wrap up the Monroe case.” Palmer said. “Any chance I could get you to take another look?” He finally asked as Wayne knew he would. This was a fortuitous turn of events. Now if they were caught working the case Palmer could take the blame. It felt wrong to lie to a friend but Wayne had little choice.

“What do you need?”

“Regina had a boyfriend named Curtis Walker.” Palmer said, Wayne went along pretending to hear it for the first time. “His father is some kind of bigshot and is being a dick about letting me talk to him.”

“And you want me to do it.” Wayne scoffed.

“I knew you’d understand old buddy.” Palmer laughed. “Just feel him out and see if it’s the right direction.” Palmer pleaded. Wayne played the part of inconvenienced friend, but since he was planning on talking to the boy anyway he agreed.

“What do you got so far?” Wayne asked curiously.

“DNA suggests she had sex shortly before she died, but wasn’t raped. Estimated time of death between midnight and 2 .A.M. That’s pretty much it.” Palmer sighed.

“Any idea who the DNA belongs too?” Wayne asked.

“Nope, Vegas money is on the boyfriend, but his father has him lawyered up.” Palmer explained.

“I’ll see what I can do but I can’t promise anything.” Wayne told him.

“That’s all I’m asking. I owe you one. I’ll text you the details.” Palmer said before hanging up.

Craig had been standing around waiting for him to get off the phone. He was clearly upset that Adam didn’t come through.

“Cheer up. It was a longshot anyway.” Wayne tried to rally his spirits.

“Yeah.” Craig grunted. “Was that anything good?” He asked about the phone call.

“Palmer wants me to look into the boyfriend. Want to come?” He asked.

“Sure.” Craig shrugged. “Both our asses are on the line here.” He reminded him. “Why does he suspect the boyfriend?” Craig asked.

“Regina had sex shortly before she died. He’s hoping the boyfriend did it, open and shut.” He explained.

“So we’re just going to interview him?” Craig asked.

“In a non-official capacity, yes.” Wayne smiled.

According to Palmer, Curtis Walker, Regina’s boyfriend and sole heir to the Walker fortune, worked as an intern at an IT company his father owned. The Walker’s had made their fortune off computer software in the early eighties. In his day Lloyd Walker was one of the brightest minds in his field. Developing some of the most sophisticated computing technology that was still in use to this day, spearheading the advance of modern technology and society, for better or worse. With experts in the field quickly becoming a dime a dozen Lloyd was content to sit back and let the money roll in, which it did, off the backs and skills of the younger generations. It was no surprise that Curtis showed an aptitude for programming as well, though his future lied in management and not the work itself. Being of privileged upbringing Wayne and Craig found it odd that the boy worked at all, though he certainly could have afforded to do whatever made him happy. Even if that meant murdering his high school girlfriend.

The buildings physical security was sub-standard. High school educated men who worked long hours and were under paid. They were much more concerned by hackers stealing the company secrets than common vandals and focused more on cyber security than anything else. At the front desk sat a beautiful young woman who seemed a little too happy in her work. Craig was able to work his magic. For a gay man he had an unbelievable way with the women. They fell in love with him wherever he went. Talking his way into places he was not supposed to be was his art and at it, Craig was a master.

Craig managed to get them access to Curtis’s floor by convincing her that they were recruiters from one of the best tech colleges in the country and that Lloyd had personally sent them to observe his son in a workplace setting. It was absolute crap of course, Craig mostly just made it up as he went along. With a smile and a few kind words the receptionist fell under his spell like a fly in a web. Once they were in the elevator and on their way Craig tore a small slip of paper, containing the young woman’s phone number, into smaller pieces. Wayne scoffed and shook his head.

“One day I’m going to figure out how you do that.” Wayne told him. Craig simply shrugged and flashed a grin.

The elevator doors opened to the floor. Spanning wall to wall were cubicles decorated by their individual inhabitants to reflect their personalities, which were eerily similar. The occupation drew from a very distinctive sub culture, every cubical looked like a booth at a comic book convention. Wayne and Craig stood in front of the elevator taking it all in. They had expected the stereotypical bleak and drab office space, but what they found was far from the truth. Less than half of the employees seemed to be doing any actual work, the rest were playing games and talking amongst themselves like they had nothing better to do.

The picture Lawrence had given them was recent enough that it did not take them long to identify Curtis. He was a small boy, not much unlike Craig was at that age, with glasses and long, mud colored hair that was loosely tied back. A pathetic attempt at rebellion Wayne thought to himself as they approached him. Being an unpaid intern Curtis was forced to handle grunt work, he was in the middle of restocking office supplies when they interrupted him. Being the boss’s son afforded him no favors among his fellow laborers.

“Can I help you?” He asked timidly.

“Is there a place where we can talk privately?” Wayne asked trying not to spook him. Curtis led them to the manager’s office and closed the door. He didn’t seem happy to see them. Wayne got the feeling he knew why they were there.

“What’s this about?” Curtis asked, it did not seem like his nerves were any better.

“You were dating Regina Monroe?” Wayne answered with a question, Curtis’s face turned red almost immediately. Wayne could see he was feeling guilty about something.

“My father told me not to talk to the police.” He said and tried to leave the office. Wayne held the door shut with a forceful hand. They wouldn’t have another chance to talk to the boy after this and Wayne didn’t want to leave anything unanswered.

“I’m not a cop.” He growled causing Curtis to back away from the door. “Now sit down.” He commanded, Curtis did as he was told.

“Then who are you?” Curtis stammered.

“The man her father hired to find the killer.” Wayne confessed, of course he failed to mention that the killer Lawrence hired wasn’t actually with him.

“I don’t have anything to say.” Curtis tried to act tough.

“You should really tell him what he wants to know kid.” Craig followed Wayne’s lead. “He can get pretty nasty when he gets angry.” Craig told him.

“Were you with her the night she died?” Wayne asked. Curtis was silent. He slammed his fist down on the desk beside Curtis, he hit it with such force that anything standing up right tipped over.

“I was with Ashley!” Curtis screamed in a lady-like voice.

“The best friend?” Craig blurted out like he was watching a soap opera. Curtis nodded his head.

“What were you doing with her?” Wayne asked. Curtis didn’t say anything.

“Boy, don’t make me ask you again.” He warned.

“She called me last night, she said she needed to talk to me.” Curtis admitted.

“About what?” Craig asked before Wayne could.

“I snuck into her place around 9.” Curtis took a deep breath like what he was about to say was hard for him. “She told me she was pregnant and that it was mine.” He confessed.

“Holy shit!” Craig let another outburst slip. He glanced at Wayne with an apologetic look.

“We stayed up talking until somewhere around midnight, I fell asleep at her place, and her parents chased me out this morning. I didn’t hear about Regina until about an hour after that.” Curtis told them. Craig pulled Wayne to the side and whispered so that Curtis couldn’t hear them.

“You think he’s telling the truth?” Craig asked.

“That’s a hell of a lie to make up. Plus it’d be easy to prove if he was lying.” Wayne argued.

“You feel guilty about getting her best friend pregnant?” Wayne asked.

“Yes.” Curtis answered simply, that explained why he looked the way he did. A terrible situation for a young man to be in.

“Well, I don’t think you killed Regina. I’m gonna have to be sure so I’ll have a friend, a real cop, talk to Ashley and her parents. If they give the okay you won’t ever see me again.” He assured the boy. Wayne and Curtis left him in the office, he stayed behind to have a moment to himself. They could hear him crying as they left.

Chapter 11

The sun drifted in and out slowly from behind the city’s skyscrapers as they walked. Although the temperature had risen since the early hours of the morning, frequent gusts of wind carried the bitter chill of winter along the city streets. The cold, though frigid, did not trouble Cyrus. He had spent many years in the frozen tundra’s of the former Soviet republics. The cold had gotten deep into his bones and it never really left him, that and a permanent distaste for Borscht.

Susan, on the other hand, was having a hard time with it. She had never liked the cold, being raised in warmer climates. The only thing about the city she never really got accustomed to. Cyrus had offered his coat but she refused. He got the feeling she may have been upset with him. They hadn’t spoken since they left the restaurant. Cyrus had always been oddly comfortable with uncomfortable silence but this was not one of those times.

“Where are we going?” Against his better judgment he decided to make conversation.

“To see someone who can help us.” She stated.

“A friend?” Cyrus asked.

“Not exactly.” Susan told him. That did not make him feel better.

“Are you expecting trouble?” Cyrus asked, judging by the look on her face this wasn’t going to be pleasant. He lit a cigarette.

“Not that you need to worry about. We just have a history.” Susan said grimly.

“Bad?” Cyrus asked. She was less than forthcoming with her answers.

“Complicated.” Susan replied ambiguously. Cyrus was beginning to think she was doing it on purpose. Their cat and mouse style of conversation made him smile.

“Can we trust him?”

“He’s a fence so, not even a little bit.” Susan laughed, it was nice to see something other than her, seemingly permanent, scowl. “But if anyone knows where the necklace came from it’ll be Ethan.”

“Ethan?”

“Ethan Mandrake. He’s responsible for funding most of the burglary business in the city.” Susan explained.

“Mandrake? Really?” Cyrus laughed.

“He changed it after going into business for himself. You of all people should know the value of a good alias.” Susan smirked devilishly.

“Meaning?” Cyrus was at a loss.

“Wayne isn’t the only one with friends in law enforcement.” Susan looked smug.

“The coffee cup.” Cyrus laughed. Susan was better than he had hoped.

“You know what I found?” Susan asked, now looking much less proud of herself.

“Of course.” Cyrus laughed eagerly waiting for her to share her findings.

“Not a damn thing.” Susan said like the words were bitter in her mouth. “That could not have been easy to do.” She commented.

“You have no idea.” Cyrus laughed, it wasn’t often he was about to boast about his anonymity. “Unlike your friend I can only work when no one knows who I am.” He explained.

“That says a lot about you.” Susan smirked. She was not the type of woman to take defeat lightly. “Not enough, but some.” She said as if she considered it a personal challenge.

Before he could ask any more questions they had arrived at their destination. Susan had brought him to a funeral parlor.

“A funeral home?” Cyrus asked suspiciously.

“Yup.” Susan answered with a giggle.

“That seems low, even for a fence.” Cyrus commented as he opened the door and followed her into the building. Inside there was a grieving family, a middle-aged man was attending to them. The place was quiet and calming like it was supposed to be. The décor was centered on bright colors of gold and red, Cyrus had expected something a little darker. Perhaps it helped the people forget they were putting their loved ones in the ground. Cyrus never understood the point of standing on ceremony, just seemed like a waste of space and money. Then again, he always imagined he’d end up in a ditch somewhere with no one to mourn his passing.

“Please tell me that’s not the guy?” Cyrus asked pointing to the old man.

“No, Ethan doesn’t deal with them directly but he does own the place. As far as anyone is concerned the business is completely legitimate.” Susan whispered so she wouldn’t disturb the mourners.

“What are we waiting for then?” Cyrus asked impatiently. Susan answered by pointing out the camera that was watching them. Soon after a very large man came out of the back office to greet them.

“I’m here to see Ethan.” Susan said before the man had time to pretend to be a funeral director. It was obvious, to Cyrus at least, that the man was there for security purposes. They followed him to the back office, the furniture looked as if it came with the building. Like a black and white noir film there was a hidden stair case in the office leading to a sub-basement. Underneath the funeral home was a completely different setting. It was a small storage area with an adjoining office. The building had served as a speakeasy during the days of prohibition, a fortunate find for a man in Ethan’s business. They passed by crates of art work, jewelry, weapons, and even a small chest of gold coins. Hoarded treasure like something out of a pirate novel.

Before letting them into the office the giant wanted to frisk them with a wand, Susan went along with it and came back clean. When it was Cyrus’s turn he couldn’t help but laugh.

“You really don’t want to do that.” He smiled as the man motioned for him to give up his guns. For a moment he was strongly considering killing the giant and taking what they had come for.

“That’s quite alright Marcus.” A disembodied voice from the office called out. The man, Marcus, and Cyrus shared a look before he stepped aside and let them pass. There were more valuables inside the office than in the storage room. Clearly, they had come to the right place.

Ethan Mandrake, the fence, sat with his back to them counting a massive pile of money.

“Excuse the mess.” He said and waved them in. “Bank job out of Texas. It’s a real headache.” He said as he ran a fist full of cash through his money counter. He wrote down the numbers in a ledger to keep track, but still had a long way to go.

If Cyrus hadn’t been looking at a colossal pile of money he would have thought the man a joke. He was young, hardly into his twenties like Susan, and was wearing a bright pink shirt with a purple vest and tie. The only man he had seen outside of the prostitution business wearing a purple suit. His jet black hair was shaved along its sides, but thick and slicked back on top, a style popular among young men of his generation. A thick trimmed, well cared for beard accompanied it.

“Now that’s a face I never thought I’d see again.” Ethan said, still writing in his ledger. Once finished he turned around in his chair to face them. “So, what brings you in out of the cold after all these years?” He asked with a grin that made even Cyrus uncomfortable and that was not an easy thing to do.

“We just need some information.” Susan told him.

“And what would that be?” Ethan crossed his arms like he was offended she had only come because she needed something. Cyrus took the necklace out of his pocket and placed it on the desk in between two stacks of money. Ethan quickly snatched it up to inspect it with his monocular. He spouted off remarks about clarity and cut, but Cyrus did not care enough to pay attention. The fact that it was valuable was already established.

“This is beautiful work.” Ethan commented. “You know, Aaron looked for you. Even threatened to put me out of business if I didn’t help track you down.” Ethan spoke of Susan’s past as he examined the necklace. A sore subject by the look on Susan’s face.

“I don’t give a shit.” She replied harshly. “Besides, you wouldn’t have found me anyway.” Susan quipped.

“I’ve always known where you were, Darling.” Ethan informed her. “But you aren’t here to reminisce.” He put the necklace back onto the desk. “I’d know this work anywhere. Paul Rosenberg crafted this master piece.” He explained.

“Why do I know that name?”

“Because he and his family have been making priceless works of art for over a hundred years.” Ethan chuckled like that was common knowledge.

“I’ve never heard you use the word priceless.” Susan grunted.

“Yes, it’s terribly depressing.” Ethan said dramatically. He interlocked his fingers and rested his elbows on the arms of his chair. “His work is too recognizable to steal.” Ethan said with a frown.

“Is he a local?” Susan asked.

“No.” Ethan said bluntly like he was disappointed. “He’s more of a freelance artist. There is only one place in the city he does business with.” He told them.

“I’m going to need the name and address.” Susan told him.

“I know, but you know nothing is free with me. Not even for old friends.”

“That’s bullshit!” Susan exclaimed and burst out of her chair. “You owe me.” She barked.

“I didn’t sell you out to Aaron, so I don’t owe you a damn thing.” Ethan said defensively.

“I don’t have anything you want.” She said after taking a moment to think about what he said.

“Not right now you don’t, but a girl like you, with your skills, could come in handy in the future.” Ethan laid out his terms. “You too, big boy.” Ethan said looking at Cyrus now.

“I’m not a thief.” Cyrus interrupted after being quiet the whole time.

“I know exactly what you are. I could tell just by looking at you. I’m not even gonna ask how you two ended up together, but I can tell you’ll be a nice thing to have saved for a rainy day as well.” Ethan was smiling because he knew they had no real choice but to accept.

“If you know men like me then what’s stopping me from killing your manservant and making you tell me what I want to know?” Cyrus inquired courteously with a smile.

Ethan laughed. “You could do that, hell at the end of the day that’s what poor Marcus is there for.” He did not look concerned. “Of course, if you do the room will seal itself off and we’ll all die anyway. So, there’s that.” He finished with an evil grin.

Cyrus looked at Susan and sighed. “Fine, it’s a deal.” He scoffed.

“That’s the spirit!” laughed Ethan as he clapped his hands enthusiastically. Cyrus really wanted to shoot him, but suffocating underneath a funeral home was not how he wanted to die.

Chapter 12

The address Ethan gave them was a thirty minute walk from the funeral home. Susan didn’t say anything, she was still upset from their meeting. It brought back a lot of memories from the old days, the bad days, before she met Craig. It had been a long time since she had thought about it. Ethan bringing it up in front of Cyrus hadn’t helped either. Luckily, he didn’t seem like the type of guy to ask questions.

Paul Rosenberg was a prominent jeweler and master craftsman from a family that had been in the business of providing expensive baubles for over a hundred years. She was not surprised to find out he was the maker. His works were praised all over the city. So well-known and respected that no one had ever tried to rob him.

“I can take care of this if you want to bow out.” Cyrus offered as he lit a cigarette. She wasn’t hiding her emotions as well as she had hoped and wasn’t surprised he noticed her apprehension.

“I’m fine.” She lied.

“If you say so.” Cyrus knew she was lying.

She was going to curse him. Who was he to comment on her state of mind? What was he but a stranger? She was about to unload everything she had been feeling since Craig told her what he and Wayne had done years before. Her world wasn’t perfect but it was small enough for her to maintain and control. Cyrus represented the very thing that was throwing her life out of balance. Before she did, however, she spotted something that was more important than her need to vent her frustration. Two men in plain black suits, the cheap kind found in thrift stores, were following them – she had noticed them twice before. Once during their walk to Ethan’s and again across the street as they were leaving. She had thought nothing of it at the time, other things had been on her mind.

Her first instinct, reverting back to her troubled youth, was to run. Fast and far. Without thinking her legs quickened their pace as if she had no control over herself. Cyrus caught her by the arm and laughed aloud as if she had said something funny.

“We’re being followed!” She whispered. He simply smiled and held her close to appear as any other couple walking the streets.

“I know.” He said softly.

“Shouldn’t we try and lose them?” Susan asked confused. It was hard for Susan to tell what he was thinking. It was no surprise that he appeared comfortable with their current situation. It was clear that Cyrus was a madman and she should not have agreed to travel with him. On the other hand, she felt safer with him than without him. At the very least their stalkers could kill him while she got away.

“Who says I want to lose them?” Cyrus asked rhetorically. “How are we going to find out who they are or who they work for if we run away now?” Cyrus chuckled, he appeared to be enjoying himself from what she could tell. Though she didn’t know the man absent sarcasm and a childish smile.

They continued walking like nothing was happening, like they were normal people going for a stroll. Somehow walking with him was keeping her calm and it was almost pleasing, pleasing, but false. Pretending like they were normal was not helping to put her mind at ease.

“Do you have some sort of plan?” She asked condescendingly.

“I thought we’d just wing it.” Cyrus laughed.

“I’m serious.” Susan said through her teeth, she was struggling not to scream at him for his immaturity was maddening.

“There.” He pointed to an alley they were walking towards. “I’ll break off and go through there. That’ll split them up. You keep following the street.” He told her.

“What are you going to do?” She asked wondering what crime she was about to be an accessory to.

“Depends on what he does.” Said Cyrus. “Just keep going. If I don’t meet up with you get what we need and have Wayne come and get you.” Without another word he abruptly left her side and made his way down the alley.

Following the plan Susan kept walking with her hands in her jacket pockets and tried to remain calm. Just as Cyrus had predicted one of the men followed him down the alleyway while the other stayed with her. Once they were alone the man closed the distance between them. Obviously the men knew they had been made. He hastened his step as if warning her not to run, the very thing she wanted to do.

Susan continued down the street. It was fairly busy for the time of day, but not crowded enough to dissuade the man from killing her in the middle of the thoroughfare or take her by force, if that was the plan. Much to her surprise the man made no attempt on her now that she was alone.

Everything was going according to plan, more or less, until they came upon a crossroads and the light had turned red. She nearly lost her breath and her stomach sank. There was no way she could stop, the man would be able to get close to her if that happened, though walking into traffic was not a good idea either. She didn’t know what to do, her mind went blank as she tried to look for a way out. The only idea she had was a bad one. The minute she reached the crossroads and turned the corner she let her instincts take over and ran as fast as she could.

It did not take long for her pursuer to know what she was doing and quickly he gave chase. With cat-like agility Susan bolted down the street, side-stepping pedestrians with ease like she was navigating a minefield. What she lacked in strength and fighting ability she made up for with speed and reflexes. In spite of this the man was keeping up with her, she could hear him tearing his way down the street behind her. It was imperative that she break eye contact and find a place to hide, a tactic that had proven effective from experience.

Running frantically Susan tried to find a place to hide but her options were limited. She didn’t have time to talk her way into one of the apartment buildings. Every other door she came across was locked. Finally, she found escape in the form of a tailors shop. Luckily the door was opened and the owner was too busy measuring an overweight man to stop her. Instead, the owner shouted at her in a foreign language as she leapt the counter and shot out the back door.

Unfortunately, the narrow alleyway in the back was blocked by a garbage truck on its weekly pick up and a locked fence that barred the other way. She was no longer a practiced thief but the skills and knowledge never left. Of course, she did not keep the tools of her trade, they had been long packed away, but improvising was always a talent of hers. With a pin from her hair Susan frantically tried to pick the lock. It had been a long time and it gave her trouble at first, but she managed to remove the lock and chain before flinging the gate open to make her escape.

There was commotion in the shop, the man had caught up with her. The plan was to close the gate and lock it behind her but the man came bursting out the back before she could get away. They made eye contact briefly as she wrapped the chain and attempted to reattach the pad-lock that held it closed. The man, being a professional and quick thinker himself, threw his body into the gate, shoulder first. The force knocked Susan to the ground, she had taken a hard blow to the head from the gate and the asphalt during the fall.

Dazed and bleeding Susan tried to get her legs to move, but all she could do was crawl. She could hear him walking toward her, taking his time, laughing at her. Susan tried to get away, tried to run, but the man grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her back into his foul clutches. Mounting her, the man pinned her to the ground and with rough hands he gripped her throat and began to strangle her with all his might. This is it she thought as her vision went black and everything around her began to fade into nothingness. All she could think about was how upset Craig was going to be.

Out of nowhere, like a masked hero, Cyrus stepped in and wrapped a thin wire around the man’s throat. With a quick motion he place his knee on the man’s back and pulled the wire so hard his face turned bright red followed by an awful shade of purple. It did not take long for blood to start flowing freely from the man’s neck. Once his jugulars were opened Cyrus, knowing the fight was over, threw the man aside into a collection of trash bags. He tried his best to avoid getting blood on her, but it had happened to fast to prevent a mess. Wrapping the wire into a loop Cyrus placed it in his back pocket and knelt down beside her to make sure she was alive.

“Are you okay?” He asked giving her a quick once over.

“Yes.” Susan was coughing and gasping for breath. Cyrus had killed the man effortlessly and it didn’t even seem to slow him down. She knew it was supposed to bother her, but it didn’t. She was impressed more than anything else and certainly wouldn’t mourn the man’s passing. Cyrus went through the man’s pockets searching for anything that could identify their assailants. Once her eyesight cleared Susan rolled over, away from the body, and slowly rose to her feet. The ordeal had made her legs weak, but Susan refused to show weakness in front of Cyrus and stood, even though she felt like she was going to vomit. When the nausea finally passed she knelt down beside Cyrus. All they found on the body were weapons, Cyrus tossed them aside and kept searching.

“Looking for anything specific?” Susan asked as she nursed her head wound.

“Yes.” He replied paying her no attention. Under normal circumstances she would have been upset, at him, and herself for letting it happen. This time, however, she was overjoyed that he showed up when he did. All she wanted to do was throw her arms around him and act like the damsel that needed rescuing. That wasn’t going to happen, she kept up appearances well enough considering the situation. Cyrus was stopped in his tracks when he noticed a tattoo on the back of the man’s left hand. It was an odd design that Susan had never seen before. The tattoo was in the form of wax seal, the old kind used for sealing letters and stamping important documents. There was an extremely detailed depiction of an owl in the center, so intricate it looked almost real. It was beautiful work.

“Mean anything to you?” She asked.

“Maybe. The other one had this exact same tattoo.” Cyrus told her.

“What happened to the other one?” She asked not knowing if she really wanted to know or not.

“He didn’t feel like talking either.” Cyrus said blankly.

“Think it means something?”

“Could be anything. Company mascot or maybe they were lovers and decided to get matching tattoos.” Cyrus joked, even at a time like this he couldn’t take anything seriously. “We need to leave. Can you make it?” He asked with a hint of sincerity in his voice.

“Yes.” She said, it was a lie of course but there was no way she was going to admit that to him. All she really wanted was to be carried to her bed and be able to wake up from this nightmare of a situation they found themselves in.

Chapter 13

The letters had led them nowhere, though in Wayne’s experience long shots like that rarely paid off. Curtis was a dead-end as well. Wayne was sure he had nothing to do with Regina’s murder. That was both good and bad. On one hand it reduced the suspect pool, on the other they had too few suspects to begin with and the boy’s innocence raised more questions than answers. Palmer was not going to be happy about his assessment but that couldn’t be helped.

They were waiting for him not far from his precinct in a small coffee shop he and Wayne used to meet. It was where they would go when collaborating on a case, to share information. The coffee there wasn’t bad, so long as it was black and not an extreme combination of caffeine and sugar that seemed to be popular among the teenagers that had gathered there. Not the ideal afterschool hangout, but Wayne had very little knowledge of what kids wanted these days. School hadn’t been out for more than an hour, yet two separate groups had already gathered into the small shop. Wayne and Craig seemed wildly out of place amongst them.

Palmer was keeping them waiting, he was notorious for never keeping his appointments. Wayne didn’t hold it against him. Sneaking away from the FBI couldn’t have been easy even if Palmer had a valid excuse. Craig was miles away, he had taken this time to get back onto his laptop. Finding dirt on Lawrence had proven, so far, to be a very difficult task.

“Anything?” Wayne asked. It was not hard to see that Craig was getting frustrated by his findings, or lack thereof.

“Nothing but the greatest goddamn hits!” Craig shouted a little too loudly. So much so it had gained the attention of a group of girls sitting across from them. Craig cursed at them, they quickly moved to the other side of the shop.

“I can’t find a single article that says something bad about the sumbitch!” Craig’s attention went back to the laptop. Wayne was starting to think they should have just waited in the car.

“Page after page of Saint-fucking-Lawrence! If he did anything shady to get where he is no one seems to know about it. Either that or they’re all dead!” Craig forcefully slammed the laptop shut. He had always taken great pride in his research skills, it was unusual to see him so defeated.

“The only thing I could find remotely sketchy was his wives obituaries. Both of them.”

“There was more than one? What was sketchy about them?” Wayne asked. At this point they knew next to nothing about the man who had enslaved them. Anything that could be used against him was something Wayne wanted to know about.

“His first wife, Henry’s mother, died during childbirth, though I can’t find out what the exact cause was.” Craig took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “He used the insurance money to build a small fortune, which is how he met Lilian, Regina’s mother. Lilian, by all accounts, held the purse strings of the Monroe fortune before she disappeared.” Craig said.

“Disappeared?”

“It just says she was lost at sea. Something about a vacation, to the private Monroe family island no doubt, but was swept up in a tropical storm and never seen again. A year later he had her officially declared dead.” Craig explained. “He even set up a scholarship in the old girls name.” Craig said mockingly.

“Played the perfect widow, huh?” Wayne didn’t trust that for a second, but if there was any way to use it would take time and money to uncover. He had neither at the moment.

“I don’t know what to do here.” Craig was clearly trying to hide the fact that he was worried, but he wasn’t doing a very good job. He had always been the type to wear his heart on his sleeve.

“One thing at a time.” Wayne told him.

From the window Wayne witnessed Palmer speed into the parking lot in a late model car that was obviously from the motor pool. Due to the growing crowd in the coffee shop Wayne and Craig met him outside. Discussing such a high profile case around that many people was sure to make their conversation the latest topic on social media. Palmer greeted them both with a handshake. That was the only time he acknowledged Craig. Palmer was no bigot, he simply hated reporters and treated them like they weren’t there. He tolerated Craig because of Wayne’s trust in him, nothing more. Craig did not find this offensive, admittedly he was used to it.

“Was it him?” Palmer asked. He was undoubtedly under a lot of pressure to solve the case, not unlike they were, though the consequences of failure were more severe for them.

“I don’t think so.” Wayne gave his opinion. Palmer did not look happy. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but Wayne wasn’t going to lie to him. “Obviously I can’t guarantee that but in my professional opinion he didn’t kill anybody.”

“He have an alibi?” Palmer asked.

“He was with Regina’s best friend. Ashley something or other.”

“Waters.” Craig helped him remember. “Also pregnant, Curtis is the baby daddy.” He finished with an awkward smile.

“He claim the girls’ parents can attest to his whereabouts. You should send someone to check it out just in case.” Wayne told him.

“Goddamn it.” Palmer let out a disappointed sigh.

“Sorry I didn’t find more.” Wayne apologized, but it was true. His disappointment was just as great as Palmers. None of their leads panned out and they were left with nothing to show for their efforts. Those were the worst kind of days for Wayne. “You should have these.” Wayne handed the letters to Palmer. “Found them in Regina’s room.” Wayne confessed. Up to that point he hadn’t told Palmer he was working the case.

“How the hell did you get these? Papa Monroe has fifteen goddamn lawyers that won’t let us get near him, but you just stroll through and he didn’t object?” Palmer flashed him a suspicious look. “You know what? I probably don’t want to know.” Palmer scoffed and shook his head. It was a good thing too, Wayne had no intention of telling him the whole truth.

“They suggest she had a lover on the side. Someone her father didn’t know about.” Wayne said as Palmer went through the letters.

“Any idea who it might be?” Palmer asked while stuffing the letters into his pocket.

“No clue.” Craig mumbled.

“You got any other leads?” Wayne asked trying to find another direction to take. He would be lying if he said that he wasn’t worried. At this rate they were going to prison for sure.

“Not really.” Palmer said with a half-hearted sigh. “Maybe. Monroe junior was supposed to come in this morning to answer some questions, but we can’t seem to find him.” Palmer said.

“Think he skipped town?”

“No, we’ve been keeping an eye on the air ports.” Palmer assured him. “In my experience only guilty people run. Or worse, whomever killed Regina got to Henry and we’ll just end up with another body.” Palmer didn’t look too keen about the idea of stumbling into another crime scene.

“Want us to track him down?” Wayne asked knowing full well they were going to do it anyway.

“Couldn’t hurt.” Palmer smirked. “Call me as soon as you find something. I’ll see if I can’t track down lover boy.” He said as he patted the pocket that contained the letters. Being in agreement they parted ways once again. Henry Monroe had long been a suspect in Wayne’s mind whether or not the police agreed with him. With Craig following in tow they got back on the road and their search began.

Chapter 14

Henry Monroe, a man who was generally thought of as a waste of functioning organs, was turning out to be difficult to pin down. A skill a man like him should not have had. Wayne did not discount the theory that Henry killed his sister and fled until the investigation went cold. Money would not have been an issue even if he had snorted every dime of his trust fund.

Their search had taken them to three separate drug dens and two small bars, they were looking into a third one now. A filthy, vermin-infested watering hole, the kind of place a privileged man like Henry should not have been in. It stank of stale sweat, cigarettes, and sour beer. The only patrons were a handful of day drinkers that spent more time there than at home. The bartender was a man who looked far too old to be tending a dive bar at 4 in the afternoon. The kind of guy you just knew was in a struggling garage band that was still desperately clinging to the dream of making the big time.

It was a dark, dimly lit space were desperation hung heavily in the air like the cigarette smoke that filled it. The kind of place where the regulars were accustomed to nightly violence. Everyone, including the bartender, watched them walk across the room as if they were aliens from another planet. Craig looked as uncomfortable as Wayne felt.

Wayne took a seat at the bar, Craig was going to sit next to him, but noticed the seat was sticky with no apparent cause other than lack of general cleanliness. A man with an imagination like his could easily run wild with thoughts of what could have been the cause, Craig opted to stand and was sure to keep his hands in his pockets. Wayne laughed and called for the bartender, who threw a rag over his shoulder, brushed his hair back, and made his way to them.

“What can I get you?” The bartender asked.

“Whiskey and a beer. Whatever he’s having.” Wayne replied.

“Unless you have penicillin and a tetanus shot back there, I’m good.” Craig said with a repulsed look on his face. The bartender simply shrugged and poured Wayne’s drinks, caring very little about Craig’s insults. Wayne dropped the shot of whiskey into his mug of beer and watched as the foam spilled over the edge of the glass before taking a drink. It was no secret that he had a problem with alcohol, but to his credit he was highly functional even when drunk. Craig knew better than to say anything about it.

“I’m looking for a friend of mine.” Wayne said to the bartender. A clichéd line if ever he heard one, but it had been a long afternoon and he was losing patience.

“That’s nice.” The bartender blew him off. Wayne took a breath, it had been the same at the previous bars as well. Everyone had their hands out. Oddly enough the addicts had been the most helpful so far, which was depressing in its own right. Wayne held up a twenty-dollar bill.

“This friend got a name?” The bartender asked suddenly interested in what they had to say.

“Henry Monroe.” Wayne told him and gently placed the money on the bar top.

“Never heard of him.” The bartender said. Wayne didn’t think he was lying.

“There can’t be that much traffic through here.” Craig commented as he looked around the room. Not one of the patrons were under the age of forty-five.

“What’s he look like?”

“Short, blonde, early thirties, definitely wouldn’t belong in a place like this.” Wayne described him as best he could.

“Sounds familiar. A regular named Ben hangs out with a guy that looks like that.” The bartender said as he reached for the money, Wayne stopped him.

“Any idea where we can find this Ben?” He asked.

“Not a clue.” The bartender replied. “He’ll be in here in about an hour or so.” The bartender assured them. Wayne let him have the money and shooed him away.

“So, we’re waiting then?” Craig said with an exasperated sigh. Craig was the type of person who had no problem saying what he was thinking. Wayne had always liked that about him. Craig knew that once his mind was made up Wayne wouldn’t budge and arguing wouldn’t have gotten them anywhere. Their past indiscretion being uncovered and used against them had both of them on edge. Not wanting to fight, Craig went along with it and they waited to see if the bartender’s word proved true.

Much to their surprise, Craig’s especially, Ben showed up exactly when the bartender said he would. The first time all day Wayne’s bribe money bore fruit. The bartender gave a slight, but noticeable, nod toward the door as Ben walked in. A slightly sun burnt man with black hair dressed casually in dirty jeans, t-shirt, and denim jacket. A reflective vest hung over his coat, his jacket was just as dirty as his jeans, and his plain white shirt was covered in sweat stains.

Wayne watched him as he took his jacket off and tossed it across the bar top before taking his seat. He had been around criminals most of his life and knew that the tattoos on his arms and neck were given to him by a prison artist, which also explained the manual labor.

He ordered a beer and drank half of it in a single gulp. Wayne, feeling that he had given Ben enough time, got up from his seat and made his way across the bar and sat down next to him. Craig did not follow, he simply watched from where he was standing. The smell radiating from Ben was dreadful, like he hadn’t showered in days, it just fueled Wayne’s ill-temper.

“Can I help you with something?” Ben asked once he noticed Wayne was looking at him.

“I’m looking for Henry Monroe. I hear you’re a friend of his.” Wayne answered candidly.

“What business is that of yours?” Ben asked in a needlessly threatening manner. A sign he was recently released from prison and possibly looking for a reason to go back.

“I’m looking for him, you’re friends with him, and so logic dictates that you can point me in the right direction.” Wayne was trying to be civil.

“Sure!” Ben laughed and pointed toward the door. A wave of his breath pushed through his rotten, meth mouthed, teeth and hit him in the face nearly causing Wayne to vomit. In his pocket Wayne could feel his phone vibrating, but did not stop to answer it.

“I’m not going to ask you again.” He scoffed.

“I’m terrified.” Ben mocked him. Wayne was still upset over having bought useless information all afternoon on top of having to deal with rudeness was too much for him to handle.

Without a second thought Wayne grabbed an over flowing ashtray off the bar top. The good, old reliable ones made out of ten pounds of glass. Before Ben could utter another insult, Wayne jabbed it into his open mouth. Ben spit and choked on blood and teeth on his way down to the floor. Ash and cigarette butts slowly rained down all around them like the snowflakes outside. Proving to be the idiot Wayne thought he was, Ben tried to stand up, so he hit him again. No one came to his defense, they all just looked on as if nothing was happening.

Once Wayne was sure Ben had surrendered he placed the bloody ashtray back onto the bar. He made the bartender give him a rag to clean the blood and ash from his hand and took a moment to regain sense. Wayne was not a violent man by nature, or so he believed, but being on a deadline made him unusually tense causing his loss of control. Craig rushed across to where Ben laid to make sure Wayne hadn’t killed him by mistake. Wayne scoffed at Craig and knelt down beside Ben, who was crying at the harsh treatment he had received. He had a look of confusion on his face like he didn’t know where he was or what had happened.

“Are you ready to talk yet?” Wayne asked calmly. He felt no animosity toward the man, he simply needed answers and was tired of not getting them. Ben nodded his head, he was ready to tell them his social security number if it meant they’d leave him alone.

“Where can I find Henry?” Wayne asked him for the final time.

“I don’t know.” Ben admitted. He hadn’t seen Henry in over a week, but he knew that was not what they wanted to hear. “He has a girlfriend.” He spit a glob of blood onto the floor. “She lives a few miles east of here, her name is Sabrina. I told that cop the same thing!” Ben cried.

“Cop, what cop?” Craig asked looking down at the man.

“Bald, kinda fat.” Ben said describing what sounded like Palmer.

“What did you say to him?” Wayne asked wondering why Palmer had outsourced the job to them without telling him about Ben or Sabrina.

“The same thing I’m telling you!” Ben yelled afraid that Wayne was going to hit him again.

“When?” Craig asked.

“This morning, guy came to my work and threatened to violate my parole if I didn’t tell him something.” Ben said. Wayne had Craig write down the girlfriends address while he searched for Ben’s wallet. Insurance in case he was lying to them. He would have to wait to speak to Palmer about this, but there was sure to be a reasonable explanation, or so Wayne convinced himself.

“I’m gonna hang on to this.” Wayne told him flashing the ID before putting it into his pocket and tossing the wallet aside. Craig had finished and was more than ready to leave.

Chapter 15

Sabrina, Henry’s alleged girlfriend, didn’t live far from the bar, which would explain why she was a regular. Henry Monroe was often viewed as a womanizing jackass, so the thought of him having a girlfriend of any kind was farfetched, but they had no choice but to look into the matter.

Wayne could feel the vibration of his phone through his coat pocket, his wife was calling for the second time. He was in a mood after dealing with Ben so he chose not to answer. Wayne didn’t see the need to start a fight with his wife for something that wasn’t her fault. If he had been so considerate during their marriage perhaps they would still be together, which was exactly the kind of thing Wayne did not want to think about. Dwelling in the past was better done in private, not while on the job.

“What the hell was that back there?” Craig finally asked. Wayne noticed he had been bothered by what happened, but had chosen to avoid talking about it. Craig obviously had other plans.

“I lost my temper.”

“No shit!” Craig scoffed.

“You want me to say I’m sorry?” Wayne asked. “Asshole should have just answered the damn question.”

“You knocked his teeth out with a fucking ashtray! That’s the kind of shit that doesn’t hold up in court!” Craig exclaimed, more than a little concerned by Wayne’s offhand manner.

“You really think this is gonna end in a court room?” Wayne scoffed at him like one would a child who was too old to believe in Santa Claus.

“I don’t want to end up on the front page of my own paper!” Craig barked.

“We won’t.” Wayne said with a tone that equaled Craig’s. He ended the conversation with that because there was nothing else to say on the matter. In his mind he was doing whatever he had to do to keep their asses out of prison.

The neighborhood the address led to was large and made up of small, nearly identical, rent controlled duplexes. The neighborhood was at least two square miles, built quick and cheap. It was less than ten years old, yet already several of the homes had fallen into disrepair. It was nothing more than a glorified slum that got worse and worse as the years went on.

The house they were looking for was light pink in color with a varied assortment of disconcerting lawn ornaments that were displeasing to the eye. It reminded Craig of a house his grandparents had lived in when he was a boy. Craig double checked the address, it had taken long enough to find so they were going to be sure they had the right place. This side of the neighborhood felt like a ghost town. Wayne looked around and saw no children playing, no one coming home from work. By the looks of things it was completely dead, even though they had passed several residents along the way.

Wayne approached the door hesitantly, he didn’t like the look of the house even without the lawn decorations. It reminded him of a raid he orchestrated during the war, he lost three men that day. Between war and chasing serial murderers it was a wonder in and of itself that his paranoia hadn’t driven him to madness. Craig, on the other hand, leisurely strolled right up to the door as if it were made out of candy. As much as Wayne liked having him around Craig was not the best tactical choice as far as backup was concerned.

Craig rang the doorbell. No one answered. Wayne used his fist to bang on the door, same result. They couldn’t hear anything coming from inside the house, though there was a car in the small gravel driveway. After a minute Craig checked to see if the door was unlocked, it wasn’t. Wayne just looked at him and shook his head. Craig shrugged and mouthed an apology.

“Should we look in the windows?” Craig asked in a whisper.

“Why are you whispering? If anyone’s here they’ve already heard us, smart guy.” Wayne laughed. Craig gave him the finger. “Couldn’t hurt to have a look around.” Wayne answered his question.

If there was any logic to the layout of the house the kitchen was in the back with a bedroom on one side with an adjoining bathroom. Wayne went right and Craig to the left. The window he came to was blacked out by paint, he assumed it was the bathroom. Problems with peeping toms? Wayne wondered to himself as he continued around the corner to the back of the house. Craig came around at the same time and they converged on the back door.

“Anything?” Craig asked as they got closer.

“Nothing, you?” Wayne asked in return. Craig shook his head, he had come up empty as well. The back door had a large glass window that covered half the space. The blinds that were meant to conceal the kitchen were bent and broken making it easy to look into.

Stacking up beside the door, the way he had been trained, Wayne slowly and cautiously peered into the apartment. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. The glare from the low winter sun obstructed his vision, he had to cup his hands together around his eyes just to get a clear view. There was nothing out of the ordinary. One too many throw pillows for his taste, but the apartment belong to a woman so that wasn’t suspicious. A large standing mirror, cheap by the look of it, reflected into the bedroom – luckily the door was open. Wayne was going to pass by it with no other thought toward it until movement from the bedroom caught his eye. The image in the mirror wasn’t clear at first, like an abstract painting it took him a moment to discern what he was looking at. It was the reflection of a woman, bloodied, tied to a chair with a gag in her mouth and a needle sticking out of her neck.

Wayne had no time to draw his weapon before gunfire rang out and bullets flew through the window. He barely had enough time to throw Craig onto the ground as the glass exploded like shrapnel all around him. The small .38 revolver Wayne kept on his ankle was out first, he tossed it to Craig, who was vigorously protesting the idea. Wayne didn’t pay him any attention and drew the Glock on his hip. Luckily the door was sturdy enough to block the next salvo of bullets that surely would have killed him if it hadn’t been made of steel. The Shooter had taken cover behind the kitchen counter, naturally Wayne blindly fired several shots of his own doing nothing but destroying everything on the counter.

He motioned for Craig to go around and cover the front, it took a lot of hand signals and yelling to get the idea across. Craig left to cut off the shooters escape route, voicing his thoughts with curses as he did so. Wayne did not have time to worry whether or not Craig could handle it, at this point it was a sink or swim situation. He didn’t carry much in the way of spare ammunition and wasting it all without hitting anything wasn’t a sound strategy. During the Shooters brief pauses to reload, he seemed to have ammo for days, Wayne took a moment to examine the area in hopes there was something he could use to his advantage.

A small fire extinguisher was bolted to the wall not far from where the Shooter was camped out. It was a risk, he would be overly exposed if he tried to shoot it. The Shooter was no common hood and wouldn’t give him a large window to take his shot. There was a good chance he’d take one in the face, but it felt worth it at the time. Wayne took a deep breath and held it, he had to wait for the shooter to reveal himself. His hands were steady and he was confident in his marksmanship. After reloading the shooter raised to continue firing. Wayne exhaled and took his shot, the Shooter was fast enough to have fired one of his own.

Wayne felt the wind on his face as the bullet sped by, it missed him by less than an inch. The bullet hit the door frame beside him sending wooden slivers into his face around his left eye causing him to fall to his knees, screaming curses. Fortunately, his shot found its mark and the extinguisher exploded into a blinding haze of white smoke.

The Shooter wailed and cursed, having taken a heavy blast of smoke to the face. By the time Wayne breached the house the small space was blanketed in smoke that clouded his vision. He could hear the Shooter scrambling to his feet and running for the door, gunshots followed soon after the front door flung open. Immediately Wayne thought of Craig, who was either being shot at or doing the shooting. Both were equally terrifying.

He covered his eyes and mouth and barreled through the house, running into furniture as he did so. Once outside Wayne noticed two bullet holes in the side of the house. Craig poked his head around the corner and, startled at the sight of him, unintentionally fired his gun – luckily he was a terrible shot.

“Goddamn it Craig!” Wayne shouted as he took cover behind the frame of the front door.

“Sorry!” Craig apologized.

“Which way did he go?!”

“Down the street, between the houses!” Craig pointed to a nearby alcove.

“See to the girl!” Wayne yelled as he gave chase. Wayne hit the pavement at full sprint. When he turned the corner he saw the Shooter bolting down the alley, jumping over fences and dumpsters as he went. Wayne followed suit, it had been a long time since he had to chase a suspect and he was beginning to wish he spent more time in the mornings on cardio.

Even with the fire fight and now the chase through the back alleys there still seemed to be no interest from the residents. Judging by the state of things Wayne assumed this was not uncommon for them. Everyone knew to shut themselves inside their houses when they heard gunfire. Aside from a few chained up dogs there were no witnesses to the merry chase the Shooter lead him on. Wayne followed the Shooter for at least two blocks before turning onto a dead-end street. Being the professional that he so clearly was, the Shooter had a car with reinforcements waiting for him. Seeing this Wayne instinctively opened fire on the vehicle as the Shooter dove into the back seat. He managed to get off three shots before the passenger pinned him down with an automatic weapon. The driver slammed on the gas and tore down the street leaving thick, dark black streaks of rubber on the pavement as they made their getaway. Wayne, furious, fired his remaining rounds knowing he wouldn’t hit anything.

Chapter 16

Wayne ran back to the house half-expecting to see police blue everywhere, but much to his surprise there was nothing. Out of the corner of his eye Wayne noticed a handful of the neighbors spying on him through their curtains as he went back into the house to check on Craig and Sabrina. Shell casings littered the kitchen floor, bullet holes dotted the walls and the furniture stuffing was still floating around the room. The house looked as if a pissed off tornado touched down in the middle of it, but Wayne didn’t care about that. Worried about Craig he rushed into the bedroom only to find him giving CPR to the girl, who did not survive her encounter with the Shooter.

Standing in the doorway Wayne took a deep breath. “Stop.” He said, Craig wasn’t listening. “She’s gone Craig.” Wayne said softly, almost a whisper, and placed a hand on his shoulder. Craig stopped and let his arm’s fall to his sides and began sobbing. Wayne said nothing. Nothing he said would have made it any easier. He could have offered up something about God and his plan, but he had used that one too many times during the war. It would have been as useless now as it was then. He decided to give Craig a moment to deal with what had happened and see if he could find anything useful.

The room was messy, even before the Shooter had gone to work on the dead girl. It was decorated in red, the paint matched the curtains, unlike the rest of the house, which was a soft blue, as if it held some special meaning. There was a fair amount of blood on the floor and walls, but not enough to be the cause of death. Wayne could tell that much at least. Underneath the bed, most likely dropped before the fire fight, was a black leather case. Upon further inspection Wayne found that it contained several unlabeled vials of mystery liquid along with a syringe. Poison? Wayne thought to himself. The blank vials were separated by color. Two blue vials and one yellow. An empty vial lay on the floor, likely the one used to kill her.

They had to assume the Shooter was looking for the same thing they were. Anything less would not have warranted an untraceable, designer poison. Whatever the Monroe men were into was starting to look far above their pay grade. Wayne was just thankful they survived the encounter.

In the corner she had a small desk with a laptop attached to a camera. Wayne turned it on but was quickly denied access.

“I can help with that.” Craig spoke up from the floor.

“If you’re up to it.” Wayne made room for him. Craig rose to his feet and handed him back the revolver. Wayne said nothing. Craig wasn’t a war hardened soldier. Even though he had taken a life he was still not as comfortable around death as Wayne. From over Craig’s shoulder Wayne watched as he worked some sort of magic and got into the computer.

“Anything?” Wayne asked impatiently.

“Yes, but I don’t know if it’s what we’re looking for.” Craig told him as he went through the files.

“What do you mean?” Wayne asked. He knew next to nothing about computers and didn’t know what they were looking at.

“It turns out Henry’s girlfriend goes by the name Tara Deep.” Craig opened a video file entitled HM. The video played showing the woman alone on the bed. After slowly taking off her clothes Henry entered the scene. “Looks like she was an adult film start, or at least trying to be.” Craig said trying not to speak ill of the woman he couldn’t save. “I can’t watch this.” Craig said and was going to turn it off until Wayne stopped him.

“Wait.” Wayne leaned in to see more closely. The room in the video was dark, but he could still see the red curtains in the back ground.

“Really?” Craig had an uncomfortable look on his face. Wayne examined their surroundings more closely.

“It’s the same room.”

“And?”

“Was she filming her murder? The camera was pointing right at them.” Wayne asked. Craig looked through the more recent files and found that she had it recording all the time and set the files to delete every twelve hours unless she stopped it. The file was labeled 1NS, which they could only guess stood for one night stands.

“I’ll be damned.” Craig was amazed and disconnected the camera. Claiming he could download the video on his own computer Wayne didn’t protest even though they were taking evidence from a crime scene.

“She did?” Wayne couldn’t help but smirk at their luck even if it was at the poor girls’ expense.

“What now?” Craig asked while tucking the camera under his arm.

“We leave. Call the cops when we’re clear.” Wayne told him. Craig didn’t like the thought of just leaving her there, but he knew there was no feasible way for them to report what happened without being arrested themselves. No good would have come from it, with a heavy heart Craig followed Wayne back to the car leaving the poor girl for the neighbors to find once they had gone.

Chapter 17

Cyrus had to take Susan back to her apartment. He couldn’t have her walking around the streets with blood on her clothes. The cut on her forehead wasn’t life threatening, but it needed attention. They were sitting in her bedroom while he cleaned and dressed the wound. She had told him not to worry about it, but he had considerably more homemade medical training than she did. They didn’t talk about what had happened, what could he say? He wasn’t sorry and it wasn’t like he’d be losing sleep over the man, so silence was fine by him. The actual killing would have been fine, it being a moment of crisis and all, disposing of the corpse in the back of a garbage truck may have made him look bad – but here they were. Nothing to do about it now.

Cyrus had been operating under the impression that Susan didn’t like him much to begin with, but now she couldn’t even look him in the eye. This was going to solidify her contempt for him. He didn’t take it personally, it wasn’t the first time he made a poor impression and it wouldn’t be the last.

Susan’s head wound wasn’t serious but he sewed it up anyway. An old needle, sterilized by fire and bourbon, with some dental floss and she was good as new, more or less. Cyrus washed her blood off his hands and cleaned himself up with a towel he found draped over the shower rod.

“Should heal fine.” He said admiring his work before turning to leave.

“Thank you.” Susan said softly. “And thank you for before.” She added. Cyrus simply smiled and nodded his head. He wasn’t expecting her to thank him, but it was a pleasant surprise.

“Have you…” Susan began, but stopped as if she were afraid to ask the question.

“Yes.” Cyrus went ahead and answered so she wouldn’t have to.

“A lot?”

“All my life.” He told her. “You don’t have to worry, I’m not going to hurt you.” He assured her. Susan let out a sigh of relief. It came as no surprise that she was afraid, but he was not offended. Honestly, he expected a much worse reaction. Susan looked at him for a moment as if she were going to say something else, but instead she went into the bathroom and locked the door. Just as well, he didn’t feel much like talking anyway. He thought it was best to wait outside, letting her have a moment to come to terms with things seemed like the right thing to do.

Cyrus sat outside the apartment for half an hour, smoked cigarettes, and watched the sunset. Susan was still in her room and hadn’t come down. She knew as well as he did that the owners of the jewelry store weren’t going to hand over their sales records no matter how nicely they asked. The jury was still out on whether or not she was going to help, but Cyrus remained hopeful. It wasn’t going to be easy to convince her and he spent some time practicing what he was going to say. Rousing speeches were not exactly in his wheelhouse but then again his people skills had never been particularly sharp.

Susan interrupted his train of thought by tapping on the screen door. It startled him and made him drop his cigarette into the dirt. She motioned for him to come inside, like he was a dog that had been left on the stoop as punishment. He cursed at his lost tobacco, but decided to leave it and went inside.

Susan had changed into a tight black outfit, for covert purposes, but Cyrus was taken aback. He didn’t need the speech he had spent so much time practicing, but that’s not what had his attention. Susan was bent over her laptop with a bag at her feet. He was speechless. That’s going to be distracting. He thought to himself as he waited to see the reason for the wardrobe change.

“Ethan sent over the security specs. It’ll take some doing, but I think it can be done.” Susan explained, she didn’t notice the fact that Cyrus was all but drooling over her. He was thankful for that.

“How?” He stammered and shook himself out of his trance.

“I’ve got most of it worked out. Getting inside isn’t the problem.”

“Electronic surveillance?”

“Best I can do is delay the alarm for about three minutes, maybe, probably.” She said trying to convince herself as much as him.

“You’re confidence is reassuring.” Cyrus scoffed.

“Second hurdle. There’s a three man security team on the night shift. I thought maybe you’d handle them.” Susan smiled. He smiled back to make her feel better. “If you can do that, it shouldn’t be hard to get into their system.” Susan finished.

“Sounds like a plan. You sure you want to do this? You can talk me through it from here.” Cyrus gave her an out. Susan was quiet and briefly considered it.

“I was almost murdered today because of this.” Susan began with an uneasy look on her face, but it quickly turned still and calm. “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna take that lying down.” She stated, put on a dark brown, almost red, leather jacket and picked up the bag at her feet. Cyrus smirked and followed her out the door.

Chapter 18

Susan, like any decent thief, knew not to drive her own car to a robbery. Her neighbor had recently rebuilt a ’67 firebird that she had her eye on, but she was saving that one in case she ever had to flee the city. It would have stood out anyway. Instead, she went with a Lincoln Town Car that was decades older than she was. It wasn’t much to look at, that was the point of course, but it started up just fine which, for its age, was a testament to American engineering. As long as they didn’t end up in a high-speed chase they would be okay.

Susan picked Cyrus up from the house, he was clearly confused by her choice of vehicle, and they were well on their way to committing burglary and grand theft. She had an uneasy feeling in her stomach mixed with a dash of excitement. It was the same feeling she felt when she was a teenager. No matter how wrong it was or how bad she felt about it, deep down it was too much fun. She was a much better thief than she was a photographer and, though she’d never admit it, Susan absolutely loved stealing. To her there was no thrill or drug in the world that could imitate the feeling.

When they arrived the store had yet to close so she parked across the street, out of the way enough not to be noticed, until the employees went home for the night. Susan took her computer out of the bag of tools she had brought with her. The plan was solid, all she had to do was put her counter measures in place and they were good to go. She pretended it was taking longer than it actually was. An uncomfortable silence had enveloped them, or at least to her it was uncomfortable. Cyrus was smoking and studying the security and didn’t seem to notice her restlessness at all.

“I’m sorry about earlier.” She finally said. “I shouldn’t have asked.” She admitted. She had passed a harsh judgment on him the moment they met. She of all people should have known that not only put her in the wrong, but also that it was no way to treat someone who saved her life.

“It’s okay.” Cyrus said as he shifted in his seat. “Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t ask earlier.” He scoffed. “Can I ask you something now?”

“Sure.” She answered half-heartedly. She owed him one, but still the thought of answering personal questions made her stomach queasy. Cyrus paused for a moment.

“Why did you steal this piece of shit car?” He asked sarcastically followed by a round of boisterous laughter. Susan let a laugh slip as well, she couldn’t help it. Even after prying into his life Cyrus was still able to maintain his carefree demeanor. She knew he had to be curious and he was entitled to his questions, but he was thoughtful enough to keep quiet about it. That spoke volumes about his character in spite of her first impression of him.

Across the street the shop was closing, the employees were leaving, and the owner was having a word with the security team before calling it a night. It was finally show time. The security staff consisted of one overweight man, whose job was to monitor the cameras and make food runs; a younger man, little more than a kid, who was certainly hired because he was related to the owner; the last, by Cyrus’s observation, was a former soldier and the only one that was allowed to carry a gun. Cyrus was under the impression that he hadn’t been long out of the army, judging by the way the man carried himself. Susan began working on her computer.

“What are you doing?” Cyrus asked like an old man who was in no way tech savvy.

“The security system they use is out of date.” Susan smirked. “But it’s still pretty good. If a door is opened they have forty-five seconds to enter the code. If a window is broken an alarm goes off immediately, so we’d have to use a cutter, but that’s not going to work here.” She explained.

“I assume you can turn that off.” Cyrus commented.

“No, I can’t” She admitted without looking up from the computer.

“Come again?” Cyrus asked confused.

“In case of a breach the sensors send out a radio frequency that triggers the alarm. Top of the line a few years ago until a group of hackers found out the frequencies were unencrypted.” Susan explain. Cyrus still looked confused. “I can’t turn them off without direct access to their servers, which I can’t hack from here, but I can block them for a short period of time.” She laid it out for him.

“Why didn’t you just lead with that?” Cyrus asked rhetorically “How much time are we looking at?” He asked.

“Just over three minutes.” Susan said with false confidence. She was almost certain it would work, but there was a chance the company had fixed the problem. She didn’t want Cyrus to know that though. The soldier had started his rounds meaning it was time to get to work. In unison they both put on their gloves. Cyrus took off his over coat and jacket to leave in the car. Susan noticed him checking his vest pockets and revealing a pair of worn brass knuckles.

“What are those for?” She asked. It was an odd thing to ask of a man who was carrying two guns and who knew what else. She never liked bringing guns along, burglary was one thing and murder was another.

“The guards, just in case. I’m not going to kill a civilian just because they happen to show up for work.” He told her. She figured non-lethal was the best she could hope for. If they tipped off the guards he wouldn’t kill them, they’d have broken bones for sure, but they’d be alive and that was good enough for her.

“I’ve put the cameras on a thirty second loop so they shouldn’t be a problem. As soon as we open the door the clock starts.” She told him. To her Cyrus appeared to not have a care in the world. She, on the other hand, was feeling terrified. Of course, she knew from experience that once they got inside it would all come rushing back and her hands would be steady.

Chapter 19

There were three ways into the building, as Susan explained it to him. The front doors, which they couldn’t use for obvious reasons. The back door was too far away from the manager’s office leaving too much ground to cover and increased the risk of being spotted by security. Their only other option was a side door located on the west side of the building. It provided cover from the street and was never used which kept it off the security walk-through, this was the ideal point of entry. Naturally with such a rare stroke of luck brought its own hurdles and concerns. The door itself was located on the second story, hence its lack of use, and the only way to access it was by a firmly locked fire escape.

A camera pointed down the alley way, the store set it up to cover their bases with their insurance company. Susan was able to monitor the camera feeds through a tablet she brought with her. Slowly she entered the cameras field of view to make sure they were clear. Once she was satisfied she waved to Cyrus that everything was ready.

The ladder to the fire escape was high off the ground, higher than either of them could possibly jump unassisted. Susan motioned for him to give her a boost. The first thing that crossed Cyrus’s mind was that no woman, no matter how small, was as light as they thought they were and what it was going to do to his back. He grumbled curses under his breath like an old married man and reluctantly agreed. He knew there was no other way and there was no way in hell Susan would have been able to lift him. With his fingers interlocked Cyrus crouched down under the ladder and signaled that he was ready.

Susan secured her tablet in a handmade pouch on her jacket, after a few deep breaths and a running start she leapt into Cyrus’s hands. The force he tossed her with was more than sufficient for her to acquire a foothold on the ladder. Even he was surprised at the distance of his throw. Susan removed the lock that held the ladder in place and lowered it down for Cyrus. The ladder had built up a considerable amount of rust over the years and got stuck half way down. Cyrus waved his arms with a What the hell?! expression on his face, Susan shrugged and tried to force the ladder down to no avail. Cyrus, with the help of the stores dumpster, managed to jump and latch onto the ladder before climbing up on his own.

“On the other side of this door is old office space. Store didn’t have any use for it so it’s mostly just used for storage, there shouldn’t be anyone up here.” Susan told him as they stacked up on the door. “There should be a hallway that will lead us directly to the stairwell. If the blueprints are correct the manager’s office will be to our left when we go down. We should be able to bypass the guards if we’re lucky.” She smiled.

“If we’re unlucky?” Cyrus asked with a grin that suggested he was looking forward to being unlucky.

“We’re fucked.” Susan replied and began picking the lock.

“Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t steal a piece of shit getaway car.” Cyrus chuckled at his own joke.

The locked clicked and with a deep breath Susan threw the door open. Cyrus went in first in case the second floor was indeed on the security patrol. The offices and hallway were packed with clutter, but they were able to traverse the area with relative ease. In ten seconds they were at the stairs and heading to the first floor.

Cyrus went down the stairs slowly, both of them were experienced in stealth so not making noise was nearly effortless. As they approached the bottom he could hear the guards talking about a local music festival they were both planning to attend that weekend. The veteran was nowhere to be found, he should have been back from his rounds by now, but Cyrus didn’t let that slow them down. Susan saw the manager’s office and gently tapped him on the shoulder. She picked the lock and he followed her into the room.

Inside the room was a well-crafted redwood desk where the manager worked, the computer containing the files they needed was there as well. Susan hopped on it and quickly plugged her tablet into it. With lightning fast fingers she got to work.

“How long will this take?” Cyrus asked while keeping an eye on security, concealed behind the doorway.

“Not long.” Susan whispered, in truth she didn’t have an answer but keeping that to herself felt like the right thing to do. The computer held a large amount of client files, going back nearly a decade. Rushing through the process Susan downloaded the files quickly, her old skills were coming back like they had never left, but perhaps they didn’t. Her body remembered what she was even if her mind had forgotten. “Oh shit.” Susan whispered.

“What?” Cyrus asked, Susan’s worried expression put him on alert.

“I need to get to the security desk.” Susan ran into a hurdle she had not expected. To keep the manager from accessing the client list without anyone knowing, to prevent coercion from criminals, the list couldn’t be accessed without the manager’s password and permission from the security terminal. Their external security may have been out of date but everything else was top-notch.

“Fine. Be ready and stay behind me.” Cyrus grunted. He knew they should have gone in heavy to begin with. Firmly he gripped the brass knuckles in his hands and marched out of the office. Susan followed behind him.

The security station, where all three of the guards had conveniently gathered, sat behind a large two way mirror that overlooked the show room. Not having to worry about a random civilian spotting them through the front window Cyrus charged into the room like a madman. The veteran had returned from his rounds and had joined the other two in conversation. He made no attempt to hide himself given the current time crunch. The serviceman was the logical first target who, incidentally, was the first to notice him. Being fresh back from the war he still had that edge that had gotten him the job in the first place and made him the most dangerous. He was able to draw his weapon, but not before Cyrus closed the distance between them.

The young soldier put up a brief struggle until Cyrus broke his nose, followed by a hard right hand to the collar bone, breaking it as well. Having control of the gun hand Cyrus stripped him of his weapon and threw both him and the gun in separate directions.

The other two, taken completely by surprise, rushed him. It wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle, two rent-a-cops were not much of a challenge considering he had spent a large portion of his life killing former soldiers of the Red Army and KGB.

Susan was using the distraction to jump onto the security terminal. By her count she had less than a minute before the alarms went off, bringing every cop within a five mile radius down on their heads. The fat one was holding out better than Cyrus had expected, the big ones were always hard to put down. He was forced to improvise and use the surroundings to his advantage. A small collection of employee lockers served this purpose nicely as he slammed the fat man’s head into it again and again until he stopped moving.

“Please tell me you’ve got it!” Cyrus yelled as he held the youngest guard in a firm choke hold. The soldier tried to get back to his feet, armed with a small pocket knife the veteran got his attention by slicing the back of Cyrus’s right shoulder. Howling in pain Cyrus tossed the unconscious young man to the ground and, in a fit of rage, beat the soldier more than he had too. He did not kill the man, keeping his promise to Susan, but he was almost certainly crippled. A program she had learned from Craig, of all people, unlocked the system long enough for Susan to get the password and unlock the files.

“Holy shit!” Susan cried as she fell back into the chair. “I didn’t want to alarm you, but I was fairly certain we were screwed” She laughed and quickly packed the tablet back into its pocket.

“I thought that went okay.” Cyrus chuckled. Since the plan had fallen apart and they only had a few seconds left the two of them exited out the front door. The alarm sounded as they made it back to the car. Susan, being a professional, did not burn rubber as they left, keeping to the speed limit and traffic laws she drove away from the scene calmly in case anyone happened to be looking in their direction now that the alarm was drawing attention.

Susan drove a fair distance before parking in the lot of an all-night diner. Cyrus, after putting his jacket back on, was going through the files on Susan’s computer while she worked the tablet. They agreed that the search would go faster if they both did the work. It was relatively easy to thin the search down to rubies and from there, necklaces, but the store still sold over a thousand ruby necklaces over the course of ten years. Narrowing it further by year left them with just over two hundred files to go through.

“Thank God the night crew wasn’t as good as their cyber security.” Cyrus commented as he rubbed his eyes, staring at the computer screen was starting to give him a headache.

“It’s actually pretty ingenious considering the type of people they work with and how many hackers there are out there who’d love to get this kind of information. A sixteen year old with a key board can do more damage than a man with a gun.” Susan commented with a smirk as she perused through the files, moving on to the next one with a swipe of her finger.

“Personal experience?” Cyrus asked.

“I was easily bored as a child.” Susan joked.

“I know that feeling.” Cyrus remarked.

“You wanna share childhood misadventure stories sometime, I’m game old man.”

“Noted.” Cyrus smiled, leaned back in his seat, and lit a cigarette. He tapped the buttons on the computer with more force than was necessary. Every file had a picture of the item that was sold along with the personal information of the customer who bought them. Given that all of the pieces were top dollar and worth more than most people made in a year the high security made sense. Most of thieves wouldn’t have been able to get both the security password and access to the manager’s office. Of course, they did not account for a thief being accompanied by a man like Cyrus and assumed a three-man crew was sufficient. Cyrus laughed at the thought.

“Something funny?” Susan asked noticing his stifled laughter.

“I was just thinking about how easily their high-priced security was subverted by a kid and an old man.” Cyrus chuckled and took a drag from his cigarette.

“You know they’re probably gonna get fired right?” Susan did not share his sense of humor on the subject.

“It’s not our fault we were better than them. It’s not a crime to take pride in your work, which was very impressive by the way.” Cyrus complimented her, but she paid him no mind. Cyrus noticed that Susan regretted what they had done and wouldn’t allow herself a moment to bask in the glory of their accomplishment. “You’re very considerate for a thief.”

“I’m not a thief.” Susan stated. Even she had a hard time believing the words as they left her mouth.

“Could have fooled me.” Cyrus said as he went through the last of his files.

“Of course, it would be in the last of them.” Susan sighed. Cyrus leaned in to see what was on her screen.

“Why did you give up the life?” Cyrus tried to make conversation as they searched.

“Short version, Craig.” Susan replied, she did not seem to mind how close he had gotten to her. Cyrus half expected her to shy away from him.

“Long version?”

“Too long.” Susan scoffed, he thought she was just blowing him off again but then she continued. “Even though I’m good at it I ended up using my powers for evil. I didn’t want to be that person.” She told him.

“Not many do.” Cyrus commented as he remembered his own young adult hood.

“Is this it?” Susan showed him a picture of the necklace, ending the conversation.

“Yup.” He answered after seeing the picture of the necklace. In truth they had gone through so many rubies Cyrus wasn’t completely sure until he saw the rest of the file. Just a name and an address, no personal information. Exactly the kind of thing the killer would do to stay anonymous and if they could afford the necklace to begin with it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that the killer would have spent a little extra to get away clean. The mission, though a rough ending, was a success. Susan, feeling triumphant and secretly euphoric about the job, packed away her collection of electronics and started the car.

Chapter 20

Craig drove under the speed limit, shock appeared to have finally set in. Wayne remained silent as he cleaned the blood off his face. The splinters were dug in too deep for him to remove, but his vision was unaffected, he credited that to lady luck. Going blind was one of his biggest fears, so he felt gracious that his eye remained intact. The thought made him shiver. Wayne knew Craig was angry, not necessarily at him, but angry nonetheless. Knowing the right thing to say at the right time was a feat that had eluded him since childhood, he felt it was better to say nothing.

The case was turning out to be more trouble than it was worth and the prospect of prison began to feel preferable. Torture and shoot outs were typically worst case scenarios. If he had known it was going to be this bad he never would have enlisted Craig and Susan’s help in the first place, he prayed Susan and Cyrus were having an easier go of it than they were. It had been a long time since he had been in a scrap like that, his hands were shaking, but he knew that was mostly from withdrawal. Being shot at was not something Wayne took lightly but, on the other hand, it was nothing new.

Craig pulled the car over without notice, driving in a random direction made very little sense. They were far enough away from the house for them to call the police, an anonymous tip was more than enough. Wayne wasn’t sure if Craig was going to yell at him again or simply sit there staring at the snow covered streets.

“You okay?” Wayne asked. He understood how Craig was feeling, he remembered it from his first tour. Death is a hard thing to understand, let alone see up close. Not everyone was capable of handling it, most people break after the experience, but isn’t that what typically happens to normal people? Wayne never realized how comfortable he actually was with violence and death until he saw Craig’s reaction. A man who had seen his share of gruesomeness and brutality over the years, yet still his humanity held firm, unjaded by what the world had thrown at him Craig was still able to mourn the loss of life. In a way Wayne envied him.

“Not really.” Craig sighed. His hands were tightly gripped around the steering wheel like he was afraid to let go. Still, Craig was staring out into the night.

“You want to talk about it?”

“No.” Craig quickly stated. Wayne was glad he said that. Craig reached into the back seat for his laptop. Wayne assumed they were going back to Craig’s office to watch the video in private but Craig had other plans.

“You sure you want to do this on the street?” Wayne asked.

“I want this to be over.” Craig said abruptly and connected the camera to his computer. There was a little under five hours of video, more than enough time to see what happened before they got there.

The Shooter broke in a little under an hour into the video. Meaning the woman was forced to endure four hours of torture before being killed. Poor girl Wayne thought to himself. Craig had his hand over his mouth and was struggling to hold back his tears. The Shooter started off light, simply using his fists, but Sabrina came from a long line of women who were attracted to violent men and did not break easy. Their assumptions proved true, he was there looking for Henry just as they were.

Ben had told them she was Henry’s girlfriend, but she had to have been much more than that to hold out the way she did, what better way to prove true love? When beatings failed he began cutting before moving on to burning. It reminded Wayne of an incident involving a suspected terrorist. The man the government outsourced to question him, Wayne had long forgotten what they had been looking for, used some of the same techniques as the Shooter. It was inhuman and savage, but effective.

Someone was paying a lot of money to find Henry Monroe, a man like the Shooter did not come cheap and was not easy to acquire. In the video the torture went on and on until finally it came to the point they were looking for. Sabrina, though uncommonly brave, eventually broke and gave up Henry. He was hiding out in a motel in a rough neighborhood, were the residents would fire back if they heard gunshots, under an alias.

Once they got what they needed Craig quickly turned off the video and closed his computer. Some things you just can’t unsee. They were both going to have to live with the images from the video for the rest of their lives. They would never speak of this moment again, though it would trouble Craig for a long time yet.

“I think they’re mercenaries.” Wayne mumbled just loud enough for Craig to hear him. “I’ve seen this before, during the war.”

“How do you mean?” Craig asked.

“The government hired PMC’s, especially for interrogation purposes. That way they wouldn’t be breaking the Geneva Convention.” Wayne explained.

“This is so fucked up.” Craig’s voice broke. Wayne was somewhat surprised that he had held it together this long.

“Yeah.” Wayne agreed. “We need to find Henry and turn him over to the police.” Wayne suggested. Craig agreed and got the car back on the road.

Neither of them knew the area well enough to find the motel so Craig had to use the GPS Wayne kept in the glove compartment to find it. The motel only had a few rooms, two rows of ten stacked on top of one another, all of which faced the street, which was good for them. Craig found a place to park that gave them a perfect view of both floors, the parking lot and the street while keeping them hidden out of sight.

The motel was the kind of place people only went to if they were running from something, or someone. What Henry was running from had yet to be seen. Wayne only knew the man as a good for nothing wastrel, but still not the kind of person who warranted the time and money being spent to find him. He couldn’t figure out what part Lawrence had to play, if indeed he had one at all. Nothing added up, every question they answered led them from bad to worse. Wayne didn’t know how much more he could take.

This was the part of the job that separated the wannabes from the real detectives. Gun fights and car chases were usually reserved for the movies. Stake-outs were all about patience and being able to sit for undetermined amounts of time in the freezing cold with no heater. That was the real challenge and it had deterred its fair share of would be gumshoes. Though things between the two of them were tense, Craig was the perfect stake-out partner.

Since his early days at college Craig had spent many nights in a caffeine induced haze writing papers, articles, and half-finished novels. That was before he became a journalist, making it his job to stay awake and spy on people. One of Craig’s favorite pastimes was people watching, which made him uniquely qualified for this sort of work. Wayne’s phone rang, undoubtedly his wife again.

‘You gonna answer that sometime tonight?” Craig asked annoyed with him.

“I’m hoping she’ll give up.” Wayne told him.

“If you really wanted that you would have signed the papers by now.” Craig commented.

“Fuck you.” Wayne snapped without thinking, Craig laughed.

“Why don’t you sign the papers?” Craig asked. It was something he had been curious about since the day Wayne told him about the separation. Wayne thought about it for a moment before answering.

“I’m not as comfortable or as willing to throw damn near fifteen years of marriage down the drain.” He finally answered. Craig knew that Bridget was a touchy subject for Wayne, which is why he almost never asked questions of a personal nature.

“Did I ever tell you how we met?” Wayne asked, feeling like his love story might cheer Craig up.

“No.” When Craig really thought about it he knew very little of Wayne’s past. For no reason other than because most of it was horrible and not easy to talk about.

“I was on leave, I had just gotten back from my first tour, and I wasn’t handling it very well.” Wayne took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “My friends kept coming to see me and trying to get me to spend time with them. I didn’t want to, but they finally wore me down enough to agree. It was the shit show I expected it to be. Everyone was thanking me and buying me drinks as if I had won some great victory. I had to put on a smile and pretend like I wanted to be there instead of back in the desert with my unit. I wanted to peel my fucking face off.” He laughed. “A friend of mine, an old friend, went on about how much he supported the war and how we were doing the right thing. He didn’t know what the hell he was talking about and I got angry. I was just about to punch him in his stupid face when I saw her there. She was just looking at me, like I was the only one in the room.” He paused for a moment as he remembered the night, it made him smile. “I left my friends to go and talk to her and she was perfect. She couldn’t have cared less about the things I had done, she was more interested in who I was outside of the service. From that moment to this one I’ve never thought about another woman.” He cleared his throat. “We were married eight months later. I honestly don’t know if I would have survived the war, or what came after, if it wasn’t for her.” He finished.

Craig was silent for a moment, it was a nice story. He couldn’t help but wonder how they came to the place they were in now. “Have you told her this?” He asked as if he were a marriage counselor.

“It’s hard to find the words.” Wayne admitted. Opening up to Craig was one thing, but it was completely different in regards to Bridget. “Sometimes, even after all these years, I still lose my breath when I’m around her.” He confessed with a short chuckle as if admitting it made him feel stupid.

“You know, I may not be the best person to be giving you advice.” Craig said.

“You’re all I’ve got.” Wayne laughed.

“You didn’t let me finish.”

“Proceed.”

“I was fortunate enough to meet the love of my life early and that’s exactly what he was. I know I’ll never hit that lottery again.” Craig took a breath, Wayne waited for him to finish. “If I knew I could see him again, even if it was just for a minute, I’d drop everything.” Craig told him. “If you love Bridget as much as I think you do, you need to go see her. I’m going to find out what room Henry is staying in. Call your wife.” Craig ordered and got out of the car before Wayne had a chance to say anything.

Craig was right and he knew it. The only way he was going to keep his family was to put in the effort and that meant calling his wife even if he knew she was going to be mad. Hesitantly Wayne took out his phone and dialed her number, knowing he was going to get an earful the second she answered.

“Hello?” Bridget already sounded aggravated just by the sight of his name.

“It’s me.” Wayne spoke lowly like a child who was about to get in trouble.

“About damn time. I’ve been calling for hours.” Bridget tried hard not to yell into the phone.

“I’m sorry.” He winced.

“I know.” She had heard that too many times before. He did not know why he kept saying it, at this point it was his default response.

“I’m working a case.” He told her not wanting to bluntly ask her what she wanted.

“I’m not surprised.” Bridget had grown fond of condescension.

“Is this what you called me for?”

“No.” She barked. “Your son wants me to invite you to dinner.”

“It’s a little late for dinner isn’t it.” Wayne looked at his watch, it was almost nine o’clock.

“It wouldn’t have been if you had answered your phone.” Bridget snapped. “He’s refusing to eat until he knows whether or not you’re coming.” She explained.

“I have time.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, bye.” She hung up angrily.

“Bye.” Wayne scoffed before putting his phone back into his pocket.

He watched Craig as he walked back from the manager’s office. He did not appear to be happy with what he had found. Scrambling into the car Craig slammed the door angrily.

“Henry’s in room 13 on the second floor. Cost me a hundred bucks.” Craig looked so angry he could spit.

“Losing your touch.” Wayne joked. He needed at least one more laugh before going to see Bridget. Craig cursed at him. “Think you can manage alone for a few hours?” Wayne asked him.

“Of course I can. Think this is my first time?” He asked with a hint of sass. “Going to see Bridget?”

“Keith wants me to come to dinner.” Wayne told him.

“How did she sound?”

“Irritated, annoyed.” Wayne replied.

“Better you than me.” Craig chuckled.

“Yup.” Wayne made sure he had all of his belongings before opening the car door. “Call me if anything changes.”

“Naturally.” Craig said with a smile.

“I’ll be back soon.” Wayne got out of the car and walked to the end of the street to hail a cab. He didn’t want to attract attention to Craig or his car. There was no way to be sure if the Shooter had already tracked down Henry or just planned on watching him like they were. Either way it was in their best interests to conceal themselves as long as possible.

Chapter 21

Cyrus read through the file while Susan drove. It claimed that the necklace was commissioned by a man named Damien Franks, a name he had never heard mentioned during the investigation. There was very little personal information about the man, aside from his home address – where they were heading now. All the files they had gone through proved that the company was extremely thorough, maybe to the point of absurdity, when it came to selecting their clientele, which was why Damien stood out. Some of the files even had up-to-date family trees but next to nothing on Damien. Possibly the mystery man in Regina’s life, Cyrus had a feeling they would be closing the case sooner than expected.

Damien paid for it up front, in cash. Nearly 60k in total which, even for a wealthy bachelor, was a tremendous amount of money for a single necklace – no matter how beautiful it, or the neck it hung from, was.

“Do you know this man? Is he a thief?” He asked Susan. It was the only theory he had that made any sense.

“There isn’t exactly a newsletter.” She laughed at him. “But, no I can’t say I’ve seen him before. That’s an alias I would remember.”

“He doesn’t come from a prominent family that I know of. Twenty-six years old so there aren’t any school ties to Regina.”

“Maybe she didn’t meet him at school.” Susan suggested.

“How else could they have met?” Cyrus wondered.

“Any number of ways. Where did you meet your first girlfriend?” Susan asked slighly trying to get personal information from him.

“Arms deal in the Philippians.” Cyrus said nonchalantly, Susan couldn’t tell if he was joking. “But I don’t think that helps us much.” Cyrus muttered. Susan rolled her eyes at him.

“Maybe Wayne’s cop friend can ask around, some of Regina’s friends may have met him.” Susan recommended.

“That’s not a bad idea.” Cyrus said not looking up from the file. He was lost in thought for the rest of the ride. The first time all day he wished Wayne was around. Playing detective had left him with a migraine and too many questions. Susan smacked him in the chest and brought him back to reality.

“Well, you can ask him.” She said pointing to the apartment building the address led them to. Nothing about the building suggested Damien could afford to give a woman six figure jewelry. In fact, if Cyrus had to guess he’d say the resident’s barely qualified as middle class. Susan locked the doors before they crossed the street. Cyrus laughed and shook his head, but did not point out the irony of locking the doors to a stolen car.

A small group of kids, who were out far too late, stood huddled around the front doors. They appeared to be planning on shaking them down for spare change before seeing Cyrus, they quickly changed their minds. One of the older kids made ill-mannered comments about Susan’s appearance under his breath that made the other children laugh. Cyrus couldn’t help but snicker like a teenager at the vulgarity and agree with them – though small Susan was shapely and attractive. Susan mouthed curses at him and flashed the children her middle finger as the elevator doors closed.

The floor Damien lived on was extremely loud, they could hear the noise before they got off the elevator. Damien’s apartment was in-between what sounded like a domestic violence case waiting to happen and a man who was under the impression that he had a future playing the drums.

Cyrus knocked on the door with a heavy hand. It took two more knocks before Damien answered. The young man opened the door as wide as the chain lock would let him. He looked confused and was obviously not expecting visitors.

“Can I help you?” He asked. The British accent threw them both off. From what Cyrus could see of the man he was shorter than most with black hair and stubble like he hadn’t shaved in a week.

“Damien Franks?” Susan asked.

“Yes.” He answered nervously.

“We need to talk to you about a necklace you purchased.” She said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He quickly told them like he had expected someone to come asking about it eventually. “Please leave.” He tried to close the door, but Cyrus stopped it with his foot.

“Young man.” Cyrus said through his teeth with a fake smile. “We’ve had a very long day. Either you’re going to open the door or I’m going through it and if that happens I’m going to be very upset.” Cyrus growled no longer smiling.

“I’d listen to him.” Susan suggested.

Damien just stared at them like a deer caught in head lights. They could see the wheels turning, but didn’t know if he would make the right decision or not. “You need to leave before…” Damien began to threaten to call the cops. Cyrus, true to his word, interrupted him by forcing his way into the apartment – breaking the chain off the door frame as he did so. Damien, being a pathetically small, thin man, fell to the ground upon impact. He cursed at them as Cyrus barreled through the door. Susan followed in behind him with a sigh, she checked to make sure no one saw them before closing the door.

“What?” Cyrus asked with a smirk.

“I could have talked us in.” Susan remarked.

“This was easier.” Cyrus shrugged. Damien was scrambling to get to his feet. Cyrus helped him up by the collar of his green and white striped shirt and threw him into a grey leather chair that looked to be the result of dumpster diving. Susan took his phone off the coffee table and began going through it. Damien tried to get up to stop her, but Cyrus kept him seated with a strong hand clamped firmly on his shoulder.

“You can’t just barge in here!” Damien adamantly protested, not that they cared at all. Cyrus took the necklace out of his pocket.

“This look familiar?” He dangled it in front of Damien, who went silent the moment he saw it. “I suspected as much.” Cyrus dropped the necklace into his lap. Damien flinched and quickly brushed it onto the floor. “Anything?” Cyrus asked Susan.

“Nothing out of the ordinary. An odd amount of torture porn in the browser history, but that doesn’t make him a killer.” Susan commented on her findings.

“Killer! I didn’t kill anyone!” Damien whimpered in a high-pitched voice while making an attempt to stand up, Cyrus raised his fist threatening to hit him – Damien quickly rethought his decision.

“This was found in Regina Monroe’s bedroom.” Cyrus stated as he pointed to the necklace at his feet. “You bought it for her, why!” Cyrus demanded answers, his booming voice echoing through the apartment.

“I didn’t!” Damien exclaimed. “I’ve never even met Regina!” he blubbered.

“Then who did you buy it for?” Susan questioned softly, playing the good cop. There was nothing of interest on the phone so she casually tossed it onto the couch.

“Mr. Walker!” Damien confessed.

“Walker?” Cyrus and Susan shared a look. “Curtis, the boyfriend?”

“No.” Damien said vaguely. “Lloyd Walker. His father.” Damien finally came clean. “I work as Mr. Walker’s assistant. He had me commission the damn thing and three weeks later he sent me to pick it up. I never knew who it was for.” Damien told them. Susan pulled Cyrus to the side.

“Was the dad even a suspect?” Susan asked confused.

“Not to my knowledge. I never even considered it to be honest.” Cyrus scratched his head. This was definitely some kind of breakthrough, something Wayne and Craig would need to know. He and Susan seemed to be on the same page. She went into the hallway to update Wayne on the situation.

“It would be in your best interest if you forgot we were here.” Cyrus said to Damien who was more than willing to comply. He bent down to pick up the necklace and gave Damien an intimidating look on the way back up. He turned out to be an unwitting proxy, there was nothing else of worth they could get from him. Leaving the man frightened and shivering in his living room Cyrus left while Susan made plans to meet up with Wayne.

Chapter 22

Wayne was dreading the confrontation he would surely have with his wife. It overwhelmed him and sucked out any joy he felt at the prospect of seeing his family. He had the same feeling when he met Bridget’s father for the first time. Of course, he was happy to be able to forget about the day’s events, if only for the night. The cab driver took the long way to Wayne’s old house to get more money out of him. Wanting to prolong the inevitable Wayne did not get upset and would later consider it money well spent.

Bridget drove a brand new, family friendly, SUV that Wayne was still paying for. He didn’t even want the damn thing, but she haggled him into it, Bridget always had a way of making him do things. The gas guzzling monster took up most of the drive way forcing the driver to let Wayne out on the street. From there he had a picture perfect view of his family through the dining room window. They seemed so happy without him that Wayne almost left. Being a good husband and father should have been easy compared to the things he’d done. All he had to do was walk inside and be the man he used to be. Wayne tried, he really did, but it only seemed to make things worse. Wayne had watched them through the window on more than one occasion and every time he half-expected Bridget to have moved on to another man – one that made time for her and Keith.

For a full ten minutes Wayne stood in the street like a statue guarding the front lawn. A long internal debate ensued before he finally got his legs to move. He crossed the lawn and scaled the porch to reach the door bell, he rang it forcefully with his thumb. He had been denied a key when Bridget changed the locks to prevent him from barging in while blackout drunk. A decision that was not without merit. There had been at least a dozen times during the separation Wayne considered forcing his way back into the house in the middle of a drunken stupor. Nervously he clenched his fists inside his pockets when the door opened.

“I didn’t think you were coming.” She said begrudgingly.

“I’m here now.” Wayne grunted, he didn’t want to sound like he didn’t want to be there but it couldn’t be helped.

“Your son wanted to see you, it took me all day to get you on the phone, you finally show up, and that’s all you have to say.” She scoffed.

“What do you want me to say, Bridget?” He was hoping to avoid an argument, but where his wife was concerned they had too much history between them and no one could push his buttons like she could.

“Not a damn thing.” She said coldly. “But your son wants to see you.” She opened the door and let it slide open. She gave Wayne a look as he brushed past her to go inside, he heard her light a cigarette as he closed the door. The rigors of being a single parent were taking their toll on her. Wayne hardly ever stopped to think about how Bridget was effected by the separation.

Being too late for dinner, Wayne wasn’t hungry anyway, he and Keith spent the remainder of the night in his room talking and playing games. Wayne hadn’t been able to see him much since the separation and was overjoyed to simply play with his son, if only for a short while. Fatherhood, along with its ups and downs, came naturally to Wayne. When he was around Keith it brought out his own inner child and the two of them got along famously. Of course, playtime was not the only part of parenting, but Keith was still young and was never troublesome like many kids his age.

The separation was hardest on him though and Wayne didn’t know how to explain to his son what was happening or why. Neither could Bridget for that matter. For now they tried to keep him in the dark, but that veil wouldn’t hold out for much longer. Truthfully Wayne had expected Bridget to take him back by now. They had had rough patches before like any other couple, but Wayne assumed, idiot that he was, that it would soon blow over like every other time Bridget had been angry with him. That was seven months ago, by now Wayne had wised up and knew what she expected of him. They had a ways to go before getting back on the proper path. Not wanting to think about the worst of times Wayne was content and played games with Keith until it was time for bed.

Wayne waited until Keith fell asleep to leave, it was easier to say sweet dreams than it was to say good-bye. Bridget was going to be waiting for him and Wayne knew it. With a deep breath and a heavy heart he marched downstairs as if to certain doom.

In the kitchen Bridget had finished cleaning up and putting away the leftovers. Standing in front of a half empty bottle of wine in a tight pair of shorts, which she knew Wayne favored, and in an old white t-shirt she waited for him. Even in such humble clothing, with no makeup, and messy hair she was a vision – a goddess in Wayne’s eyes. Her golden brown curls stretching the length of her back, Wayne wanted nothing more than to grab her by her narrow hips and take her right there on the counter top. Knowing the gesture would be unwelcome Wayne kept his hands to himself. He cleared his throat to get her attention.

“Is he asleep?” She asked while pouring herself a glass of wine. She knew better than to offer him a glass, Wayne would have preferred toilet water over wine. He had always been partial to beer and whiskey.

“Yes.” Answered Wayne. Bridget turned to face him, her beautifully freckled face glowing in the light of the kitchen. Through her shirt Wayne could see her bare breasts. Perfectly in proportion to her athletic frame. She had been a runner in high school and worked hard to maintain her figure after Keith was born. They were a pair of natural athletes and suspected Keith would be as well. Standing in his wife’s near naked presence was making it difficult for Wayne to think of much else.

“What the hell happened to your face?” Bridget asked as she took a closer look at the splinters around his eye. Wayne flinched uncontrollably as she did so. That was the first time she had touched him, or had shown any concern for his well-being since the separation.

“Bad day at work.” Wayne decided to omit the truth. No reason to cause unnecessary fuss on his account.

“Goddamn it Wayne.” Bridget shook her head. “You’re getting too old for me to be patching you up in the kitchen. Go sit down.” Bridget commanded before escorting him to the kitchen table. Leaving briefly she came back with a pair of tweezers. Upon her return Bridget took a sip of wine like a Wild West doctor before going to work on his face. She was not gentle and looked as if she enjoyed seeing him wince in pain. Wayne couldn’t blame her for taking a small amount of pleasure from his pain, but he made sure not to give her the satisfaction of crying out.

“How’d this happen?” Bridget asked removing a splinter and quickly wiping it on his shirt.

“You really want to know?” Wayne grunted as she roughly dug out another splinter.

“I asked didn’t I?”

“The girl that was murdered this morning.”

“The Monroe girl?!” Bridget stopped what she was doing. “You’re working a murder case?”

“Yes. Her father was very persuasive.” Again, he did not share the whole truth.

“You haven’t worked a murder since Texas.” Bridget commented before going back to work.

“I know.” Wayne muttered.

“What changed?”

“It’s complicated.”

“It always is with you. Is it dangerous?” She asked.

“It’s always dangerous.” He told her.

“You know what I mean.” She pulled a splinter intentionally causing him discomfort.

“I know.” He grunted through his teeth. Wayne was silent for a moment while she removed the remaining splinters from his skin. Once Bridget was finished with her work Wayne stood up and put on his coat. “But if something does happen to me I want you to know that I’m sorry. I never wanted it to be like this, I should have been better.” Wayne told her as he stared down at the floor. He could see that she felt sorry for him but that was not his intention.

“There’s a difference between wanting to change, really wanting it, and following through.” She told him. Bridget never told him, but even though she pushed for the divorce she couldn’t imagine life without him. Even if she somehow managed to move on Wayne was the only man she would ever truly love.

“You’re right.” Wayne agreed. “And that’s my fault, maybe I didn’t want to change. No matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise.”

“Are you saying that you’re ready now?” Bridget asked skeptically.

“No.” Wayne scoffed. “I’m saying that no matter what make sure my son knows how much I love him.” With a weak smile Wayne went to leave, he had said most of what he wanted to and that was better than nothing. Bridget grabbed him by the arm to keep him from going.

“Are you in some kind of trouble? This is more conversation than I’ve gotten out of you in months, probably the most honest you’ve been with me in years, and you’re working a murder again. Something you swore you’d never do.” Bridget took a step closer to him almost as if to embrace him. “What’s going on Wayne?” She asked with heartfelt sincerity. For the first time in a long time Wayne felt like she cared for him again. Wayne simply smiled and looked into her chocolate brown eyes and did what any good husband would do in that situation. He lied.

“I’ll be fine.” He said with a forced smile that was close to the real thing. “It may not mean much to you now, but when this case is over I’m quitting. Sober up and find a real job. If you still want a divorce I’ll sign the papers without a fight.” Wayne struggled to keep himself together. Professing his love on top of the fact that he could be dead soon made the matter far more emotional for him than it needed to be. “I’ll love you all my life and I’ll be here if you ever want to try again.” Wayne confessed and stole a long passionate kiss.

After taking in the taste of her lips Wayne felt alive in a way he hadn’t since they were first married and in that moment he knew there was nothing he would not do for her. When he finally let her go Bridget stumbled back and rested on the table as if Wayne had taken her breath away. They had not shared a kiss like that one since before their son was born. It wasn’t enough to change her mind, but it was enough to give her second thoughts.

Wayne made sure to take his leave before the situation got out of hand. Leaving his wife something to think about, Wayne left the house fueled with a righteous sense of purpose like for the first time in many years he knew exactly who he was and exactly what he had to do. While waiting for another cab, he was beginning to regret leaving his car in Craig’s care, he got a phone call from Susan.

“Yeah.” He answered.

“We got something.” Susan said mysteriously. “We need to meet, where are you?” asked Susan.

“Let’s meet back at the office.” Wayne told her. Susan agreed as the cab pulled up to the curb. Wayne told the driver his destination and hung up the phone. He prayed that whatever they had discovered would give them the break they needed to put the case to bed.

Chapter 23

Cyrus and Susan were waiting at the office for Wayne and Craig. It was the only place they could safely discuss the case. It was late and everyone had gone home for the night. Susan sent away the janitorial staff with the help of bribe money from Cyrus. The only light came from Craig’s office, the news room was eerily silent. Susan didn’t know the place absent the rhythmic click-clack of computer keys.

Cyrus sat at Craig’s desk, smoking, and going through some old rejected articles. Most of them were very impressive and certainly better than what the paper actually published. Susan was still upset about the crossword, the editor did not take her advice causing her to get angry all over again. Before she had a chance to leave the editor a strongly worded letter Wayne walked in.

“Are you okay?” Susan and Wayne asked in unison. They noticed each other’s head wounds at the same time. Susan ran to check to make sure he was alright. It was little more than a scratch, but the dried blood and dirt made it look worse than it actually was. Bridget’s harsh removal procedure did him no favors.

“The hell happened to you?” Cyrus asked once he saw Wayne’s face.

“Ran into a bit a trouble.” Wayne told them.

“Is Craig okay? Where is he?” Susan asked no longer concerned about Wayne.

“He’s fine. We found Henry, Craig’s keeping an eye on him.” Wayne explained.

“We were looking for Henry?” Cyrus asked.

“He’s in hiding. Palmer asked us to track him down.” Wayne said.

“Men in suits?” Cyrus asked about the scratch around Wayne’s eye with a hand motion.

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“We ran into a couple. They followed us until we… took care of them.” Cyrus chuckled to himself.

Cyrus and Susan spent the next half hour filling Wayne in on what they had been through. Ethan, the mystery men, the robbery, everything. Wayne did the same. Susan was briefly upset at him for leading Craig into a fire fight, but let it go on the grounds that they couldn’t have known.

“You broke into a jewelry store?” Wayne asked as if he were their father and they had been escorted home by the cops. Cyrus couldn’t tell if he was angry or impressed.

“No one died and we didn’t take anything.” Cyrus assured him.

“Did the necklace lead anywhere?” Wayne asked.

“It did.”

“The necklace was purchased by Damien Franks.” Susan informed him.

“Never heard of him.” Wayne said confused.

“That’s because he was a proxy.” Susan explained.

“For who?”

“You aren’t gonna believe this.” Cyrus scoffed.

“Lloyd Walker.” Susan leaned back in her chair triumphantly.

“Really?!” Wayne was flabbergasted.

“Yup.” Cyrus interjected.

“So, the father wrote those letters. That’s…” Wayne couldn’t think of the right word to describe it.

“Disgusting.” Susan helped him out.

“Very.” Cyrus added.

“Palmer needs to know about this. Maybe he can get some answers from Lloyd to make sense of all this.” Wayne left the office to make the call.

“If we assume Lloyd had Regina killed, why would he be looking for Henry?” Cyrus posed the question to Susan, who didn’t seem to have an answer.

“I don’t know. Maybe he just wanted to gank both the Monroe kids.” Susan suggested. It was not completely outside the realm of possibility, but Cyrus did not think that was the answer.

Wayne returned quickly from his conversation with the law. He had a successful look on his face.

“Good news?” Susan asked.

“Palmer’s gonna get a warrant to search his home and office in the morning. He wants me to ride along.” Wayne told them.

“This could all be over tomorrow.” Susan commented, Wayne seemed to agree.

“What can you tell me about the men that shot at you?” Cyrus asked.

“He was good. Better than I’ve seen in a long time.” Wayne said. In truth he hadn’t seen skills like that since the war, but he felt no need to tell them that.

“Did you see a tattoo on the back of his left hand?” Cyrus asked. It stood to reason that all their attackers were working together.

“I didn’t get a good look, too many bullets flying around.” Wayne answered sarcastically as he motioned to his face. “Why do you ask?”

“The two we encountered had identical tattoos on their left hands.”

“Of what?”

“Some sort of wax seal, like the kind from old letters, with owls in the center.” Susan said using her hands as if they would somehow make sense of what she was trying to explain.

“Owls?” Wayne scoffed. “Any theories?”

“Nothing good.” Cyrus sighed, he was the only one who didn’t think it was funny though he knew something they did not.

“Bad is better than what we have right now, which is nothing.” Susan reminded him.

“It’s no secret that over the years mercenaries have become a common sight among the world’s many war zones.” Cyrus said as he lit another cigarette. “Most of them are corporate conglomerates trying to privatize war. You don’t see too many freelance outfits anymore.” Cyrus explained.

“What’s your point?” Wayne asked. He had more knowledge of private military corporations than he’d like.

“They mark themselves with the sigil of their group, similar to street gang mentality, but ten times as ruthless and skilled. Members are ghosts most likely. They roam from place to place only staying long enough to do what they came for.” Cyrus explained the enemy to them. He shared a similar bond with a small group during his youth.

“Which is what?” Susan asked, she had an uneasy look on her face.

“Anything involving blood.” Cyrus said grimly. “Guys like this don’t do it for the money, they enjoy killing and will work for anyone who lets them do it.” Cyrus leaned back and exhaled smoke out of his nose. “There’s something more at work here. Unless Lloyd hired expert killers to take out a little girl.”

“Like what?” Susan asked.

“I don’t know. That’s what bothers me.” Cyrus told her.

“Maybe Lloyd will have some answers. If not we keep digging.” Wayne said. It was as good of a plan as they were going to have. Still, there was the familiar uneasy feeling Cyrus often got in his gut but he ignored it for now. There was nothing else for them to do now but sleep on it with the hope that the morning would bring with it more answers.

Chapter 24

Wayne had left for the night, he suggested that the two of them get some rest as well. Tomorrow would turn out to be a long day and morning was going to come early. Admittedly, Cyrus was beyond tired after the day’s trials. Sleeping hadn’t come easy in over twenty years and tonight was going to be no exception. There was too much to think about. His questions needed answers and they didn’t have any. It felt much like failure, a concept he was largely unaccustomed with. The one thing he knew for sure was that he hated playing detective. Killing people, no matter what the reason, was not a complicated endeavor, though arguably morally atrocious. Determining why people did the things they do was an exercise in futility. It was maddening trying to put everything together, Cyrus could only hope that they caught the man, whatever his reasons, in the morning.

Susan did him a solid and drove him back to his hotel. Amazingly, the owner of the car she had stolen either didn’t know or didn’t care enough to report it. Susan pulled up in front of the hotel, she looked as tired as he felt.

“You should come up.” Cyrus invited her to his room. He hadn’t meant it to be in any romantic or sleazy capacity. By the look on Susan’s face that’s exactly how she took it.

“I highly doubt that’s gonna happen.” She laughed like she was the prom queen and he was the nerd beneath her station.

“It’s going to take you over an hour to get home and you look like you’re two seconds away from falling asleep at the wheel.” Cyrus scoffed. “I was trying to be nice.” Naturally he was a little offended, but he was too tired to care what she did or did not do. Without waiting for her to say anything else Cyrus got out of the car, nearly pushing the doorman out of his way, and walked into the hotel lobby.

Every member of the hotel staff he ran into, from the lobby to his room, stopped and greeted him with a smile. It annoyed him to no end and he considered changing hotels but that could wait until morning. Slipping the key into the door he was finally in his room, peace and quiet at last.

Jacket and tie had come off, guns were neatly draped over his chair, and the mini bar had been restocked. Cyrus sat back on his bed with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Before he got too comfortable there was a knock at his door. If this is another smiling employee, you’re killing them. He told himself as he took his gun from the chair and walked to the door.

He was surprised at what he saw when he looked through the peephole. Hesitation was his first instinct, but he fought it away and opened the door.

“Change your mind?” Cyrus asked looking down at Susan, he did not invite her in.

“I just wanted to apologize.” She said not looking up at him. “I was being a bitch. I’m sorry.” She said awkwardly like she was not accustomed to making apologies. Cyrus took a moment to bask in it like a child.

“It’s fine.” He finally said with a smirk. “The offer still stands.” He turned away and went back to his drink and cigarette, which had gone out, but left the door open for her. Susan entered and closed the door behind her while Cyrus re-lit his cigarette. Susan stood around self-consciously like she had never been in a man’s room before.

“I’ll sleep in the chair.” Cyrus put his gun away. She sat on the edge of the bed looking like she didn’t know why she turned the car around. “There’s a mini bar or television, if that’s your thing. Free Wi-Fi.” Cyrus was trying to make conversation. “If you’re hungry feel free to order room service. Place makes a half decent steak.” He sat back in the chair with a deep sigh like an old man after a long day’s work. Susan curiously looked around the room, she reminded Cyrus of a kitten that had belong to his grandmother.

“You aren’t as messy as I thought you’d be.” Susan said. Cyrus thought it was an odd thing to say, but opted to take it as a compliment.

He smiled “Hazard of the job I suppose. As a child I hated putting away my things.”

“It’s hard to imagine you as a child.” Susan said.

“You know I’m not that old.” Cyrus scoffed.

“No, it’s just…” She stammered. “I can’t help but wonder what kind of childhood a man like you had.” She explained.

“A killer you mean?”

Susan took a moment before speaking. “It’s hard not to be rude when you’re curious.” She said. “Hazard of the job.” She chuckled lightly.

“It’s okay.” Cyrus assured her. “I just don’t often get questioned about my childhood.” He told her. It was true, he hadn’t thought about those early days in many years or anything else for that matter. His life, such as it was, was a lonely one, especially if one lived to be as old as Cyrus. In his line of work a man his age should have retired years ago or died with some dignity.

“My childhood was fairly normal, believe it or not.” He began. Susan looked very interested in hearing about it. In truth, though she would never admit it, she had been dying to ask him about his life. Cyrus was handsome and mysterious, a dangerous combination to be sure. “My mother was a bank manager, my father was a writer.” Cyrus used finger quotes when referring to his father’s career.

“He write anything I might have read?” Susan asked.

“He never published anything to my knowledge.”

“Still in contact with them?”

“No, I ah…” Cyrus had trouble saying the words at first. “I ran away when I was fourteen.” He confessed.

“Oh.” Susan evidently felt awful for asking. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Cyrus told her. “They weren’t bad people, my parents. I just don’t think they wanted a child. They were just young and thought that’s what they were supposed to do.” Cyrus stared into his glass before drinking it.

“I get it.” Susan said. “I ran away a lot as a child too.”

“Bad home life?”

“Homes, plural. I was an orphan.” Susan told him. He was surprised she shared that secret with him considering how tight lipped she was about her past. It was something he understood better than most.

“Sounds rough.”

“Some were, but not all. Family life was just never a good fit, I guess.” She smiled indifferently.

“When did you run away for good?” Cyrus asked. He felt entitled to a personal question or two.

“It was a few days shy of my eighteenth birthday.” She told him. “I was on my own for a while.”

“What happened?” Cyrus asked before he could stop himself.

Susan scoffed. “The same thing that happens to all young women at one time or another.” She paused for a moment and took a breath before continuing. “I fell in love with a bad boy, who turned out to be worse than anything I could have imagined.”

“Aaron?”

“Yeah.”

As much as he wanted to know, as much as the suspense had been killing him since Ethan first mentioned his name, Cyrus didn’t ask. He could see the memory of the man upset her. He knew, perhaps better than most, that the cruelty of men could be appalling, to her gender especially. He offered her a cigarette as he lit another, she refused it as well as the drink offer.

“You’re bleeding!” Susan cried out suddenly and pointed to his shoulder. Cyrus was just as surprised, he had forgotten about the knife wielding security guard.

“I’ll be damned.” He muttered. The white dress shirt he wore underneath his vest was stained red with blood nearly to his elbow. The cut was not as bad as it looked but that didn’t stop Susan from freaking out about it. Cyrus, being all too familiar with injuries in the field, took it lightly.

“Take off your shirt.” Susan commanded.

“It’ll be alright.” Cyrus claimed.

“Take it off.” She replied in a stern voice. Cyrus eventually broke down and did as she told him. Cyrus emptied his vest pockets before taking it off and slowly began unbuttoning his shirt.

“You may want to turn around.” He suggested. Susan giggled and made a face.

“You didn’t strike me as the bashful type.” She mused.

“I warned you.” Cyrus grumbled before he took off his shirt. Susan had to stifle a gasp by putting her hand across her mouth. At this point in his career the injuries he had accrued over the years had piled up significantly. His upper body was more scar tissue than skin, which was just the damage on the outside of his body. Susan was speechless and couldn’t stop ogling like she was at a freak show. Cyrus expected as much. There was a severe and foul burn scar on the opposite shoulder that even he had trouble looking at sometimes.

“You can stop staring.” Cyrus laughed it off slightly embarrassed.

“I’m sorry.” Susan forced a laugh and darted to the bathroom to fetch a towel. The torn fabric along with the massive bloodstain made the shirt unsalvageable. And the hits just keep on coming. Cyrus thought to himself and tossed it aside.

“I’m sorry.” Cyrus said without looking at her as Susan gently cleaned the crusted blood off his arm.

“Don’t be.” She replied. “I shouldn’t have reacted that way. I’m the asshole.” She laughed, it was real this time. “Besides, you aren’t the only one with scars.” She whispered. Afterward she shocked him by taking off her own shirt.

Of course, Cyrus had been with women before, but he had never had any sort of romantic connection to any of them, the job saw to that well enough. He couldn’t help but turn away from her, though he didn’t know why. Susan snickered.

“What a gentleman.” She joked. “You can look, its okay.” She whispered as if someone would hear them. Slowly Cyrus turned to see her naked torso. Her chest and stomach were tattooed with beautiful, feminine designs that were masterful works of art in and of themselves.

As beautiful as they were it was not what grabbed his attention. Folding over her shoulders and around her upper arms were several thin, pale red scars. Susan turned around with her back to him. There were dozens, maybe hundreds, of thin red scars up and down her back in a sporadic pattern. Cyrus remained silent, he knew what caused this. An ill-fated romance or sadistic foster parent he couldn’t say, but someone, at some point, had whipped her savagely, possibly over the course of years. It’s a wonder she turned out as well as she did He thought to himself as he gently caressed her back. She flinched at his touch like an animal who had been kicked too many times to put trust in strangers. Looking upon her scarred flesh filled him with anger and a very deep sadness like he had never felt before.

“This is a travesty.” Cyrus whispered. “How could anyone do this to something so beautiful?”

“Like I said, you aren’t the only one.”

“Men like me are supposed to have scars.” Cyrus ran his hand slowly up her back to her shoulder and the base of the neck. Susan groaned pleasurably as he did so. With his free hand he wrapped his arm around her and drew her in until her back was pressed firmly against his chest. It took her by surprise, but she made no attempt to escape. Susan looked over her shoulder at him and they shared a soulful look.

Honestly, if he were asked why he did it there wouldn’t be an answer. It felt like the right thing to do. They were both lonely and in need of comfort. They shared similar backgrounds and personalities, he couldn’t say exactly what it was, only that it was there. This feeling he felt when he looked at her was unlike anything Cyrus had ever experienced. A thing of songs and poems he didn’t quite understand until that moment. No matter the cause or the reason or the meaning it was enough for them both. She had helped him build up the suspense long enough. When their lips finally met it was like seeing the sun for the first time. Cyrus had spent so many years in the dark he had forgotten the feel of its warmth on his skin. The fire and passion that overtook them made everything else melt away until there was nothing left but the two of them.

Chapter 25

Over an hour had passed since Wayne left him and Craig was already getting bored. There was nothing but the latest auto-tuned hits cranking out on every radio station, he elected silence instead. There was only so much punishment he could take. He had quit smoking years before when he finished college, though times like this made it hard not to fall off the wagon.

Another hour passed. This late at night the streets were still busy, but nothing out of the ordinary. Looking for someone to watch, to pass the time, Craig turned his attention to a young street performer not far from his car. In his head Craig made up a story about the boy. Who he was, where he came from, things of that natural, turning the young man into a character in his head. Something to help him pass the time, possibly material for the book he kept telling himself he was going to write but never got around to. The boy, like so many before him, moved to the city from whatever backward, small town he came from to find fame and fortune in the big city. By the look of him and the sound of the sad ballad he was playing, his dreams hadn’t come true.

Crafting interest where there wasn’t any was one of Craig’s worst habits. He gave people much more credit than they actually deserved. Losing interest his attention turned back to the motel, where still nothing was happening. Another hour passed, he hadn’t heard anything from Wayne so he assumed things were going well with his family dinner. Either that or Bridget had killed him. The thought made him laugh uncontrollably, a side-effect of being awake too long.

Feeling the need to stretch his legs Craig got out of the car. Keeping to the shadows of the alley way Craig paced back and forth making sure to keep Henry’s room in sight. Henry, though in hiding, was still making sure to have a good time. A woman happened by his door, it was painfully obvious she was the type that was paid hourly. Craig had visual confirmation of Henry, who answered the door and looked far too happy to see the woman. With a woman like that came drugs, or at least Craig assumed that to be the case. What an asshole Craig thought to himself after thinking about what Sabrina had been through to keep Henry safe and he couldn’t return the favor by being faithful for more than a few hours. The party was in full swing, Craig could hear the music faintly, even from across the street. Henry’s neighbor was no more amused by the proceedings than Craig was. A large angry man with a swollen frame, but still fairly intimidating, came out in nothing but his plaid boxer shorts.

The large, ham-fisted, man beat on the door as if he were trying to chop it down with his bare hands. Worried something bad might happen Craig emerged from the shadows. He knew it was a risk to expose himself by crossing the street, but he had to get into a better position.

Out of the corner of his eye Craig noticed movement on the opposite end of the motel parking lot. There was no doubt in his mind that the same man who shot at them earlier was there, waiting for his chance to strike. Instinct took over causing Craig to cower behind a car that was parked nearby. Luckily, he was not spotted, through skill or dumb luck he couldn’t say. The Shooter was intensely focused on Henry’s room and the giant trying to break in.

The neighbor was complaining about the music, his voice was raised to the point his face was bright red and the veins in his neck looked like they were going to explode. The argument was escalating, Henry was yelling back at the man with drug induced courage. Henry’s female companion managed to calm them both down and agreed to lower the volume, none of them want to get the police involved. The large man took a deep breath and returned to his room, muttering curses as he went. The Shooter took this opportunity to pay Henry a visit.

Craig watched the Shooter scale the stairs, he was not alone. Craig tried to call Wayne, who did not answer, then Susan, with the same result. There was no way for him to know that Susan was occupied or that Wayne’s phone was dead, nevertheless Craig was on his own.

Craig was all but certain they had come to kill Henry and the poor girl who was with him, but what was he to do? Wayne had left him alone and unarmed. Of course, it was because of Craig’s own advice Wayne left in the first place, leaving him no one to blame but himself. The irony was not lost on him. As much as he wanted to there was no way to stop them and he knew it, he was a writer for shit sake.

The Shooter and his partner broke into Henry’s room with ease. Craig could hear Henry trying to resist, by the sound of things he did not put up much of a fight. A rich, spoiled boy was hardly a match for hardened criminals. A horrific feminine shriek rang out, but was quickly cut short. The sound made Craig want to vomit. The music was back up again. Craig shuttered to think about what was going on in the room. Soon after the neighbor came back out again and marched toward the door at full speed. He pounded on it with both fists nearly taking it off the hinges. The music stopped but the man did not go away, he simply continued to bang on the door until someone answered.

Craig tried to get his attention in the hope that he could get the man to walk away before the door opened. Sadly, apart from screaming at him, there was no way, nor time, to help him without giving away his position. Craig tried, he really did, but it was too late.

Henry’s motel room door flung open, before the man had time to complain about the music the villain who traveled with the Shooter, buried a knife into the man’s chest and pulled him into the room. Afterward he took a single step outside the door to make sure no one saw him. Craig shrunk behind the car, he had to cover his mouth with both hands to make sure he didn’t accidently scream.

He did not raise his head again until he heard the motel room door slam. Without any regard for stealth Craig dashed across the street and jumped into Wayne’s car. Every instinct he had told him to jam the key in the ignition and drive away as fast as he could, but for some reason his hands wouldn’t move. They just gripped the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were turning white. He just sat there, paralyzed with fear, for so long he lost track of time. The Shooter and his accomplice finished their work and left the room.

As quickly as they came, the two of them slithered off into the dark like monsters from a child’s nightmare. A dark sedan, an obvious choice for rogues, past him as they left the scene. They traveled in packs like the animals they were. Craig had a damn good idea what had happened in the room and knew he would regret it if he saw it. He was scared and alone, but at the same time he was insanely curious. Susan always said it would be the death of him. Perhaps she was right, but what good would it do them if he simply let them get away? He focused on that thought and held it as he started the car, pulled out onto the street, and followed them.

Chapter 26

Cyrus sat on the balcony of his hotel room watching the sun rise while enjoying a cigarette and a glass of orange juice. The view from up there made the city look like the magical place the world believed it to be. Of course, he knew better, but at this moment he had to agree that things were as close to perfect as they could get.

Just as predicted, he did not get any sleep, he had been in and out of it for the last few hours but it didn’t quite take. Susan, on the other hand, was sound asleep, wrapped up in the entire bed spread. The temperature outside was near freezing, which explained why he was the only one out there. When he came back in he shut the doors a little too hard in an attempt to keep out the cold. Susan, being a light sleeper, was jolted awake by his raucous entrance. Her hair, a charming mess of raven tangles, covered most of her face. She looked at him with one eye half-opened.

“Is it morning yet?” She asked sleepily.

“No,” Cyrus smiled. “Go back to sleep.” He told her. With a pleased grunt and a smile Susan fell back onto the bed. Cyrus laid down beside her, instinctively she wiggled her way against him. Cyrus gripped her snuggly and held her close.

With any luck Wayne would have the case solved by the end of the day. He was unsure about what he was going to do once this was over and they were out of Lawrence’s clutches. Kill Lawrence, first thing. He thought to himself with a stifled laugh and half an erection that he hoped Susan didn’t notice. All jokes aside he really had no idea where his future was going. For a long time he had accepted that he had no future and that wondering aimlessly was all life had in store for him. Until the beautiful creature pressed against him came into his life. Her hair, though frazzled, smelled of berries and he found it enchanting, though he would never admit it out loud. She had complicated things and Cyrus hated complications.

Wayne’s eyes opened just as the sun crept through his bedroom window. He had fallen out across his bed almost as soon as he had gotten home and remained there until waking up. During the early morning hours his cell phone had died. Plugging his phone into its reserved outlet Wayne rolled out of bed and began his morning routine. By the time he had finished in the bathroom the coffee was already being brewed in the kitchen. The smell of it quickly filled the tiny apartment giving him something to look forward to.

The one thing Wayne would never cheap out on was a decent, preferably automatic, coffee maker. He had learned the value of good coffee during his time away at war where coffee was not readily available. Slowly sipping the hot, fresh black liquid Wayne noticed he had missed a call from Craig. Craig in turn did not answer when Wayne tried calling him back. There was a good chance Craig had just fallen asleep and there was no need to send out a search party, but Wayne was worried nonetheless. Along with the missed call he also missed a text message from Palmer stating that he would be there early to pick him up for the ride along to Lloyd’s offices.

Realizing he only had ten minutes before show time Wayne scrambled about the apartment trying to get ready for Palmers arrival. Still in yesterday’s pants Wayne threw on a plain black t-shirt that he found hanging off the end of is couch, after passing the sniff test of course. Hopping around with one boot on while trying to squeeze his foot in the other Wayne got another text from Palmer claiming he was waiting for him out on the street. Forcing his noncompliant foot into the boot with a hard stomp, which surely echoed through his downstairs neighbor’s apartment, Wayne downed the coffee as fast as he could before throwing on his coat and dashing out the door without locking it.

Palmer was late even though Wayne had overslept, no real surprise there, but they were still going to make good time. During the drive Wayne had filled him in on everything that had happened and what they had found. There was a brief conversation about how many laws they broke to get the information, but Palmer was willing to overlook it considering they were about to close the case and get on with their lives. Wayne could hardly wait. He had given everything to his country first and the job second. His family, health, sobriety and very nearly his life on more than one occasion. If Bridget was willing to give him another chance he had to close this case and prove to her he meant what he said. It felt like everything was finally starting to fall into place for the first time in months.

They were not far from Lloyd’s building, another team was heading to his house simultaneously. Palmer checked his firearm while he was driving causing him to nearly veer into oncoming traffic. Wayne, while worried about crashing, shouted curses at him as they got back into their own lane. The warrant was ready, but the judge was not happy about it. Anytime a prominent member of the community was dragged into court it had to be an air tight case and it wouldn’t be without anything short of a confession.

Walker was known to be an early bird, most days he was at work before there was any real need for him to be. In fact, the company would run perfectly well were he absent altogether but what is life without work? They arrived just as early, most of the work force had yet to show up. Palmer only brought Wayne and two uniformed officers for back up. Lloyd was in his late fifties and was not expected to put up much of a fight, they could handle it even if he did. Security tried to stop them before the elevators, the badges forced them to back down. There were seventy two floors in the building, Walkers office was on the 72nd, naturally.

Lloyd used the entire floor as his office, an absurd example of his arrogance. They found him at his desk going over paper work, blueprints to be exact, of the new headquarters Lloyd was trying to build, but the city council was giving him a hard time. The one part of the job Wayne loved the most, the one part that never got old was the arrest. That look of utter shock and terror that came with knowing that they didn’t get away with it. That they were never as smart as they believed themselves to be, because who couldn’t outsmart the law?

“What’s the meaning of this?!” Walker cried, outraged at the sight of them. The uniformed officers began going through the office while Palmer served the warrant and explained to Lloyd what they were doing and why. He claimed innocence of course, but that didn’t keep them from doing what they went there to do.

After an hour of searching they had come up with nothing connecting Lloyd to any crime whatsoever. Of course, once the forensic teams went through Lloyd’s computer it would open a whole new world of charges, but that wasn’t what Wayne was looking for. In a closet near his desk Lloyd kept several spare suits, most of which were hand made. At the bottom, squished in back, was a trash bag crumpled in the corner. Wayne picked it up with gloved hands and placed it on Lloyd’s desk before opening it. The look on his face suggested there was something in there Lloyd didn’t want him to see. Palmer had been on the phone with the other team. After hanging up he crossed the room to where Wayne now stood.

“I told the guys to keep an eye out for anything that looked like love letters at his house.” Palmer said under his breath to keep Lloyd from hearing. “They found something like that hidden underneath the sink in his bathroom. It’s suspicious, but not enough to take him in.” Palmer told him. Wayne took a deep breath before showing him what was in the bag.

“This might be.” He whispered and pulled out a blood stained shirt and threw it down on the desk.

“Lloyd Walker, you are under arrest for the murder of Regina Monroe.” Palmer said with a smile. Wayne was trying not to smile, in that moment he remembered why he did what he did and why it was worth the sacrifices he had made. Walker resisted, not physically, though the officers found that to be unfortunate, but with verbal threats of costly lawyers and friends in high places. None of that mattered now, all the money in the world couldn’t make this go away. There was always a moment during the arrests were they knew it. No way out, no escape. Walker’s moment came as they paraded him out of his own building, just in time for his workforce to see him being led out in shackles.

Gasps of shock and chatter in hushed whispers echoed through the lobby. The man had barely been read his rights and already the employees took to the internet spreading rumors and gossip. By lunch time everyone in the city would know he had been arrested and would assume he was The Wolf and had been the entire time. Soon it would turn into a circus and the FBI would have to make a statement telling the public that they still had a serial killer to fear.

Once they were back at the station Wayne let palmer take the lead. Walker was processed and placed in the interrogation room. Palmer wanted to begin questioning him immediately. Wayne agreed, but wasn’t allowed to go into the room with him. It was the first time he had been on the right side of the glass. A woman Wayne had never seen before stepped into the room with him. Her straight, midnight black hair that was tightly knotted in a bun, light olive skin tone, and the angle of her eyes where clear markers of Asian ethnicity. An attractive woman who had an uptight look about her. Wayne had nothing to say so remained quiet.

“Monroe case?” The woman asked as if Wayne was just another cop.

“Yes.” Wayne answered, he was being intentionally stoic.

“Is that our guy?” She followed up.

“We believe him to be.”

“Tell detective Palmer to come and see me when he finishes up.” The woman said nothing else. Wayne thought it was strange, but was happy she wasn’t asking him anything he did not want to answer. Without another word she left the room, Wayne was thrilled that he could breathe easy now that she was gone.

“I want my lawyer.” Lloyd said the moment Palmer entered the room.

“He’s on his way. Traffic, you understand.” Palmer all but said he didn’t give a damn what Lloyd wanted. His wealth earned him no power or respect in that room. Better men than Lloyd had crumbled to nothing in the very chair he now sat in.

“Then we have nothing to talk about.” Lloyd sat back in his chair. It did not look like he was worried about anything like he knew there was someone trying to clean up his loose ends.

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll talk, you can just listen.” Palmer sat across from him. Slowly, purposely taking his time, Palmer laid the letters and the necklace in front of him. Lloyd’s attitude changed once he realized what they were. “These were found hidden in Regina’s room.” Palmer explained though he knew Lloyd, who remained silent, already knew that. “Yeah, I wouldn’t say anything either.” Palmer sneered. “We’ve got your finger prints, which are on both of these by the way.” Palmer motioned to the letters and the necklace. “And I’m willing to bet when the DNA comes back it’s going to match what we found on Regina’s body. The blood on that shirt is going to be hers as well, isn’t it? That will put you with her on the night she died, within a few hours.” Palmer sat back in his chair and gave Lloyd a cold stare. “So, keep quiet if you want to. There’s enough evidence here to convict you and no fancy lawyer is going to stop that.” Palmer said. Lloyd was beginning to sweat, which was a good sign, but still needed a little more pressure.

“I mean, there’s some pretty sick shit in these letters. Especially when they’re addressed to a sixteen year old girl, juries tend to frown on that sort of thing. Not to mention this rock that costs more than my fucking house. You don’t give a girl something like this if you’re not getting anything in return. Shouldn’t be too hard to get your assistant to testify that you ordered it.” Palmer kept going. Lloyd looked confused.

“I don’t have an assistant.” Lloyd said. As Wayne watched the interrogation, Lloyd appeared to be genuinely confused. Wayne had seen a lot of liars in his time and trusted his gut almost entirely but the evidence was there.

“A man named Damien Franks claims to have commissioned this at your request.” Palmer said dangling the necklace from his index finger letting it swing gently back and forth.

“There is no such man that works for me, nor has there ever been.” Lloyd continued to argue. Wayne couldn’t help but think it was the truth, which was alarming in its own right.

“Of course not.” Palmer laughed, he obviously did not believe him. He was even more jaded than Wayne. “We’ll get to the bottom of this soon enough. Regardless the evidence is sound. Going to prison for raping and murdering a little girl is going to make you very popular.”

“I did not rape her!” Lloyd yelled and slammed his fist against the table. It was enough to give Palmer a start, he instinctively reached for his weapon. Wayne chuckled.

“But you did kill her.” Palmer speculated.

“No.” Lloyd took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I loved her.” Lloyd finally broke.

“That’s what they all say when we catch’em with their pants down.” Palmer retorted. “You can have fun explaining that to your new friends in the pen.” Palmer was trying to keep up the scare factor.

“It wasn’t like that!” Lloyd shouted at him.

“Then what was it like?” Palmer asked.

“You wouldn’t understand.” Lloyd told him.

“Probably not.” Palmer scoffed. “But try me.” He said sounding strangely sincere. Lloyd looked like he was inches away from spilling his guts, like he had been waiting a long time for someone to talk to. Like he had been keeping a secret that was eating away at him on the inside, at his very soul.

“It was six months before I even knew Curtis had a girlfriend.” Lloyd began.

“It’s not much of a stretch to think that you’re a shit dad.” Palmer interrupted. Lloyd gave him a dirty look, but blew it off and continued anyway.

“I found her crying by the pool one night. Curtis said or did something stupid that upset her. I always knew he was a fucking idiot.” Lloyd stared off, lost in thought. “I didn’t know who the hell she was or why she was at my house. That was the first time I met her.” Lloyd confessed. “We sat up talking most of the night.” Lloyd thought back on the night fondly.

“Talking?” Palmer was surprised, but did not believe a word of it.

“Yes.” Lloyd declared. “Regina was not a child, she was extraordinary and easy to talk to. Wise beyond her years.” Lloyd smiled at the thought of her. Wayne could see that the feelings Lloyd had for her were real or at least Lloyd believed them to be.

“That’s when the relationship started?” Palmer asked pretending to still be interested.

“She kept coming to the house to see me in secret.” Lloyd admitted.

“Why didn’t you tell her to stop?” Palmer asked.

“I know I should have, but I didn’t want to.” Lloyd acknowledged.

“So, we skip ahead a few months to the night of her murder.” Palmer did not want to hear any more of the man’s outlandish love story.

“We were together that night but I did not kill her.” Lloyd held firm to his innocence.

“You expect me to believe that?” Palmer shook his head in disbelief.

“I don’t care what you think.” Lloyd barked. “We had an argument and she stormed out.” Lloyd claimed.

“Argued about what?” Palmer probed. Lloyd was reluctant to speak on the matter.

“Lawrence found out about us.” He finally spoke up.

“She told him?”

“No, Lawrence has ways of finding things out.” Lloyd said. Wayne could vouch for that.

“And he was going to have you arrested?” Palmer jumped to conclusions.

“No.”

“No?”

“He was using her to extort me.” Lloyd told him.

“Why? You’re two of the richest men in the city.” Palmer looked confused now.

“He didn’t want money.” It was evident that Lloyd did not want to say but at this point had no choice.

“Then what the hell did he want!” Palmer lost his patience.

“I was to sign over controlling interest in my company.” Lloyd uttered.

“And you refused?” Palmer asked.

“Of course!” Lloyd shouted.

“I wasn’t going to let that bastard take everything I worked my whole life for.” Lloyd’s face was turning red like the mere thought of it was filling him with a white-hot rage.

“Then why was Regina upset?” Palmer kept going with his questions. When a suspect was on a roll it was best to keep them going. Guilt was a great motivator.

“She thought that I would give him what he wanted and we’d run away together. If I had known what would happen we would have left that night.” Lloyd said regretfully.

“Unrealistic expectations. That’s what happens when you date a child.” Palmer got in one last jab.

“After that she stormed out and I never saw her again.” Lloyd sobbed.

Before Palmer had a chance to ask anything else a middle age man with a brief case barged into the room. Wayne was taken aback by the interruption. This was the part that every cop hated, Lloyd’s attorney finally showed up. The man was elegantly dressed like any man or woman in his profession, with a three piece, plaid pattered suit that was darkly colored. The Lawyer looked to be around Lloyd’s age regardless of what his steel grey hair and beard said about him. He carried himself with the confidence of a veteran in his field and when he spoke to Palmer it was in a deep, husky voice. The man’s very presence exuded confidence and power.

“Stop talking.” The Lawyer ordered to Lloyd immediately. “This conversation is over.” He said commandingly to Palmer.

“You know you don’t have to say that. It’s pretty much implied when you show up.” Palmer all but cursed at him as he left the room. Wayne did the same and found Palmer waiting for him outside.

“That went surprisingly well.” Wayne stated as Palmer walked him to the elevator.

“Statutory rape is better than nothing, but I’m guessing the evidence will stick.” Palmer said, he seemed pleased with himself. All in all Wayne was a little impressed with the way he handled the interrogation. “Believe him about Lawrence?” Palmer asked his opinion.

“More than I’d like.” Wayne scoffed.

“What?”

“Never mind.” Wayne wanted to change the subject.

“What about the assistant? If we could get him to testify that’d help us nail this bastard to the wall.” Palmer suggested.

“I’ll look into it but don’t get your hopes up. He could easily have gotten some random to do it for him.” Wayne said.

“Either way we need to find him.” Palmer wasn’t giving him much choice.

“I know.” Wayne hit the button to open the elevator. “I have to see Lawrence.” Wayne told him as he stepped inside.

“Well you’ll have to be quick. I’ll have to send a detective to talk to him before long.” Palmer warned him.

“Yeah, I’m going now.” The elevator doors began to close, but Wayne stopped them with his hand. “By the way, some woman was looking for you.” Wayne yelled at Palmer, who had already turned to leave.

“Who?” Palmer asked turning around quickly.

“Don’t know, she thought I knew who she was though. If that helps.” Wayne laughed.

“Ah hell.” Palmer cursed. “Okay, good luck. Call me if you find anything.” Palmer told him and waved good-bye. Wayne nodded his head and let the elevator doors close.

Chapter 27

The cab stank of smoke and body odor as it barreled down the freeway toward the Monroe Estate. Between all the bribes and cab fares the job was getting too expensive for Wayne to be comfortable with. He considered broaching the subject of payment, but did not think Lawrence would oblige. Working for free was almost as bad as working under the threat of being blackmailed into the state prison. When he thought about it Wayne was not entirely sold on Lloyd being the murderer, though the evidence against him was more than solid. No matter how genuine Lloyd’s confession was Wayne knew enough to know that his Cinderella love story meant very little. One did not gain and keep a multi-million dollar fortune without being a half-decent liar.

A motive that all but put a nail in Lloyd’s coffin, his alibi, or lack thereof, did not help him either. Wayne was surprised that the threat of gang rape in prison hadn’t led to a full confession. If the Lawyer hadn’t shown up Lloyd would have been on the five o’clock shuttle bus to the prison for sure. Either way, unless he found some new information, Palmer was more than ready to pin Regina’s murder on Lloyd and leave him to the sodomites. He knew Palmer was under a lot of pressure, hence the visit from the mystery woman, and wanted the case taken care of quickly. There was undoubtedly a promotion in the mix somewhere down the line which would explain Palmers over eagerness.

The cab driver stopped at the main gate and, with a smile, turned to Wayne for the money that was owed. After being paid the driver quickly sped away leaving him stranded at the gate looking like a fool. There was nothing but a frigid breeze to greet him. The booth that controlled the gate was empty. Wayne waited for a minute thinking there may have been a delay in the shift change. Quickly losing his patience Wayne broke into the booth and opened the gate for himself.

Wayne walked at an even pace down the driveway, gravel crunched and shifted beneath his feet as he strode. The grounds showed no signs of life as he closed in on the manor. Lawrence, though grieving, did not seem like the type to let the grounds keepers have the day off. Something was amiss, Wayne was starting to wish he had brought backup.

He approached the house suspiciously. No one came to meet him as he traversed the steps and approached the door, he expected security at the very least. Still, there was nothing but an intense feeling of déjà vu, he had the same feeling when he and Craig went to the house of Henry’s lady friend Sabrina. Intuitively Wayne gripped the butt of his pistol as he advanced.

There was nothing to hear, apart from the howling wind, the house was cloaked in an unnerving silence. Wayne hit the doorbell with his elbow. As expected there was no answer. He tried it twice more just to be safe. Still, there was nothing. Even if Lawrence had left there would still be someone in the house, Wayne did not think that was the case. Being in no mood to be shot at again he sighed deeply, fearing the worst. With three fingers Wayne smoothly turned the knob to see if the door was locked.

With half a twist the door came open like it wasn’t fully closed to begin with. Wayne nudged the door and waited for it to open wide enough to see inside. A long, slow creak followed the door as it opened and hit the wall behind on the other side. An old, familiar smell hit him smack in the face as he peered around the corner. Wayne took a deep, startled breath, forcing him to take in a nauseating smell that made him want to faint. With his weapon drawn Wayne headed inside, afraid of what he was going to find.

Swiftly going room to room Wayne cleared them one at a time. It was a ghastly scene. The walls told the story just as well as the bodies that littered the ground. Nearly everything was riddled with bullet holes and scorch marks. The walls, furniture, pictures, trinkets, and windows were all destroyed with the debris scattered about the floor as if someone had fired into the house from the outside before closing in. His feet broke the bigger shards and scratched the hardwood floors with every step he took.

The security detail Lawrence hired proved to be worthless, judging by the state of things and the fact that they were decomposing on the ground in front of him. The housing staff were also among the dead. Perhaps they had gotten in the way, but from what Wayne could tell they were butchered along with the guards. He hadn’t seen so much blood, little bits of brains, and other bodily fluids since the first years of the war. It was a slaughter-house that no one escaped from.

The hallway leading to Lawrence’s office was stacked with blood and corpses. What remained of the security team had tried to make their final stand in front of the office door to protect Lawrence. Wayne saw evidence of flash bang grenades, hardware he hadn’t seen since the military. The monsters responsible for the massacre had superior firepower, the paltry few men fighting for Lawrence were no match.

Wayne cursed, while trying to get to Lawrence’s office he slipped in a puddle of blood that had turned lumpy and gelatinous. Using the wall to keep his balance Wayne scraped his boot off on the jacket of one of the dead men. If the culprits had taken any losses they were not left behind, which suggested military training or a deep level of organization. Both were terrifying in their own right. The kind of men Cyrus had described the night before seemed more real and disturbing now that they were made flesh.

The door, not unlike every other in the house, was damn near splinters. It wobbled like it was going to fall apart as Wayne forced it open. He was not surprised to find Lawrence, who was in the exact same spot Wayne and Cyrus had left him in the last time they were at the estate. The main difference being the twenty or so bullet wounds that were spread over his face and torso like he was set up against a firing squad.

He looked at Lawrence’s shredded corpse. Wayne was of the opinion that Lawrence was a colossal asshole and most likely deserved everything that had been done to him, with the exception of losing Regina. Taking all of that into consideration Wayne still couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. There would be an investigation, which would go nowhere, and a funeral. Naturally there would be a large turnout for a man of his stature and the city would pretend to mourn his passing but in the end both he and his name would fade from memory.

Wayne stood silently in the office as he was surrounded by a sea of blood and shit. He knew what he was supposed to do. Call it in, tell Palmer, and close the case. It was as simple as that and it was a crime scene after all. That’s what he should have done, what he wanted to do, but somewhere in that room was damaging information and he needed to find it. Better to do it before the police showed up.

Making sure not to touch anything Wayne searched the entire office, not leaving finger prints was an art he had to learn early in his detective career, but alas he found nothing. The file Lawrence had used against him was nowhere in the office, which was more alarming than the dead piled at his feet. There was plenty of time to look around for the hidden safe or secret room that Lawrence surely had. The bookcase, a popular hiding space, was little more than ash and firewood, which quickly ruled it out.

During the search he noticed a small button underneath the desk in front of where Lawrence was sitting. Wayne grunted distastefully as he wheeled what was left of Lawrence to the side. The body tipped over and splattered onto the floor. Wayne gagged, but managed to keep the contents of his stomach where they belonged.

After taking a moment to regain his composure Wayne forcefully hit the button. With a mechanical click the left side of Lawrence’s desk separated from the rest. The entire left side was hollowed, reinforced steel. The contents within were both surprising and expected.

Starting with the expected, there was a bag full of cash, half a million by Wayne’s count. A small bag of diamonds, along with various travel documents. Everything Lawrence would have needed to leave the country. Not that any of it would have done him any good at this point. Next to the bag was a ridiculous hand cannon, men like Lawrence tended to over compensate.

What shocked Wayne the most was Henry’s high school diploma and a picture from his graduation. There was an old tape recorder, an odd thing to put in a safe, but Wayne pressed play all the same. It was recorded in a large room like an auditorium, an announcer called Regina’s name followed by a round of applause and then a slow, somber tune began to play from a piano. It was a beautiful melody that would have brought tears to the eyes of any father. He couldn’t help but wonder if Keith would one day make him proud the way Lawrence had to have been every time he listened to the recording. Wayne let it play while he continued his search. An old, worn family photo sat in a shabby frame toward the back of the safe. Regina was no older than two, Henry was getting ready for college, and Lilian, Lawrence’s second wife, was still alive.

It reflected a side of Lawrence that no one had seen in many years. Any part of a soul he had left he kept locked away in that safe with the best memories of his family. Wayne looked to the corpse once more and once more he was saddened by the sight. Whatever happiness the family once shared had been locked away with everything else.

Underneath these memories was a hard drive. There was no way for him to know what was on it, but Wayne took it anyway. Whatever information it held, no matter how insignificant, Wayne had to know. Craig and Susan could do more with it than he could being a tech savvy pair. If they were lucky all the information they needed was on the hard drive. That would allow them to wash their hands of the whole bloody business and move on. If it meant getting back to his family Wayne was willing to do damn near anything. He turned off the tape recorder and put everything, except Lawrence, back where he had found it.

It was a strange feeling, calling a cab to get away from a crime scene was a new experience for him. He had broken more laws in the last twenty-four hours than he did in the last twenty years. Wayne felt it best to make an anonymous call once he was far enough away, not unlike he had done with Sabrina.

Chapter 28

It took all night, but Craig managed to tail the Shooter and his men back to their headquarters. The Shooter drove around for hours before making his way back to home base. Craig couldn’t tell if he had been made or if the Shooter was being overly cautious. Once the sun began to rise Craig followed him out of the city and into the middle of what seemed like nowhere. There was nothing but farmland that far out so it stood to reason the Shooter had set up shop at a farmhouse.

The Shooter turned down a gravel road, Craig did not follow. Growing up on a farm himself Craig knew the road only led to one place. He made sure to keep Wayne’s car out of sight by hiding it among a grove of birch trees and other shrubbery before making his way down the earthen path on foot. A thin layer of snow covered the ground, crunching beneath his heel with every step, the weather had not improved and snow was already starting to fall again. Craig bundled himself up in his coat, shoved his hands in the pockets and mushed forward. Unsure of what he was going to find his mind began to wonder in increasingly disturbing directions. At first Craig imagined the Shooter was simply squatting at the farm, before getting within sight of the place he had gotten all the way to the Shooter and his men using it as a torture sex dungeon. Craig spent as much time convincing himself to stay the course as he did speculating as to the farms use.

Craig crawled through the dirt and snow as he came to the end of the tree line. He was not a nature lover, he hated getting dirty, and had every intention of sending Wayne his dry cleaning bill. The edge of the tree line was slightly up hill, which made it easier for Craig to hide in the brush. The Shooter had led him back to base camp alright, there were at least twenty men, possibly more, patrolling the farm each of them heavily armed and wearing tactical gear. The suits were for urban camouflage, Craig thought it was a clever tactic and made a note of it. The barn was old and in shambles, the tin roof was almost completely rusted out. Heavy farm equipment had been left behind by the previous owners. Some of the men were trying to make room inside for a makeshift barracks, but progress was slow and further delayed by poor weather conditions. A fleet of foreign cars were scattered around the property, enough to transport them all out of the area at a moment’s notice. The main house was practically as bad off as the barn, but there was no threat of a strong wind blowing it down. The Shooter was waiting outside the front door. Craig hadn’t gotten a good look at the man the last time they met. The Shooter was all around average with long red hair the color of fire at its peak.

Craig spent the next hour hunkered down in the dirt to find out whatever he could, even at the risk of freezing to death. Cell phone reception was nonexistent, the men below had brought their own satellite, so calling Wayne or Susan was out of the question. On the small note book Craig always carried, he jotted down everything he could think of. It was clear that the Shooter was not in charge of the small army, he had been waiting outside the house for over an hour as well.

A young man, much smaller than the others, finally stepped out of the big house to greet the Shooter. This has to be the man in charge Craig thought to himself as he wrote down every detail he could about the man from his short, jet black hair and stubbly beard to the absurdly long coat that nearly dragged the ground behind him.

Craig wrote everything down as fast as he could. The cold was turning his hands blue and causing him to shiver in an almost convulsive manner. Penmanship was never one of his strong suits, which made others question his career choice, but now it was beyond awful. Craig put the note book in his back pocket and was ready to crawl away when he saw a familiar car pull up to the house. It was a car from the motor pool of the police station, he had seen it the day before when Palmer asked them to track down Henry.

The detective had come alone so it was obvious that the cavalry was not about to ride over the hill to arrest the Shooter and his men. In fact, the Shooter looked terribly comfortable in the presence of the detective. Goddamn turncoat! Craig thought to himself as he watched Palmer walk up to the leader. It finally donned on him that they used Palmer to keep track of their investigation and that it was very likely they had led him into a trap. Naturally Craig’s first thought was the wellbeing of Wayne and Susan, if they had been reporting to the enemy the entire time something could have gone horribly wrong. All his unanswered phone calls did not help to put his mind at ease. Craig began to crawl away from his position, he barely made it down the hill before realizing he had been caught. The perimeter guards had snuck up on him fairly easily, he did not notice until it was too late. As soon as he was on his feet he was quickly put down again by the butt of a rifle. The pain caused his vision to go black as blood streamed down his face. Sinister laughter faded in and out as he lost consciousness.

Craig did not wake up so much as he was forced back into reality by a bucket of ice cold water mixed with literal ice chips. Gasping for air and gagging on water Craig struggled to stand, but quickly found himself duct taped to a chair. Thrashing about, perhaps too much, Craig tipped the chair over and hit his head on the dirt floor, in the same spot that had been struck by the rifle.

“Wow.” A mysterious, disembodied voice echoed through the building he was imprisoned in. It smelled of earth and metal. Craig was blindfolded but by the smell, which was familiar to him, they were in an old tool shed of some kind. His father had one just like it growing up. It was where Craig was caught with his first boyfriend and forced to come out to his parents, you don’t forget an awkward moment like that one.

“Get him up.” The voice commanded. Craig could hear the shuffle of feet before being lifted up by strong, rough hands. Once he was right side up again the blindfold was removed. A single light dangled above him on a loose wire. It took a moment for his vision to comeback into focus. The Shooter and Palmer stood behind the man he assumed was in charge, his assumption proved to be correct.

“There! That’s better.” The man said behind an English accent. “I do apologize for the harsh treatment. My men tend to be overzealous.” He said in a polite and apologetic manner. Palmer took a chair and placed it in front of Craig for the man to sit. “I must admit Mr. White, I am amazed you were able to find us. It was a mistake to underestimate you.” The man said and wagged his finger in Craig’s direction. The long coat the man wore over his suit was black and made of high quality leather, something Craig would have admired if they had met on the street, with a thick layer of dark red fur that insulated it. With both hands the man brushed back the coat so he wouldn’t sit on it, crossed his legs, and lit a cigarette.

“Where are my manners, care for one?” The man offered him a cigarette.

“I quit.” Craig told him in a quivering voice. The shed was not insulated and was just as cold as it was outside. Being drenched in water made it that much worse.

“I know I should, but I just love it too much.” The man exhaled smoke that clouded the room. “My name is Mr. Barclay. I need to know what you and your associates know.” Barclay was pleasant, but demanding and his tone of voice was like silk yet frightening at the same time.

“We don’t know anything.” Craig lied immediately.

“I knew you were going to say that.” Barclay laughed. “But I feel I must warn you. If you don’t tell me what I want to know I’m going to leave you in the company of my men and they will not treat you very well.” Barclay counselled. Knowing full well they were going to torture him Craig remained silent. He didn’t know if Wayne and Susan were looking for him or even alive but he was resolved to hold out as long as possible.

Chapter 29

Cyrus had fallen asleep while nestled in the bed next to Susan. He was in the middle of a great dream, involving a Danish princess and a shootout with Hungarian crime lords, when he was rousted by Susan coming out of the bathroom. Cyrus, having no intention of falling asleep, woke up disconcerted. It took a moment for him to remember where he was and that he was safe. Even with his sudden outburst Susan did not notice he had awoken. She stood naked in front of the mirror drying her hair, humming a familiar tune, though Cyrus could not remember where he had heard it.

As his eyes adjusted to the light he noticed Susan had more tattoos, as well as scars, than he had seen the night before. Cyrus sat up on the edge of the bed and lit a cigarette. Checking the time he was relieved it was still early. Choking and coughing after the first drag he quickly put the cigarette out. His joints cracked as he stretched as if it were telling him that he was too old for late night foolishness. Walking around the bed Cyrus crept up behind Susan and wrapped his long, strong arms around her, pulling her in close and kissed the back of her neck as he did so. Susan giggled and tried to get away, it seems she was ticklish.

Her hair hit him in the face as she threw the towel onto the floor. “Someone’s in a good mood.” She laughed.

“I had a pretty good night.” Cyrus joked.

“Pretty good?” Susan scoffed and tried to pull away but Cyrus kept her in place.

“I’m sure we could do better.” He smiled and kissed her again, she moaned pleasurably.

“If you think we have that kind of time.” Susan teased as he spun her around and sat her on the counter top. Before they could get too far lost in the moment Susan’s phone rang. Almost in unison they cursed and stopped what they were doing.

“I’m going to kill whoever is on the other end of that.” Cyrus sighed and went back to the bed and to his cigarette. Susan laughed girlishly and answered her phone.

“Hello?” She said. Cyrus couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation, but by the look on Susan’s face it wasn’t good. “What!” She exclaimed giving him cause for concern. “We met him last night.” Susan looked both anxious and disappointed. “Yeah, we’ll track him down. Alright, we’ll call you when we have something.” Susan hung up the phone and tossed it onto the bed.

“What’s that about?” Cyrus asked.

“According to Wayne, Lloyd claims not to have an assistant.” Susan shared.

“Didn’t we handle that already?” Cyrus asked.

“Yes, but Wayne wants us to find him again.” Susan told him.

“Why can’t he do it?”

“Something about Lawrence.” Susan shrugged and squeezed into her pants. Cyrus let out a saddened groan as she did. Susan laughed.

“Don’t look so sad.” She leaned in and gave him a kiss. “Play your cards right and you might see it again.” She laughed and went back to getting ready. Cyrus smiled, shook his head, and did the same.

Once they were dressed and had gathered their things they left the hotel. Susan had to steal another car from the parking lot. This time she went with an SUV that was significantly younger than last night’s choice. Cyrus approved as he got into the passenger seat. Within the hour they were back at Damien’s apartment building.

“You should wait for me here.” Cyrus said as he checked his weapon.

“You think that’s necessary?” Susan asked. He wasn’t sure if she was asking about the gun or his opinion of where she should wait.

“Yes?” Cyrus said more like a question than a statement. “We don’t know who is waiting for us up there. Most likely it’s a trap. Better if I walk into it alone.” Cyrus explained his position.

Susan laughed “Just because we had sex doesn’t mean you get to tell me what to do.” She said with a sarcastic tone.

“I’m not asking.” Cyrus tucked his gun back into its holster. “I can’t do my job if I’m concerned about you.” He explained. “Sex or not I’m going up there alone. You try to follow me and I’ll shoot you in the foot.” Cyrus said with a teasing yet serious smile. Susan shouted curses as he got out of the car.

The floor was quiet, unlike it had been the night before. Cyrus made his approach with silence. He knew Susan was angry with him and whatever bridge of trust had formed between them he had just burnt to the ground. Even so, Cyrus would rather she hate him than something tragic happen. A purely selfish and chauvinistic notion. During their brief time together Cyrus had grown fond of Susan and didn’t want anything bad to happen to her, though he felt guilty for treating her like a child. He was resolved to apologize next he saw her, assuming he wasn’t walking into a room full of armed men. Making sure he was alone in the hallway Cyrus drew his .45 before arriving at Damien’s front door.

Instantly Cyrus noticed the door had been broken into for a second time, it was not completely closed, with evidence of a smashed dead bolt. On the other side he could hear someone scuttling around the living room. Even though his finger prints were not in any law enforcement system Cyrus was still very careful about what he touched and nudged the door open with his knuckles.

Inside Cyrus saw a man in the urban camouflage of a black suit splashing gasoline over a pile of flammable materials. The fumes were powerful enough to nearly overwhelm him. Keeping his footsteps silent and his breathing shallow, Cyrus crept up behind the man. He was careful to stay out of arm’s reach, lest the man made an attempt to grab his firearm.

“Don’t do that.” Cyrus warned by thumbing back the hammer of his pistol as the man twitched like he was going for a weapon. Cyrus reached into the man’s jacket and retrieved a highly modified .45 not much unlike his own. Once he was sure the man was unarmed Cyrus made him sit in the same chair he threatened Damien in the night before. Underneath the pile of books, blankets, and clothes Cyrus noticed a pair of bare feet wrapped in plastic sheeting. “I suppose that’s Damien.” Cyrus commented trying not to let the fumes knock him over. The man simply scoffed. “Normally I’d just shoot you and be on my way, but I’m afraid we need to have a conversation. “ Cyrus told the man, who replied with an arrogant smile.

Before Cyrus could start to threaten the man he felt the cold steel of gun-metal press upon his neck. He knew what it was the moment it touched his skin, there was no way he’d ever forget that feeling. This was not the first time an opponent had gotten the drop on him, but after so many years in the business Cyrus had lost any sense of fear or anxiety most would have felt in that situation. Honestly he was more embarrassed than anything else and he hung his head with a deep sigh.

“Drop it.” The man behind him commanded with an unmistakable southern accent. Cyrus couldn’t tell where the Southerner was from, he did not care for the humidity of the American South and avoided it at all costs. The Southerner’s place of origin was the last thing on Cyrus’s mind of course, but he obliged and dropped his pistol onto the carpet with a muffled thunk.

“Looks like we gonna have that conversation after all.” The Southerner said in a deep, uneducated sounding voice whilst he patted Cyrus down. Cyrus, being Cyrus, wanted to make a squeal like a pig joke but thought better of it. The man in front of him stood up from the chair and eyed Cyrus like he was some kind of creature he had never seen before.

“This is the one who killed Montgomery and Stevens?” He asked without hiding his disbelief.

“Don’t look like much does he?” The Southerner laughed as he took a pair of knives off of Cyrus’s belt.

“Were they friends of yours?” Cyrus asked once he realized they were talking about the first two men they had encountered after their meeting with Ethan.

“Something like that.” The man in front of him said overemotionally.

“They were pussies.” Cyrus snorted uncontrollably. The man grew enraged by the comment just as Cyrus knew he would. The Southerner was forced to stop what he was doing to calm him down. While they were talking amongst themselves Cyrus took this opportunity to take advantage of the situation.

The Southerner stood behind him, gun still at his neck, while the other man stood directly in front of them. They had made the mistake of thinking they could trap a killer like Cyrus and let their guard down. With reflexes akin to lightning Cyrus took control of the Southerners gun hand and broke his nose with a swift and foul elbow. Blood erupted across the Southerners face, the shock of the blow caused him to pull the trigger. The bullet passed easily through the man’s throat like a rock through wet paper and shattered the window behind him. Cyrus did not concern himself with the man, he would be dead in a matter of seconds. Instead, he focused on the Southerner, quickly disarming him by breaking two of his fingers. The tactics may have been underhanded, but in their line of work fighting fair meant dying, usually in agonizing pain.

Though wounded the Southerner, being much younger than Cyrus, recovered quickly. Before Cyrus could reach for his gun the Southerner was upon him, lashing out wildly with a flurry of blows. Cyrus was a better fighter than the Southerner, but he was stout and stronger than Cyrus, which made it all the more easy for him to use the apartment to his advantage. Not far from where they were standing was a coffee table with a thick glass top. It was not long before the Southerner slammed Cyrus into it causing it to shatter into powder. The two of them wrestled on the ground for a moment, both got in some pretty good shots, but Cyrus knew he couldn’t keep it up forever. He was still sore from the robbery and needed to find an equalizer with a quickness.

Fortunately, Damien had been a reader, unlike so many of his generation, and had a decent collection of hard cover books in a bookcase in his living room. Most had ended up in the burn pile on top of him, which were close by where they were fighting – another stroke of luck. The first book Cyrus got his hands on was an original hardcopy of Congo by Michael Crichton, though that was not important at the time. Using the book as a weapon Cyrus struck his attacker in the side of the neck, this slowed him down, but didn’t stop him – Cyrus was forced to hit him a second time. Anyone who has ever been in a fight knows being hit in the neck was usually a deal breaker, but this was not one of those times.

Tables, chairs, lamps, pictures, and even the bookcase were all torn to pieces as they thrashed about the apartment. Somehow they ended up in the kitchen, when these things escalated they always ended in the kitchen, Cyrus had wondered why for many years.

The Southerner’s upper body strength was incredible. Even after their exhausting skirmish throughout the apartment he was able to hurl Cyrus into the top kitchen cabinets as they entered the final stages of the fight. It took a moment for Cyrus to catch his breath, the Southerner took this time to retrieve a large knife from its place on the counter. It was the kind you see on infomercials late at night that claim to cut through anything, Cyrus was not keen to find out whether or not it was false advertisement.

Reaching for anything that could help him defend himself Cyrus came back with a broken cabinet door and used it as a crude shield. The combat was close and bloody. For every time Cyrus was cut he cursed and responded with attacks of his own. After suffering a deep wound on his arm, not to mention the damage to his suit, Cyrus got angry and pushed the Southerner back against the refrigerator. Abandoning his makeshift shield Cyrus took control of the knife hand and snapped the Southerners thumb and, since he was angry about his suit, Cyrus dislocated the man’s shoulder for good measure. Screaming the Southerner managed to fight him off and ended up tackling him onto the dinner table. It was sturdy and well-crafted but not enough to hold the weight of both of them and practically exploded when they fell through it.

Cyrus was dazed, he didn’t have anything left in the tank and could hardly lift his arms let alone move his body. The Southerner recovered more quickly and was already on top of him and using his jaw as a punching bag. After three swings the Southerner used his good hand and his body weight in an attempt to strangle him.

Just as his life was supposed to be flashing before his eyes Susan appeared and like a major league all-star she took a table leg and hit the Southerner square in his right eye. The very sound of it was sickening, Susan was almost certain she had killed him. Afterward she spit and tossed the table leg among the wreckage that was the apartment. Cyrus simply laid there on the kitchen floor to catch his breath. Susan rushed to his side not hiding the fact that she was concerned for him, still mad, but concerned nonetheless.

“Are you okay?” She asked and helped him to his feet.

“Oh, top of the world, love.” Cyrus smiled and coughed up a bit of blood. There were several pieces of wood and glass penetrating his neck and back, not to mention the knife wounds, scratches, and bruises that had already begun to take form.

“What the hell happened?” Susan asked, once she was sure Cyrus wasn’t dying in her arms, she looked around the room and was left speechless. To say a hurricane came through would have been an understatement.

“Damien’s the one in the bag.” Cyrus told her as he gathered up the weapons they had stripped him of. Susan was still looking around trying to get a mental image of what had transpired. Cyrus lit a cigarette and walked over to the body. With a switch blade he cut the layers of plastic off the carcass to reveal Damien’s face. The plastic had been holding back the putrid rotting flesh odor that poured out of the pile in disgusting waves. He was used to it, but Susan gagged and very nearly vomited as the smell filled the room. Damien’s face was purple and bruised and not just from the blood clotting. Someone, presumably the men that had been fighting against them, had worked him over something fierce before putting four bullets in his chest.

“You okay to look at this?” Cyrus asked Susan who was hanging back. She took a few deep breaths before walking up on the body.

“What am I looking at?” She grimaced.

“Does this look like the man we talked to last night?” Cyrus pointed out that the man in the plastic was not the Damien they knew. The man had been dead for at least two days by Cyrus’s count, meaning the Damien they met last night was an imposter.

“Well, he was a lot less dead last night.” Susan said sarcastically as she cupped her hands over her nose and mouth. It was understandable, she hadn’t been around too many dead bodies in her line of work. “We were played.” She mumbled.

“Yeah.” Cyrus grunted as he stood up. Back in the kitchen he began cutting the cords to every appliance he could find.

“I know I’m sort of new to this, but shouldn’t we be leaving?” Susan commented as she watched him.

“Yes.” Cyrus crushed his cigarette beneath his wingtip. “We’re taking him with us.” He began binding the Southerner’s hands and feet with the cords.

“You’ve got to be kidding me?” Susan questioned his plan. “Where are we taking him? Back to the hotel?” Susan pretended like she didn’t think it was the worst thing they could do.

“That’s a good point.” Cyrus stopped what he was doing to think of a way to improve his plan. “How about your place?” He asked seriously.

“That’s a big fat no.” She quickly shot down the idea. “Chances are they know where I live.” She told him.

“Call Wayne see if he has any ideas, I’m sure he’ll want to know what this man has to say, but we need to find their car first.” Cyrus told her as he tossed her the keys found in the man’s pocket.

“Why?” Susan asked as she examined the keys.

“Might have something interesting inside, not to mention they probably won’t be looking for them. Not right away at least, we’ll dump it once we know we’re safe.” Cyrus explained before hoisting the Southerner over his shoulder. Once they were at the door Cyrus took out a lighter he had found on the man he killed.

“What are you doing?” Susan asked.

“Both my finger prints and blood are all over this room. We’ll hit the fire alarm on the way out.” Cyrus assured her as he struck the lighter. Susan saw the logic in his reasoning and left the apartment. Taking one last look Cyrus tossed the open flame next to the gas can, in no time at all the apartment was ablaze and they were making their way out.

Chapter 30

Susan had called Wayne with a strange request, they needed a safe place to hide where their enemies wouldn’t be able to find them. That’s why Wayne was on his way to a small town not far outside the city. His hometown as a matter of fact, a small township in the mountains known as Wighttclif. An uninspired name for a nondescript town that Wayne never dreamed he’d see again in a million years. Susan refused to go into detail about why they needed a place to stay over the phone. Having no alternative Wayne agreed to meet them at his parents’ house. They had both passed away, one after the other, years before so his family’s ancestral home had been empty for some time.

After what he had found at Lawrence’s house lying low may not have been a bad idea. Craig wasn’t answering his phone and Susan wasn’t telling him everything, a habit that seemed to be going around lately. All in all as long as he didn’t walk into a house full of dead bodies he’d be happy.

It had been a long time since Wayne had been back home, not since his father died five years ago. With his parent’s gone he had no reason too. Many of his childhood friends had moved away or he had fallen out of contact with them, he hadn’t thought about those days in a long time. Wightclif, like all towns like it, had not changed in over thirty years. Apart from the day his son was born the best day of Wayne’s life was the day this place was in his rearview mirror. Being back now simply reminded him of how much he hated it.

Wayne’s family home, a modest four bedroom, was at the end of a cul-de-sac. His father bought the place in the early 70s for less than 30k. After buying out a local business Wayne’s father became the town’s chief mechanic and never wanted to be anything else. Over the years Wayne helped his father build onto the house. A guest room above the garage, a deck with an above ground pool in the back yard, and enough bathrooms to make sure there was never a line after Sunday dinner. The cab driver was irritable after driving Wayne so far away from the city and demanded the cab fare with no regard for customer service. He paid the man and got out. The front door was not locked, without a key Susan was forced to break in. At least she didn’t smash a window. Wayne thought to himself, with an uncommitted sigh he opened the door and stepped across the threshold.

The house was the same, more or less, as it had been since his childhood. The furniture, the family photos, everything down to the wallpaper. Wayne hurried through the living room, no point in revisiting his childhood, and opened the door to the kitchen to find Susan standing over Cyrus, digging shards of glass out of his neck and back. Other scrapes and cuts had already been patched up with ten year old band-aides and moth-eaten bandages. Even with the homemade medical treatment Cyrus still looked like he had been through hell.

“Want to tell me why you’re bleeding in my mother’s kitchen?” Wayne asked with a perplexed look on his face. It wasn’t the same as a house full of corpses but still it was alarming.

“The real Franks turned out to be dead. Whoever we talked to was an imposter.” Cyrus grunted through his teeth as Susan removed a sizable chunk of glass from his shoulder.

“That explains who kicked your ass.” Wayne scoffed.

“Under the circumstances I think I did alright, jackass, but yeah, it was the same guys that have been on us since we started this damn job.” Cyrus explained. “Hence the safe house, of sorts.” Cyrus waved his arms around referring to the house.

“So, the guys that killed Franks did that to you?” Wayne was still trying to wrap his head around what had happen in his absence. Cyrus nodded. “I also assume they’re dead now. By the state of you I can only imagine that they’re in worse shape.” Wayne speculated giving him a back-handed compliment. Cyrus and Susan shared a look, like children who had done something wrong. “What?” Wayne asked and braced himself for more bad news.

“We may have…” Susan stammered and looked at Cyrus.

“We’ve got one tied up in the basement.” Cyrus confessed bluntly. Bad news was like a band-aide, better to just rip them off than slowly peel.

“What! Why?” Wayne shouted so loud the china cabinet rattled.

“He wasn’t dead and I have questions I want answered.” Cyrus rationalized his decision. “I expected you would too.”

“And you think he’s going to tell you something?” Wayne did not try to hide the fact he was upset and thought that it was terribly unwise.

“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to extract information.” Cyrus chuckled to mask the pain he was so obviously in.

“Torture?” Wayne was dumbfounded. “You want to torture a man in my parent’s basement.” Wayne laughed at the foolishness of the plan.

“When you say it like that it sounds bad.” Cyrus joked.

“Please tell me you’re not okay with this?” Wayne directed the question to Susan.

“All I know.” She huffed, stopped what she was doing, and looked Wayne in the eye. “Is that I haven’t been able to get Craig on the phone.”

“Me neither.”

“We’re in over our heads here Wayne. We have been from the start.” She wasn’t telling him anything they did not already know. “We need to find out who the fuck these people are and if this is the only way to get to the bottom of this I say we do it.” Susan voiced her opinion with panic behind her words. Wayne knew her reasoning was sound, but he had seen methods like this during the war and it was almost always unreliable and worthless.

“No.” Wayne said decisively. “There has to be a better way.”

“There is.” Cyrus interrupted.

“What?”

“Take your family and run.” Cyrus lit a cigarette. “They’ll hate you for it, but if you’re lucky that’ll buy you a decade, maybe two, if you keep moving. That’s no way for a family to live.” Cyrus coughed up smoke and blood when he had finished.

“What do you know about family?” Wayne said defensively.

“I know enough to know if you haven’t lost them yet you will if we don’t put these people in the ground!” Cyrus barked at him.

Wayne knew Cyrus wasn’t trying to get a rise out of him but why would that matter? His family was a touchy subject and hearing Cyrus talk about them just made him angry. Even in his weakened state Cyrus stood up and prepared to defend himself when Wayne threatened him by instinctively placing a hand on the butt of his gun.

“You don’t know shit about me or my family.” Wayne growled.

“Seriously!” Susan yelled at them both and slammed her hands on the island Cyrus had been sitting on. “You’re gonna do this now!” She hit Cyrus on the shoulder with a balled fist, he yelped in pain, which made Wayne smile. “And you!” Susan directed her wrath at him. “You got us into this mess! I don’t give a shit if you like it or not! We don’t have any other fucking choice!” She screamed at them sternly and stormed out of the kitchen leaving them both sitting in an uncomfortable silence.

“Damn.” Cyrus muttered under his breath. Wayne thought about what Susan said as he watched Cyrus clean himself up with a wet dish towel. Cyrus looked at his shirt and jacket, both of which were torn and covered in blood. He was clearly upset about it.

“For the record.” Cyrus began after throwing his clothes in the trash. “That gun wouldn’t have helped you.” He mocked as he put on a spare shirt that they had found in Wayne’s father’s closet.

“We might find out one day.” Wayne scoffed disregarding the fact that Cyrus had borrowed his father’s clothes.

“Perhaps.” Cyrus said smugly as he buttoned up the shirt that was too big for him. He wore it loosely leaving it untucked and the sleeves unbuttoned. “We’ll have to save that for later. Heard anything from Lawrence?” He asked.

“Lawrence is dead.” Wayne said grimly.

“At least that’s some good news.” Cyrus sounded disappointed that someone had beat him to it. “I don’t suppose you were able to find the files he had on us?” He asked, finally getting his shirt on properly.

“No, but I found a hard drive hidden in a safe. Could be nothing.” Wayne told him.

“Could be something.” Cyrus was much more hopeful than he was.

“I’ll see if Susan can do anything with it once we get ahead of our current predicament.” Wayne said pointing to the floor, referring to the man in the basement.

“Well, shouldn’t keep our guest waiting.” Cyrus looked overly excited to be torturing a man, but after the beating he took it was understandable.

“Yeah.” Wayne grunted. “Just get it over with.” He still did not think they were doing the right thing, but as Susan pointed out, it was not up to him. Cyrus left him standing alone in the kitchen. It all felt wrong, but in the end, there was nothing Wayne wouldn’t do to keep Craig out of prison and his family safe.

Chapter 31

Cyrus took a deep breath, put on his game face, and opened the door to the basement. With slow, heavy steps that echoed ominously Cyrus made his way down the stairs. Cyrus, as a younger man, had been well versed in this style of information gathering. The Southerner was stripped naked and duct taped to a vintage beach chair from the late seventies that was more steel than padding. Cyrus had to improvise a blindfold and used the man’s shirt to restrict his vision. The basement was dimly lit, sunlight came through the windows, but the overcast made it difficult to see. It was freezing, Cyrus could see his breath in the air and rubbed his hands together to keep his fingers warm.

In his day Cyrus had taken several beatings, this one ranked high on his list of top ass whooping’s, but it was nothing compared to the Southerner’s. The eye Susan had clubbed him in was swollen shut. The whole side of his face was black and bruised, the center of which was starting to turn white like his skin was slowly dying. Signs of infection had already begun to set in. The eye was most likely destroyed, a broken gelatinous blob sitting in its own juices, like a disgusting soup made of pus and bacteria. Cyrus pulled up a time worn bar stool, the Southerner was pretending to be unconscious but he knew better.

“I know you’re awake.” Cyrus said in a sing-song voice and thumped the man’s bloated eye. Naturally The Southerner yowled in pain, which gave Cyrus a justified tickle. Through tightly clinched teeth the Southerner cursed him as Cyrus lit a cigarette and grunted from the pain of reaching into his pocket.

“Keep laughin, you’ll be dead soon.” The Southerner tried to intimidate him between breaths. “My men will come for me.” He seemed over confident.

“Are you thinking about that GPS device that was in your leg?” Cyrus laughed. “I took that out while you were napping.” He mocked. Cyrus could feel the man’s bravado quickly turn to anxiety mixed with subtle hints of fear. It wasn’t something a rookie wouldn’t notice, the Southerner had more training than Cyrus had originally thought. This was bad, counter interrogation training was going to make his job that much harder. Cyrus noticed the man’s hands and feet were turning blue.

“I’m sorry about the temperature, heating’s been busted for some time I’m afraid. Just answer a few questions and I’ll see about getting you a blanket.”

“Go to hell.”

Cyrus chuckled. “Well if you’re willing to risk frostbite on your balls I don’t suppose you’ll tell me much.” Cyrus exhaled smoke through his nose. The Southerner remained silent as he knew he would. “That’s okay, I can do the talking for now.” Cyrus took a deep drag from his cigarette. “I need to know who you people are, what you’re doing, and why. If you answer these questions I’ll leave you here instead of killing you. I have faith you can get free before you freeze to death. A fair deal if ever I heard one.” Cyrus tried to bargain with him.

“I’m supposed to believe that?” The Southerner scoffed.

“Yup.” Cyrus said simply. “I know what you’re thinking.” He speculated. “You think you can hold out, that you won’t tell me anything, but you’ll come around one way or another. I have a great deal of experience with this sort of thing, I’m sorry to say.” Cyrus had never been sadistic or malicious in anyway. This was one part of the job he tried to avoid if he could help it. This time was no exception. “Of course, you know as well as I do torture is less effective than people think.”

“Depends on the torture.” The Southerner smirked self-assuredly.

“True.” Cyrus chuckled. “So, where to begin?” He asked rhetorically and took another drag from his cigarette. “Most people enjoy cutting.” Cyrus took out the long knife kept on his belt next to his back up piece. “Of course, unless you’re a surgeon one wrong move and you nick something you shouldn’t, then your subject bleeds out and that’s no good.” Cyrus stabbed the knife into a wooden workbench that was not far from them. On the wall by the bench were over a dozen hand tools for Cyrus to choose from. Wayne’s father had been quite the handy man back in the day and had built up a sizable collection.

“What’s next?” Cyrus asked imaginatively and took up a large well-weighted wrench. “Good ole blunt force.” He laughed in an accent mocking the Southerners. “But you’ve already been beat all to hell, so that won’t do me any good.” He let the wrench fall down onto the workbench with a heavy, ear-splitting thud! “We’re running low on options.” Cyrus laughed. “Electricity is out of the question, hell I’d kill you by accident most likely.” Cyrus went on listing ways he could make the Southerner’s day considerably worse. “Fire would have the same result even if I started at your feet.”

“You think you scare me old man?” The Southerner spit blood onto the concrete floor.

“Not yet, but you’ll wisen up soon young man.” Cyrus was no longer his usual whimsical self, it was time for the big show and he had to do something he really hated. A simple container of table salt and jar of pickled, homegrown peppers were going to be his weapons of choice and he placed both items on the workbench for the Southerner to see. “Last chance, son.” Cyrus whispered, secretly hoping the simple show and tell would be enough. The Southerner took several trembling breaths but said nothing. With a sigh Cyrus took an old sock he had found earlier while searching the basement and soaked it in salt and pepper juice before stuffing it into the Southerners mouth. With a handful of salt Cyrus went to work on the man’s eye.

Once the screaming started Wayne left the kitchen to find Susan. She had every right to be angry, he could have left them out of it and in retrospect he should have. Between the threat of prison and losing his family Wayne rushed into the case without thinking about the consequences. Craig hadn’t been heard from since he left him in front of Henry’s motel. Wayne was desperately trying to convince himself that Craig was okay even though he knew better. There was no reason to upset Susan until they knew for sure. Wayne found her in the living room looking over his old family photos. Wayne sat down in his father’s favorite pastel blue Lazy Boy.

“I’m sorry.” Wayne

“It’s fine.” Susan blew him off. “I just want things to go back to normal.” She said faintly.

“So do I Susan.” Wayne told her. There was nothing that could be done about it now, but that wasn’t going to make him feel any better. “You know we can’t trust him.” Wayne warned her about Cyrus.

“He’s given me no reason not to. He saved my life.”

“I’ve known men like him most of my life. If pressed he will betray us.” Wayne tried to explain to her but she seemed disinterested.

“He may surprise you.” Susan defended him.

“I doubt it.” Wayne scoffed.

“That’s because you only see the worst in people, I do the same thing. If Craig hadn’t been the one to track me down that night you would have given me up to the police and I would have turned out just like him.” Susan said grimly. She had never brought up the case Wayne had been working on when she and Craig met. That night had always been like a secret left unspoken between the three of them. Wayne hadn’t asked about it and they didn’t offer anything up.

“That’s not fair.” Wayne tried to defend his actions but she wasn’t wrong. Back then, before he got to know her, he would have turned her over in a heartbeat.

“Of course not.” Susan scoffed. “But life isn’t fair, regardless we don’t have any other choice at this point.” Susan laid it out for him. Wayne had no way of knowing it at the time, in fact the only person who did was Craig, but Susan had a habit of telling people exactly what they needed to hear. Given her reactions to his opinions about Cyrus and how close the two of them seemed to be Wayne couldn’t help but ask.

“Are the two of you…?” He paused to think of a proper way to ask about the nature of their relationship.

“That’s no business of yours Wayne.” Susan held back a round of laughter.

“That’s a yes.” Wayne grunted with disgust. Her taste in men made him suddenly very thankful that he had a son instead of a daughter. A long silence followed, Wayne had never realized it until that moment, but that was the most time the two of them had ever spent together alone. Now that he knew why it just made the situation more distressing. There was no way to know if Cyrus was making any headway short of watching the interrogation, which was out of the question, but by the volume of the screams he had kicked it up a notch.

“I didn’t know you had a brother.” Susan piped up, Wayne assumed she just wanted to focus on something other than the show going on in the basement.

“Umm, yeah.” Wayne stammered. He hadn’t talked about his family in a long time and was not expecting Susan, of all people, to ask him about it.

“Is he still around?” Susan asked. Craig certainly told her about his parents, but he rarely talked about his brother to anyone, even Bridget.

“No, he’s in Haiti. Or some other country with terrible shit going on.”

“Haiti?”

“He’s a doctor helping out the locals.” Wayne elaborated.

“Impressive.”

“Yeah, not bad for the sons of a mechanic and a school teacher.” Wayne laughed.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you earlier.” Susan said.

“It’s okay. I deserved it.” Wayne replied.

“I’m just worried about Craig.” She confessed.

“I know.” This was the one thing he did not want to talk about. The only thing he could do was assure her that Craig was fine. “I’m sure he’s okay.” That was all he could think to say.

“Then why hasn’t he called?” Susan was not going to make it easy for him.

“Phone could be dead.” That was the first excuse that came to him.

“Or he is.”

“He’s not.” Wayne told her with a low, intense tone of voice, like if he believed it enough it would somehow be true.

“You don’t know that.”

“You don’t either.” Wayne countered. They shared a look, no matter what he said to her she refused to accept that it was just as likely that Craig was alive and in no trouble at all. Of course, this wasn’t the case, but they had no way of knowing that. All they could really do was hope and pray their friend was okay.

“These people are better than we are.” Susan sat down on the couch, she was holding back her tears very well, but then again Susan had never been the damsel in distress type. Admittedly the two of them were not the best of friends, but in all the years he knew her Wayne had never seen her so vulnerable.

“I wouldn’t go that far.” Wayne was slightly offended. “They’re better than most but we’ll be alright.” Wayne tried to comfort her by forcing a smile and exaggerating his certainty.

“I hope you’re right.” Susan sobbed slightly.

Chapter 32

It was a long morning for Craig and it was shaping up to be an even longer night. Barclay had left Craig in the care of his men for several hours just as he said he would, but it felt much longer. An unfortunate byproduct of enduring expert torture methods. So far he had held out fairly well. Now Craig had never been anyone’s definition of a tough guy, so his performance was more than commendable. Even his captors had expected him to break sooner and were forced to dig deep into their repertoire.

They did not bother asking him questions, they simply kept beating him until he passed out only to wake him up with a bucket of water to start again. They were very careful not to break his jaw so that he’d still be able to speak when Barclay returned, but everything else was fair game. Craig was all but certain his nose was broken and his left eye was swollen shut. His ribs had been ground into pulp and he was willing to bet there was some internal bleeding to boot.

The poison he and Wayne were so curious about earlier, the same thing the Shooter used on Henry’s girlfriend, was something a bit more sinister. The blue vials were specifically engineered to boost the sensitivity of a person’s pain receptors. A key in their interrogation strategy that they hadn’t used as of yet but were more than willing to. The Shooter, after explaining its purpose to him, was getting a needle ready for injection when Barclay walked in. Craig never thought he’d ever be happy to see that man again.

“See.” Barclay bent down to check his face. Craig was amazed how easily Barclay could feign concern for him. “I told you my men could be overzealous.” He snickered and took a seat.

“I do so hope you are willing to have that conversation now.” Barclay crossed his legs and lit a cigarette like he did before. Craig knew if he told him what he wanted to know the torture would stop. Unfortunately, he knew Barclay would end it with a bullet, his choices were limited and disagreeable. “I apologize for that nasty bit of business Craig, do you mind if I call you Craig?” Barclay asked as if they weren’t going to have a one-sided conversation. “Your investigation concerns my employers, loose ends and such. It’s nothing personal, you understand.” Barclay went on to say.

“Who do you work for?” Craig asked, his one good eye focused on Barclay. Obtaining information, even in this state, was the one thing Craig thought would keep him going. Anything he could gather would be helpful if his friends arrived in time. If not, at least he would have some answers before he died.

“HA!” Barclay exclaimed at full volume. “Ever the investigator, I admire that.” Barclay laughed as if he were being entertained as opposed to torturing a man. Craig was now certain that he was insane. The Shooter leaned in and whispered something that he couldn’t hear. His vision was blurred making it difficult to see anything. Barclay turned his attention back to the matter at hand. “The man you were with, the detective, Mr. Miller. Where did he go?” Barclay asked.

“There’s no way I could know that.” Craig lied. There was no way he was going to mention Wayne’s family, though he suspected Barclay already knew a great deal about them.

“I suppose not.” Barclay smiled devilishly. Craig knew he was trying to see if he would lie.

“What about your girlfriend, Ms. Rogers? Where is she? I’d very much like to talk to her as well. Childhood trauma aside I’m sure she’d be very interesting.” Barclay read the anger on Craig’s face easily. Craig remained silent, desperately trying to keep his cool. In his work several corrupt politicians, judges, and criminals had accidentally condemned themselves because Craig had gotten under their skin, the same thing Barclay was trying to do now. Angry people shout before thinking. “A bit touchy there aren’t we.” Barclay smirked as he found Craig’s pressure point. “No matter, I’m sure we’ll track her down sooner or later.”

“Go fuck yourself.” Craig couldn’t contain the insult and cursed at himself for giving in. Of course, he knew there was no line in regards to Susan. If she were with him now Craig would sing like a bird if it ensured her safety.

“Don’t worry yourself.” Barclay said. “That brute she travels with has made a habit of killing my men. He remains a mystery to me, not through lack of trying, mind you. I’d love to know where Lawrence found him.”

“I don’t know who he is. I only met him yesterday.” Craig told him. He had calmed down knowing that Susan was safe.

“Pity.” Barclay said in a high-pitched voice. “I’m trying to put a stop to this Craig. I have a job to do, that’s all. I won’t kill you, any of you, if I don’t have to.” Barclay said as he leaned in to be eye level with Craig. There was a look of profound sincerity behind Barclay’s soulless black eyes, a look that had taken years to master. The look of a perfect liar.

“Bullshit.” Craig said sternly. Barclay stared into his eyes a moment longer before bursting into juvenile laughter.

“You got me.” He admitted and held his stomach as if he had laughed too hard. “I’m afraid my employers want scorched earth, as it were. No one escapes, but you get to decide how painful their deaths need to be.” Barclay put out his cigarette in the dirt.

“Why are you doing this?” Craig asked.

“The same reason people do anything, money!” Barclay looked at Craig as if he were disappointed in the questions he was asking. “This life may be dirty, but it’s not without its comforts and that doesn’t come cheap.” He finished.

“All of this work for what? Murdering a man’s children?” Craig decided to try and establish motive if nothing else. Barely conscious he was trying anything just to stay awake.

“I am not the architect of this endeavor, I’m sorry to say. The why is not for me to know.” Barclay explained with an eccentric use of his hands that reminded Craig of a flamboyant preacher that came to his family’s church when he was a boy. More of a cult leader than a man of god. “We’ve been paid a great deal of money to deliver the Monroe men to their fate.”

“Lawrence is dead?!” Craig interrupted him with a shocked expression.

“Yes.” Barclay told him. “We took him during the night, we were under orders to take the son first.” Barclay explained.

“But why Regina? She was just a kid.” Craig looked at Barclay with disgust. Murdering Lawrence and Henry even a kind-hearted man like Craig could understand, but Regina hadn’t had time to cause anyone grief.

“I cannot take credit for the death of Regina Monroe, nor can any of my men. I assume her death was the catalyst that set our little tale into motion.” Barclay told him truthfully, Craig could see that much, but found it too easy to get answers from the man.

“Why are you being honest with me?” Craig asked. Barclay smiled lightly.

“Because it’s improper to lie to a dead man.” He said in a gentle voice like he actually believed the words. Craig didn’t know whether or not he was sincere or if it was just another tactic. “Now you can at least be honest with me in turn. Who else knows we’re here? Who would your friends have told?” Barclay asked once again, Craig suspected it was for the last time. Taking a moment to think about his options Craig took a breath and looked Barclay in the eye.

“Go fuck yourself.” Craig said again and spit at him. “When I get out of here I’m going to cut those soulless eyes right out of your face, sugar!” Craig laughed manically like a man suffering from multiple concussions and possible delirium. The only way he was going to stay alive was to make them think he knew something, anything.

“I’m sure you would, but we both know you aren’t cut out for that sort of business. You will talk, it’s simply a matter of time.” Barclay said hardheartedly.

“You’re probably right.” Craig smirked. “But I swear to almighty god you’re going to work for it.” Craig said to Barclay before turning his attention to the Shooter. “Come on if you’re coming.” Craig said indifferently and with enough confidence to make them believe he didn’t care if they killed him or not. At this point he realized it may have been better if they did.

“Don’t make it harder on yourself Craig.” Barclay pleaded, still his cold, dead eyes made Craig uncomfortable, it was like looking into the soul of a creature that was not altogether human. “We are not the bad guys here.” Barclay tried to convince him one last time.

“You are from where I’m sitting.” Craig tried to laugh, but only ended up causing himself more pain. It was strange how calm Barclay looked, almost like he didn’t really care if Craig talked or not. There was some kind of evil scheme behind those eyes, he was sure of that if nothing else.

“As you wish.” Barclay said sounding almost cheerful. “We’ll see if your position has changed by this evening.” Barclay rose to his feet and gave the order to continue with a wave of his hand as if he were a god commanding sacrifices in his name. “Gentlemen.” He bid farewell to the men in the room before taking his leave. In lieu of beatings his captors decided instead to continue waterboarding Craig, their hands had gotten tired by his unexpected resilience. One man tilted Craig back in his chair while the Shooter went to work. One bucket of freezing water after another. Craig couldn’t be certain of anything at this point, but he was fairly sure they had killed him a time or two and brought him back to life.

This went on for several hours, or at least that’s how it felt to Craig. He could hardly think of anything other than the frigid burning in his lungs and nasal cavity. As before the men did not bother to stop and ask questions. Their only job was to keep him from dying in advance of Barclay’s return.

Finally, salvation came in the form of Detective Sean Palmer, Craig preferred the torture. Palmer ordered the men to stop by Barclay’s request. The Shooter was being summoned while Palmer was to prepare Craig for travel. He waited until the room had cleared to begin his work.

“We going somewhere?” Craig asked in a coarse, scratchy voice. The constant screaming and dry heaving had turned him hoarse.

“I don’t know.” Palmer said indifferently as if he didn’t care what was going to happen. Craig could hardly stand to look at the man, let alone engage in conversation, but the better he knew the plan the better he could try and make his escape, if such a thing were possible.

“They don’t tell you much?” Craig asked, Palmer didn’t answer. “I wonder if that’s because you’re a pig.” Craig laughed raspingly and had to take a breath afterwards. “Or if it’s because you’re a gutless traitor.” Craig insulted. He quickly tightened his lips once Palmer brandished a small, curved knife. “Doing this to fit in? I hope you end up in the ditch beside me.” Craig scoffed and made sure to put on a brave face. There was no way in hell he was going to die crying before a man like Palmer. The detective leaned in slowly almost as if he were having second thoughts. Craig thought for sure that he was about to meet his end at the edge of that knife. He closed his eyes, thought about his favorite memory of his husband, and waited for the inevitable.

With very little effort Palmer cut the tape that restrained Craig’s hands. The skin on his wrists had become chaffed and was rubbed raw, they both burned and itched terribly as the tape came off. Craig tried to nurse them with what clean parts of his shirt there was to find, but ended up making them more agitated. Palmer was replacing the tape with shackles on both his hands and feet.

“What’s going on?” Craig asked again.

“I don’t know.” Palmer told him for a second time. Craig could see that he was telling the truth, but neither of them thought it was a good thing that they were moving. From the wall Palmer took a length of brand new chain made of polished steel and with it he connected Craig’s wrists and ankles. A counter measure to ensure his compliance. Before Craig could say anything more Palmer tore a strip of tape and fixed his mouth closed. From his pocket he retrieved a small syringe, taking the cap off with his teeth Palmer spit it into a dark corner of the room. Craig, naturally concerned about what he was to be injected with, kicked and fought and tried to stand. Palmer sat him back down by literally yanking his chain. Annoyed with Craig’s struggling he stabbed the needle roughly into the meaty part of Craig’s thigh. Craig was still panicking even as he began to feel numb, his legs gave out when he tried to stand once more and he fell to the ground. Hyperventilating, he was inhaling small particles of dirt with every breath through his nose as he slowly waded into the darkness.

Chapter 33

Screams from the basement continued to ricochet throughout the house. The Miller family home had been without power for many years so there was nothing Wayne or Susan could do to drown out the noise but make idle conversation. Regrettably, neither of them could think of a single thing to talk about. Wayne made himself busy by building a fire while Susan made attempts to find Craig by tagging the GPS in his phone, which he had disabled soon after purchasing it. Before long the fireplace was alive with the crackle of wood and old newspapers. Warming the room well enough Wayne removed his coat and tossed it onto the fluffy, beige couch. The hard drive he found in Lawrence’s safe buckled under its own weight and fell out of the pocket Wayne had been carrying it in.

Like a caveman learning not to eat stones Wayne turned the hard drive over in his hands trying to figure out how it worked. Susan observed the process as one might a gorilla in the wild, struggling not to laugh. Once the comedy had withered Susan stopped him before he broke it unintentionally.

“Where did you find that?” She asked.

“In a safe at Lawrence’s house.” He told her.

“Lemme see.” Susan commanded and made a grabbing motion with her hand. Wayne gladly passed it along hoping that she could help to unlock the mysteries it held.

“Can you open it?” Wayne asked not giving her enough time to examine it.

“It’s not a can of chili.” Susan replied.

“You know what I meant.” Wayne snorted.

“I did.” Susan mocked. “I don’t know, maybe. With the right equipment and Craig’s help, but then again maybe not. Depends on the level of encryption.” Susan half-answered. Wayne looked at her with wide eyes. “Umm… security.” Susan said after finding the best word to explain it to him. Wayne nodded in understanding, but Susan couldn’t tell if he actually did. “What do you think is on it?” She asked glad to finally have something to talk about.

“The evidence against me and Craig at the very least, I hope.” Wayne took the hard drive back from her and stared at it intently. “But honestly, god knows what kind of secrets Lawrence got his hands on. I suspect there will be a lot more on this than we bargained for.” Wayne tucked the hard drive safely back into the pocket from where it came. Before they could further hypothesize as to the contents of the drive Wayne’s phone began to ring and a large picture of Craig flashed across the screen.

“Craig?” Wayne answered it without hesitation.

“I’m afraid not Mr. Miller.” Barclay’s calm, unsettling voice answered from the other side.

“Who is this?” Wayne demanded in an angry, coarse voice.

“My name is Barclay, we’ve not had the pleasure. I believe you have something that belongs to me.” He spoke as if he had the upper hand and was not afraid to show it. An arrogance Wayne had only heard a handful of times before, all the serial killers he had hunted shared the same blood curdling tone.

“You mean the piece of shit that tried to kill my friends?”

“Exactly! Glad to see we’re on the same page.” Barclay snickered. “I’d like you to put me on speaker phone and be sure to get Miss Rogers and our mystery man that Lawrence hired. I believe you’ll all want to hear this.” Barclay instructed. Wayne snapped his fingers at Susan, as one would do while on the phone, and instructed her to get Cyrus out of the basement. Barclay was kind enough to wait until they had all gathered in the kitchen. As instructed Wayne put the phone on speaker and placed it on the island the three of them now encircled.

“Are you all there?” Barclay asked awkwardly after a moment of silence.

“Yes!” Wayne yelled into the phone. “What do you want?”

“No need to shout.” Barclay said before clearing his throat. “You have one of my men, I have Mr. White.” Barclay explained to them.

“Son of a bitch!” Susan exclaimed.

“Ah, that must be the vivacious Miss Rogers, Craig has told me a lot about you.” Barclay lied to get a rise out of her, she cursed at him profusely until Wayne calmed her down.

“He better be alive.” Wayne warned him.

“You needn’t worry, I assure you Craig, though in worse shape than when he arrived, is still very much alive. Is our identity challenged friend in the room as well?” Barclay asked after Cyrus.

“I’m here shitbird, say what you’ve got to say.” Cyrus ordered as he tried to clean the blood off of his hands with the same dirty dish towel he used earlier.

“I’m proposing a trade, my man for Mr. White.” Barclay told them.

“Where?” Susan answered too quickly. Wayne shook his head.

“I’ll send you the coordinates when we conclude our conversation.”

“I want proof of life as well.” Wayne demanded.

“Naturally.” Barclay chuckled. “I’m okay with assuming my man is in similar condition.”

“Let’s hope not.” Cyrus snickered under his breath.

“Fine.” Wayne agreed.

“Splendid, good day gentlemen and lady.” Barclay said courteously and hung up the phone.

The three of them stood around the island in silence. Susan looked like she was going to explode with rage, Cyrus appeared to be indifferent, but Wayne had come to expect that from him. Soon after the phone vibrated on the island with the location, time of the meeting and a fresh photo of Craig. Wayne snatched up the phone and wrote down the information on a note pad that hung on the refrigerator.

“I need you to find out everything you can about this address.” Wayne ripped the paper off the note pad and handed it to Susan. “We’ll get him back.” Wayne tried to comfort her, she agreed but said nothing. Susan took the paper from him and hurried into the living room to her laptop.

“Please tell me the man down stairs isn’t dead.” Wayne asked half-heartedly, he did not have much faith in Cyrus’s ability to restrain himself.

“Fifty-fifty.” Cyrus admitted.

Wayne groaned. “Just make sure he survives long enough to get Craig back.” He pleaded with him.

“Shouldn’t be a problem.” Cyrus said looking confident, Wayne didn’t know if he should be worried or not. “You got a plan for when we get there?” Cyrus asked.

“Make the trade.” Wayne said simply.

“You think they’ll just let us walk away?” Cyrus scoffed.

“No, but we don’t have the firepower to match them. They tore through Lawrence’s security like they had cap guns.” Wayne told him.

“We found some hardware in the car they drove.”

“Anything useful?” Wayne asked.

“A small automatic, sawn off pump-action, and a small box of grenades. We won’t win any wars, but it might be enough to even the odds a bit.” Cyrus replied.

“You took their car?” Wayne asked astonished.

“Yup.” Cyrus confirmed nonchalantly. “Don’t worry, we got rid of it before leaving the city.” Cyrus said with a shrug and a smile.

“You’re insane.” Wayne said blatantly.

“Maybe so.” Cyrus laughed. “I’ll go and make sure our guest is alive and fit for travel. The bag is in the living room if you’d like to take inventory and map out some sort of plan.” Cyrus said. Wayne agreed, Cyrus lit a cigarette and slunk back into the basement.

Following Cyrus’s advice Wayne went into the living room and found the bag. It was bulky and made of animal hide, appeared to be alligator. Lifting it turned out to be a chore, Wayne hadn’t expected it to be as heavy as it was. He dropped it onto the coffee table with a booming rattle. Inside was a .45 caliber machine gun, well-crafted and German made, along with a shotgun that had been modified for closer quarters. Wayne checked them both before putting them aside, they were well cared for and in excellent condition. Twelve boxes of ammunition were sitting on top of a black box containing over a dozen small, golf ball size grenades. Wayne had seen them before during the war and though small in size they were extremely deadly. At the very bottom of the bag were three small, one inch cubes of C-4. Wayne did not know if he should have been impressed or terrified he was going to blow himself up, along with everything in the house.

“Find anything?” Wayne asked Susan once he was finished taking stock of their supplies.

“A town called Alverton. It’s in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farm land. Just short of a hundred miles from here. From what I can tell most of the businesses and farms, for that matter, have been foreclosed. Town’s been dead since the early 90’s.” Susan explained and went over everything she had found, which wasn’t much. “What’s that for?” She asked about the bag. Susan had been curious about it ever since Cyrus was so adamant that they take it with them, now she knew why.

“A dead town in the middle of nowhere. That could be bad for us, but hopefully they’ll just give us Craig and walk away. If not we’ll take him by force.” Wayne assured her. In truth he knew the chances that they would walk away were bad, Susan knew it too, but neither of them would say it aloud.

“It may be a good idea for you to stay behind on this one.” Wayne suggested.

“That’s not happening.” Susan aggressively protested.

“Be reasonable for once Susan.” Wayne pleaded with her.

“They have Craig and want to kill everyone I care about.” Susan had a look of profound determination about her, a side of her Wayne had never seen. “I’m going and that’s final.” She said with a strength and resolve that suited her character. “We’ll most likely die anyway.” She added with mad laughter that also suited her. Wayne shook his head, he knew there was no talking to her, no more than he could be persuaded to ride the bench when Craig’s life was on the line.

“We’ll be fine.” Cyrus interrupted their conversation with a cigarette and a smile. “They’re not as tough as they look.” He lied, they were exactly as tough as they looked. “Our friend will pull through.” He said to Wayne with a wink and a smile.

“Good.” Wayne grunted.

“So, where are we going?” Cyrus asked as he took a seat on the couch opposite of Susan.

“Town in the middle of nowhere.” Susan answered without looking up from her computer.

“You tagging along?” He asked her.

“Yes” She replied simply.

“You’ll need to wear this.” Cyrus tossed the only vest he found in the car next to her.

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Wayne asked him.

“It’s okay, I’ve been shot before.” Cyrus joked with a smile.

“That’s not what I meant.” Wayne grumbled at his immaturity.

“I know.” Cyrus giggled. “She’ll go whether I want her to or not.” Cyrus pointed out. “Besides, I’d be dead if not for her.” He took a drag from his cigarette. Leaving the cigarette in his mouth Cyrus took up one of the guns and checked it much like Wayne had done before. “Pretty sure I would have turned the situation around though.” He commented as he began loading the magazines for the automatic.

“Pretty sure you were screwed.” Susan stated, still not looking up at him. Wayne sensed some tension between them but said nothing. The last thing he needed was the two of them at each other’s throats.

“How big is the town?” Cyrus asked.

“Small but big enough for an ambush. I counted thirteen buildings maybe more.” Wayne replied as he helped him with the ammunition.

“That’s not ideal.” Cyrus stated. Of course, Wayne knew it as well. There was no way they were not walking into a trap. A dozen men could easily lie in wait for them.

“Will we have time to do some scouting?” Cyrus asked.

“None.”

“Shit.” Cyrus did not sound worried, but Wayne knew he had enough experience to know the situation was bad.

“This guy, Barclay, will be expecting all of us.” Cyrus said.

“Your point?” Wayne asked.

“You any good with a gun?” He directed the question to Susan.

“Not especially.” She replied.

“Good enough.” Cyrus smirked and handed her his back up 9mm. “We know that these people have no problem dropping bodies. If we don’t give them a reason to there’s a chance we walk out of there.” Cyrus said.

“You really think so?” Wayne asked unconvinced.

“A slight chance, depending on how valuable the man downstairs is to them. I say we plant explosives on the road as we come in to cover our escape if need be.” Cyrus suggested and pointed to the map on Susan’s computer screen.

“That’s not bad.” Wayne said slightly impressed. “Craig is the priority, if they give him up without a fight, we don’t give them a reason.” Wayne said.

“Agreed.” Cyrus replied while loading up the guns and ammunition.

“And if they don’t give him up?” Susan asked. Wayne could not tell if she was just angry or was secretly hoping they put up a fight just so she could kill someone. He had known soldiers like that during the war and knew he’d have to keep an eye on her. Emotions were the last thing you wanted or needed on the battlefield, but since he couldn’t make her stay behind he just prayed she’d keep her cool.

“In that case, we improvise.” Cyrus chuckled. Once they had agreed on a plan of action they got everything ready for the trip, they were expecting to arrive early. The man from the basement, patched up enough to survive the trip, was duct taped into a blanket and forced into the trunk of a freshly stolen Cadillac. Courtesy of Susan and Mr. Crawford, Wayne’s seventy-three year old neighbor. The town was nearly a two hour drive from where they were, but with Wayne’s lead foot they were sure to make good time.

Chapter 34

The ride to Alverton was long and quiet. Wayne drove the speed limit through the few populated areas they crossed. Susan sat in the passenger seat clicking away on her laptop even though there was little else she could do with it. Wayne felt it was better to keep her occupied instead of focusing on whether or not they were going to die. Cyrus was in the back seat too busy constructing an explosive contraption to make conversation. Wayne knew better than to ask about it, it was nerve racking enough speeding down neglected back roads with unstable explosives in the back seat.

Wayne had to admit, at least to himself, that he was anxious and troubled. It had been a long time since he had seen real combat, unless one were to include angry soon-to-be ex-husbands, which Wayne did not. His main concern was Susan, this was no place for her, but he knew there was nothing he could say to make her stay behind. Craig would never forgive him if anything happened to her and if he were already dead, god forbid, there was no way for him to know how she would react – but his best guess was that it would get them all killed. Luckily Cyrus was there to back him up, though he’d never admit it to the man, Wayne was glad to have him there. Not only did he have combat experience but he also seemed to care for Susan as well. An odd pair to be sure.

The sun had gone down during the drive, Wayne had to use both hands to drive because he couldn’t see well at night. The result of almost constant mortar fire during the early years of the war. Riding into a possible trap in the middle of the night was less than ideal but what choice did they have? Before long they came upon an enormous, green sign that read “Welcome to Alverton, pop. 899.”

The road in from the south crossed a decent sized river forcing them onto a two-lane bridge. Snow plows weren’t exactly in high demand in a town with no people so the bridge, along with most of the roads they had taken to get there, was covered in ice and a fine layer of snow, which had upset their time frame and made them late.

“Stop here.” Cyrus commanded from the back seat. Wayne gently slowed the car down to a crawl and stopped. Before he could ask him why Cyrus was already out of the car, taking his explosive device with him. In the event they had to make a hasty retreat the plan was to blow the bridge, assuming they made it that far. With an exhausted sigh Wayne took this opportunity to stretch his legs and suggested that Susan do the same.

“Nervous?” He asked her as he slung his arms through his coat and zipped it up tight. He was well aware it was a stupid question, but he felt the need to ask it anyway. Better to know where her head was at before marching into town.

“I’m fine.” Susan replied. It was not hard to tell she was lying. Susan had always been a difficult person to read, which gave Wayne cause for concern that it was so easy now to tell what she was thinking. Chances were it was worse than he realized, but how could it not be? A man they both loved, their only true friend in the world, was captured by an enemy they knew to be ruthless and highly skilled. Despite the overwhelming circumstances they were both resolved to go in anyway. Wayne had never left a man behind and he had no intention of starting with Craig. One way or another they were leaving with him or being buried beside him.

“What are you angry at Cyrus for?” Wayne asked taking the moment to satisfy his curiosity and direct Susan’s focus away from the meeting, if only for a moment.

“Nothing.” She answered while slipping into her vest. The vest was a tight, one size fits all, kind of deal made from elastic fabric that Wayne had never seen before. Of course, he had been out of the game for some time, but even in his day the government would never have shelled out the cash for anything like it. Once Susan had it on straight it quickly conformed to her body’s natural shape to make it feel weightless. Battle tested or not he was certainly glad Susan had it.

“The two of you just seem, out of sorts.” Wayne commented.

Susan was quiet at first, he did not think she would open up to him about it. “He made me wait in the car.” She finally broke down and told him. “When we went to see Damien.” She explained further.

“It was the right thing to do.” Wayne said supporting Cyrus’s decision.

Susan scoffed. “He talks a big game, but he would have died if I hadn’t shown up.”

“Better him than you.” Wayne said not intending it as an insult. “He was probably thinking the same thing.” Wayne quickly explained his statement.

“I’m not a fucking child Wayne! I’ve been taking care of myself long before either of you showed up.” She said angrily finding it difficult not to yell at him.

“Is that what you think?” Wayne asked rhetorically. Not waiting for her to scold him again Wayne continued. “We know you can take care of yourself a hell of a lot better than we ever could. You’re no one’s damsel Susan, but men like Cyrus and I, we’re gonna catch a bullet one day. It’s who we are, who we’ll always be and we don’t want you next to us when that happens. We care about you too much.” He finished. Susan looked at him like she understood that he was right, but Wayne knew the girl well enough to know that she would never tell him so. That one she’d take to her grave.

Cyrus had disappeared into the darkness, Wayne assumed he was planting the explosives on the bridge supports. Even though they were far away from civilization the moon light reflected off the snow and ice lighting up the bridge as if it was a cloudy day. It had been almost an hour since they had seen another car so they waited outside of the Cadillac for Cyrus’s return. Wayne couldn’t think of anything else to say, they were less than a mile from the center of town and it was almost time. He had no words of encouragement for her. He always saw combat situations as pass or fail. Both he and Cyrus had given her as many pointers as they could within the time frame, he prayed that it was enough to see her through.

Cyrus returned from his adventure under the bridge by climbing up the embankment. He was out of breath as he approached them, he took a moment to collect himself.

“I put the explosives in place.” He told them between breaths. “I’m leaving the detonator in the car in the event that I don’t make it. Whoever makes it back to the car will have to blow the bridge.” He told them and then went over how to work the detonator. Once their escape insurance was in place they loaded back into the car and made for the town square.

Chapter 35

After a brief debate the trio decided it was better to leave the Cadillac hidden close by and proceed into Alverton on foot. Halfway between the bridge and the town they began their journey. The Southerner was rendered unconscious to prevent an escape attempt, Cyrus was forced to carry the man over his shoulder for half a mile. Alverton was even more dead and rotting than they had anticipated. Whether or not it could be attributed to the failing economy or the shutdown of the local mill, factory, or plant that employed the uneducated residents, no one could say. Almost every building was boarded up and falling apart, all with going out of business signs still in the windows.

They were the first people to set foot in Alverton in a long time, that much was clear. During the drive Susan felt the need to inform them that the mayor had been indicted for embezzling from the town’s treasury, though it did not pertain to the situation it helped to explain the current state of things. What few people remained in the area, after the residents moved on to greener pastures, had used it as a public dumping ground. Some of the stores had been looted with the useless contents no one wanted cast out into the streets. Between the random mounds of trash and overgrown landscape there were numerous places to hide, too many for them to search in what little time they had left.

As far as they could tell they had arrived first, surprising given that Wayne was constrained to the speed limit by black ice and snow-covered roads. They stood in the parking lot of a former used car dealership, one of the few buildings that was still intact. A handful of cars were in the parking lot, an odd thing to leave behind they thought, but it was fortunate for them in case they had to make use of cover. Wayne was alert and scanning the perimeter like he was on patrol back in the desert, Susan was pacing nervously back and forth while biting her nails, and Cyrus lounged on the trunk of one of the abandoned cars smoking a cigarette. Barclay was three minutes late to his own meeting, but when he finally showed up he did so at the head of a heavily armed convoy. It was a scare tactic and it was doing its job well.

Three black SUVs pulled up in a horizontal line roughly thirty yards from where they stood. Guns firmly in hand the trio turned to greet them. It was important to show that they were ready to fight even if it meant certain death. Barclay and his men waited before getting out of their cars, which made Cyrus uneasy. A man in his line of work did not last long without developing a deep sense of paranoia. Before he could voice his concerns the men emptied out of the SUVs and the trio were now standing face to face with their enemy. Susan and Cyrus shared a look when they saw Barclay, who was smiling ear to ear. It was not the first time they had met him. Their first introduction with the man was the night before under the guise of Damien Franks. Susan cursed under her breath.

The bitter sting of betrayal struck Wayne as well. Palmer shared the car with Barclay, when he stepped out he was dragging Craig, in chains, behind him. Susan gasped when she saw Craig’s beaten and bloody body. Wayne clenched his teeth and tightened his grip on the shotgun he carried. The Shooter, another man Wayne wanted so badly to kill, had driven them and followed closely behind Barclay and Palmer as they brought Craig forward. Barclay flashed a wide toothy grin on his face as they approached.

“Susan, Cyrus, always lovely to see you.” Barclay said as if they were old friends catching up over a cup of coffee.

“That’s far enough.” Cyrus ordered them to stop with a strong piercing voice, they obliged about ten feet shy of being within reach.

“No need to be dramatic.” Barclay said with his hands in the air. He looked hurt that they didn’t trust him. Wayne was locked in a staring contest with Palmer like he was trying to make the traitors head explode with the power of his mind.

“As you can see, Mr. White is alive and well, more or less.” Barclay said. Craig couldn’t speak due to the duct tape that covered his mouth and was struggling to remain on his feet. Palmer was the only thing holding him up. “I assumed my man would be here as well, but I don’t see him.” Barclay said with an eccentric sing-song voice.

“He’s here.” Cyrus chuckled and opened the trunk of the car he had been laying on to reveal The Southerner. With his free hand Cyrus firmly gripped the blanket and rolled the Southerner out onto the pavement. He grunted curses after making contact with the ground and struggled to get out of the blanket, but Cyrus had used over half a roll of duct tape to make certain the man could not escape. Cyrus kept the automatic pointed in Barclay’s direction while drawing his .45 and holding it on the Southerner. Wayne hadn’t said a word, he was busy staring Palmer down. The detective was too ashamed to look Wayne in the eye.

“Here he is.” Cyrus sad. “Alive, though not entirely unharmed.” Cyrus nudged the bundled man with his foot causing him to yelp.

“Excellent.” Barclay smirked.

“Let Craig walk to Susan. The rat can drag him back to that piece of shit you rode in on.” Cyrus told them how exchange was going to happen. Being given orders left Barclay with a sour look, but he agreed with a wave of his hand. Palmer released Craig from his shackles, he immediately ripped the tape off his mouth, gasped for fresh air, and hobbled over to Susan. Palmer made a move toward the Southerner, Wayne readied the shotgun like he was going to fire stopping Palmer in his tracks.

“You don’t want to do that.” Palmer said more pleading than convincing.

“Maybe I do.” Wayne had a crazed look about him as if he were actually considering shooting Palmer right there in the street.

“Look at the situation Wayne. You kill me and you’ll never make it out of here.” Palmer told him. Wayne didn’t speak, in his mind there was nothing to talk about.

“We won’t hurt you.” Barclay said with a cackle. “Kill him if you like. We don’t need him anymore.” Barclay urged him and watched eagerly like he was conducting an experiment to see if Wayne would pull the trigger.

“Wayne!” Craig yelled to snap him out of the trance he was in. Looking at Craig made Wayne want to kill him even more.

“We got what we came for.” Cyrus said to him in a soft, calm voice. Craig was being held up by Susan, he had practically collapsed once he made it to their side of the parking lot. Wayne knew what the smart play was, even if he didn’t like it. With a bellowing curse that echoed into the night he lowered the shotgun and allowed Palmer to proceed unobstructed.

“That’s too bad.” Barclay looked disappointed with the results. With both hands Palmer quickly gripped the blanket and drug the Southerner back to the safety of the vehicles. A moment later the Shooter followed suit. Wayne helped Susan carry Craig back the way they had come, leaving Cyrus and Barclay alone together. Cyrus put his pistol away and, with both hands, focused the automatic on Barclay.

“You have a nice night, now.” Cyrus said smugly, taunting Barclay, almost daring him to make a move. Cyrus wasn’t able to walk five steps before Barclay spoke up.

“I have a confession to make.” He said with a troubling grin. “I couldn’t get Craig to talk. We just couldn’t break him.” Barclay explained with a scoff, Cyrus knew a but was coming. “But…” There it was. “I thought to myself, How do you get him to talk when even torture fails? And then I had the most spectacular idea!” Barclay laughed hysterically, staring into Cyrus’s eyes the entire time and from his coat pocket he retrieved a cigarette, flipped it into his mouth, and lit it. He took a long drag and exhaled the smoke in a dense cloud like an ancient dragon that was preparing to lay them to waste with hellfire. “If I could get you all in the same place together.” Barclay paused for a moment. “Well, that would be just as good.” The expression on his face changed before Cyrus’s eyes from happy-go-lucky to full on psychopath as if he were two different people.

As soon as Barclay was finished, as if they had planned it, three more SUV’s bulldozed their way into the car lot, exploding through the snow banks they had used to conceal themselves. Their escape routes were cut off and the men that arrived with Barclay were firing on them before Cyrus had time to react. Barclay stood, watched, and laughed hysterically.

Cyrus did his best to lay down cover fire, but there were simply too many shooters and no clear way of escape. Thinking on his feet Wayne ordered them to take cover inside the first building they could get into. Cyrus could hear him giving orders, firing his weapon, and yelling at Susan to get the door open. Cyrus had his back to them and had no idea where they were leading him, but he was more than a little startled when Wayne’s giant hand firmly gripped him by the shoulder and flung him through a doorway.

Cyrus looked up from the flat of his back as Wayne slammed the door behind them and jammed it closed with a lead pipe.

“SON OF A BITCH!” Wayne roared as he shot blindly out of the nearest window. Three men had rushed their way to the door before trying to fall back. At that range Wayne didn’t have to aim, the spray of blood and explosion of skin and bone reminded Wayne of the war. Luckily most of the windows were covered with plywood providing extra cover. Cyrus shuffled to his feet and looked around to see what kind of building he was going to die in. As luck would have it they had chosen a small machine shop, most likely used to make repairs on the trade-ins, to make their final stand. If their luck held out there would be something still of use inside.

Even with the small amount of windows bullets from the outside still whizzed through causing glass and splinters to erupt all around them. Susan took Craig further into the shop to keep him away from the shrapnel of wood and glass. Wayne and Cyrus, with expert skill, fired from cover until they were just about out of bullets. In the process they had killed nearly a dozen men combined but there were still more coming. It seemed as if every man under Barclay’s command was converging on the shop and there was no way they could withstand the assault for much longer.

“Throw these out there.” Cyrus took two grenades out of his pocket and handed them to Wayne. “It may buy us some time if they think we have explosives.” Cyrus explained. Wayne, without a second thought, pulled the pins and threw both of them out the window. Even inside the building they felt the blast wave as it rattled the walls and shook loose what was left of the glass in the windows. Barclay’s men cursed and were ordered to fall back. The grenades caused more confusion than damage, which was their purpose in this situation.

“Now what?” Wayne asked as he raised his head to fire at the men as they retreated, killing another one. Barclay was loading up into his car, along with Palmer, and entrusted his men to finish the job. Cyrus tried to line up a shot, but the car was already beyond the range of his weapon, he cursed as Barclay got away.

“Now that they know we have explosives they’ll surround the building, keep us distracted, and breach. The explosives may have bought us enough time to find a way out of here.” Cyrus explained as he took cover and looked around the room.

“Wayne!” Susan called out from further into the shop. Craig was choking on blood and eventually passed out. Naturally, Wayne rushed to Craig’s aid. They did not have much time before his wounds would be beyond help. Wayne and Susan did what little they could do for him. Knowing he would only be in the way, Cyrus scoured the building for exits and anything they could use. Regrettably most of what had been left behind was beyond useless.

The building was looking more and more like a deathtrap than anything else. The door they came through was too heavily guarded for them to shoot their way out. The previous owner had welded the shop doors closed, to discourage looters most likely. The only other door was blocked by obsolete tooling machines that seemed to be there simply to get in the way.

While walking back and forth across the room, stopping to fire out the window every so often to keep the men at bay, he noticed a sturdy grate toward the back of the building. A storm drain in case of flooding maybe? Cyrus thought to himself as he examined it. Of course, there was no way to know if it led outside or if it was just a hole in the ground. Regardless it was blocked by a two inch steel grate that was bolted to the concrete floor.

“Anything?” Wayne asked after they had stabilized Craig, for the most part.

“Well.” Cyrus scoffed. “The ventilation system could get us to the roof but that wouldn’t help Craig.”

“Is there a plan B?” Wayne interrupted him. He could see Wayne was looking to him for answers. Cyrus felt strange to see Wayne relying on him. It put him out of his comfort zone to say the least, but in this case it was in his own best interest to get them out of there.

“Ventilation like this suggests there is welding equipment, probably in the back.” Cyrus pointed to a closed off section not far from where they stood. “This drain may dump out into the river we crossed to get here.”

“It may?”

“Or it may lead nowhere and we’ll die anyway.” Cyrus yelled matter-of-factly. Wayne clearly did not like the plan, but the only alternative was walking into a wall of bullets.

“Can you get the grate off?” Wayne asked as he examined the bolts that were far too rusted to open by hand.

“I’ll have to cut it off. This place should have all the equipment I need, but it will take a few minutes.” Cyrus explained.

“Do it.” Wayne ordered. “The door won’t hold forever and if they come through we won’t last two seconds.” Wayne speculated.

“Okay.” Cyrus agreed. “How’s Craig holding up?”

“It’s not good.” Wayne replied.

“Good enough for you to spare a minute?” Cyrus asked.

“Yeah, what do you need?”

“I need you to gather up anything you can find that’s combustible.” Cyrus explained.

“Any particular reason?” Wayne was hesitant to agree to the request.

“I’d rather them not follow us down into a hole. If we’re lucky any survivors will report we died in the blast.” Cyrus clarified. Wayne nodded in agreement and they both got to work.

The tools were all laid out in the back just as Cyrus had suspected. The skills and techniques he had picked up over the years were not all explosions, mayhem, and murder. Of course, it was all of those things, but he had a few tricks up his sleeve. Cyrus wheeled out the gas cylinders with a cutting torch already attached and positioned it next to the grate. Wayne was busy gathering up everything he could find that was flammable or pressurized. They had Susan keep an eye out for the men outside, every so often she fired out the window to make it look like they were still putting up a fight and not digging their way out.

The shop had an impressive supply of untouched propane and acetylene. All in all Wayne managed to gather almost twelve canisters that would do the job nicely. Cyrus cut the grate as fast as the tools would let him, but it still took him several minutes to get through. The grate was made of solid steel and weighed more than Cyrus could lift on his own forcing him to conscript Wayne once again. After a brief countdown they lifted it in unison, burning their hands as they did so.

Pain and small first degree burns aside, the first step was complete, but now they were staring down into a dark hole that could have led to hell for all they knew.

“How do we get down?” Wayne asked as he spit down the hole. Cyrus looked around for something they could use when he noticed exactly what they needed.

“Crane system.” Cyrus said and pointed to the bridge crane attached to the ceiling.

“We’ll have to tie Craig to it.” Wayne said. Cyrus agreed and began fashioning a seat, of sorts, from a rickety piece of wood and chains while Wayne collected Craig from the back. Once they were ready Susan, being the smallest, went down first. It took both Wayne and Cyrus to secure and lower Craig’s dead weight down into the hole. The power had long been disconnected, but the cranes pulley system was intact. After some clever engineering on Wayne’s part they were able to operate it with ease. Wayne followed afterward leaving Cyrus to see to their escape.

The shop had a small reserve of turpentine, which Cyrus used to douse the cylinders and the door. Once he was satisfied he pulled the pin from the last grenade and wedged it firmly between the front door and the pipe Wayne had used to jam it shut. Barclay’s men would not wait forever, Cyrus was all but certain they were preparing to breach the door as he was lowering himself down into the drain. Once that happened the building would be reduced to little more than rubble and mangled steel. They had very little time, if they were still in the drainage system when that happened they would not have to worry whether or not Barclay thought they were dead.

At the bottom of the shaft Wayne and Susan were wrapping Craig’s arms over their shoulders and hoisting him to his feet. Susan used the flashlight on her phone to light their way to what they could only pray was freedom. At the end of the tunnel was a ten foot drop into a room, the purpose of which was to keep water from backing up into the shop during a flood. At the bottom of the room was a small drain pipe that poured out into a steep ravine that emptied into the river that surrounded the town. It was going to be a tight fit but the pipe had a wide enough diameter that they could squeeze through.

“There’s no way Craig’s gonna get through there on his own.” Susan said panting. They were all running on little more than fumes. The adrenaline, or lack thereof, was causing her hands to shake and she looked like she was going to vomit from the stress.

“I’ll drag him if I have too.” Wayne said between breaths.

“I’ll go first to make sure no one is waiting for us on the other side.” Cyrus slid his gun down the pipe and followed it in. Neither Susan nor Wayne said anything, for a moment Cyrus felt like they trusted him, but he knew they were secretly thinking he was going to run the first chance he got. “Better hurry. If they breach before we’re all out it’s going to get very hot in here.” He warned them before shuffling down the pipe.

It was roughly a thirty foot journey to the safety of the ravine, but the confined space made the crawl a much more difficult affair. Cyrus managed to get through it quickly being unhindered, it would not be as easy for the rest of them. On the other side Cyrus fell head first onto mud and rocks. The ravine was man-made, a small ledge leading out of it was left in case the pipe ever needed maintenance. It was wide enough to stand on but Cyrus did not want to be there any longer than he had to be. The steep drop down into the rocky waters below was not at all inviting. Luckily, Barclay could not have foreseen their exit and stationed no men to guard the ravine or patrol the river banks, but Cyrus could hear them up around the building, circling it like a vulture would a dead rabbit.

Wayne was doing his best to get himself and Craig through the pipe, but it was slow going. Having to shimmy backwards and drag a body would have been too much for a lesser man. They were almost out when Wayne’s shoulders got stuck in a thinner section of the pipe. Cyrus, not wanting to be there when the building blew up, jumped back in and took Wayne by the ankles and kept pulling him until they got going again. Susan followed quickly behind them. Wayne managed to wiggle out of the pipe. They could hear the men counting down to the breach. Frantically Wayne and Cyrus hauled Craig out of the way to make room for Susan. Once he and Wayne were out of the way Cyrus stretched out his hand for Susan, who was just out of reach. Cursing Cyrus climbed back into the pipe to reach for her, she had gone limp from over exhaustion. He knew they were seconds away from a fiery death so Cyrus was not gentle about getting her out. With a firm grip on her bicep he was sliding her limp body to the edge of the pipe when they heard the detonation of the breach charges. With all the strength he could muster Cyrus gave her one final pull just as he saw the fire forcing its way through the tunnel. Susan screamed, mostly out of fear, but also because Cyrus yanked her with so much force that he dislocated her shoulder.

Out on the ledge Cyrus and Wayne did their best to cover their wounded companions as the pipe belched fire. The earth shook violently for a moment as debris rained down into the ravine. Smoldering bits of metal hissed and created steam as it hit the snow and icy waters below. When it was all over they took a moment to make sure they were still alive, and give thanks in the process. Wayne hoisted Craig over his shoulders like the military had trained him to while Cyrus scooped up Susan who was holding her shoulder and cursing through clinched teeth.

They prayed none of Barclay’s men survived as they snuck their way out of the ravine. If anyone could have survived an explosion of that magnitude they certainly would not be interested in following them. The Cadillac was easy enough to find even in the dark. Craig and Susan were piled into the backseat with Wayne once again behind the wheel. When everyone was in Wayne, without turning on the head lights until they were clear of the war zone that had once been Alverton, sped towards the bridge. With one arm Susan was trying to find the nearest hospital while making sure Craig was still alive. They were nearly home free and the mission was, more or less, a success. Barclay, being the clever and methodical tactician that he was, had placed a hand full of men on the bridge as reserves. A single SUV was parked across the bridge barring passage, two men stood on either side of it with another inside. Wayne managed to stop behind a grove of trees before they were spotted.

“What do we do?” Susan asked from the back seat. Cyrus thought to himself while Wayne and Susan brainstormed. As they went back and forth with one bad idea after another Cyrus had to tune them out so he could think clearly when finally, an equally as bad idea began to take shape.

“Go through them.” He said, it was more an order than a suggestion.

“What?” Wayne looked at him like he was crazy.

“Hit them with the high beams and smash through them.” Cyrus elaborated as he reached for his gun. They were dangerously low on ammunition, but it would be enough for the plan to work. “I’ll lay down cover fire and blow the bridge once we’re across.” Cyrus motioned to the detonator that was still sitting in the cup holder. At this point even Susan was looking at him like he was bat shit insane. “Any better ideas?” Cyrus asked rhetorically. Neither of them said anything as he opened the sun roof and reloaded his weapon. With a shrug, followed by a deep breath, Wayne stomped on the gas, hit the high beams, and headed straight for the bridge.

Susan ducked down onto the floor and used her body to cover Craig, who lay there defenseless. Cyrus hung out of the sun roof and fired wildly as they approached the blockade at top speed. The men stationed there were too busy being blinded by the headlights to react or even move out of the way as they crashed into them. Cyrus dipped down to avoid debris as they ran through the SUV. The crash, though rough and unpleasant, did not damage the Cadillac enough to stop it.

Cyrus knew there was no way the men were in any shape to fire back at them afterward so he jumped back down into his seat, with the detonator in hand he pushed the button once they were clear of the bridge locking in their escape.

Chapter 36

The nearest hospital was over an hour away, with Wayne behind the wheel they made it there in forty minutes, nearly killing themselves on the frozen roads in the process. The Cadillac held together well enough even as Wayne pushed her into the red. By the time they stopped the engine was smoking and had given out with no chance of starting back up again. The police would find it and eventually return it to Mr. Crawford who was sure to have insurance, but Wayne still felt bad about the shape they had left it in.

They got Craig inside under a false name, Susan was claiming to be his sister and saying they had been robbed at gun point. Fortunately, Wayne and Cyrus were coming back from a trip up north and passed by them on the road, or so their story went. Craig was in rough shape, the nurses didn’t believe their tale, but took him in any way. The county sheriff’s wouldn’t be able to investigate their story due to a massive and mysterious explosion that occurred in a town with no population. If Craig held through the next twenty-four hours there was a chance he’d be okay, for the most part. Once they got him back home he would still be in recovery for months. If Craig was very lucky there would be no long term damage, at least not physically. Mentally, however, was a completely different story. Best case scenario he would spend the rest of his days cursed with PTSD and therapy bills.

Susan had her shoulder put back where it was supposed to be, with no small amount of pain and cursing, and was waiting to hear something about Craig’s status. Cyrus had stepped out to smoke a cigarette, while Wayne was wrestling with the vending machine that had eaten his money. They were all drained from their encounter with Barclay and Wayne thought caffeine and sugar would keep them awake long enough to get some news from the doctor. When he got back to Susan he handed her a soft drink and a small candy bar. He suggested that she get some rest, but she refused, which came as no surprise.

“Any word?” Wayne asked taking a seat next to her. He didn’t realize how depleted he was until he was off his feet.

“Nothing.” Susan stared blankly at her improvised dinner.

“He’ll make it.” Wayne assured her. Honestly Wayne had always believed Craig’s strength to be of character as opposed to pain tolerance. Considering what he went through to keep them safe Wayne realized his opinion was both right and very wrong. Craig took a hell of a beating for them and it was something none of them would ever forget.

“If it’s all the same I’d like to be alone.” Susan said before he had a chance to try and awkwardly comfort her. It had been a long night, for Craig and Susan especially, it was no surprise that she wanted to be alone – Wayne granted her wish.

The hospital was not very big, even though it was responsible for the welfare of residents in four counties. The place looked like it was hardly equipped to deal with anything more than stitches let alone someone hurt as bad as Craig. Outside the main entrance Wayne found Cyrus sitting alone on a bench hunched over with his elbows on his knees, smoking, and staring at the ground. It was clear that Cyrus was dealing with post-rescue fatigue as well. Wayne considered it a small miracle that Cyrus was standing at all, given the day he had, a good soldier if ever he knew one.

“You’re human after all.” Wayne joked as he approached the bench.

“More than I’d care to admit.” Cyrus replied with a light chuckle as Wayne sat down beside him. “How’s Craig and Susan?” Cyrus asked.

“Too early to tell. If he makes it through the night he’ll have a chance. If not…” Wayne trailed off. He didn’t want to consider the possibility that Craig wouldn’t make it, let alone say it out loud. “Susan’s holding up. She didn’t want to talk to me.” Answered Wayne.

“Don’t take it personally.” Cyrus reassured him. “In this merry band of ours she and Craig are the normal ones.”

“We aren’t normal?”

“Nope.” Cyrus scoffed. “Personally, I like to think we’re a bit better, but that’s just me.”

“She blames me and she has every right to.” Wayne didn’t know why he was confiding in Cyrus. He had spent their entire time together doubting the man, but even Wayne had to admit that he came through and saved all of their lives. That, at the very least, earned him a little trust if not respect.

“I doubt it.” Cyrus said and flicked his cigarette into the darkness. “It’s not hard to see how much the three of you mean to one another. Besties, as it were.” Cyrus joked.

“I got them into this. It all happened because of me.” Wayne stated as if Cyrus’s words had fallen on deaf ears.

“Craig will survive and everything will be fine. They’ll forgive you, trust me.” Cyrus assured him.

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because a true friend is almost impossible to find. There aren’t many decent people in this world, but believe me when I say that they lucked out with a man like you.” Cyrus told him. That was a lot to take in, especially from a man like Cyrus. His was a cutthroat business, most times literally, it was little wonder that he was a loner who was more accustomed to betrayal than to friendship – if he believed such a thing even existed.

“I know I can be difficult.” Wayne said in a low tone of voice as if someone would overhear them. “But what you did tonight was…” Wayne trailed off as he thought of the right word. “Honorable.” He finally found it. “Even though you didn’t have anything to gain.” That was Wayne’s poorly constructed thank you. Cyrus gave him an odd look before cracking a smile.

“I know that shit hurt.” Cyrus joked. Wayne laughed involuntarily.

“Truthfully, yes it did.” Wayne laughed. “But you earned it.” Wayne held up his fist and, as was customary among the younger generation of men, they bumped fists, shared a moment of awkward silence after realizing they were far too old to be doing that, and finally exploded into a round of laughter. For a moment they were just two normal guys who met randomly on a bench instead of being blackmailed and forced to work together. In a different world Wayne could have thought of Cyrus as a friend, a brother even.

It hadn’t occurred to Wayne until that moment, understandable after everything that had happened, to inquire after the Southerners interrogation. He had been so concerned about Craig’s condition it simply slipped his mind.

“Did that man tell you anything?” asked Wayne. A disappointed look flashed across Cyrus’s face.

“Hard to say.” Replied Cyrus. “He just kept saying the same things over and over.”

“Which were?”

“She’s still alive.” Cyrus answered.

“Who’s still alive?”

“Lawrence’s wife.” Cyrus motioned like he was trying to remember her name.

“Lilian Monroe? How does she figure into all of this?” Wayne thought out loud. Cyrus shrugged and lit another cigarette.

“Perhaps Barclay and his amateurs were hired to take out the entire family.” Cyrus suggested. Wayne knew that Lawrence had made his fair share of enemies, it stood to reason that Cyrus had the right of it. Barclay was certainly the kind of man who would not only be okay with cutting a whole family to pieces, he’d enjoy it and laugh while he did it.

“Did he say anything else?”

“Aurora Valley.” Cyrus told him. “I was trying to get more out of him when you got the call.” Cyrus explained.

“Any idea what it means?”

“Not a clue.” Cyrus admitted defeat. “There is no valley named Aurora as far as I can tell.” Said Cyrus.

“Well, shit.” Wayne sighed wearily. They did not need another mystery to solve right now, it was nothing that couldn’t wait. After everything that had happened there was no shame in letting it go and he knew that. Lawrence and all of his offspring were dead. Lloyd was still in custody and being charged with the rape and murder of Regina Monroe. Barclay had wrapped everything up nicely with its own little bow. Even if they had the man in the trunk of the Cadillac this very minute there was no way to prove what had happened. Especially since Palmer had turned against them. Whoever was holding Barclay’s leash was going to get away with it and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it.

Tiring of the cold Wayne suggested that they go back inside. Cyrus agreed and, after grinding the remains of his cigarette into the dirt, followed him in. Susan was still waiting for the doctor to bring them news, even if it was bad. The food, such as it was, that Wayne had brought her was left untouched. The three of them sat huddled together in the hallway in total silence.

They waited for almost an hour before word finally came in regards to Craig’s condition. The doctors had done all they could, or so they were told, but in the end it was up to Craig and his desire to live. They were allowed into his room. Susan was all out of tears to cry, when she saw him she simply stared at him like he was already dead.

Susan hadn’t spoken a word to either of them so they let her be. The two of them stood outside the room looking in. The best thing they could do was to give Susan her space. Wayne sat back down in one of the chairs that lined the hallway while Cyrus paced back and forth. Wayne didn’t know how Cyrus still had the energy to stay on his feet or walk around for that matter. Across the hall on the opposite wall was a rack filled with brochures and magazines. Wayne began reading the covers to pass the time, all that did was make his eyes feel heavier. Just as he was about to fall asleep he read something that filled him with a second wind like he had been given a shot of adrenaline.

“You’ve got to be shitting me!” Wayne nearly shouted to the entire night shift as he burst up out of his seat. Cyrus was startled at his outburst and the fact that they had drawn the attention of the night nurses.

“What the hell are you doing?” Cyrus whispered through a fake smile as he waved off the nurses that were looking their way.

“This.” Wayne snatched one of the brochures off the rack and held it up for Cyrus to see. The brochure read Aurora Valley Psychiatric Clinic. Cyrus was left, momentarily, speechless.

“There’s no way to know if it’s the same thing.” Cyrus said skeptically, finally getting over their jaw dropping luck.

“It’s a hell of a coincidence.”

“That’s a stretch even for us.” Cyrus argued.

“I’ll understand if you want to stay.” Wayne told him. Not in a mean-spirited way, but he knew there was no way he could just let it go. Not after everything they had been through. Not after all that had been lost. He would understand if Cyrus was content to leave things as they were.

“No.” Cyrus said bluntly. “There’s no way I’m letting you go alone.” There was genuine sincerity behind his words, Wayne was taken aback by Cyrus’s concern for his wellbeing.

“Okay.” Wayne was more than happy to have the company. “We need to find out where this is. Has to be local.” Wayne stated.

“They should know.” Cyrus pointed to the night nurses. “Go ask them, I’ll tell Susan we’re leaving.” Cyrus said. They agreed and briefly parted ways.

Slowly and quietly, as if somehow he would disturb Craig, Cyrus crept into the room. Susan was sitting in the terribly uncomfortable fold-out chair that was in every room, in every hospital that Cyrus had ever been in.

“What was that all about?” Susan asked, he half expected her to remain silent and broody.

“Wayne may have found a lead.”

“To what?” Susan asked suddenly wide awake and interested in his presence.

“To where Barclay may have gone.” Cyrus answered her with the truth.

“Why!?” Susan exclaimed. “Are you gonna let him finish the job!” She lowered her voice mid-sentence in consideration to Craig.

“I can’t let him go alone.”

“Neither of you should go.” Susan growled. Cyrus didn’t say anything, she was right, but there was no way he could make her understand. “I don’t want you to go.” Susan spoke from the heart.

“I have to.” Cyrus said solemnly.

“I can’t lose you too.” Susan said with teary eyes as if Craig was already gone. Cyrus took her by the hand and held her close.

“I’ve been fighting over half my life and honestly, I wouldn’t know love even if I felt it.” Cyrus caressed her cheek and lifted her chin until her beautiful sapphire eyes met his. “But I will come back. Good or bad, right or wrong, I promise there is nothing that’s going to keep me from you.” Cyrus stared into her eyes and spoke with the certainty of a man who, at a moment’s notice, would’ve killed a thousand men just to make her happy.

“I want you to kill the people who did this to us.” Susan said with hatred in her voice. She had only but to command him and his hands would be hers. “As many as you can find.”

“You have my word.” Cyrus promised her. He dried her eyes and kissed her passionately like she was the only woman in the world, his reason for being. As much as he wanted to stay there was work to be done. He had given his word, there was no stopping him now.

Chapter 37

It took Cyrus a bit longer to acquire a vehicle than it would have taken Susan, but he got the job done and procured a single cab, pick-up truck that was the color of a faded fire engine. Wayne gathered their things from the Cadillac, everything they could use was kept, and the rest was given to Susan for safe keeping. They were almost completely out of ammunition with only a handful of bullets for their side arms and they had used up all of their explosives. Going after Barclay so poorly armed was a terrible plan and, to be honest, was borderline reckless, but they didn’t care. They were both fueled by a need to track the man down and kill him, along with anyone who worked with him.

The nurses turned out to be very helpful. One of them, a sixty-three year old veteran of the profession, freelanced for the clinic every other weekend and practically drew them a map. Cyrus was shocked and amazed that Wayne was able to get the information out of them. For such a monstrously imposing man Wayne could be very persuasive and manipulative when he wanted to be. He had given the ladies a sob story about his mother slowly losing her mind and he needed to find a place that could take care of her, a white lie for the greater good, as Wayne rationalized it.

The clinic they suspected Barclay to be at was further north of the hospital. They could only assume that Barclay had planned on killing them before going to the clinic to take care of Lilian, which explained why he wanted to meet in Alverton. Cyrus hoped Wayne was wrong, in the beginning. The closer they got the more his excitement grew to get another chance to kill The Englishman. Even though he was skeptical, Cyrus had to admit that it was too much of a coincidence to dismiss it.

Of course, there was no way for them to know for sure what they were walking into and they had no plan whatsoever. Playing by ear was one of Cyrus’s specialties. Even with that in mind he didn’t know if they would make it out alive if they crossed paths with Barclay again, but it was too late to turn back.

The directions Wayne had obtained from the nurse had gotten them there quickly by use of back roads, mostly dirt and gravel. As a precaution they did not park close to the building not much unlike they did in Alverton. A bad idea for the rescue, but they did not have to worry about Craig and Susan this time and would not be held back.

The facility was small and couldn’t have housed more than thirty residents, staff not included. The security, or lack thereof, gave the impression that the clinic didn’t treat violent offenders. The building was brightly lit by a collection of snow and outdoor lighting. They were able to see it from over a mile away.

It was designed and built to blend in with the natural foliage of the area to give it a feeling of tranquility. Supposedly to help with the therapy and integration, a big selling point on the brochure. Of course, a small Englishman showing up with a death squad did not factor into the equation. By the sound of things the clinic had already been graced with his presence. After hearing gunfire Wayne and Cyrus closed in on the clinic as fast as they could.

Two black SUV’s were parked at the front entrance. Two of Barclay’s men were keeping watch while the rest took care of the facility, residents and staff alike. They took a knee behind a well-maintained thicket of ferns on the outer edge of the property. Checking their weapons they only had five bullets between them. Not nearly enough to get through the front door.

“Thoughts?” Cyrus asked as he looked at the three bullets in his hand with a sigh before loading them into his gun.

“We won’t make it through the front with what we have.” Wayne said. Cyrus looked around for another way in. Even though security was lacking the building would still have advanced locks on the doors. Key pads and magnetics, most likely Cyrus thought to himself. Roof access was out of the question, unless they wanted to climb a tree or shimmy up a drain pipe, though they both knew they were too old for that nonsense.

A few staff members littered the parking lot, all dead. Cyrus assumed they had been heading home when Barclay showed up. They were too late to help them now and they’d be of no use to anyone inside if they couldn’t solve the problem.

“Maybe we could set off one of the car alarms on the other end of the parking lot.” Wayne suggested.

“That might work. I could circle around behind them, just there, if you can sneak down.” Cyrus planned out loud and drew a path for them with his hands. Cyrus retrieved a switch blade, six inches in length, and handed it to Wayne. “We should save the guns until we need them.” Cyrus commented before taking out an identical knife for himself.

“I’ll wait for you to get into position before setting off the alarm.” Wayne said as he admired the knife. After ironing out the kinks in their flawed plan they set it in motion.

Sticking to the areas where the brush was thickest Cyrus kept to the shadows as he made his way around to the edge of the building. He managed to remain unseen while taking up his position. He gave the ready signal and Wayne made his way down into the parking lot, ducking behind cover whenever the guards looked in his direction. Wayne picked a young model car, one more likely to have a motion sensor alarm and gave it a hard shove. Nothing happened. He tried again, same result. Frustrated by making no progress Wayne crawled around to the back of the car and with his elbow he forcefully hit the back bumper hard enough to set off the alarm.

As planned the alarmed blared and echoed through the trees, immediately putting the guards on alert. It was successful in drawing them away from the front door. They closed in faster than Cyrus anticipated, Wayne was blocked in and sure to be spotted and likely killed if he didn’t act swiftly.

Breaking from cover Cyrus rapidly cleared the distance between them, but attracted their attention in the process. Cyrus, running at full sprint, got to the first guard before he raised his weapon. Instinctively Cyrus stabbed the guard in the eye with a firm and decisive thrust. The second guard was startled, he was almost certainly a rookie, triggering his reflexes and caused him to fire in their direction – shooting his own man by mistake. The force of the bullets knocked the guard into Cyrus and took him off his feet, pinning him on the ground. Before the rookie could get a clean shot to finish the job Wayne crept up from behind and planted his knife in the side of the rookie’s neck, with an aggressive yank Wayne ripped out the knife taking most of the rookie’s throat along with it. The kid was dead before he hit the ground.

Wayne helped Cyrus to his feet, after taking a moment to thank each other they quickly stripped the guards of their weapons and extra ammunition. They had enough firepower to move into the building and save as many people as they could. Barclay remained the primary target, if he was even there at all.

Cyrus had never served in the military, but had worked closely with several men and women who had throughout his youth. Wayne led them through the door like he had been trained to do as a young soldier. Cyrus was more than capable of keeping in step with him as they cleared the first floor room by room, killing Barclay’s men wherever they found them. The first floor was reserved for the larger rooms, places where the residents would gather during the day. The size of the rooms made them easy to clear. Most of the residents were confined to their bedrooms this time of night, all of which were on the second floor. The kitchen staff were in the middle of preparing breakfast, it was still burning on the stove as they passed through the galley. Nurses, doctors, and even the janitors where all over the place. The scene reminded Wayne of what the Monroe estate looked like the last time he was there. With gunfire going off all over the building they didn’t raise any suspicions as they cut their way up the stairs. Barclay had left his remaining men to clean up the place, less than half of what he used to ambush them.

They had taken care of the second floor with as much ease and precision as they did the first. Coming up next was the security office. The wall facing into the hallway was made of glass, for obvious reasons. Three men where tearing the office apart by order of the Shooter. At the very sight of Barclay’s lieutenant Wayne fired wildly into the room not hitting much. Cyrus followed his lead and fired as well, killing the men that followed the Shooter. Once they were gone the Shooter gave up without a fight, Wayne seemed disappointed.

“Put your hands up!” Wayne roared as he entered the room. Cyrus positioned himself in the door to keep an eye on the hallway. Wayne searched the Shooter, taking a small caliber pistol out of his jacket. The very same one the Shooter tried to kill him with the first time they met.

“Where’s Barclay?” Cyrus asked him.

“He’s long gone.” The Shooter answered with a grin. He didn’t look the least bit concerned about them.

“What are you people doing here?” Wayne asked after he was satisfied that he was unarmed.

“My job.” The Shooter replied obnoxiously. Wayne disapproved of his attitude and hit him with the butt of his gun and forced him into a nearby desk chair. “Do what you want to me.” The Shooter seemed unfazed by Wayne’s method of questioning. “You’ll get nothing.” He spit in their direction, Wayne hit him again.

Seeing the man again was something Wayne had been looking forward to ever since they rescued Craig. Cyrus, being the man that he was, didn’t interfere. He understood better than most that desire, that drive, for revenge. In most cases it was all consuming, but Cyrus had no intention of letting it go that far.

“What are you doing here?” Wayne asked again and again. Every time the Shooter refused to answer Wayne hit him again. Cyrus knew the type of man the Shooter was by the way he carried himself. There was no way they were going to get anything out of him, but if beating him made Wayne feel better then so be it – it wasn’t like he didn’t have it coming.

There was no more gunfire, Cyrus assumed they had killed what men Barclay had left behind. The floor was silent, apart from Wayne asking the Shooter questions and being upset by the answers, or lack thereof. Cyrus could faintly hear whimpering coming from inside the room and not from the Shooter.

The men who had accompanied the Shooter were too concerned with destroying the security footage to check the room’s closet. With his gun at the ready Cyrus stacked up on the door while Wayne covered the Shooter. Mouthing the words Cyrus counted down from three and flung open the door. It was opened with such force that it hit the wall behind it with a loud booming sound. Cyrus had to keep it from flying back at him with his foot and pointed his weapon into the shadows of the closet.

“Come out, now.” Cyrus growled at the figure huddled in the dark. Out of the small space a middle aged man crawled out on his hands and knees. Before Cyrus had a chance to say anything the man started sniveling and crying all the while begging them not to kill him. Cyrus had to threaten the man just to get him to stop.

“Who are you?” Cyrus asked impatiently.

“Felix Gutiérrez.” The man sobbed as he introduced himself. He made a point to keep his eyes on the floor thinking if he didn’t see their faces they wouldn’t kill him.

“Look at me!” Cyrus demanded with a deep growl as he pinned Felix up against the wall. It took a moment for Felix to make eye contact with him. “What are you doing here?” Cyrus asked.

“I’m the head of security.” Felix stammered.

“What were you doing in there?”

“Hiding, there were too many of them. There was nothing I could do.” Felix cried.

“That’s not important.” Wayne reminded them. “Can you fix these?” He asked in regards to the computers.

“Yes I can!” Felix replied overeager to please them. He clearly still thought they were going to kill him.

“Calm down. We’re here for him not you.” Cyrus said and let him go. Felix quickly began salvaging what was left of the computer systems. For the first time since they showed up the Shooter looked anxious. Wayne caught the reaction.

“What’s wrong? Something there you don’t want us to see?” He mocked, clearly savoring the moment before hitting him again. Only one of the computer monitors were working, Felix was desperately trying to find what they were looking for. He made surprising progress given the pressure he was under. Whatever the camera’s had caught was something Barclay had gone to great lengths to cover up and he didn’t strike Cyrus as the kind of man to give second chances.

The Shooter, in an impulsive and fanatical attempt to complete his mission, went for Wayne’s gun. They struggled momentarily before Wayne accidentally discharged his weapon filling the Shooter with five rounds. Cyrus, nearly taking one himself, had to dodge out of the way. Felix stopped what he was doing and hit the floor, curling into the fetal position.

“Goddamn it Wayne!” Cyrus shouted at him from the floor. Wayne had the look of a child who had broken his mother’s favorite china.

“Sorry.” He said, helped Felix to his feet, and apologized again. They simply stared at the body while Felix finished up his work. Cyrus pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head, Wayne had a slack-jawed smile on his face. Cyrus was about to give him an earful when the computer monitor started working again.

Felix exclaimed proudly when it began playing a random video file. Putting a pin in what happened to the Shooter they had Felix find the footage from the beginning of the night. It took some doing but he eventually located it.

Barclay had escorted a man, who appeared to be in his mid-fifties, into the building. They were met by a nurse, after a brief conversation the woman led them upstairs to the patient rooms. The video feed was from the lobby camera only. Felix tried as hard as he could but there was only one angle from which they could view what had transpired. Barclay and the mystery man returned with a woman, not the nurse, who was clearly a patient. As they exited the building Barclay gave the signal and his men flooded the clinic killing everyone in their path. Felix whimpered as he relived the moment. Wayne made him rewind the footage and freeze it on the man and woman Barclay traveled with.

“Is that Lilian Monroe?” Cyrus asked. He had never seen the matriarch of the Monroe clan but who else would they have come for? Wayne squinted and focused on the screen. The photographs he had seen of Lilian were fifteen years old. While she had been a very beautiful woman then, the passage of time in this place had not been kind to her. Even though she had changed Wayne could still tell it was her. More importantly he recognized the man that came for her.

“That’s Lloyd’s lawyer.” Wayne was more than a little confused.

“What?” Cyrus asked, equally as confused.

“I saw him when Palmer interrogated Lloyd about Regina’s murder.” Wayne explained.

“Why would he be here” Cyrus thought aloud.

“He said he was her brother.” Felix told them still trying to be helpful. “He stabbed the nurse to get her out. I found her when all this started.” Felix said and cursed in Spanish.

Wayne and Cyrus shared a look. A high profile lawyer and blood relative to Lilian Monroe, if it were true, wouldn’t be hard to find. Especially for Susan, who would be more than happy to hijack a government satellite if that’s what it took. Wayne put his gun down on the desk and stepped out to make the call. Cyrus took a moment to wipe their prints off the weapons, even though his weren’t in the system one could never be too careful. Afterward Cyrus turned to Felix.

“Now Felix, this is very important.” He began, Felix was sweating profusely. “We’re going to leave now. When we do you wait ten minutes and then call the police, you understand?” Cyrus asked. Felix nodded in confirmation. “When they show up, tell them you killed the bad guys and saved the day. Do not tell them about us or the people in the video. Are we clear?” Cyrus asked.

“Perfectly.” Felix assured him.

“I’d hate to have to see you again Felix.” Cyrus threatened him one last time before swiftly taking his leave.

Chapter 38

Wayne and Cyrus were gone well before the police arrived, every trace of their presence being erased or destroyed. Felix would say exactly what Cyrus had told him to, they would read about his heroic efforts in the papers over the next few weeks. The media, in all its wisdom, would speculate toward a prescription drug connection to explain the presence of the private military that lay dead in the clinic. They only managed to save seven patients leaving no one but Felix to tell the tale. After the cops cleared him, Felix could not be reached for comment. Some weeks later Felix was involved in a mysterious car accident, the case quickly went cold after that.

If anyone could find their mystery man it was Susan, especially since she was so heavily invested in the case. Even working with one arm she would still have an address for them by the time they got back to the city. At full speed she was truly terrifying with a keyboard. Cyrus was sure that, given enough time, she might have even been able to track down things about him, things he paid a high price to conceal. They rode back in a blanket of awkward silence. Cyrus was still upset that the Shooter was dead even though that couldn’t be helped. Wayne had apologized several times through a thinly veiled smile. Cyrus eventually forgave him, given the circumstances he couldn’t hold it against Wayne for killing him. It would have ended like that anyway, but Cyrus would have liked to gotten some answers first.

They rode into town on the eight lane super-highway that would take them into the heart of the city. It was early in the morning, sunrise was not far off, and the night life crowd was shuffling on home with the exception of the one’s who had gotten lucky – they’d be doing the walk of shame in a few hours. Cyrus had let his mind wander a bit before being interrupted by Susan’s phone call. Cyrus did not want Wayne to take his hands off the wheel so he reached into the center console and put his phone on speaker.

“Find anything?” Wayne spoke loudly at the phone like she couldn’t hear him.

“Yes, stop yelling at me.” Susan shouted sarcastically back into the phone. Keeping a sense of humor, especially now, was a good sign Susan was handling the stress well. “The lawyers name is Russell Ackerman. He’s a partner at an uptown law firm that could literally get you off for anything.” Susan shared her findings.

“Where you able to find a home address?” Wayne asked.

“There was nothing in his name, like, at all.” Susan told them.

“What? How is that possible?” Wayne asked. Cyrus knew the answer but Susan beat him to it.

“It took some digging, which is why it took so long, but it turns out he has his assets hidden under companies his law firm owns. Technically he doesn’t own anything, which is why he was so hard to find.” Susan explained. Cyrus did the same thing through numerous shell companies that moved his money all around the world.

“Yeah he’s definitely hiding something. Did you find anything in the company’s assets?” Wayne asked.

“Interestingly enough, yes.” Susan went on ignoring the fact he felt the need to ask. “The law firm owns several penthouses all over the city. Most likely so they can bang their prostitutes in peace.” Susan got side tracked. “Most of them are only used once or twice a month, but one uses enough power to suggest someone lives there. Either that or someone goes through a lot of prostitutes.” Susan said with a disgusted tone of voice.

“Still need that address.” Cyrus laughed and lit a cigarette. Susan gave them the address and reminded Cyrus of his promise, as if he had forgotten. Wayne had the good sense not to ask about it after the phone call ended. Cyrus was thankful Wayne kept his questions to himself. It was foolish to think the two of them could have been friends, but Cyrus allowed himself the fantasy and did not want to ruin it by confessing to homicidal intentions.

The penthouse Susan sent them to was perfectly positioned in the center of the city with a spectacular view on all sides. The penthouse was built on top of an apartment building for the cities elite, judges, elected officials, and fortune 500 CEO’s just to name a few. The comfort and feel of the suburbs with the convenience of a perfect location. The price of such a thing was staggering.

Wayne parked across the street for the entrance to avoid suspicion. There was a single man in the lobby, they had expected an army to be waiting for them. There’s no way it’s going to be this easy. Cyrus thought to himself.

“What do you think?” Wayne asked.

“The door may as well say members only.” Cyrus commented. The doorman, despite his job title, was not standing anywhere near the door. He was sitting at a desk further inside, undoubtedly attached to a panic button that was connected directly to the police station around the corner. “I’m thinking we pretend to be drunk, looking for a girl who gave us the wrong address.” Cyrus suggested with a mischievous smile on his face.

“You really think that’ll work?” Wayne asked skeptically.

“Probably, well enough to get us in the door at the very least.” Cyrus estimated.

“What then?” Wayne laughed at his bravado.

“Stick him in a closet and show ourselves to the penthouse.” Cyrus explained nonchalantly.

With full confidence in his plan Cyrus got out of the car and made his way across the street, Wayne followed. They approached the entrance from the side, both laughed and stumbled through the door as if one of them had told a hilarious joke moments before they entered. It was a con Cyrus had used in the past to get into places he was not wanted. Drunks were always annoying and unwelcome, but security guards were required to make them leave without violence or police involvement if at all possible. The doorman was no different. With a confused and bothered look the doorman came around the desk and attempted to corral them as they stumbled around the lobby.

“My man!” Wayne bellowed loudly as he fumbled to shake the man’s hand. “I’m looking for a girl named Jessica.” Wayne slurred his words rather convincingly.

“There is no Jessica here! Both of you need to leave!” The doorman exclaimed. Cyrus broke away from them and stumbled further into the lobby.

“Oh you’d remember this girl!” Wayne tried to keep his attention away from Cyrus. “Tall, blonde, ass that’d make you cry!” Wayne cried out like he was a preacher selling religion to the masses. He was laying it on thick, the doorman didn’t catch Cyrus until he was at the security desk.

“You can’t go back there!” The doorman shouted and chased after them.

“Dude! Where’s the bathroom in this shit hole?” Cyrus asked rudely as he turned the corner to the elevators, ignoring the doorman completely. Cyrus rounded the corner to get out of the view from the street. The last thing they needed was a civilian alerting the authorities. The doorman, angry at this point, grabbed Cyrus by the arm in an attempt to drag him out by force. Cyrus turned quickly and with a forceful hand gripped the doorman tightly by the throat and forced him against the wall. Naturally the doorman tried to fight back, a sad attempt really, but passed out within seconds. Afterward Cyrus let the man’s body fall to the floor like a rag doll.

Wayne was already hunched over the computer at the desk. Without a key the elevator wouldn’t move an inch. From his desk the doorman had control over it, in case of visitors. Wayne called the elevator down while Cyrus hid the doorman in the corner behind a grouping of fake plants. Sadly there was no closet or small room forcing him to improvise. With the classic Ding! The elevator doors opened. Wayne and Cyrus shared a look before stepping into it. One way or another they were going to find the answers that so many people had died to keep secret.

Chapter 39

The elevator doors opened, Wayne and Cyrus stepped out swiftly and silently with their guns drawn. Quickly they both ducked behind the nearest cover they could find only to realize that there were no guards in the penthouse either, there was no one, not even servants. This was certainly the kind of place that would have servants if nothing else. Hesitantly, they both stepped out and looked around the room. Cyrus looked at Wayne, who shrugged before they began to wonder about the house.

The penthouse itself was extravagant and well furnished, clearly professionally decorated with a blank check. It was a real shame what would end up happening to it. It didn’t take them long to find Russell, who was sitting in front of the fire place with no fear or surprise that they had found him.

Lilian was with him, sitting perfectly still on the couch, staring into the fire as if she were seeing it for the first time. Russell didn’t look up at them as they entered the room, their weapons didn’t faze him. He simply ignored them, moved to where she was sitting and began to gently stroke her long white hair.

“Russell Ackerman?” Wayne asked unsure of what he was seeing.

“As good a name as any.” Russell replied indifferently.

“Get away from her!” Cyrus demanded with a low growl. That got Russell’s attention.

“You two.” Russell scoffed slightly offended by their company. “I knew we should have killed you the moment you left Lawrence’s house.” Russell commented. He stood up quickly, Wayne thumbed back the hammer of his pistol. Unconcerned Russell walked to a small table, on top of it were several crystal decanters, and poured himself a drink. “Who would have thought that an alcoholic detective and a mercenary could undo so many years of planning.” Russell laughed like it was an outlandish scenario that could never have happened in a million years, but here they stood.

“We’ve got a natural talent for fucking things up” Cyrus said coldly. “We’re kindred spirits in that way.” Cyrus moved to position himself between Lilian and Russell. Wayne crouched down in front of Lilian to make sure she was alright.

Wayne had no medical training of any kind, but even he knew something was wrong. Lilian was still staring into nothingness, there was no life behind her grey eyes – she was dead inside. Wayne had seen a great deal of terrible things in his lifetime, but the look on her face felt otherworldly and would haunt him until the day he died. He could hardly stand to look at her, there was nothing they could do. They were too late by a number of years, the damage had been done.

There had been very little information about Lilian, the entire world thought she was dead all this time – better if she had been. The drugs that would have helped her, had she a real mental illness, turned her brain into a soft paste. To make matters worse Wayne was beginning to think it had been done to her intentionally. He stood up, horrified by what had been done to her.

“You need to explain this, but be warned, I may kill you if I don’t like what I hear.” Wayne explained through his teeth.

“And he’s the one who doesn’t like killing.” Cyrus added. Russell took a moment to think about his options.

“So, it’s the truth you’re after? That’s what you’ve come so far and killed so many to find?” Russell scoffed like the truth was nothing more than a farfetched ideal that had been long dead or forgotten by modern civilization.

“We’ll listen to what you have to say.” Cyrus assured him that, if nothing else.

“And if you don’t like what I have to say you’ll kill me?”

“Yes.” Cyrus said coldly. Russell stared at them both and decided they, if no one else, deserved the truth, for better or worse.

“Twenty-five years ago Lilian met Lawrence Monroe. A widower with a young boy he had no idea how to take care of.” Russell turned away from them and spoke at the fireplace that was roaring behind him and began the long, tragic tale of the history that played a hand in the events of the last two days. “She fell in love with him soon after. Big love, mad love.” Russell used his hands to accent the phrase. “Eventually they married. It did not take long for him to alienate Lilian from her friends and family. I wasn’t even aware Regina had been born until after Lawrence declared her dead.” Russell explained.

“Why did he do that?” Wayne interjected.

“She was going to leave him.” Russell replied grimly. He turned to look at Lilian, who was still staring at nothing. “In this day and age it must seem silly for a man to go to such lengths to control those he claims to love.” Russell commented.

“Why not just divorce her?” Cyrus asked. The concept of marriage was as outlandish to him just as love had been, that is until he met Susan.

“Marrying her opened many doors for Lawrence. Through which most of his fortune was made. If she had divorced him the man would have been left a raw, quivering heap.” The thought made Russell smile. “Lilian’s only crime was wanting a better marriage.” The smile soon faded.

“To you?” Wayne was putting the pieces together, finally.

“Yes.” Russell admitted.

“You’re not her brother.” Wayne stated.

“No. Lilian and I met when I was in law school through a mutual friend. I fell in love with her the moment I laid eyes on her, but I was too timid to tell her how I truly felt and I missed my opportunity.” Said Russell. “By a stroke of luck or fate or chance we reconnected seventeen years ago by randomly running into each other on the street. It was a fortuitous turn of events, for us both, or at least we thought so at the time.” Russell remembered the day fondly.

“You had an affair?” Cyrus asked, it was not hard to see that was where the story was going.

“Yes.” Russell admitted with shame in his voice. “And it was I who convinced her to get a divorce. I am responsible for what that monster did to her. She’s been trapped in that place for nearly seventeen years because of ME!” Russell roared and threw his glass into the fireplace causing the flames to enlarge for a brief moment.

“Why kill his children?” Wayne asked after making sure Russell was calm.

“Henry wanted to follow a girl to a college he was nowhere near smart enough to get into on his own.” Russell took a deep shaky breath. “The whoreson agreed to go along with the story Lawrence cooked up for a larger trust fund. He was just as guilty as his father.” Russell spit into the flames.

“And Regina?” Cyrus asked, the question that started everything.

“I met Regina for the first time five months ago. She was interning for Lloyd Walker. My law firm runs his legal team.” Russell explained.

“You knew about her and Lloyd?” Wayne asked.

“Of course.” Russell scoffed like the question was stupid. “Who do you think told Lawrence about it?” He posed a rhetorical question of his own.

“Why would you do that?” Cyrus asked dumbfounded.

“While working with her I did the math.” Russell began.

“She was your daughter, not Lawrence’s.” Cyrus had done the math as well. A revelation neither he nor Wayne could have possibly fathomed.

“Yes.” Russell answered. “Working closely with her, it was not hard to steal a DNA sample, but I missed sixteen years of her life. I was not her father. I went to Lawrence, hat in hand, and begged him to put an end to it. He remembered me, Lilian had told him about the connection Regina and I shared a long time ago.” Russell went on. “Even so, I thought he would do the right thing. Instead, he used my daughter to gain more money and more power.” Russell balled his fists tightly like he was ready to erupt with rage.

“Did you kill Regina?” Wayne demanded an answer instead of more tragic family history.

“No.” Russell said meekly.

“Then who did!?” Wayne shouted and shook his gun at Russell.

“Lloyd Walker. He made it look like the other murders that the cities been having.”

“Why? Better to just to get rid of the body.” Cyrus voiced his opinion with the certainty that came with his expertise.

“To distract the police. If I hadn’t planted the evidence, saw to its revelation, and employed detective Palmer his crime would have never been discovered. However, I couldn’t predict Lawrence would outsource the work.” Russell revealed to them the answer they had been looking for but not the one they wanted. Having Lloyd in custody they could have ended the investigation then and there. Instead, they suffered until they found the truth, truth that was absolute. Somehow hearing it from Russell, Lloyd’s guilt was solidified by the story.

“So you had Palmer ask me to work the case.” Wayne said, suddenly believing that Russell was telling the truth, there was no doubt in his mind. They had been played from the start. “To keep tabs on us.” Wayne added.

“That’s correct.” Russell told him. The old man appeared to be genuinely sorrowful for the things he had done, but that held no meaning to either of them now.

“This was all about revenge for a woman’s life you helped ruin?” Wayne was clearly upset like he did not want to believe that it was all for nothing.

“And you inadvertently caused the death of the child you shared.” Cyrus added simply to salt the wound.

“In simple terms, yes. It was a wrong I had to make right.” Russell tried to justify himself, but Wayne couldn’t have cared less about his reasoning.

“You need to be called to account for the things you’ve done.” Wayne said as if he was going to arrest him.

“By all means, call the police.” Russell said daringly. “You have no evidence against me and no proof that I was involved in any wrongdoing. I won’t spend a single day in prison. Mr. Barclay was money well spent.” Russell rubbed their noses in it.

“So, what happens now?” Cyrus directed the question to Wayne who stood there in stunned silence. Russell had the right of it. There was no way anything that had happened could be brought against him in a court of law. Forgetting the fact Russell was one of the finest lawyers in the city, most of what they had done to find him was extremely illegal.

“I don’t know.” Wayne said indecisively. Cyrus knew what he was thinking, hell they both were. Of course, Cyrus was not morally limited like his honorable counterpart.

“It’s okay.” Cyrus whispered to his friend before double tapping Russell into the fireplace. He stood there staring blankly at the body as Russell’s jacket caught fire. It felt like he stood there for an eternity. In his life Cyrus never took any joy in the act of killing, barring a brief period in the late nineties, but he had never been more satisfied than he was now. It felt right in a way it had never been before, righteous even.

Wayne watched, but did nothing. Just like that fateful night when Craig had the murderer, Robert Powell, on his knees. Both men deserved to die and Wayne let it happen for a second time. He knew it was wrong but there was no other way. The two of them stood and watched Russell’s body burn.

“What about her?” Cyrus asked referring to Lilian. “We can’t just leave her and there is no way I’m sending her back to that place, not after all that’s happened.” He stated before Wayne had a chance to voice an opinion. Neither of them spoke at first. They simply watched Lilian, who appeared to have no knowledge of what had just happened. The very sight of her made them both want to cry and see their own mothers again, even Cyrus.

“Go wait in the truck.” Cyrus said finally. Wayne stared at him with wide eyes. He knew what Cyrus was thinking but saw no better alternative. With a heavy heart Wayne did as he was told. With one final look he turned and left the apartment.

The idea of killing a harmless old woman made Cyrus’s eyebrow twitch. Killing her was not something he wanted to do but leaving her there somehow felt crueler. It could be argued that Cyrus was a sociopath, he wouldn’t disagree, but there were lows even he wouldn’t stoop to. This ranked somewhere between killing a politician’s kid and massacring a peaceful village for an oil company. Even so, it did not take him long to make his decision.

“I don’t know if you’re religious or not. Never had much use for it myself, but then again I’m fairly certain I’ll be going to hell.” Cyrus lit a cigarette and was careful not to blow the smoke in her face. “As a whole I believe it to be ridiculous superstition, weak people praying for strength they don’t deserve.” Cyrus said as he gently lowered Lilian onto the couch, he crossed her arms across her chest and made sure she was comfortable. “It’s not your fault that Lawrence turned out to be an evil man. Henry wasn’t far off, but Regina didn’t deserve what happened. I truly hope you find her on the other side.” Cyrus told her, fighting back his emotions as he grabbed a throw pillow from the couch. He knew it was the right thing to do, but he had to work up to it like it was his first time. If the situation was reversed he’d want someone to do it for him. “Don’t be afraid.” He told her as he wiped tears from her eyes.

“You won’t feel any pain and when you wake up you’ll be free of all this.” Cyrus said in a calm voice as he gently placed the pillow over her face. With his final bullet Cyrus placed the barrel of his gun over the pillow and sent Lilian on her way. Cyrus allowed himself a brief moment of humanity and shed a tear for a woman he had never met. Spreading some of Russell’s flammable liquor onto the floor around his body, Cyrus threw the decanter into the fireplace and left it to burn.

Chapter 40

Cyrus appeared contrite, remorseful even, as Wayne watched him cross the street. The penthouse was engulfed in flames by the time Cyrus made it back down to the car. The automated fire alarms had gone off causing the residents to stampede out of the building behind him. They were panicked, in their pajamas, and flooding into the street.

Cyrus was quiet while he climbed into the passenger seat. Wayne knew what he had done and though he didn’t agree with it, he knew it was the right thing, the only thing they could have done. Russell would never have seen the inside of a jail cell, his plan was air tight. Lilian would never had recovered from what Lawrence had done to her and would be sent back into the very place that ruined her to begin with. Cyrus had given her mercy, such as it was. The thought of it turned Wayne’s stomach. In a way, Wayne believed him to be the better man, he knew when push came to shove there was no way he could have done what was needed. Wayne gave no voice to his thoughts. Cyrus had made the hard choice and, for better or worse, would have to live with it the rest of his life. Wayne would never tell the man to his face, but he was thankful Cyrus had been there to make the call.

If the truth of what happened were to be discovered Cyrus would be painted as a monster, no better, or perhaps worse, than any other criminal walking the streets at night waiting to rape, maim, and murder. Maybe he wasn’t, but Wayne no longer thought so. It was easier for Cyrus to believe he was too far gone to be a good man. Wayne liked to believe that he and Susan were having a positive effect on him.

“You okay?” Wayne asked even though he knew he shouldn’t.

“I’m alright.” Cyrus replied calmly as he lit a cigarette. From what he could see Cyrus wasn’t lying. He had a peaceful look about him, like a man who was suddenly free of burden.

“Let’s go back to the hospital. Susan will want to know what happened.” Wayne suggested while turning the engine over, Cyrus agreed.

The ride back was slow and relaxing. The last two days had been a forced march through hell and back, but somehow they made it, help from his friends was the only thing that got Wayne through. He needed to make sure Craig was okay, but he had every intention of driving to his wife’s house and giving thanks to god that he survived long enough to see his family again. The heartbreaking history between Russell and Lilian had given him a new respect for family.

The doctors, though limited in staff and supplies, had done their work well. Craig had woken up to see the sun rise through the window in his room. Wayne and Cyrus arrived sometime after. Susan hadn’t left his side and was waiting on him hand and foot. Wayne could see Craig wanted her to stop, but was too nice to tell her so. Cyrus stopped to have a cigarette and hadn’t followed him in. When Wayne walked into the room Susan thought the worst, but he assured her that they had both made it back alive and that Cyrus was waiting for her outside. Eagerly Susan rushed out of the room to go find him. With a smile Wayne took a seat next to the bed.

“Thought we lost you brother.” Wayne couldn’t hide how happy he was that Craig had survived and greeted him with a huge smile.

“You almost did.” Craig said and grunted in pain as he slid up the bed into a seated position.

“How much do you remember?” Wayne asked.

“Not much.” Craig lied, but Wayne thought it better not to push the matter.

“I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am for getting you mixed up in this.” Wayne tried to apologize, but Craig stopped him with a wave of his hand.

“Don’t do that.” Craig said between breaths. Sitting up had taken a lot out of him. “If anything I got you into this when I shot Robert Powell.” Craig said remorsefully. “Just tell me it’s over.” Craig wanted, needed, to hear the words even if they were lies.

“It is.” Wayne said with a nod. “More or less.” He added.

“What does that mean?” Craig asked. Even half dead the man was still a reporter.

“Everyone who knows what really happened is dead.” Wayne confessed. Craig had been through too much for him to lie.

“Barclay?”

“In the wind.” Wayne admitted. The thought of the Brit made both of them cringe. “But he got his money and has no reason to return” Wayne assured him. “Once you’re on your feet we’ll take you home and put all of this behind us.”

“Sounds good.” Craig slurred his words slightly as the drugs began to take effect.

“You’re tougher than you look.” Wayne commented. “For a nerd.” Wayne joked. Craig laughed and winced in pain.

“Don’t make me laugh!” Craig exclaimed trying hard to stifle his laughter.

“Well, I just wanted to see that pretty smile.” Wayne mocked. “That and when I ask about my car I wanted you to have a happy thought before I smother you with that pillow.” Wayne told him. Craig sucked air through his teeth as a sign that bad news was coming.

Susan found Cyrus at the entrance smoking, just as Wayne had said. Overcome with joy and thankful they had made it back she lunged at him and latched on with both arms. Taken by surprise Cyrus nearly fell over as she clung to his neck, her feet dangling off the ground. Cyrus chuckled and squeezed her tightly with his free hand.

“How’d it go?” Susan asked once she was back on the ground. The look on Cyrus’s face told her a different story than his words. Knowing that he had only done what she asked him to do Susan began to feel guilt. At the time all she felt was rage, staring at Craig’s broken body all night had left her with a deep need for revenge. She had no illusions as to the kind of man Cyrus was and knew full well when he agreed to kill in her name that he would do just that.

“It’s over.” Cyrus told her. “For now anyway.” He added.

“Did you?” Susan began to ask about what had happened, but a nurse walked past them on her way home.

“Yes.” Cyrus answered her. “The man who caused all of this is dead.” He told her once the nurse was out of earshot. Afterward he told her what had happened. Everything. What Russell had done, what had been done to Lilian, and, more importantly, what he had done to them.

“I’m so sorry I made you do that.” Susan said. Even after all the tears she had cried for Craig during the night it turned out she still had some in the tank for Lilian.

“You didn’t make me do anything.” Cyrus told her “I chose to do this. That man deserved to die same as Lawrence, and Lilian…” Cyrus said her name through gritted teeth. “I couldn’t leave her like that. I’m not ashamed of it, but I’d be lying if I said there wouldn’t be a few rough nights ahead of me. It’s nothing I can’t handle.” Cyrus told her with a reassuring smile. It was hardly enough to ease Susan’s mind, but clearly Cyrus wanted to move past it so she let it go.

“What do we do now?” Susan asked.

“We go home.” Cyrus smiled as he thought about their future. “We’ll have sex until we can’t walk, order food that’s bad for us, and move on with our lives. Eventually this will just be another story we can’t tell anyone.” Cyrus laughed.

“As awesome as that sounds I’m gonna have to take care of Craig, He was tortured for us after all.” Susan said with a frown.

“I’ll hire a hot male nurse to take care of him. That’s for him as much as it is for us.” Cyrus laughed as he held her in his arms.

Chapter 41

Three days after their less than triumphant victory over Russell and surviving their run in with Barclay, Craig was discharged from the hospital. It would be a few months before Wayne would see them again and it would be under less than ideal circumstances. From their Cyrus and Susan took Craig back home to the city. Wayne found his car exactly where it had been left, almost completely buried in snow, and drove it straight to Bridget and Keith as planned. As he agreed, Wayne told her everything about what had happened. It took some time, but eventually Bridget forgave him and took him back. Frankly, the possibility of never seeing him again reminded her of how much she really loved him.

True to his word Wayne gave up alcohol and detective work altogether, both cold turkey. With the support of his family it was far easier than he expected it to be. For the first time in so many long years Wayne was truly happy. However, Wayne did keep track of Lloyd’s trial. There was another abduction during his incarceration, which ruled him out as The Wolf, even though the population still regarded him with a high level of disgust. It took the courts two months to convict him of the rape and murder of Regina Monroe. Anyone who defended him quickly threw Lloyd under the bus once the verdict was cast down. His son, Curtis, was the victim of a robbery gone wrong, as the media described it, but it was widely speculated to be a paid hit.

Unbeknownst to anyone, especially Wayne, a month into Lloyd’s stay at the state penitentiary Cyrus donated a great deal of money to see to it that Lloyd’s life sentence was as unpleasant as possible. For a rapist and child murderer prison would have been terrible even without Cyrus’s bribes. Barclay was not heard from again, Cyrus would spend months looking for him without Susan’s knowledge.

After that, life went on as it always does. Craig recovered from his wounds, though he lost vision in his left eye. He still keeps a standing appointment two days a week with a therapist that he thinks no one knows about. As for Cyrus, he kept his word to Susan and, once Craig recovered, they didn’t leave her apartment for a month. Cyrus fought the urge to run off in the middle of the night, as he did so often in the past, but against his better judgment he stayed. He and Susan had finally found someone as screwed up as each of them were and you don’t walk away from something so precious, costs be damned.

Wayne, with no skills that did not pertain to detective work, ended up being the one thing he swore he would never become. He took a job as a mechanic at a shop his father worked at before moving to his childhood home. Much to his surprise Wayne found comfort and a profound sense of pride in his work. Coming home at the end of the day smelling of sweat and covered in motor oil was far better than the stink of whiskey and a head full of blood and murder.

Time went on like that for a while, Wayne loved the routine. It reminded him of the military. The relationship between Wayne and Bridget was better than it had been in years. They made love on a daily basis and were even considering having another child. Keith was particularly excited about the idea. Bridget, being Bridget, wanted to meet Cyrus and Susan, the people responsible for helping her husband find his way home and insisted that he invited them over for dinner.

She had been after him about it for some time, finally breaking down Wayne set it up on his way to work, or at least that’s what he told Bridget. He did invite Cyrus and Susan to dinner but he didn’t go into work, he took a personal day. This was a day he had been waiting for since the end of the Monroe case. Months of invested time and research were about to pay off.

Wayne was sitting in the back of a late model sedan that was on its last leg. He had been sitting there for over twenty minutes when the owner finally returned. Opening the driver side door the owner tossed a duffel bag into the passenger seat and quickly leapt in front of the wheel. Thumbing back the hammer of a .38 revolver he had gotten from an old contact, Wayne got the owners attention. Through the rearview mirror all that could be seen was Wayne’s cold, unrelenting stare.

“Wayne!” Palmer was paralyzed with fear.

“Sean.” Wayne said never breaking eye contact, it was as if his gaze had turned Palmer to stone.

“I’ve got half a million dollars in that bag. It’s yours if you let me go.” Palmer pleaded after finding his tongue.

“I know.” Wayne said emotionlessly. “I was waiting for you to feel safe enough to collect your blood money.” Wayne said with a low growl rising from his chest. Palmer was shaking at this point.

“I’m sorry.” Palmer stammered and was clearly just trying to safe himself from Wayne’s wrath.

“Why?” Wayne asked. He was in no mood for drawn out conversation.

“Money was too good.” Palmer confessed. “Twenty years on the force and I gotta shake down dealers just to pay my mortgage.” Palmer tried to explain. Angrily, Wayne hit him with the side of his gun, Palmer yelped and cursed at him.

“I don’t give a shit about your money problems. You helped kidnap and torture my best friend for money! Did you really think you would get to walk away from that?”

“Yeah, I did!” Palmer shouted back at him and checked the side of his head for blood. “So what? You gonna turn me in, is that it? Parade me around in cuffs to make up for all the shit you’ve done!” Palmer continued. “Fuck you Wayne! You’re no better than me. So go ahead and take me in asshole!”

“I’m not taking you anywhere. I just wanted to know why you did it.” Wayne said. Palmer let out a sigh of relief.

Wayne nonchalantly put the barrel of his gun to the back of Palmers head and pulled the trigger, splattering blood and brain on the roof and windshield of the car. Palmers head hit the steering wheel causing the horn to sound off in a continuous wave. Wayne was confident that there were no witnesses within sight of them, but pulled Palmer off the wheel anyway. He sat there watching the red and grey remnants of Palmers brain drip off the ceiling. Checking his watch Wayne cursed, he was going to be late for dinner if he didn’t head back soon.

Before stepping out Wayne looked at the bag in the front seat. He imagined all the things he could do with the money. His children’s education was the first thing that came to mind. Ultimately he decided to leave it. There were better ways to earn a living without stealing blood money from dirty cops. Wayne took a breath, got out of the car, and made sure no one saw him leave.

He spent the ride home fighting the urge to drown himself in whiskey. Killing a man he’d known for fifteen years, traitor or not, left him with a bad taste in his mouth. It was right and it was just, but it was also murder, a thing Wayne didn’t think himself capable of. Successfully resisting the urge Wayne made it home with his sobriety intact.

Inside Bridget was in the middle of cooking dinner. Undoubtedly a dish involving noodles and meat sauce, the one thing she knew how to make consistently. Keith was playing in the living room and watching his favorite cartoon. Creeping into the kitchen behind Bridget Wayne swooped in and embraced her. Bridget jump slightly out of startled shock and pretended to be mad at him, they kissed and made up.

“You’re actually clean for once. Slow day at the shop?” Bridget asked as she filled the oven with garlic bread.

“Felt like I was sitting around all day.” Wayne smiled. A half-truth was better than a full lie.

“Well, you should go cleanup. Cyrus and Susan will be here in an hour.” Bridget smiled back at him and shooed him away from a plate of appetizers. Being back with his family put a smile on Wayne’s face, the self-imposed guilt of killing Palmer washed away in the light of his wife’s smile.

A shower was just what he needed. Getting through this dinner with Cyrus and Susan was going to be a trying experience. Before he could make it up stairs the doorbell rang. Not expecting them so soon Wayne had a curious look as he opened the door.

On the other side he found a man and a woman, in cheap suits and shoes, clearly FBI, with two uniformed officers behind them.

“Wayne Miller?” The female agent asked him.

“Yup.” Wayne answered with a straight face. There was no way they could have found Palmer and subsequently connected the murder to him in the span of two hours.

“I’m special agent Jacquelyn Thao. You’re under arrest for the murder of Robert Powell.” She aggressively informed him as the man she was with read him his rights. Wayne did a good job of hiding it, but inside he was stunned to the point he didn’t resist or raise his voice in protest. The one thing he had worked so hard to keep from happening was coming to pass and it hit him like a kick in the nuts. Bridget, on the other hand, quickly came to his defense with curses aimed at the agents. During the arrest the dinner she had planned out so perfectly burned almost completely. The worst part was seeing Keith watch his father being taken away in shackles. Just when everything was going so well.


Letters in Red

The city is gripped in fear over a monster who’s been hunting and killing their children. The public quickly turns rabid once Regina Monroe, one of its favorite daughters, is found butchered in the snow. The seventh victim in as many months and the authorities are baffled and proving to be useless. Wayne Miller, a once respected investigator, is reluctantly conscripted into the hunt for the killer joined by Cyrus, a man shrouded in mystery and ill-intent. Together Wayne and Cyrus are forced to embark down a brutal trail of corruption and greed that leads them further from what they perceive to be the truth. They soon find themselves in the thick of conspiracy and violent intrigue. With the odds stacked heavily against them the two must come together in order to survive. As the tide of blood rises each man must decide how far they are willing to go to escape their fate and see justice done.

  • ISBN: 9781370397464
  • Author: Bruce McDonough
  • Published: 2017-05-21 02:35:18
  • Words: 78923
Letters in Red Letters in Red