“I NEED HER ALIVE, GODAMMIT!” Niklas had yelled at Stephens. “YOU’LL KILL HER BEATING HER LIKE THAT!”
I hate Niklas for what he’s done. To me. To Victor. For what he’s doing right now by keeping me in this place. But a small part of me is grateful that he is intolerant to Stephens’ brutality. It doesn’t matter to me that he’s only intolerant because he wants me alive for information. I’ll take what I can get.
I hear the lock slide away from the metal door to my prison and then the door breaks apart with a small grating echo.
Niklas steps inside. He’s carrying a plate of food and a plastic bottle of water. Another man closes the door and locks it behind him.
“Don’t even bother,” I say from my spot on the floor as he approaches me. “If you won’t kill me, or let Stephens kill me, maybe I’ll die faster of dehydration.”
Niklas sets the food on the floor beside me. I raise my body from the concrete and slap it away. Backing myself against the wall, I sit upright, trying not to touch the wall with my back because of the wounds. My ribs hurt, too. And my left wrist. My bottom lip feels swollen. I taste blood in my mouth. Metallic. Disgusting.
“Why don’t you just talk,” Niklas suggests with an air of surrender. He too is tired of all of this, how long it’s taking. “You can end this right now if you just tell me what I want to know.”
I say nothing.
Niklas sits down on the floor in front of me. He knows I’m too weak to fight him. I tried that already and only made the pain in my ribs and my back, more unbearable.
“I should look at your back,” he says.
“Why the f**k do you even care?” I snap. “Oh, I forgot, because you need what I know.” I push my head toward him, my eyes filled with unwavering hatred. “The truth is, I know everything. I know who Victor is involved with, who’s helping him, where six of his safe-houses are located. I know everything, Niklas, and I’m not going to tell you any of it!”
I wince and cover my ribs with my arms as the pain shoots through my body.
“Very well.” He rises into a stand.
He walks over to the food, placing it all back on the plate—a destroyed sandwich, a pickle and a handful of potato chips—and then picks the bottle of water up from the floor. He walks over and sets it beside my feet.
Then he crouches in front of me.
“He’s not coming for you, Sarai,” he says calmly.
I start to reach out with what little strength I have, to grab him, but I stop cold, wanting to hear what he has to say. It doesn’t matter that I won’t believe him. I still want to hear it.
He softens his blue-eyed gaze.
“I’ve sent my brother two videos of you,” he says. “I’ve given him this location, telling him where you are, giving him a chance to give himself up. To give the information up. But he hasn’t responded.” He opens his hand, palm-up, and motions it about the room while balancing his arms on his legs. “And you see that he’s not here. Two days and nothing.” He drops his hand. “He’s not coming for you. And do you want to know why? I’ll tell you why. Because his job is and always will be first in his life. He will never make the same mistakes that Fredrik Gustavsson made because of a woman.”
I round my chin. “Oh, but that’s not true,” I say disdainfully. “He betrayed you because of me, remember? You said so yourself. He left the Order because of me. He almost killed you because of me. Remember, Niklas?” I rub it in, glaring into his churning eyes while trying to bite back the physical pain.
Niklas smiles slimly. “Yes, he did those things. But I saw in my brother the desire to be free of Vonnegut long before you came into his life. But he’s not with the Order now. He is free from it all, and yes, you were a huge part of it, of why he left. You gave him that boost he needed, I suppose.” He seizes my gaze, a stern look in his eyes. “But don’t you see what hasn’t changed? Think about it, Sarai. Instead of freeing himself from a life of killing, like anyone in their right mind, anyone with a conscience would do, he creates his own Order. He is still all about his job. All about killing for a living. Because it’s all that he knows and it’s all that he will ever know.” He shakes his head at me as if he feels sorry for me, for how ignorant I have been, because I don’t see the things that he sees.
I look away.
A part of me, a shameful, guilty part, can’t help but believe him, after all.
He rises back into a full stand again.
“Believe what you want, Sarai,” he says softly from above, “but you know as well I do that if he was going to come for you, he would’ve been here already.”
He walks to the metal door, knocks twice, and the man on the other side opens it. Niklas walks out and I’m left in darkness again, surrounded by dark walls and a dark ceiling and dark thoughts that are breaking my heart into a thousand tiny pieces.
It doesn’t matter.
If the things Niklas said to me are true and Victor never comes for me, I will still die without telling Niklas anything.
I will die in here.
I have refused food and water for nearly sixty-three hours. I only know this because Niklas keeps reminding me. I am weak, physically and mentally exhausted. Stephens hasn’t beat me since Niklas stopped him before. It’s only because of Niklas that I’m still alive. After all, I haven’t given him any information yet. Only that he’s a traitorous bastard who doesn’t deserve the air that he breathes. I’ve told him over and over that I’ll die before I give Victor up. I believe he knows that it’s true, that I cannot be broken.
Except…maybe by my thoughts.
My thoughts are all that I have in this dark, dank prison of a room which shuts out all light, night or day, having no windows and only a single metal door that doesn’t allow even a slither of light beneath it. That voice inside my head, the one that you never listen to until you have nothing left with which to shut it out, has been very cruel to me. Niklas is right, and you know it, the voice tells me. It’s been three days, and if what Niklas said about Victor knowing where to find you is true, then why hasn’t Victor come? Why, Sarai, hasn’t Victor given himself up for you and told Niklas what he wants to know, in order to save your life?
I scream at the top of my lungs into the empty, confined space, gripping my head in my hands. Tears of anger stream from the corners of my eyes. My hair is drenched with sweat. My shorts and tight black top feel glued to my skin. My bare knees are bruised, my legs covered in filth. My back burns whenever I position myself the wrong way and the scabs forming over my wounds break apart and start bleeding all over again. I stay lying on the floor either on my side or my stomach.
I hear the grating echo of the metal door open behind me, but I don’t care to roll over to see who it is.
“If you won’t drink,” I hear Niklas say standing over me, “then I’ll force water into you.”
I’m hoisted off the filthy concrete floor into his arms and carried out of the room. I don’t fight against him. I don’t look up at him as he walks with me down the hallway, but the fluorescent light running along the ceiling above me is so bright I wince and quickly shut my eyes. Quietly, I bask in the comfort of the new air as it hits my skin. I feel my legs draped over Niklas’ arms, his left arm fitted underneath the back of my neck. We turn left and then right and then descend a set of metal stairs.
In moments, my head is being forced underneath water and held there.
My instincts betray me and I open my mouth to scream, taking even more water into my lungs. My body thrashes violently, my arms flailing wildly, trying to press against the thick plastic rim of the container I’m being held in. But I’m too weak to push myself out of the water, Niklas easily holding me under. Water burns my throat and my lungs even after I manage to close my mouth and hold my breath. And just when I think I’m about to drown, that finally I’m going to die and be at peace, Niklas pulls my head from the water and holds me above it.
Betraying me yet again, my first instinct is to gasp desperately for air and to cough up the water in my lungs. I’d really rather just die and get it over with, but my body has a mind of its own, another one that I can’t seem to control. My heart beats so powerfully that I can feel my chest rocking against the plastic rim of what I recognize as a fifty-five gallon barrel. Droplets of water constantly fall from the ends of my hair and the tip of my nose and my chin and my eyelashes into the water just inches beneath my face. Plop. Plop. Plop-plop. It’s eerie how it’s the only thing that I hear.
“Who is working with my brother?” Niklas’ voice is composed.
I say nothing.
His hand tightens a little within the back of my hair.
“You were seen with Fredrik Gustavsson in Santa Fe,” he goes on. “What is his and my brother’s relationship? Are they plotting against my Order?”
A gush of water hits my face as he shoves my head back into the barrel. My nostrils and my esophagus burn like hell as the water is forced into me. I flail again, both arms grasping for anything, finally finding the circular plastic rim, but still not strong enough to push myself against Niklas’ hands and out of the water.
I choke and gasp for air when he pulls me out again.
“Give me something, Sarai. Anything.”
I’m too weak and exhausted even to taunt him anymore, and still, I say nothing even as much as I want to tell him to go f**k himself.
Niklas only gets one thing from me before he carries me out of the room many minutes later; he manages to get that water into me he spoke of before.
Thin, dust-filled beams of sunlight stream from the windows near the ceiling of the warehouse, casting pools of ivory light on the floor out ahead of me. I’m back in the chair in the larger space, surrounded by concrete pillars and that annoying industrial fan running incessantly high above me. Neither my wrists nor my ankles have been bound this time, but it’s unnecessary as I can hardly will myself to stand on my own anymore. I’m not entirely physically weak. I could walk if I tried. I could throw this chair across the room, although only a few feet maybe, if I wanted to. I just don’t care.
I just don’t care anymore.
Stephens sits in that same chair in front of me as he did so four days ago. One leg crossed over the other, his large hands rest on the top of his knee. A foreboding look in his deep, dark eyes; one that says he’s tired of waiting. That this is the day. That no matter what I say or don’t say, no matter what arrangement he and Niklas have, that he’s going to kill me.
Niklas enters the warehouse through a side door, briefly letting in the bright early morning sunlight. He had gone outside with the other four men that apparently work for Stephens. I heard them talking, something about watching the building for any signs of ‘unwanted guests’. In my heart I’m hopeful it has to do with Niklas having reason to believe that Victor is coming. But that cruel voice in my head shoots my heart down.