Nineteen years ago
Every gang had its own hierarchy, and in this dark and grimy corner of Athens, new recruits were fair game. Pests or pets, that was how they were called, and always, it could only be one or the other. Pests got beaten up every minute, and they were the lucky ones. They only needed to survive a thrashing until they toughened up enough to fight back.
It was the faintest sound, a door carefully and stealthily being opened, but it was more than enough. The seventeen-year-old boy lying on the floor was awake in an instant, but even so his body remained motionless and his eyes closed, the pace of his breathing slow and deep.
Go away. Please go away. Please.
Even though the boy already knew it was hopeless to pray, he did so anyway in a desperate bid to stave off the inevitable.
Another sound penetrated the darkness, so much louder now, as if it were a blatant challenge for the boy to face his fears. His fingers tightened under the pillow, curling around the knife handle even as the sound made him sick with fear.
The boy knew he was too much of a survivalist to fight to the death if he found himself outnumbered, but he also knew it was not in him to submit passively. He could never be the type—
And then it happened.
Too fast. Too sudden. Or perhaps it was just too terrifying that even though all the signs were there, the boy had made himself blind and deaf to all of them.
The knife was torn from his grasp as countless hands flipped him to his back. He tried to struggle. He tried to scream. But reality was as he had long feared, and there were just too damn many of them. In mere moments, the room reeked of the most depraved desires. It was all there – in the way they looked at him, the way they laughed as they tore the clothes off his body.
Tears burned against his eyelids, and he knew that the moment to choose had come.
Submit or fight.
Live or die.
He opened his eyes as he felt callous fingers part the cheeks of his ass.
THEO, SAVE ME!
And that was when she came.
“These papers need to be with Mr. Simonides A.S.A.P.”
“I’ll get someone from the mailroom—”
Pippi’s boss glanced up with a frown. “No, you won’t.” Mr. Collins’ voice held an unusual note of reproach. “These papers are for our CEO, Ms. Jones. Do you truly think it’s a good idea to entrust such important paperwork to one of our messengers?”
No, she did not, Pippi thought. But what was not a good idea either was having her come into proximity with any rich man, which she considered herself allergic to. And it did not help at all, she pondered gloomily to herself, that Acheron Simonides was a lot richer than probably ninety-nine percent of the global population.
But an order was an order, and after apologizing for her (deliberate) lapse of judgment, she took the thick folder from her boss’ desk and excused herself from the room.
Pippi kept her head down as she made her way to the elevators, a gesture that was frequently misconstrued by her colleagues at work. Half of them thought it was a sign of aloofness. The other half believed it was only because Pippi was a workaholic.
All of them were wrong, though.
Dismay flared inside her when a discreet glance showed that the elevator was close to full when she stepped in and joined the others. No one looking at Pippi, however, would have guessed at her unease. The faintly distracted expression on her face, combined with the speed in which her fingers moved as she typed on her smartphone, lent an impression of not-to-be-disturbed efficiency.
If only they knew, Pippi thought wryly. Appearing busy and avoiding eye contact discouraged other people from making small talk with her, and it was one of the many little tricks she had learned over the years to mask her shyness.
When Pippi reached the lobby, reception had already been given instructions by Mr. Collins, and a security officer was tasked to walk her to the penthouse-exclusive elevator. As far as the rumor mills were concerned, only the company’s highest-ranking executives had the chance of visiting the CEO in his personal domain. The privilege was wasted on her, though, and when the elevator finally made it to the 38th floor, she stepped out with ill-disguised reluctance, thick folder clutched to her chest like a shield.
The brightly-lit entrance hall, albeit impressively designed with a mixture of gleaming white marble and antique bricks, was vast and empty.
So this was the place, she thought. A few months ago, a scandal had rocked the office, with executives chancing upon a female manager giving Mr. Simonides a blowjob in this very place. The woman had recently been given a promotion, but Pippi couldn’t help wondering if the pay raise was worth the notoriety that came with it. While she wasn’t exactly a social pariah – the woman was too beautiful and worldly to let herself be treated as such – she wasn’t exactly welcomed in the company’s most conservative circles either.