Though the pain in my legs had receded, it was still all-consuming. I could barely handle it.

“I’m okay,” I said through gritted teeth.

“What was he doing to you?”

“It’s not important.”

“I’m sorry, Andy.” She was crying. “I came back here to find Max and you. Where’s Max?”

“I don’t know. I’m so sorry.”

“He’s going to kill us, isn’t he?”

“I don’t know what he wants,” I lied.

“I killed this homeless man,” Violet said, and I could hear the tears in her voice.

“I heard everything,” I said. “That wasn’t you. He forced your hand with Max.”

“We’re going to die,” she said. “Aren’t we?”

I couldn’t bring myself to answer that.

“There’s this part of me that thinks we’re still up in the Yukon,” she said. “Living in those woods. Just you, me, and Max. And that this is all a terrible nightmare. We could’ve been so happy.”

“I know.”

“We could’ve been a family.”

Tears ran down the sides of my face.

“No matter what happens,” I said, “when he comes back, just hold onto this—I love you, Violet.”

“I love you, Andy.”

“There is nothing he can do to touch that.”

Violet

OUT of the darkness, a light appeared, shining down into her face from the ceiling thirty or forty feet above her head.

Her first instinct was to crane her neck to the left so she could finally see Andy, but she couldn’t move her head.

It made no difference.

If she stared straight ahead, an enormous mirror leaning against the wall reflected the two of them, ten feet apart and strapped to identical wooden gurneys.

Andy was naked.

His skin held a sickly, gray pallor, and his right leg was covered in blood.

Beside the mirror, a door in the wall swung inward.

Luther appeared.

She felt an anticipation not dissimilar to the fear she’d always known sitting on the thin sheet of paper in the doctor’s office, waiting on the doctor to arrive.

Luther stood at a control panel mounted to a small cart, equidistant from the chairs.

As he turned several knobs, Violet felt her chair begin to vibrate.

Luther approached.

He set a small remote control in her left hand and positioned her finger over the single red button.

Said, “Don’t drop this now. No matter what.”

“I did exactly what you told me. Where’s Max?”

He said nothing, just stared down at her.

“I want to see my son!”

“I understand that.”

“Well?”

“That might be a touch difficult to arrange.”

Her stomach fell away.

“What are you talking about?”

“Max is with his new mommy and daddy now.”

“I don’t understand—”

“Max’s cries were previously recorded. I sold him, Violet. Four days ago. For seven thousand dollars. I’d have taken five.”

“To who?” She shrieked the words.

“His name’s Javier, but that’s really neither here nor there. Just think of it this way...now he’ll grow up with a daddy, too.”

Violet wept from her core, and Luther just watched her, soaking in her misery like it was sunshine.

“Tell me about it,” he said finally.

“What are you talking about?” she cried.

“Killing Matthew.”

“There’s nothing to tell.”

“Well, he’s dead, right?”

“Yes.”

“So how’d he get that way?”

“Don’t pretend like you weren’t listening to every word.”

“You better make a f**king effort here.”

“I stabbed him through the heart.”

“Okay.”

“And he died right away.”

“Did his blood get on you?”

“Yes.”

“Did you taste it?”

“No!”

“It’s worth trying for the experience. Did you look into his eyes while he died?”

“What?”

“Did you look into his eyes while he—”

“Yes.”

“You watched the emptiness come into them.”

“Yes.”

“Do you know that’s the moment I live for? Not saying there’s isn’t much fun to be had arriving at that emptiness, but the moment it comes....holy f**k. I hope it wasn’t lost on you. What else?”

“What else what? I don’t understand what you want to hear!”

Andy said, “He wants to hear you say you liked it.”

Luther turned and glared over at Andy, then reached under Violet’s armrest and disengaged something.

She felt the armrest come loose.

Luther swung it around so her left arm was stretched back behind her head.

He performed the same operation on the right armrest.

In the mirror, she watched as he knelt down at the base of the gurney and slid out a steel platform which housed a system of cables, gears, and pulleys. This, he locked into place just behind her wrists, and resecured them with a pair of nylon restraints that he cinched down so hard the tips of her fingers began to tingle with blood loss. He clipped the new restraints into a locking carabiner.

Next, he attended to her ankles, trading the padded-leather restraints for nylons.

She wanted to ask what he was doing but feared the answer.

When he’d finished with her, Luther moved Andy into the same position and then returned to the cart between the two of them.

He stared down at the control panel for a moment before turning his attention to Violet.

“Are you familiar with the rack?” he asked.

She was.

Discovery Channel.

Several years ago.

A special on the Inquisition that, in spite of her profession as a homicide detective, had given her nightmares for a week.

“Torture isn’t what it used to be,” he said. “Somehow, the infliction of pain has gotten a reputation as barbaric. And I think that’s tragic. We learn about ourselves through all intensities, not the least of which is pain.”

Luther turned something on the control panel, and Violet felt the nylon restraints begin to tighten.

The vertebrae in her spine cracked, the pressure building as the quarter-inch gauge cable tugged her arms and legs in opposing directions.

The tension had just become uncomfortable when the gears stopped turning.

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