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Chapter 2 – Kung Fu Fighting

April didn’t stop to look back. She threw herself into the room and slammed the door shut behind her. She twisted the lock and pressed herself up against the wall so the guard couldn’t see her when he looked in. He turned the handle a few times, but it didn’t open. She could hear him fumbling around with keys while swearing softly. April looked around the room trying to think of somewhere to hide.

Crowley’s office was smaller than the other offices she had visited this evening. He only had a small, single room for an office but not the second one that looked out over the city. “Strange,” she thought. “The space between the rooms was equal, so why did this one have less interior space.”

April stayed up against the wall so the guard couldn’t see her, but moved along it down to the far end of the office. She knocked on the far wall, and it sounded hollow. The room was beside Hamilton’s so they should have been connected, but intuitively she knew that the spacing wasn’t right. Something was definitely off.

By this time the guard had managed to get the door open and burst in after her.

“Freeze,” he yelled out. “Put your hands up where I can see them.”

April raised her arms slowly into the air. The guard stepped forward and moved slowly in her direction.

“Take off your mask,” he ordered referring to an old stocking that she had pulled over her face to keep any cameras from recognizing her.

April didn’t budge. She just stared at the guard unblinkingly. He moved a bit closer still pointing the gun at her.
“How did you get in here?” he asked.

She still didn’t reply. April recognized him now and remembered that he was the new guard that had just joined the team recently. That’s why it had taken him so long to find the key to open the door and enter the room.
“Turn around,” he ordered. “And keep your hands up.”

April had started to put them down but dutifully raised them again. Well, this was going to be awkward. Trying to explain to her husband and his partners what she was doing in their offices at three in the morning.

She didn’t think anyone suspected that she knew what they were up. But this would be pretty obvious. They would realize that she was onto them and want to know how much she knew.

Could she take this guard on? He was pretty tough looking, and not at all like the doughnut eating creep she had hoped would be on duty tonight.

The other guard would have been a piece of cake to take down. Her dad had been a fifth-degree black belt. He had given her a kimono when she was just six years old and enrolled her in Brimhill’s finest dojo.

April never had cared much for karate and wouldn’t have said that she had applied herself as well as she knew she could have. April just did the minimum to get by and quit as soon as she received her black belt because that had been her father’s requirement. The old man tried to convince her to keep practicing, but she wasn’t interested. She had other more interesting things to do. Besides, that was why she had bodyguards around to protect her. Right?

So, now April knew she would be rusty, but this was her only chance to get out of here. She waited until she heard him rattling his handcuffs as he pulled them out of his belt. He reached out his hand and put it on her shoulder. She spun around using her raised arm to knock his hand away and continued to follow through with a wicked punch across the face with her other fist.

He didn’t fall over but did take a few steps backward. She didn’t wait for him to recuperate but immediately continued with a full-scale attack. April rained blows down on his exposed abdomen since he was holding his face with his hands from her first punch.

The guard fell down this time. He doubled up in pain and rolled around gasping for air. April continued to hold her karate stance with one foot in front of the other. She felt pretty good and proud for so effortlessly defending herself. Her father would have been proud. She would have to tell him about it someday.

Now, she had to figure out what to do with the guard. She spotted the handcuffs and reached over to pick them up. She felt terrible for the poor guy. This would probably get him fired in the morning. But he deserved it for flirting around on the job with his girlfriend when he should have been working.

She reached down and slapped the cuffs on one of his arms and then reached over for his other wrist. He flipped himself over and wrapped his legs around her slamming April to the ground. It knocked the breath out of her, and she lay gasping for a second. Her right elbow stung where it had hit the floor.

The guard sat up and got to his knees while pressing his weight against her to keep her from moving. April squirmed and wiggled to try and get free. She wished she had taken those stupid Brazilian jiu-jitsu courses her father always insisted she try out because he claimed it would make her a better, more well-rounded fighter so she could defend herself at close quarters when down.

Now, she wished she had actually listened to him. April always laughed at him and told him that she wouldn’t let anyone ever get that close because she’d beat them off with a barrage of karate chops and kicks. She tried to remember how do one of those grapple holds that the old man had tried to teach her when they sparred.

She grabbed the guard’s thumb and pulled down hard as she twisted away from herself. April flipped her leg up and over his arm to lock it in place as she applied pressure. April could tell immediately that she wasn’t doing something quite right because she couldn’t pull him down completely.

The guard reached over with his other hand to punch her in the face. It was an awkward overhand blow that didn’t hurt too badly. She continued twisting and pushing her legs farther up his arm to get a lock on him. He kept moving around with her, grabbing at her face and hair that was covered by the stocking.

He locked his fingers in the stocking and tried to twist it off. She brought her legs up as high as he could and pulled down with all of her strength. This time she felt something pop. The guard screamed through his gritted teeth but didn’t let go of her hair. He loosened enough to get his fingers into the netting and pulled down. The stocking popped off over her head.

The guard looked up at her in shock. “Mrs. Blanchet,” he managed to stammer out. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was you. I thought you were a thief.”

He let go of her hair and stopped trying to struggle to get free. But she didn’t relax her grip. This was a real mess. Now, how was she going to get out of this? She’d have to kill him to keep him from talking. But with the mask off her head, the cameras might be filming her. She couldn’t remember where the security cameras were in the room.

“It’s a personal thing.” she managed to say. “I thought my husband might be cheating on me and I was looking for proof.”

That was the only thing that came to mind. April couldn’t think of any other excuses off the top of her head.

“In this room,” he asked incredulously. “This isn’t his office.”

“Yes, I know. But I checked Tony’s office and didn’t find anything. So, I thought the other boys might know something.”

She looked him in the eye and could tell that he didn’t quite believe her.

“Well, look. Why don’t you let go of my arm? I’ll let you leave the building just like this never happened. Okay. It’s not like you’re a thief, and I have to arrest you. You’re just a jealous, I mean, a suspicious wife who is concerned about the welfare of her husband.” the guard said.

“And you’ll let me continue my search,” she asked. “All you have to do is stay down at the other end of the building till I’m done.”

“I can’t let you do that. You will have to leave,” the guard replied.

“I’ll tell them that I got in here because you were on your cell phone and not paying attention,” she said.

He laughed. “Sure, everybody does it. Just because it’s in the handbook doesn’t mean anyone actually abides by it. Besides, I have a good excuse. My sister is sick and was just checking in to make sure he was okay.”

“I will tell them that I was just in the building to get something from Tony’s office and that you attacked me and dragged me in here. I was just a helpless woman trying to defend herself.” she shot back.

“The video footage will prove otherwise,” he answered angrily with his eyes flashing at her threat.

“I avoided the cameras,” she said. “I know where they are and won’t appear on any of them. And I had some outside help to wipe the system if any picked me up.”

Continue Reading Chapter 3 – Secret Door >>>

Chapter 3 – Secret Door

That was a lie, but he didn’t know it. At least not yet. April might not have enough proof at the moment, but it was time to leave tonight regardless. She just needed enough time to get to her car and drive off into the darkness. She didn’t know where she would go yet, but the ‘Blue Wolf’ already had a place lined up.

Blue Wolf. That was his code name. She didn’t know what his real name was. His team had approached her three weeks ago. Made some extreme accusations and asked some very unnerving questions. It was intense, and April thought the man was going to kill her on the spot. She felt like they were putting her on trial. They left when they realized April really didn’t know anything, and the group slipped quietly off into the darkness. But not before giving her some things to look into and some questions to ask her husband.

Tony brushed them off like it was no big deal. He finally realized someone had put her up to this and demanded to know who it was, but she honestly didn’t know any of their names at the time. Her husband told her that it was probably just some angry, vindictive employee who had gotten sacked. He tried to laugh it off like it was no big deal, but she could tell that her questions had clearly unnerved him.

The Blue Wolf had returned a few more times over the next few days and weeks, asking more questions and requesting her help to get more information. At first, she did it out of curiosity. April wanted to find out what her husband was really up to. But as she discovered more about the horrible things her husband’s company was involved in, she felt compelled to dig deeper and get to the bottom of this situation.

Ultimately, everything led up to this night and where she was now at this moment. The Blue Wolf promised to help her escape no matter what. Whether she found the evidence she needed or not. That was the only reason April went through with this endeavor. She hadn’t known initially if she would really turn the evidence over to him even if she did find anything. But after all April had seen and heard and discovered, now there was no doubt in her mind that it was necessary to expose what LocTech was doing. She only needed to find a way to prove it to others.

Now, here she was. So close, and yet so far. In the lion’s dene, but still no concrete evidence. She looked over at the wall that wasn’t where it was supposed to be. She just wanted to check it out. It would make perfect sense. They had a hidden room where they kept all their secrets. That would explain why she hadn’t found anything in the drawers.

“Put your other hand over here and cuff it,” she ordered. “I just want to check one thing, and then I’ll let you go. That way you have an excuse for not having caught me.”

“No, please, Mrs. Blanchet. I have a son. He’s sick. I can’t afford to lose my job.” he begged.

“A son? A minute ago you said it was your sister. We’ll see about that. But for now, put your hand over here and cuff it,” April ordered.

The security man put his hands together and pressed the cuff around his other hand using his body for support.
“Okay,” he said. “You can let go now.”

April relaxed her grip. “Not bad for an old lady, huh?” she asked with a grin.

He smiled weakly and looked away in embarrassment at having been beaten and subdued by his boss’ wife. He would never hear the end of this.

She turned and walked over to the wall. April knocked on it and definitely sounded hollow. The only thing on the wall was a single picture. She walked over to it and tried to take it off, but it was screwed on tight somehow. Strange, she was sure that there would be some kind of opening behind it based on the lines in the wall.

“I can tell you how to open it if you let me go.” the guard said.

April looked at him.

“I thought you weren’t going to help me by just walking away down the other hall. And now you want me to believe that you’re gonna help me get into a secret room?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I don’t have much of a choice now. I’m screwed either way. You’ve got me here. The least I can do is negotiate with you to make the best of the situation.”

“Nah! Uh huh,” she said. “Too late for that. I don’t believe you. You’ve recuperated, and you want another shot at me.”
“Fine,” he retorted. “You don’t have to let me go now. Just after you find what you need. I won’t tell anyone you were here if you don’t get me in trouble for this.”

“How do you know the entrance?” she asked curiously. She didn’t really think the guard knew anything about it. April assumed that he was just stalling for time.

“I see things,” he said. “I’m the night guard around here. I know what goes on after they close up shop.”

“Okay then, Houdini. Show me the secret door into the magical room,” she replied.

“Well, you gotta pull that frame there up and then out about one inch. Then you pull it to the right a little and push it back into the wall. At least that’s what they seem to do.”

April looked at him for a moment and decided to give it a shot. She gave it a few tugs, but it didn’t budge.

“Nothing happened here, big boy,” she said. “What’s your name by the way?”

“Bill,” he said. “Bill Redfern, ma’am. And I believe you need to get the frame up before you pull it out. There’s a trick to it.”

April gave a push from the bottom, and it slid up a little.

“Don’t go too far,” Bill warned. “There’s a trick to it. Just keep going up and tug it to the right.”

She managed to find the groove and slid it over to the side. Then she pushed in on it. The picture slid out and flipped up almost nailing her in the face. She dodged and jumped back. The walls slid open silently revealing a completely blank room.

April stepped forward and banged into a glass wall.

“Ouch! What’s this,” she asked turning to look at Bill.

“I’m not sure ma’am,” he said starting to get up off of the ground. “But I don’t think it’s very good. And I don’t think you should be here.”

“Well, what do you see when you’re in here, and they open this thing?” she asked.

“They just step inside and then the door closes. I keep guard and wait till the doors open again. They come out. That’s all I really know, but if I had to guess, I would say that it’s some kind of elevator.”

Continue Reading Chapter 4 – Sector Seven >>>

Chapter 4 – Sector Seven

“How do I open the glass?” she asked. “There doesn’t seem to be any opening.”

Bill shrugged helplessly. “Maybe there is something else you need to do, or maybe they have a passkey to get it open. But the glass always opens for the men. I’ve never seen it stay closed like that before. Close the wall and try again,” he suggested with a gesture that indicated that she should pull the frame down.

She did, and the walls closed back into position. April stepped aside as Bill came toward her. He had a little trouble initially because of the cuffs and his sore arm where April had twisted it. But he managed to get the frame up and slide it over. The guard pressed in harder than she had. She also noticed that he seemed to pull it down farther than she had.

This time the wall slid open along with the glass. April stepped inside and indicated for Bill to follow her.

“Oh, no, ma’am. I should stay here and keep watch,” he said half-heartedly.

“Yeah, right. So, you can run away and rat me out. Get in here, or I’ll drag you in by your sore arm.” she said defiantly.

He grinned and whispered in her ear as he stepped forward. “I always did want to know what was going on down here. I just have to play my role as a good guard and make sure I don’t look too enthusiastic about coming along. April smiled at him. He seemed like a nice guy just trying to do his job.

April realized that he was bigger than she first imagined now that he was standing right in front of her. And he didn’t look like he sat around eating doughnuts. Bill seemed pretty strong and muscular under his suit. And he’d make better lifeguard than security guard she thought as she checked him out. He turned around after the doors slid shut and smiled at her. She averted her gaze quickly and pretended to be interested in looking around the room.

“Welcome,” a soft, pleasant female voice said after the doors closed. “Please, sit down. We’ll reach our destination in two minutes and thirty seconds.”

April looked around and saw some seats along the sides of the room. She walked over and sat down as she felt their descent begin. She looked at Bill, but he ignored her. He was busy reading some text on the far wall.

“What does it say?” she asked.

“Nothing much,” he replied. “Just standard safety information when riding on an elevator. How much weight it can safely carry. That sort of thing. What’s interesting about it though is that there doesn’t seem to be any information about where we’re going. And it says what the room is airlocked, and not to open it under any circumstances when we arrive due to airborne safety hazards.”

“Sector Seven,” she muttered under her breath. “So, it’s true. We’ve found it.”

“What’s Sector Zen?” he asked. “A place the directors go to relax?”

April shook her head quietly but didn’t say anything else. Bill came over and sat on the chair beside her. He held up his hands for her to take off the cuffs. She looked him in the eyes and shook her head.

“C’mon, Mrs. Blanchet. I can tell your scared. I can see it in your face. It scares me. Let me go so I can fight too if we get attacked.”

“Sector Seven,” she repeated again. “It’s their secret lab where they perform all their unorthodox experiments.

Experiments that are technically illegal and would get them in trouble if they were found out.”

She finished removing the handcuffs from him. Bill rubbed his wrists gently.

“We aren’t looking for evidence of a secret lover for a jilted wife. Are we? You lied to me. How could you? I trusted you with my life to come down here,” he said in a mocking voice that expressed his fake deception.

April smiled at him and shook her head. “No, we aren’t. But I couldn’t tell you that.”

“So, what do you intend to do exactly?” he asked.

She shook her head sadly, “I don’t know,” she said. But April knew exactly what she was going to do. She just wasn’t going to give Bill any information that she could pass on to Tony. But as she got out of this place, she was going to tell Blue Wolf the truth and then get as far away from here as she could until it all blew over. If it ever did.

If this was as bad as she thought it was, she ran the risk of being killed by Tony and his creepy partners. She never did like them. Tony had eight when they first met. They had added on a few more over the years. She never did hear where they came from. Tony never gave her any straight answers. It frustrated her to no end.

The elevator came to a halt, and the doors slid open. The glass remained sealed though. April stepped forward and reached out her hands, but the voice over the speaker commanded her not to touch the windows.

“It’s for your own safety,” the voice said reassuringly.

April looked out past the glass. They were in a large room with people on all sides. Some seemed to be lying on the ground sleeping. Others stood around in small groups. But there didn’t seem to be much interaction between them. They didn’t seem to be smiling or laughing. As she watched these people, it didn’t even look like they were speaking to each other. She felt sorry for them.

“Hey, look!” Bill exclaimed excitedly. “There’s Alpha Four’s brother.”

“Where?” she asked. She knew Alpha Four was one of Tony’s bodyguards. She reached out and placed her hand on the glass.

“Please remove your hand from the sides of the elevator. Refrain from touching as it will draw unwanted attention from the subjects.”

April let go of the glass and pulled back.

“What’s he doing down here?” she asked.

“I’m not sure. I heard he was really sick though and the doctors didn’t give him much hope. Actually, I heard that he had already died. Maybe they faked his death just to bring him down here and run some experimental tests on him.” Bill suggested.

“So, that way no one would suspect anything if he didn’t return,” April finished.

Bill shrugged and cocked his head to the side as if she could be right.

“This is pretty creepy. I think we should get out of here,” he said.

“No!” April said sharply. “We have to help them. Look at these people. They’re all suffering down here. We have to help them get free.”

Continue Reading Chapter 5 – Mob >>>

Chapter 5 – Mob

Bill shifted uncomfortably in his spot. “I really don’t think that’s a good idea, ma’am. I’m sure they have these folks down here for a reason. We should probably go get the proper authorities and let them handle this.”

The man that Bill had identified as Alpha Four’s brother came shuffling over to their elevator.

“Warning. Warning.” the elevator voice started up. “Strange element approaching. Be careful. Would you like the elevator to head back up to Forty-Seven?”

“No!”, April said.

Bill started to say yes, but April reached out and punched him in the gut hard enough to make him keel over.

“Shut up!” she said. “We’re gonna do this whether you like it or not. We’re gonna get them out of here.”

Bill rolled his eyes and sighed. “Why me?” he asked pleadingly.

She watched expectantly, but nothing happened. The doors remained closed. Alpha Four’s brother reached out to touch the glass. He mouthed something at them, but April couldn’t understand what he was saying. No sound entered the elevator from the outside, and even if it did, the blare of the siren inside of the elevator would have drowned it out.”Protocol three breach. Warning. You have attracted the attention of the insidious. Protocol three recommends we head back to floor forty-seven. Permission to leave.”

“No,” April replied. “Turn off the sirens. Sirens off. Stop the alarm.”

The blaring alarm finally shut off, but the yellow warning lights continued to flash around them.

“Open the door,” April commanded, but nothing happened. “Let us out. Release us. Open sesame.”

“I’m sorry, but protocol does not allow for opening of the exits in this sector. Viewing room is only for observation. It is to protect viewers from contamination.”

“Contamination from what?” April asked.

“I’m sorry, but that is classified information. Please state your ID and the password for further information.”

“Oh, you stupid robot,” April yelled in exasperation and kicked at the glass.

“Please refrain from touching the glass as you will attract unwanted attention from the subjects.”

April looked around from something to smash the glass. She tried yanking one of the seats from the wall, but it didn’t budge. She gave up quickly because she realized they were made of plastic and foam. Even if she could remove one from the wall, she wouldn’t be able to do much damage.

“Calm down,” Bill said. “The glass is bulletproof. You couldn’t break through if you shot straight at it and this thing obviously isn’t going to let you out. Besides, it’s probably for the best because the system may be protecting you from some insidious, fast-spreading virus or contagious disease that they are trying to treat.”

As soon as he said the words bulletproof, April looked at his holster. “Where’s your gun,” she demanded.

He felt down towards his waist and realized it wasn’t there. “It must have fallen off in our scuffle,” he said. “But even if I had one, I wouldn’t let you go firing it off in here. You’re nuts. The bullets would ricochet this small room and hurt one of us.”

April grabbed at his belt and started tugging at his waist to unbuckle it.

“Whoa, there momma! What in the world are you doing?”

“Shut up and give me your belt,” she demanded.

Bill sighed and finished unbuckling it. He handed it to her with a scowl. “Please be careful with this thing. That belt buckle cost me a pretty penny.”

April turned back to the glass where Alpha Four’s brother was still leaning against the glass. His glassy eyes looked blankly in their direction like he couldn’t even see them. He drooled, and his saliva ran down the glass.

So, she backed up to get away from where he leaning against the elevator. April flipped the belt over her shoulder and whipped it back around to try and crack the window with the metal tip of the buckle. But it didn’t even scratch the glass and barely even made a sound when it hit.

After four or five fruitless attempts, she gave up and sat back down in one of the seats to catch her breath. She stood back up and started to hit the glass again.

It was obvious that he was trying to be quiet and not attract the attention of the others around him. When he got close, he waved his arms at them as if ordering them to calm down.

“Open the door,” April yelled. She waved and motioned with her hands for the man to let them out.

The man outside made a signal like she was crazy with his finger to his head. Then he pointed up as if telling them to leave.

By now, Alpha Four’s brother had noticed the man and started to shuffle his way around to the other side. He got to the man and kept trying to grab on to him, but the man easily pushed him away. He pointed the gun at Alpha Four’s brother who acted like he had never seen one before in his life. He kept grabbing at the gun and trying to poke his finger down the barrel.

The guard kept pointing up for them to leave and became exasperated when they didn’t go. Not that April even knew how to operate the machine. The man outside pulled out his walkie-talkie and started talking excitedly to someone while waving his arms. More of the other people in the room began shuffling over to him.

He pointed back up defiantly one more time and then turned to leave. He half-walked and half-ran as he tried to avoid the oncoming mob. April could tell that he was furious.

“What do we do now?” she asked Bill.

He shrugged and sat down. “I’m gonna be in so much trouble. They’re gonna kill me.”

The elevator’s voice came back on and said, “Remote control protocol initiated. Elevator will now return to floor forty-seven. Please hold on till we reach our destination.”

“Let us off at floor twenty-two,” April said.

“I’m sorry. Exit at floor twenty-two not permitted. Exits only at fifteen, twenty-eight, and thirty-three.”

“Let us off on fifteen, please,” April said.

“Impossible to stop on fifteen. Manual override has been engaged via remote control by someone with a higher level of access. Please state your ID and password to override manual control.” the elevator said.

“C’mon,” she said tapping Bill on the shoulder. “What’s your ID and password?”

“I don’t have one yet for the elevator,” he replied.

“Well, use what you do have. Maybe it will work.”

“Elevator, my ID is Bill Redford. Gamma Eight. My passcode is papa Romeo-Four-Zulu-Delta-Two.”

“ID and password confirmed,” the elevator said.

“See,” April said with a grin. “Now, tell it to let us off on the fifteenth floor.”

Bill repeated the command, but the elevator denied his request.

“Your level of access is not sufficient to override the controls. Someone higher in command has control of the remote access. Please stand by until the elevator comes to a complete stop.”

The doors opened, and there were several men in the room waiting for them.

Continue Reading Chapter 6 – Judge, Jury, & Executioner >>>

Chapter 6 – Judge, Jury, & Executioner

“Tony,” April said trying to smile cheerfully. She could see Hamilton and Crowley scowling at her. Johnny stood in front of Tony beside the elevator doors.

“What are you doing, baby?” Tony asked. “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do. Come over here and sit on the couch.”
He took her by the shoulder and led her over to a couch close to the desk. She sat down. Tony turned back to chew out the guard.

“What were you thinking, Bill. How did you let this lady get the best of you?” he asked furiously.

Johnny stepped forward and came to his defense, “I’m sure he didn’t want to harm Mrs. Blanchet. He probably didn’t realize how tough your wife was and she nailed him before he could get the situation under control. Right, Bill.”

He started to steer Bill towards the door.

“Don’t worry about this Tony. I’ve got it under control, and I’ll deal with him tomorrow. But give him a break. I’m sure he didn’t mean to let her through. I saw the surveillance tapes before you got here. She nailed him good. You’ve got to admit this is an extreme situation because he wasn’t dealing with a regular thief. I mean this is family we’re dealing with here. Right?”

“Okay, sure. You handle it, Johnny. But don’t be long.” Tony said.

Hamilton and Crowley were talking among themselves off in the corner. Tony came back over to the couch and sat down beside April.

“What’s going on, baby? What are you doing in here at this unearthly time of the night for?”
April knew this didn’t look good, and she didn’t want Tony to get in trouble with the board, so she decided to stick to her jealous wife routine.

“I’m sorry, Tony. I thought you were cheating on me. I’ve just been jealous because you haven’t been paying much attention to me. And I wanted to know what was going on.”

“Uh, huh,” Tony muttered in indignation. “Are you accusing me of two-timing on you? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Calm down, Tony.” Hamilton butted in to help him keep his cool. “So, if that’s true April, what were you doing here in Crowley’s office?”

She shook her head and tried to conjure up a few tears to make herself look sincere. It wasn’t too hard because she really was scared. She had always been scared of Hamilton. There was just something creepy about the guy. The way he walked and talked. It was just all off. The way he waltzed into partnership and practically taken over most of the company.

“And why did you get on the elevator, April?” Crowley added. “Did you think you would find more proof there?”

“I didn’t know it was an elevator. I thought it was just a secret room. How did I know it would go down to Sector Seven?”

“Sector Seven,” Tony asked in surprise. “What do you know about Sector Seven?”

“Bill must have told me,” she stammered nervously.

“No, April. Bill doesn’t know about Sector Seven. He doesn’t have clearance for Sector Seven. He thinks this is a meeting room.” Hamilton thundered. “I know because I’m the one who gives people clearance to go down there.”

“Well, maybe he heard about it through the company grapevine,” she said to cover for herself.
Hamilton smirked. “I don’t think so, April. He’s just arrived recently and is only here at night. There aren’t many people around for him to chat with about company gossip. I’m gonna ask you one more time. How do you know about Sector Seven?”

“Nothing, I swear. I don’t know nothing. Honest. Please, I’ll forget all about it and never mention it to anyone ever again.”

Hamilton pulled up a chair close to her with the back facing towards her. He threw his legs around the sides and sat down in front of her. He took his time rolling up his sleeves while he gathered his thoughts.

“I’m only gonna ask you this once, April. You answer me straight and give me the right answer, or I will kill you myself. I don’t care if you are Tony’s wife. Have you been in touch with the Blue Wolf?”

A chill ran down April’s spine, and the hairs stood up on the back of her neck. If they suspected that she had talked to him, she knew Hamilton would make good on his threat.

“Of course not,” she replied as calmly as she could. “Why would I talk to somebody named the Blue Wolf.”
But it was too late, she could see in Hamilton’s eyes that he already knew the truth. He was just setting her up in front of Tony.

“Tony, you gotta believe me. Please. I’m your wife. The mother of your children. I love you, Tony. I would never do anything to harm you or your company.”

Tony refused to look at her. He stood up and walked away from the couch. He slid the glass doors open and stepped out onto the veranda outside. He stood silently at the edge looking out over the city.

Hamilton and Crowley were off in the corner conferring among themselves.

April started to cry. Her hands shook, and her legs trembled. She threw her face in her hands and tried to muffle her sobs.

Johnny came back in and walked over to where Crowley and Hamilton were still huddled near the desk.

“Tony,” Hamilton called him and motioned with his hand for the man to step from the veranda to join them.

Tony walked past April without looking her in the eye. She thought she could see that his eyes were shiny from tears.

“What’s going on, Tony?” she asked as he went by. She reached out to touch him, but he moved his hand away from her.

The men spoke briefly, and all nodded. April watched them through tears in her eyes. It looked like they were taking a vote. Then they all broke up.

“I’m sorry, baby,” Tony said. “We knew the Blue Wolf had contacted you. But I thought you were going to stay true to me. To us. To the company. But the men don’t trust you. They think you’re going to believe the Blue Wolf’s lies and they’re going to use you to turn us in.”

On the one hand, she wanted to beg and plead for her life, but at the same time, she knew it was useless. The die had been cast, and the men had made their decision.

Judge, jury, and executioners.

This was it, and she had to know what was going on down there before her end came. What were these men doing down there?

“Okay, Tony. I understand,” she took a deep breath and stood up. “I always let you run things your way even though I didn’t agree with your methods. But I didn’t ever think it would come to this.”

“I’m sorry, baby. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. But you’re playing for the wrong team. If you had been honest with me from the start and told me about this when they first contacted you, I think we could have worked things out. But it’s out of my hands now.”

Tony sighed and shrugged as he looked at the other guys. That gesture infuriated April. He always used it when he was trying to weasel his way out of something. She was spitting nails now.

“C’mon, Tony. Don’t throw the blame on others. Man up for yourself just once and admit that you’ll be glad to be rid of me. I bet you don’t have the guts to do the job yourself. You’ll have one of your nameless thugs pull the trigger. It’s probably just as well because you’d probably botch it and make me suffer. I’d rather it be handled by a pro anyway. I bet none of you have the guts to do me in,” she screamed at them with her voice rising in crescendo till she was literally screeching at the end.

April’s face was livid, and her whole body shook with anger and fury at this final betrayal. She wanted to weep and sob, but she refused to give them the satisfaction of watching her beg for her life. She shoved her way past the men towards the door.

“C’mon. Let’s get it over with,” she shouted. “Where is my executioner?”


She continued walking towards the door and wanted to snicker at the look of shock on their faces. This was not the reaction they had expected from her at all.


“Wait,” April said as she spun around. “I do have one question. Do me the honor of telling me what I saw down there in that elevator.”

The men remained silent and looked at Tony.

“They’re clones, baby. We’ve been trying to develop a cloning process. But we haven’t quite been successful yet. So, each of those people that you saw down there was a clone of someone that has already died.”

April nodded and smiled. “So, you’re going to kill me to keep this Blue Wolf guy from knowing what you’re up to and learning all your secrets. You know he’ll just keep coming until he finds someone who does know something and is willing to talk.”

The men shrugged. Hamilton was the one who finally replied. “Yeah, we keep close tabs on most everybody and know who he’s talking to already. Hopefully, they’ll be smart and not break our trust by sneaking around like you did.”

“Get it over with, Johnny,” Crowley ordered.

“Hmm, Johnny’s gonna do me in. Huh?” April said. “I remember when he started working for you all as a boy. This is what you had him doing.”

“He’s a good, trustworthy employee that always does what he’s told,” Crowley replied. “A good man we can trust with our lives. That’s what’s important to us. Trust.”

“Yeah, whatever! Blah, blah, blah. Go sweet-talk yourself to sleep, old man. Your day of judgment is coming too. You’ll get yours soon enough.” April said arrogantly as she snubbed her nose at them.

Continue Reading Chapter 7 – Float Like An Angel >>>

Chapter 7 – Float Like An Angel

She could hardly believe the way she was acting herself. This was totally unlike the sweet lady-like persona she always tried to exude. But it felt so freeing to finally just let go and be herself even if it was only for a few minutes longer.
“Well, come along, Johnny. Let’s get this over with. You boys run along and get your story straight to tell the cops when they come around.”

Hamilton nodded at Johnny who swallowed hard and nodded back at him. He looked at April and held out his arm like a real gentleman. At least he had the courtesy to treat her like a lady even in the end. They started to walk out the door, but Hamilton yelled after them.

“Hey! Where are you going? We said to make it look like an accident.” he indicated with his head toward the balcony.

“Well, if you want the cops to think she jumped off to commit suicide, why would you have her jump from Crowley’s office. Let me handle it from Tony’s balcony. When you hear her scream, you send Tony over to wait in there. He can say they had an argument.” Johnny retorted sullenly as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Oh, right! Good thinking, son.” Hamilton replied.

He waved them on out the door.

“We’ll be right behind you, but we don’t want poor Tony to see nothing. So, be quick about it.”

“Sure,” Johnny said.

April continued to walk with her head held high holding tightly to Johnny’s arm. She was grateful for the support, even he was going to kill her in a moment. She couldn’t believe that Tony was just going to go along with this thing. And since he was, at the very least, her husband could have the decency to be with her at the end. But she refused to allow herself to look back at him or even acknowledge him.

As they continued to walk down the hall, April realized that the only thing that kept her going right now and allowed her to place one foot in front of the other was the pure, unadulterated rage that flowed from her heart. She was so hot with rage that she could feel her heart pounding throughout her body. Her thinking was crystal clear and razor sharp.

She noticed every detail of the environment around her as she walked down the hall. The tiniest detail right down to the sweat mixed in with Johnny’s cologne. The buzz of the fluorescent lamps overhead as they walked under each one. As she entered Tony’s office for the last time, she didn’t even feel like she was walking but rather just floating along beside Johnny.

When they reached the edge of the balcony, she grabbed on to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Make it quick, Johnny.”

‘Here, put your legs through these,” he said.

April complied obediently. It felt like a strange way to make it look like she was going to commit suicide.

“Is this gonna make it look like I had a bungee jumping accident instead of committing suicide. Oh, thank you, Johnny.

I don’t want people to think that of me. Especially not my father.”

Johnny pushed her away and tried to tighten it around her waist.

“Quickly, before they get here,” he said in a hushed whisper. “Scream as loud as you can when I push you over the edge.”

You don’t have to push me, Johnny,” she said.

“Don’t jump out. Just a take a short step off the ledge,” he said.

She took a deep breath and forced herself to step onto the ledge without looking down. April didn’t want to wait for Johnny to push her. She didn’t want to give herself time to grieve and mourn. She had lived a long and happy life. She could truly say that she had lived a good one. The best that money could buy.

April had no regrets, except for loving Tony. That sleazy scumbag of an old man. He had been almost twice her age when they had gotten married. She was his second wife. People said she had married him for his money, but that wasn’t true at all. She had her mother’s inheritance and had started making good money straight out of college. She really had loved him. All these years. Been faithful and true. And this is how he treated her. Oh, poor Tony, if she came across him in the afterlife wherever that happened to be. If she recognized him, she would make him pay.

She felt Johnny’s hand pressing on the back of her calves. “Hurry,” he said. She closed her eyes and stepped off the ledge.

April felt the wind blowing up through her hair in the free fall. Her hair whipping around her face. Her arms raised above her head. But she didn’t scream. She refused to scream. She wouldn’t give those dirty old men the satisfaction of listening to her scream as she fell to her death.

She waited for the impact. And waited. And waited. After a few moments, April opened her eyes and realized that she was still descending quickly, but she wasn’t in a deadly free fall. Whatever Johnny had tied around her waist was lowering her speedily but safely.

As she saw the ground coming up quickly, several men dressed in black reached up to grab her and pull her free. They carried her around the corner of the building and towards a waiting van.

April saw a body lying on the ground near where they met her. She looked back to try and understand what was going on.

Was she dead?

Were these her angels coming to drive her away into the afterlife?

When they got to the van, one of the men pulled off his mask and helped her enter. It was the Blue Wolf. Suddenly, everything made sense. This was part of his escape plan.

“That woman?” she asked.

He nodded. “Yes, your clone. Tony had some made a while back. We kept one of the extras that didn’t make it.”

“And Johnny?” she asked.

“Yes. He’s started to see the light as well. When he knew that Tony was onto you, he contacted me and told me to be ready to do whatever it took to save you. We had no idea that it would be tonight, so we had to improvise,” the Blue Wolf answered.

“So, how did you set it up so fast?”

“We had several contingency plans in place. This was Jonny’s idea. If they caught you in the building, he would suggest that they make it look like suicide from Tony’s office.”

April felt wave after wave of relief washing over her. Relief mixed with anger and fury at Tony. Gratefulness to Johnny and Blue Wolf for protecting her.

Blue Wolf put his arm around her. She cradled her head in his shoulder and let the sobs take over. Huge heaving sobs. She couldn’t contain the fear and the rage any longer. She began to wail and cry loudly while Blue Wolf held her tightly.

“I’m sorry, my angel. I didn’t mean for it to come to this.” Blue Wolf whispered softly over and over again to calm her down.

After a bit, April managed to compose herself. The same calm that she had felt before returned once again. She knew it would take her time to get over this grief. She would cry many times again before she got it all out of her system. But for now, she was alive. And that was all that mattered.

“Blue Wolf,” she said.

“Yes,” he answered quietly in the darkness just loud enough to be heard over the hum of the wheels on the asphalt and the blowing of the air conditioner.

“Promise me that we are going to do whatever it takes to bring LocTech down, but I don’t want anyone to kill Tony until he’s seen us destroy everything he has built.”

“Hmm,” was his reply in the darkness. April couldn’t see his expression.

“Promise me,” she whispered pleadingly. The rage screamed vengeance in her ears as her heart pounded her blood furiously through her trembling body.

“Don’t worry, my dear. We will make sure to let you do the honors when the time comes. Tony will know it is his little angel who has returned to exact her revenge.”

April smiled. She liked the sound of that. There was a lot to do over the coming days and months. The first thing she was going to do was pick back up on her martial art training.

“We’re almost home,” he whispered tenderly in her ear. “You can sleep. Tomorrow we will decide what to do from here on out. What do you want to do first?”

“Release the clones,” she said immediately without even thinking. “We’re going to release all those ‘insidious’ in Sector Seven.”

“Hmm,” he said sleepily. “I like the sound of that. Come, Juanita will show you to your room. Breakfast is normally served at six thirty, but don’t worry. You must get your rest. Tomorrow we will serve you breakfast whenever you get up.”

“Thank you, Blue Wolf,” she said as she hugged him. “Good night.”

April followed the small girl to the room she was shown. She didn’t bother taking off her clothes. She threw herself on the bed and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep willing herself not to feel anything until the next day. It would come with its own troubles and challenges.

But for now, she was alive. She was safe. And she would sleep.

——

April’s story continues in Rise! (Book 1 of the Edge of the Universe series) that you can download free at various book retailers or from my blog at DaveBailey.me

Chapter 1 – Old Dreams

Igor stepped into the room and paused for a moment. He ran his hand down his long, blond beard as he waited patiently for Mr. Romanov to finish a phone call.

The old man spoke quietly, and Igor stayed by the door to give him space for privacy. Waiting for the white-haired, old Russian to acknowledge him.

Igor glanced to the sides to observe the large, bulky security guards standing on either side of the door. He recognized Max Isaev to his left. They had met once before back in the motherland. Igor knew that Max was Mr. Romanov’s right-hand man and headed up his support group.

Max cut a striking figure in his perfectly tailored suit. There was a strange aura about him. However, he would have been quite handsome if his large, bulbous nose didn’t look like it had been broken in 20 different fights.

He didn’t recognize the smaller guard to the right but knew his name was Vladimir Lagunov. Most likely because he handled and headed up Mr. Romanov’s spy group. And Igor had heard through the grapevine that in spite of his smaller frame, he was just as deadly if not more so than Max.

The thing that stood out about Vladimir were his shoes because while everyone else wore shiny, black dress shoes, the fearless bodyguard wore gaudy Gucci shoes that sported large, bright double Gs on each side.

Igor knew the ruthless, old man had made a lot of enemies over the years, but still, two guards seemed a bit of an overkill here in this small, dark room. Something must be up.

He tried to catch their eye and give them a friendly smile to put them at ease, but neither of the burly men acknowledged him or even looked directly at him. He knew that he had their full attention though. Making any sudden, rash moves would prove instantly fatal.

Mr. Romanov finally put down the phone and turned in his chair before standing up stiffly. Igor took a few steps forward and reached out a hand to help him. The old man smiled when he saw Igor and brushed his hand away.

“I’m a bit older than when you last saw me Igor, but not that old yet. I’m just a little sore from working out in the gym today.”

Igor smiled in relief at Mr. Romonov’s wry sense of humor. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms twenty years earlier, and he hadn’t been sure how the old man would greet him.

“It’s good to see you, sir,” he said with a stiff bow as he stuck out his hand to greet the old man.

Mr. Romanov had taken a step forward simultaneously and reached out to hug him. There was an awkward pause as Igor switched from trying to take the old man’s hand to embrace him.

“Come, let us walk. I called you here to talk about something important, but my phone call took longer than I anticipated. Our party is about to start. I must be there to greet my guests.”

Igor turned on his heel and stepped to the side to fall in beside the elderly man who asked how his family was doing and how Igor had fared on his trip as they walked down the long, wood-paneled hall.

They paused before a door, and Mr. Romanov waved the guards on down the hall.

“Listen, Igor. I imagine you are wondering why I asked to talk with you in spite of our past differences. But I want you to know that I hold no grudges for what you did or why. I know you believed you were doing the right thing.”

Igor raised his eyebrows slightly at the old man’s phrasing. He had never known Mr. Romanov to let go of old grudge when he had an ax to grind with someone.

“You are an honorable man, which is why I have requested you to be here now. I need your help with an urgent matter. Please meet me back here at 9:30 p.m. I don’t plan to stay long at the party. Just long enough to greet and mingle with the guests. Then I shall return to attend to these matters. And I should like your help.”

Igor furrowed his eyebrows for a brief moment. This was completely unexpected. He thought he had been invited simply as a formality. He hadn’t even seriously considered coming. Igor’s father had encouraged him to come though to represent the Koslov family.

The second thing that threw Igor off was the fact that the old man referred to him as honorable. He had been anything but when he was younger. Igor knew that he had often acted rashly and impetuously.

Mr. Romonov’s strange request held an ominous tone to it. And he had the most serious look on his face. Igor seemed to read a hint of fear in his eyes. He had no interest in working for the old man again. However, it was best not to turn down the old man without at least hearing him out.

Igor bowed his head in acknowledgment.

“It is your birthday, sir. I will be here as you have asked.”

The old man smiled and reached out to shake Igor’s hand firmly, just as the door opened. It seemed like the old man wanted to say more, but Mr. Romanov’s demeanor changed when he saw who was standing there.

A gorgeous woman in a stunning yellow gown graced the entrance to the room. Igor couldn’t tear his eyes away from her even though he heard Mr. Romanov speaking to him.

“Igor, you remember my daughter, Alexandra? Alexandra, you remember Igor, of course?”

Igor’s breath seemed to catch in his throat, and he couldn’t bring himself to speak for fear of his voice cracking or saying something foolish. He just smiled and nodded as demurely as possible.

“Of course I remember all of your Shestyorka and Bratok wannabe minions,” the woman spat angrily as she scowled at Igor. “Come, Papa. I’ve been waiting for you. You are late to greet your guests.”

Igor’s mind raced. Alexandra had been only a young teenage girl when he quit working for Mr. Romonov. Igor had made a clean break from his past with the old man by requesting to stay in the army after his conscription was up to avoid going back to the Russian mob.

Old man Romanov had been furious when he found out that Igor wouldn’t be coming back into his services. But Igor had made a career for himself in the army until the Romanov’s had fled to America to avoid the gang wars and bloodbath that had ensued over the years.

Igor wondered what the old Romanov would require of him now. He didn’t want any part of it. But it was too late to back out. He was here and would have to wait to see how this played out.

“Yes, I know. I was on the phone with Andrey to finalize the details on our latest venture. Please, show Igor to the main hall and begin greeting our guests for me. I will change quickly and be right there.”

Alexandra’s eyes blazed furiously for a moment as she glanced at Igor, but cooled when she looked back at her father.

“Yes, sir. I will do as you have asked for the sake of our guests but don’t delay. It would not be appropriate,” she said still glowering at Igor.

“That’s my girl,” Mr. Romanov said as he patted her arm and gave her a peck on the cheek. “I won’t be more than five minutes.”

“Come, Mr. Kozlov,” she said as she swept briskly down the hall.

Igor glanced at the old man with a nod and turned to follow her. He had to trot to catch up to her as she was already halfway down the corridor. He tried to think of something intelligent to say, but just as he started to open his mouth, she held up her hand to stop him.

“Please, don’t attempt to flatter me or humor me. I remember very well who you are and what you used to do for my father. Nothing you can do will impress me or put you in a good light. I despise you and everything you stand for in my father’s organization.”

“Even though you benefit from it, and even though I tried to stay away from it,” he said with a wry smile that he knew would irritate her and get under her skin.

“You came back, didn’t you?” she spat back. “Only the grave will cure the hunchback, or as they say here in America, ‘A leopard can’t change its spots.”

“I came only because my father asked me to represent our family, and of course to see you,” he said, trying to make light of the situation.

He could see her attempting to keep a straight face and feign her indigence as they walked down the stairs into the hall.

“Well, you have honored your father’s request and seen me. Now you may go home.”

She swirled off to greet the first group of people gathered nearby and play the perfect hostess.

Igor mosied on over to the bar and ordered a cocktail from the girl making drinks. He glanced at his watch. 8:05 p.m. and the place was already jam-packed with Mr. Romanov’s friends and acquaintances.

The bartender slid a glass in his direction. Igor took it automatically and mumbled his thanks while watching Alexandra across the room. She had stopped near a group of men. One of them had put his arm around her, and she was smiling.

He felt a twinge of jealousy. Igor hadn’t given her much thought over the years. But Alexandra had grown up into a beautiful woman. It almost made him wish that he hadn’t joined the army and had stayed close to home. Not that he would have stood much of a chance by the way she seemed to despise her father’s henchmen.

Igor meandered around the room in the opposite direction in the attempt to meet up with her in the middle while not making it so obvious what he was trying to do.

He paused to greet and chat with a couple of people who seemed open to a conversation. But he kept watching Alexandra the entire time, hoping to catch her eye or get her attention.

She had moved on to another group nearby. Igor made his way past her as if heading somewhere else and acted like had just happened to see her standing there. Alexandra greeted him coldly but was still polite enough to introduce him to the rest of the group.

Alexandra told them that he had been one of her father’s minions back in the motherland. He got mixed reactions over that. Some seemed to be impressed while others frowned at him.

“But he is a rebellious rebel,” Alexandra quipped after a few moments of awkward silence. “He ran away while he could before we came to America.”

The mood in the group shifted immediately. Those who had seemed to respect him only a moment ago, now frowned. While the others who had looked down on him now seemed impressed.

“The end doesn’t always justify the means, does it, Igor?” someone named Denis with ruffled dark hair quipped stiffly as if trying to smooth things over. “I always admire a man who does his own thinking and isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes.”

Igor smiled grimly and nodded politely while trying to mumble something appropriate.

“My dream was always to move to America and become a policeman. I wanted to be a good guy and save people.”

That didn’t seem to help matters any. It just seemed to make everyone all the more tense. Igor wanted to kick himself. That probably was a dumb thing to say in this kind of setting where most of them didn’t care much for Americans, much less those who upheld the law against their mafia relatives.

“It’s because those donuts in the American movies always looked so delicious,” Igor said with a chuckle as it were the punchline to a bad joke.

Better to be frowned on for telling dumb jokes than to get popped off by someone who thought he might turn on them. He glanced at Alexandra, who seemed to be beaming at his awkwardness.

“Is your father okay?” he asked, pointing to his watch. “It’s been 20 minutes already.”

She smiled and waved him off as she turned to another group.

“He’s fine. Just a little slower than usual these days.”

Igor nodded at her as she left. Then he nodded politely to the rest of the group while pointing to his half-empty cocktail glass as if indicating he was going to get a refill.

He dropped off the glass before heading back up the stairs the way he had come with Alexandra. Hopefully, the old man would tell him what he needed right away, and then he could catch the next flight home.

When he got to the top of the stairs and turned the corner down the hall, there was no sign of Max or Vladimir. Igor knocked on Mr. Romanov’s door. He wondered if the men were inside, but there was no answer.

Igor tried the handle, and the door eased open quietly. He jumped to the side in case the trigger-happy bodyguards took a potshot at him for coming in unannounced.

“It’s just me. Igor,” he stated clearly. “Is everything ok in there?”

There was no answer, so he pushed the door open the rest of the way before stepping inside.

“Mr. Romanov!” he called out and took a few more steps into the bedroom.

The room was empty. He knew it wouldn’t look good if someone came in and caught him there, so he turned to leave. But as he walked past the bathroom door, he heard the sound of running water.

He knocked on the door and waited for a second before pushing it open. There was a dark figure standing over the tub who spun around to face him.

“Whoops! I apologize, sir.” Igor started to say until he realized that it wasn’t Mr. Romanov that was looking at him, but someone with a mask on.

The old man was submerged in the bathtub with the masked figure keeping his head under the water. The tub faucet was running, and water was overflowing onto the floor.

“Hey! What are you doing?” Igor shouted.

The masked figure continued pushing Mr. Romanov’s head under the water. Igor rushed forward to save Mr. Romanov, but he slipped and skidded on the slippery wet floor.

He managed to get his hands on the masked figure and push him away from the tub with his left hand. He swung a right jab at the mask and managed to connect. But he was too off-balance for it to be very effective.

The masked man was slim and wiry. A slippery little dude that managed to wiggle out of his hold. He bent down and rammed into Igor with his shoulder as he ran on by. Igor turned to follow, but he slipped again, and this time wasn’t able to keep himself upright.

Igor felt his feet slide out from under him and his head came down hard on the cold, wet linoleum flooring.

Continue Reading Chapter 2 – Death Tub >>>

Chapter 2 – Death Tub

When Igor came to, the water was still running in the bathtub. He sat up gingerly and placed his hand to his head. Suddenly, he remembered that Mr. Romanov was still in the tub.

He scooted over to the side of the tub and shut off the faucet with his left hand as he pulled Mr. Romanov’s head out from under the water with the other. Then he hit the lever to open the drain and let the water out.

Igor stood up carefully, still holding the old man’s head out of the water. He pulled Mr. Romanov to the edge of the tub and slid his body down onto the floor.

The old man’s face was blue, and he wasn’t breathing. Igor checked for a pulse but didn’t feel anything. He placed his hands over the man’s chest and pressed down several times to pump the water out of his lungs.

The liquid streamed out of his mouth and nostrils each time Igor pressed down. After clearing out the majority of the water in his lungs, Igor tried breathing air into his body. But his attempts to reanimate old Mr. Romanov were futile.

He had seen it in American movies, but he couldn’t remember what to dial. Not that his cell phone was even working here. Igor hadn’t had coverage since arriving and hadn’t yet had time to buy a chip that worked.

Suddenly, Igor realized how it would look if someone came in and saw him standing over Mr. Romanov’s dead body. There was no way he could cover this up to make himself look innocent.

Igor’s fingerprints were everywhere. His blood was even on the floor where he had bashed his head. Igor tried to think of what to do. He realized that he was panicking. That wouldn’t do him any good. He took a moment to focus on his breathing. To take several long deep breaths.

He stood to his feet. Trembling as the shock began to wear off. It took him a few seconds to compose himself.

“Where were Max and Vladimir anyway?” Igor thought as he raced down the hall. “They should have been here protecting the old man. Had they betrayed him? Or worse, had they been killed?”

When he reached the end of the hall, Igor turned the corner and burst through the doors at the top of the stairs.

“Help! Somebody call the ambulance!” he shouted at the top of his lungs.

The sound of his voice didn’t carry very far in the din with so many people talking loudly to be heard over each other and the live music coming from the band.

Igor spotted Alexandra at the far end of the hall. He raced down the stairs in her direction. As he passed the first group of people, he shouted for them to call an ambulance.

They simply looked at him like he was out of his mind. He continued yelling the same thing to each group of people he passed. By the time he reached Alexandra, most of the crowd had quieted down although the band was still playing in the background.

By the time he reached her, Igor was panting and out of breath. Alexandra cringed and backed away when she saw him. He realized that he must look like a sordid mess from slipping in the puddle of water. But that couldn’t be helped now.

“What is it, Igor?” She asked coolly.

“Your Father. Call the ambulance.” Igor managed to pant breathlessly.

“What about him?” Alexandra asked as if she didn’t understand what he was trying to say.

Igor didn’t want to tell her that her father was dead yet. He tried to think of an easy way to break the news. To prepare her for it. Soften the blow. But nothing came to mind. So, he continued to breathe deeply.

“I found him in the bathtub. Unconscious.”

“Well, where is Max?” she asked as if her father often passed out.

“I don’t know,” he panted. “There is no easy way to say this. But a man was holding his head under the water.”

The expression that flickered across her face was a mixture of emotions. Igor couldn’t quite read what all she was feeling. But she seemed to realize that Igor was serious.

“Call 911,” she shouted as she pushed her way through the group that had gathered around them.

Igor watched as she finally broke free from the crowd and gathered up her gown to race for the stairs. He followed along behind her a bit more slowly as his head was still throbbing from his fall.

A few people followed him, but most stayed behind to continue partying. Igor ordered them to stay outside the bedroom and direct the paramedics when they arrived.

Alexandra was on the floor beside her father when he entered the bathroom. He stood uncomfortably behind her and cleared his throat.

“Call off the ambulance. It’s too late,” she said. “He’s already dead.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Igor replied. “I tried my best to revive him. I performed CPR on him, but by time I pulled him out, he was already gone. I’m sorry.”

Alexandra stood up and turned to leave. She paused and waited for him to step away from the door.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I don’t want to destroy any more evidence. Clear everyone out of here until the police arrive.”

Her coldness took him back for an instant. It made sense that she would be accustomed to death and dying. But still, her own father was lying on the floor dead. Drowned to death in his own bathtub. Igor would have thought that she would be more emotional about it.

He wanted to hug her and try to comfort her. To tell her that it was okay to cry. Igor reached out a hand awkwardly toward her shoulder, but she pushed on past him through the door.

Alexandra took a few steps into the bedroom. Igor followed her quietly. Before they reached the door to the bedroom though, she stopped and turned back toward him.

“You are free to go home. I will break the news to the guests and send them home.”

“It’s best to wait for the police to arrive. The killer may still be around. Perhaps they can still catch him. And he may yet make an attempt on your life. You must be careful.”

Igor sensed a flicker of fear in her eyes. Just then, Max and Vladimir came racing into the room. Both glaring angrily at Igor. Vladimir stopped beside Alexandra and reached out to hug her.

Max raced on past them into the bathroom. Igor heard him moan when he reached the door and looked in on Mr. Romanov. He stormed back out and shoved his finger into Igor’s chest, demanding to know what had happened.

“He asked me to meet him here at 9:30 to resolve something. I came early because he hadn’t shown up at the party. The real question is, why weren’t you two doing your job?”

Max growled and glowered. He glanced over at Vladimir.

“Vladimir told me there was a ruckus going on out front and sent me to check it out.”

Vladimir shook his head vehemently and denied it.

“I never said that. I heard Mr. Romanov’s voice on the com asking me to get his briefcase out of his car. But when I got there, it wouldn’t open. I thought you were still here watching over him.”

Both of them continued to glower at Igor as if they suspected that he had set them up. Before they could say anything, though, two police officers entered the room, and the paramedics followed close behind.

Everything was a blur after that in Igor’s mind. He watched the cops closely because he felt like he was in a real American movie as they questioned everyone, including him. He told them what he could about the person he had seen standing over Mr. Romanov.

After the crime scene had been secured and protected from the gawking party guests, more police officers and detectives arrived to initiate the preliminary survey and evaluate the physical evidence.

They tried to remove him along with Alexandra and the others after questioning him. But he flashed his Russian Military Police badge and refused to budge. They didn’t seem to be happy about him being there, but he refused to leave. He just smiled politely and rattled off random phrases in Russian.

Igor stayed most of the night. Watching from the sidelines. Observing the police as they evaluated the physical evidence and prepared a narrative for what had happened. He watched as they captured the scene photographically and then created the crime scene sketch.

Things seemed to be winding down by around 3:15 a.m. So, Igor stepped outside to get some fresh air. Everything was quiet, and the guests had all been allowed to go. Max was out front though. He scowled at Igor and came over immediately.

Igor answered his questions calmly. Max seemed extremely agitated when Igor described the masked man in the bathroom that had been holding Mr. Romanov under the water.

“The Rusalka!” Max swore under his breath and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
He offered one to Igor who declined with a scoff. “A Slavic Mermaid?”

“Just a theory I have. Did you know the old man’s been having a lot of health issues lately? Passing out. Losing his mind at times.”

Igor shook his head, “No, I didn’t.”

“He’s been in out of the hospital almost every week. Anyway, he goes on these rants about the Rusalka. Claims that they’ve been trying to kill him.”

Igor shrugged. “So, someone knew about it and figured drowning him in a tub would be the way to get away with it.”
Max scoffed, “Like the police would actually consider the Rusalka an actual suspect.”

“Wait, you’re not telling me that you actually believe the Rusalka exist, much less killed your boss,” Igor asked.

Max just shrugged and took another drag on his cigarette.

“How’s Alexandra holding up?” Igor finally asked when Max finished grilling him for the second time.

“As well as can be expected under the circumstances. Last I saw she was in the kitchen drinking coffee with vodka and calling relatives to break the news.”

Igor turned to leave. Max reached out a hand to stop him.

“Watch out for Vladimir. He has never lost a client on his watch, and he seems to suspect it was you. If he truly believes it, he will stop at nothing to avenge the old man’s death and his own honor.”

Igor frowned. “He’s more of a suspect than I am. He is the one who left Mr. Romanov unattended.”

Max shrugged again. “Just a friendly word of caution to make sure you convince us of your innocence as soon as possible.”

The two men stared at each other for a long moment. Igor trying to read Max’s expression in the shadowy glow of the cigarette outlining the burly man’s crooked nose.

A chill ran down Igor’s spine at the threatening words.

“I’m going to check on Alexandra,” Igor stated firmly, refusing to let the burly bodyguard intimidate him.

Igor could feel Max’s eyes boring into him as he entered the house. He walked back to the kitchen and waved to Alexandra. She seemed bleary-eyed but coherent.

He walked over and stood silently before her. Unsure of what to say. “How are you doing?” seemed to be the rhetorical question of choice, but at the same time seemed inappropriate.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get there earlier. In time,” he muttered.

Alexandra waved her hand in front of her face as if to brush off his guilt and motioned for him to sit down.

“He’s been going on about someone trying to kill him, but we all thought he was going crazy. It’s not your fault. We should have been more careful.”

Igor didn’t say anything. He just nodded and watched her eyes and the expressions on her face. She still seemed so cold about the whole thing.

Alexandra finally looked back up at him.

“Could you do me a favor, Igor? Help me get to the bottom of this. Figure out who did it and why.”

He frowned briefly before he realized what he was doing and could recover. That was the last thing he expected to hear coming out of her mouth.

Igor had been the last person with her father, a stranger in the house, and the most likely suspect in her mind. Unless Alexandra was like her father and wanted tokeep her enemies close until she could assess their motives to deal with them appropriately.

“I don’t believe it was you, Igor,” Alexandra said as if reading his thoughts. “I don’t know who did this, but you are not on my list of suspects. You refused my offer to leave before the police got here. Actually, as crazy as it sounds, you’re the only person I feel I can trust. I know you and Father had your differences, but he always said you were an honorable man. And I’m willing to pay you whatever you ask. Money will not be an issue.”

That was a surprise to hear. He seemed to sense the first crack in her emotional armor. Igor reached out his hand and placed it on her arm.

“I will do my best to help you resolve this, Alexandra. But you do not need to pay me. Your father is an old friend of the family. And I know he did many favors for my father over the years.”

“I know you will. Your background and skills will be the key to resolving this matter. If you help me resolve his murder and bring the killer to justice, I will find a way to repay you even if you don’t accept money. Father has friends in high places who can help you obtain your immigration papers and friends in the police force who can help you get your dream job of eating donuts while walking a beat.”

Igor smiled wanly realizing that she really had been paying attention earlier when he spoke with Denis and the group. He stood up and excused himself to get some sleep.

He smiled giddily at the thought of actually coming to live in America as he walked to his bedroom. The faint light of dawn outlined his window enough that he didn’t bother to turn on the lights after stepping into his room.

But Igor’s happiness was short-lived because as soon as he stepped through the door, someone attacked him in the shadowy darkness.

Continue Reading Chapter 3 – Dark Mess >>>

Chapter 3 – Dark Mess

The blow slammed Igor back up against the back of the door and knocked the breath out him. Whoever hit him was still hanging on to him. Pressing his body up against him to pin Igor’s arms while trying to get his hands up around Igor’s throat.

Igor struggled to get free as he wheezed to catch his breath. He managed to twist himself around enough to get one arm loose. Igor struggled to pull his assailant’s hands away from his neck.

Simultaneously, he braced himself against the wall with his legs to push the attacker away with his body. The man was strong and wiry, but still smaller than Igor. So, he was able to get enough leverage to push the man away from the wall and free his other arm.

The man pushed back, and Igor stopped resisting. Using the force of his attacker’s own strength to swing him back around against the wall. With both arms now free, Igor was able to jab him twice in the ribs.

It was hard to see where he hit the man in the dim light of the room, but he knew he connected well on the second blow based on the man’s grunt.

Igor wound up and twisted himself back for a right hook that he was sure to put his assailant down, but the man must have been able to see well in the dark or just had good reflexes because he twisted out of the way before Igor could hit him.

His fist bashed into the thin wooden door. He could feel it crack and splinter under the blow. Meantime, the man grabbed him around the waist again and pushed him back down the short hall between the wall and bathroom leading into the bedroom.

Igor tripped over something on the floor and lost his balance. He managed to twist in the direction he was falling in time to catch himself on the bed. He landed on the high soft mattress with his attacker furiously trying to pin him down.

His small size was no match for Igor though who managed to roll him off and jump back to his feet. The attacker tried to roll off to the other side, but not before Igor managed to nail him with a couple of more sharp jabs to his body. One seemed to land on a fleshy shoulder that didn’t do much damage, but the other connected with something bony that he knew had to have hurt his opponent. It hurt his knuckles as well, but Igor was satisfied with his blow.

Igor lunged around the bed toward the window and pulled back the thin curtains to let in more of the morning light. It didn’t improve the lighting much, but it was enough to see the switch.

He lunged toward it. It forced him to turn away from his enemy for a second. Igor felt the mattress moving as the shadowy figure jumped up onto the bed to reach him.

Igor managed to flip the light switch on, and light flooded the room as he turned to face his oncoming assailant once again.

But before he could twist back around, he felt a wicked blow across the back of his neck and Igor slumped to the floor at the foot of the bed as everything went dark once again.

Igor slowly came to on a hard surface. His head throbbed steadily, and for a few moments, he couldn’t remember what had happened or where he was. But then it all came back to him. Igor struggled to sit up, but the back of his head was still sore.

So, he laid back down and glanced around the dim room. Igor saw the faint outline of a bed off in the distance. Something seemed off, but he couldn’t quite place it as he tried to figure out what was wrong.

Then he realized that the lamp beside the bed was off. He had turned it on before getting knocked out. And the curtain was closed. Also, he was farther away from the bed than he last remembered. Igor was on the other side of the room as if he had been dragged away from it.

Igor heard someone moan on the other side of him. Igor jerked his head in that direction. There was a shadowy figure lying on the ground a little ways away from him just inside the bathroom door. Whoever it was moaned and half-whimpered as he rolled over and tried to push himself up.

Suddenly, a dark spot on the floor between them caught Igor’s eye. It looked like a weapon of some sort. He couldn’t tell what make or model, but as he squinted and moved closer, Igor realized that it was definitely a handgun.

The other man seemed to notice it about the same time. They both froze for half a second in the dark gloom. Igor couldn’t tell who it was because his features were hidden in the shadows. But the whites of his eyes seemed to recognize Igor as they squinted into an angry scowl.

They both lunged for the handgun at the same time. The other man was a bit closer and had taken advantage of Igor’s hesitation to get a head start. But he miscalculated his push-off and slammed his shoulder into the door before scrambling out around it.

It was long enough of a delay for Igor to wrap his hands around the gun and point it at the man’s face in front of him. The man growled furiously but was smart enough not to continue moving toward him. He lowered his head and pushed his face into the floor.

“Stand up slowly and flip on the light,” Igor ordered as he backed up to put some distance between them.

The man did as Igor ordered and when he turned around, Igor realized who it was. Vladimir.

“I didn’t kill Mr. Romanov,” Igor said. “Why are you trying to kill me?”

Vladimir squinted his eyes at Igor and shook his head.

“I’m not trying to kill you. You came to my room and attacked me. And now you are pointing a gun at me. How can you say something like that?”

“This is your room? I was told that this was my room earlier.”

Igor continued pointing the gun in Vladimir’s face but turned slightly to glance around the room a few times. His eyes flitting back and forth between the setting behind him and the man in front of him. It was different. This wasn’t the same room where he had been attacked, the door to the bathroom was in a different location than the one he had walked into earlier.

“Why am I here? Why did you bring me here?” Igor demanded to know.

“You’re crazier than I thought! You came in here and attacked me.” Vladimir growled.

“No, I walked into my room, and I was attacked. I pulled the curtain partially off the rod before getting knocked out. Someone must have brought me here. If we go to my room, you’ll see where the curtain is torn. And there is a dent in the door where I tried to punch the person who attacked me. There is no dent here in this door. Someone brought me here. If it wasn’t you then who?”

Igor knew that he had to convince his nemesis of his innocence quickly before he had a chance to hurt him. He didn’t want to have to harm Vladimir if he wasn’t guilty of anything. Igor knew that he was in enough trouble as it was without making another enemy.

“Why am I in your room?” Igor demanded. “Where is the room I was staying in?”

“Across the hall and two doors down. I don’t know how I got into the bathroom. After the police left, Max and I walked around looking for clues to what happened. Then I came to lay down. That’s the last thing I remember before waking up here with you in my room.”

Igor pointed toward the door with the gun, indicating for Vladimir to go out into the hall. He glared at Vladimir for a few seconds as if analyzing the situation before complying.

Vladimir went across the hall and opened another door. Then slipped inside. Igor paused and pushed the door back open slowly so he could see where Vladimir was standing before entering. The lamp was still on, and the curtain torn partway off the rod as Igor had said. Vladimir continued to glare at him as if waiting for an explanation.

Igor flipped on the switch to the overhead light and closed the door behind him. He continued pointing the gun at Vladimir but nodded at the back of the door where his fist had bashed a large dent and splintered part of the wood.

“I think that whoever killed Mr. Romanov was trying to pit us against one another. They left the gun close to you and placed me in the room to look like I had attacked you.” Igor stated.

“You are fortunate that I didn’t get the gun before you. I would have killed you without hesitation.” Igor replied.

“So, I can give you your gun back now?” Igor asked questioningly. “You believe I’m innocent?”

Vladimir shrugged. “Maybe. I’m still not totally convinced that you aren’t involved. Maybe you set this up to fake your innocence and throw me off your trail. Or maybe your accomplice set you up.”

“Are there security cameras we can use to see what happened?” Igor asked.

Vladimir nodded and pointed back in the direction they had come from. Igor motioned to the door with his head and kept the gun pointed at the other man. They walked in silence down the hall.

When they arrived at the security room, it didn’t take long for Vladimir to let out a sigh of frustration. He didn’t need to say anything though.

Igor could see for himself that the feed had been cut off just before he arrived at his room. There was no way for them to know what had happened after he had been knocked out.

“Can you see where Max and Alexandra are now?”

Vladimir poked around on the security system. Max was out front where Igor had last seen him. The burly guard was leaning up against a pillar of the house still smoking away.

Then a pajama-clad Vladimir zoomed in on the guard out back behind the house. He started systematically checking camera feeds and making a list of numbers and names.

“Alexandra was in the kitchen when I went to my room. Can you rewind and see where she went to?” Igor asked, feeling nervous. He had a bad feeling about this.

Vladimir glanced at him and switched to the cameras in the kitchen. Alexandra wasn’t there any longer. Another woman behind a table seemed to be making preparations for breakfast.

“Can’t you rewind the camera there and see where she went or what direction she left in?” Igor asked.

Vladimir shook his head. “The whole system on that side of the house went offline. None of the cameras recorded anything for 15 minutes. Then they mysteriously came back on.”

“Can these feeds be controlled remotely, or would someone have had to have been here in the room to access the system?”

“The system is online, so it’s possible that someone hacked it and took over the controls from somewhere else. But why would they have done that right before you were attacked?”

“I don’t think this is about us,” Igor muttered. “I think that whoever killed Mr. Romanov came after Alexandra next. They just put us against each other as a distraction.”

Vladimir scowled at him and noticed that Igor was no longer pointing the gun in his direction.

“I don’t like that theory one bit. Not Alexandra,” he said as he jumped up and raced for the door.

Igor followed close behind as Vladimir ran for the kitchen. The poor woman almost jumped out of her skin when they burst through the door behind her, and breathlessly demanded to know if she had seen Alexandra.

She was a small woman who didn’t seem to speak much English or Russian because she couldn’t understand what they were asking her.

Her nametag said that her name was Bian. She jabbered away in a foreign language that Igor couldn’t place. He could tell it wasn’t Chinese even though she was definitely Asian.

Someone else came in from the other room where they must have heard the ruckus. This person understood what they were saying, but claimed she hadn’t seen Alexandra since she had arrived. They asked Hoa to translate for Bian, who understood the other woman perfectly and replied immediately.

“She say Ms. Alexandra leave kitchen with man. Go out back.”

“What did he look like?” Igor and Vladimir demanded simultaneously.

They both waited impatiently for Hoa to translate for the first woman. Bian seemed confused as she tried to recall what he looked like. She jabbered on incessantly.

“Bian no get good look at man’s face. He funny.”
“He was about this tall?” Igor asked as he raised his hand a little below his neck.

Hoa translated, and Bian nodded vigorously.

“His face looked white like he had a mask on?” Igor asked another question.

Bian smiled vigorously again as Hoa translated his question.

“Where does the back door lead to?” Igor demanded, asking both Hoa and Vladimir.

He didn’t bother waiting for an answer. He turned and raced out of the kitchen toward several doorways. Igor paused at each to open them and look inside. All but one were open. Igor smashed it open with the foot of his boot, but it was empty.

There was a door that led outside, but he also saw stairs leading back up to the second floor. Igor hesitated for half a second, trying to decide which way to go. He realized that if they had gone outside though, they would probably have gotten into a car and been long gone.

His only hope was that they were still in the large house somewhere while the short man with the white mask was still looking for something. Igor turned and raced up the stairs.

When he reached the top, Igor worked his way down the hall. Opening each door to see if anyone was inside. Most were empty. One room did have someone sleeping in one of the beds. Igor didn’t know who the woman was, but she didn’t look like Alexandra or the man they were searching for.

As he came out of the room, he realized that he had come back around in the direction of Mr. Romanov’s office where Igor had first met up with him the night before. The door was ajar, so Igor headed straight for it.

Vladimir had just come up the stairs and asked, “What are you doing? We were up here, and there is no one here. We need to cover the grounds outside. I’ve already contacted Max.”

Igor ignored him and pushed the door open slowly with his left foot while pointing the gun out in front of him. He didn’t see anyone in the room and slowly eased his way inside with Vladimir still complaining behind him.

He almost gave up in exasperation at Vladimir’s whining and pestering, but Igor gave a quick glance around the corner of the room and saw dark figures huddled up against the bookshelves.

Igor swung around and pointed the gun into the dark corner as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. He looked for the light switch, but it was on the other side of the room.

Vladimir had frozen behind him and couldn’t see what Igor saw. So, he motioned with his eyes to for Vladimir to flip the switch.

“What is it? I don’t read minds,” Vladimir growled.

“Turn on the light,” Igor hissed, still pointing the gun in the direction.

Vladimir took a step toward the door and turned on the lights. Igor could see Alexandra being held around the neck by a man who was smaller than her. The same white-masked face he had seen earlier in the bathrooms.

“Let her go,” Igor demanded.

“Put your gun down, or I will kill the woman,” the man hissed from behind her.

“He doesn’t have a gun,” Alexandra shouted.

“But I do have a knife, and I will cut her!” the man retorted. “Put the gun down unless you don’t care if she gets hurt.

“Shoot him in the forehead,” Vladimir shouted at Igor. “If you can’t do it, throw me the gun and I will.”

Igor was shocked and glanced at Vladimir. He wondered if the man was trying to send him a coded message or something. But before he could react, Vladimir leaped over in Igor’s direction and grabbed at the gun screaming.

“Kill him! Kill him!” Vladimir screamed over and over.

Igor was shocked at Vladimir’s strange behavior but didn’t let go of the weapon. He wrestled to keep his hold on the gun. Vladimir swept his feet out from under him and fell on top of him as Igor dropped to the floor.

They struggled for a few seconds, but Vladimir’s move had caught Igor off guard. Vladimir managed to twist the gun out of Igor’s hand and jumped back onto his feet. In the meantime, the small man had let go of Alexandra and taken advantage of their fight over the gun to race out of the room.

Vladimir raced out after him. Igor heard several shots fired. He struggled to get back on his feet, still wheezing from Vladimir’s elbow to his gut.

“You okay?” he asked Alexandra who was pulling herself from the floor against the desk on the other side of the room

She nodded, and he stepped forward to reach out a hand to help her up.

“Thank you,” she said with a shaky voice.

“What did he want?” Igor asked.

She shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. “He was going on about some paperwork that my father was going to sign on a business deal. He wanted them and said he was going to kill me too if I didn’t turn them over. He didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t know anything about them.”

“Did you recognize him or know who he might be?”

She shook her head and sat back down on one of the seats. Igor didn’t want to leave her there, but he wanted to go after Vladimir. Alexandra sensed the hesitation in his eyes.

“It’s okay. Go on. I’ll be fine now that he’s gone.”

He nodded and turned to leave.

“Igor,” she said, and he turned back around. “Thank you for saving me. I really do believe he would have killed me after getting what he wanted.”

The tall, blond man nodded in her direction and stepped out into the hall. Vladimir and the masked man were long gone. The woman he had seen lying in bed had woken up. She was peeking out the door to her room.

“What’s going on out there?” she demanded to know.

“It’s okay. You can come out. The man who killed Mr. Romanov was trying to steal something from Alexandra.” Igor replied and pointed to the office door.

She stepped out into the hallway, wrapped in her bedsheets. “Is Alex okay?” she asked.

He nodded and stepped aside as the woman went inside. Igor still didn’t like leaving Alexandra behind, but he felt better now that someone else was with her. He glanced back inside, and she seemed to be okay. Igor nodded at her once again and then went to look for Vladimir.

Continue Reading Chapter 4 – Chaos Reigns >>>

Chapter 4 – Chaos Reigns

Igor took off running down the hall after Vladimir and their mystery man. He wanted to stay and ask Alexandra more questions about the man to find out what she knew. But right now, Vladimir would need his help to catch this suspect. And actually, Igor was more interested in keeping Vladimir from killing the man until they could question him to find out why he had murdered Mr. Romanov in the first place.

Igor burst out onto the top of the stairs and paused to look around. He listened for any noise that would let him know if they had run down the stairs or continued running down the hall in the other direction.

He didn’t hesitate long and flew down the stairs. He ran headlong for the front door and burst outside through the foyer. Max turned and looked at him lazily.

“You seen Vladimir? He’s supposed to take the next shift.”

Igor shook his head as he tried to catch his breath. “He’s chasing Mr. Romanov’s killer who was trying to get Alexandra. Vladimir chased him down the hall.”

Max looked at Igor strangely as if he didn’t believe a word he was saying. Just then they heard two shots fire out.

Max started and shot Igor a strange look. “That came from outback!”

Then he burst through the doors and took off running through the house with Igor close on his heels. When they came through the back doors though, there was nothing to see.

A guard was walking past the cars on the far end of the lot. Max waved him over and asked him if he had seen anyone. The guard admitted he had heard the noise but hadn’t seen anyone out that way.

Max headed around the house in one direction and sent the guard to circle the house in the other. He ordered Igor to cut back through the house in case they were still inside.

Igor barged back into the house, going from room to room. He cleared out the bottom floor and headed back up the stairs. He found Vladimir in the second room.

The man was doubled over on the floor. He had taken two bullets in his left side. He tried to sit up, but Igor held his shoulders firmly down.

“Don’t move. I’ll get help.” Igor said.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Go get that murderer and finish him.” Vladimir groaned as he laid back down.

Igor called 911 on Vladimir’s phone and asked for an ambulance. He looked out through the window and saw Max below. He opened the window and let him know what was going on.

“Don’t you have a way to communicate with Max and the guards?” Igor asked when he turned back around.

Vladimir nodded, “Yes, but I took it off when I went to sleep. And then I woke up in the bathroom and never put it back on.”

Max came through the door and knelt down beside Vladimir.

“How’s it look, old friend?” Vladimir asked.

Max shrugged. “I’ve seen you survive worse.”

They both chuckled, but Igor could see the fear in Max’s eyes. It didn’t last long though and was soon replaced with fury.

“Rusalka?” he asked. “Anyone we know?”

Vladimir shrugged. “I never got a good look at his face. I came around the corner too fast. He surprised me. But the same description as Igor gave. Pale face. Short. No one I recognized.”

Max nodded and growled, “I’m going to continue looking around. You stay here with Vlad until the ambulance arrives.”

Igor nodded. Then Max was gone, jabbering orders over the com to the other guard as he headed out the door.

Igor asked if there was anything he could get Vladimir. Water or a pillow. The man shook his head slightly and grunted at the pain. Igor sat back down on the bed.

Something caught his eye through the window. A crouched figure walking carefully across the roof. Igor sucked in his breath and pointed it out to Vladimir who was unable to see from his position o the floor.

“Tell Max. Have them shoot him down.” Vladimir hissed furiously.

Igor looked out the window, but neither Max nor the guard was to be seen. He looked back at Vladimir and shook his head.

“Want me to go call them?” he asked.

Vladimir shook his head and handed the gun to Igor. “There is no time. He will get away. Most likely, he is waiting for a chopper. Go back down to the end of the hall. There’s a ladder out on the balcony that leads up to the top of the roof.”

Igor raced out the door and down the hall. The door leading out onto the balcony was already open. The beginning of the ladder was above his head, so he looked around for a chair or something to stand on.

The balcony was empty, but Igor was able to stand on the railing and stretch over far enough to hoist himself up onto to the ladder. He scrambled up to the roof and pulled himself over the top.

He saw the crouched figure of his opponent hunched over at the far end of the roof behind a chimney. He hadn’t yet seen Igor because he was looking off intently into the distance. Igor saw a dark speck moving in their direction. Most likely, the man’s escape chopper.

Igor scanned the yard below for Max or the other guard but didn’t see them anywhere. He wanted to yell for them, but then his enemy would see him coming. If he had Vladimir’s gun, Igor would be a sitting duck up here on the roof with nowhere to hide.

He scanned the distance between them, looking for the fastest and safest way to get to the man. Igor glanced to the side of the house on either side and felt his legs go weak. He didn’t care much for heights.

Igor moved down the far side of the roof a little way and began to move across the roof. He hoped that Max or the guard wouldn’t mistake him for the other guy and shoot at him. He continued moving in the direction he needed while keeping one eye on the ground below.

Looking down made him even more nervous about the distance he would fall if he slipped, but Igor kept hoping to catch sight of Max to point out the crouching figure at the far end of the roof.

The whirring blades of the helicopter could be heard in the distance, and Igor tried to pick up his pace. He still wasn’t sure what he was going to do when he got there. But he knew he couldn’t let the man getaway.

The only good thing about the chopper getting closer was that the noise would cover any sound that his feet made on the roof.

Igor looked up and saw a man in the door of the helicopter letting down a rope ladder. He tried to hurry his nervous shuffle along the side of the roof. The chopper was almost at the edge of the house, and he knew he was still too far to reach his suspect.

There was no reason to keep hiding now, and the sound of the chopper would cover any noise Igor made. So, he moved up to the top edge of the roof to be able to walk more quickly.

The man in the door of the helicopter nodded in Igor’s direction, and his opponent glanced back at him. He grinned and grabbed onto the rope ladder dangling down. Igor cast aside his nervousness and made a last-ditch effort to reach the man, but the chopper was already pulling away from the house.

Just then, Igor saw Max racing around the side of the house below with his gun raised. The pilot saw it too and jerked the helicopter back away from the direction it had been moving in towards the cover of the house directly in Igor’s direction.

It was close enough for Igor to reach out and grab at the man’s legs. His nemesis kicked and struggled against his hold, but Igor squeezed tighter. Afraid that the chopper would lift him off the roof along with the man. Igor threw his weight back and gave a final tug against the man before the helicopter moved on past him completely and dragged him along down the roof.

It threw Igor off balance, and the man on the ladder slipped off. Igor continued to hang on, and it was enough to pull the man off the ropes. He fell to the roof on top of Igor.

The last thing Igor saw before going down was a man in the door of the chopper exchanging shots with Max. He focused his attention on the man who had kicked himself away from Igor and rolled down the roof a ways from the top.

Igor stood shakily to his feet and started moving down to attack the man before he could get to his feet. But his opponent rolled over to the side and pulled out the gun he had shot Vladimir with. Igor threw himself back over onto the side of the roof.

He scanned the roof hastily for a way to escape, but there was nowhere to go but down. He was too far from the other end of the roof to get back down the ladder.

As he tried to think of a way out, his fingers brushed across a loose tile. A shadow fell over him, and he looked up to see the pale-faced figure glaring down at him with a grim smile on his face. Igor gulped as he stared into the barrel of the weapon.

Just then there was a loud ping as one of Max’s bullets connected with the chopper that was still hovering over the house just off to their side. The pale-faced man looked up to see what had happened as the helicopter spun out of control in their direction.

It flew low in the direction of the man who was standing to his full height on the top of the roof. He had to duck out of the way as the heavy metal bird swung overhead and began falling toward the top of the house.

The pilot struggled to keep it up and move it on past the edge, but it was coming down too fast, and he couldn’t control it.

Igor took advantage of the distraction to rip out the tile his hand was still on. He backhanded it up to knock the gun away from his direction. The weapon flew off to the side and landed on the roof. It clattered down the tiles a short way.

The landing skids of the helicopter began to grind into the roof off to the side with a loud crashing and splintering sound while the pilot fought to control the helicopter enough to get it over the edge of the house.

Igor made a break back toward the ladder at the far end of the house. As long as the man didn’t have any other way to get down, they could catch him there later. He paused to slide down toward the gun to make sure his nemesis wouldn’t be able to use it against them later.

But as he stooped to scoop it up, the man tackled him from behind. They both slid and rolled down the roof toward the edge. The helicopter continued to gouge down deeper into the roof on the side.

There didn’t seem to be much way for it to escape now. It was definitely coming down here on the roof. And the tail rotor blades were slowly swinging in their direction. Igor had to pause to duck back down and roll to the side.

The man was just ahead of him and scrambling back up toward the gun. Igor scrambled after him, but the man’s lighter frame was nimbler and faster.

He reached it first and scooped it up with Igor still behind him. Igor knew he didn’t stand a chance if the man turned on him.

Igor grabbed onto another tile and wrapped his hands around it. Trying to slip his fingers under it to loosen it. It wasn’t as easy to pull out as the previous one, but he got it just in time. He pulled it out as he brought his feet up under him.

Igor flung it angrily with all his might in the man’s direction just as he turned around with the gun pointing in Igor’s direction. He didn’t have much time to aim the tile and almost missed. But the edge of the tile still clipped him on the chin as it went on by. The sharp, jagged edge slicing through his cheek as it made it’s way past him.

The pale man’s face turned red with pain and splattered blood as he went down with an angry scream. Igor thew himself on top of the man’s body to keep him down and struggled to push his hand with the gun down onto the roof.

It didn’t take much of a struggle for Igor to wrestle the gun away from him. Between his superior weight and the pain he was in, Igor had the upper hand. The man still managed to land some kicks and blows before Igor pulled away with the gun and stood to his feet. Igor pointed the gun in the man’s face and dared him to make another move.

“Kick me one more time, and it’ll be the last thing you ever do,” Igor hissed.

He backed away a few feet. Igor wouldn’t have put it past the desperate man to throw himself over the edge just to take Igor with him. But the man had given up when he saw the chopper sinking and crashing down through the roof at the side of the house.

They both threw themselves down behind a chimney onto the roof as the rotor sliced and diced bits of tile on its way down through the building. Igor hoped everyone had managed to get out of that section of the house before it was too late.

Igor stood back up and watched the energy and fire drain from the eyes of his opponent when the man realized there was no way out. The pale-faced man slid back down onto the roof with a sigh and threw his head between his legs.

“Why did you do it?” Igor asked. “Kill Mr. Romanov and attack his daughter.”

The pale-faced man didn’t answer. He just spat blood from his mouth and scowled at Igor who wanted to threaten him. But he was too tired. There would be plenty of time to figure that out later. Right now, he just wanted to get down off the roof.

“Why did you try to frame me last night and this morning?” he asked out of curiosity when the thought struck him.

That brought a smile to pale-faced man’s eyes.

“You don’t know, do you?” he asked.

Igor shook his head.

“Your father sent me. He wanted you to see how a man should treat his enemies. You were always weak. He wanted to make sure you were here when you’re old enemy died.”

“I told my father I wasn’t going to come even though he insisted. And you had no idea I would walk in on you in the bathroom.”

The pale-faced man spat more blood and grinned. “Romanov would have used you to his own filthy ends. Your father found out you were coming, so he sent me to protect you and make sure that didn’t happen.”

So, what did Romanov want me to do?” Igor asked.

“What did he tell you?” the pale-faced man asked.

“Nothing. Just that he needed my help to resolve a problem. I assumed you were the problem.” Igor stated.

“Romanov thought you might be the leverage he could get over your father. He knew we were coming for him.”

“My father? But why?” Igor asked. “Are you the one he called the Rusalka?”

The pale-faced man started to smile before grimacing at the pain in his cut cheek. He spat out a mouthful of blood before answering.

“We are Rusalka. You included. Romanov wanted your DNA. He and his partner are in cahoots with some strange science experiments. You showed up, and he saw his opportunity. So, I had to act before it was too late.”

Igor was furious. This couldn’t be true. And even if it was, he couldn’t let this pale-faced turkey tell Max, Vladimir, or Alexandra about it. No telling what they would do for revenge.

His first thought was to shoot the man in the face. Or push him over the edge. Igor’s finger itched to pull the trigger while he still had the chance. But the man just smiled and flicked his eyes to the end of the roof. Igor followed his line of sight and saw Max pulling himself up over the edge of the roof.

“Don’t you mention a word of this to anyone,” Igor hissed. “What’s your name?”

The man flicked his eyes back to Igor, “Call me Rusalka,” he replied with a grin.

Igor glared at the pale-faced man and motioned for him to start walking. Max was about halfway across the roof when he saw them coming. So, he paused and waited.

“Nice catch,” Max said with a wicked grin. “Vladimir will have fun getting some answers out of him in our little torture chamber later.”

Igor grinned even though his stomach dropped and knotted up.

Max motioned with his head for them to follow him, and turned to take the lead since there wasn’t room for them to get around him.

They walked a few paces while Igor considered his options since he couldn’t risk the chance of Rusalka telling anyone what he had told Igor.

He saw a bar crossing the top of the roof in front of an antenna that had been installed. Igor reached out a hand and grabbed onto Rusalka’s jacket just as the man stepped over it.

Igor kicked him hard in the back of his heel. Smashing his raised heel into his other foot before he could take the step over the bar, which caused him to trip and stumble. He gave Rusalka a hard push from behind at the same time and watched the man tumble and roll down the roof.

Max watched him roll over the edge of the roof and then turned to look at Igor who shrugged.

“I guess the Slavic Mermaid has trouble walking out of the water,” Igor said while indicating the bar in front of him. “His legs turned back into a tail.”

Max smiled humorlessly. “Or he was more afraid of me getting my hands on him in the torture chamber. Did you get anything out of him? You two seemed quite chummy when I came over the top.”

Igor shook his head. “Not really, but he seemed to indicate that there was some sort of falling out with his business partner. What was his name? Andrey something or the other.”

Max gave him a strange look. Then shrugged. “It happens. No partnership lasts forever.”

He turned and kept walking with Igor close behind.

Alexandra was waiting for them below near the guard where Rusalka had fallen.

“Is he dead?” Igor asked, hopefully.

“If he’s not, he’ll probably wish he were,” the guard replied. “He landed on his head and shoulder. So, he’ll be paralyzed even if he lives. Or are you asking because you want me to put a bullet in him to make sure he is?”

That got a smile out of Max. Igor shuffled nervously around Rusalka’s body toward Alexandra who was looking at the fallen helicopter sticking out of the house where it had crashed.

“That’s gonna take some work to fix up,” Igor said to get her attention. “Was that your bedroom?”

She turned to look at him and threw her arms around him. “Thank you, Igor. You found the man who killed my father, as I requested.”

Igor grimaced, and she looked at him quizzically. “What?”

“Nothing, but I destroyed half your house trying to get him. I thought you would be angry.”

She smiled. “It’s just a house. It won’t be the same without my father. I can fix it up and sell it.”

“Hey, I’m the one that shot the helicopter down,” Max growled, not wanting to feel left out.

“Oh, so the damages are your fault,” Alexandra scolded playfully. “Then I will dock the repairs from your paycheck.”

“No, no. I think I missed. It was actually, Nikolay’s shot that brought it down.” Max growled with a sly grin.

The guard waved his hands and denied it. “I didn’t even get a chance to shoot,” he squealed roughly as Max slapped him upside the head.

Igor saw part of the rubble moving and started to walk forward.

“Best not to get too close until the firemen secure the area and make sure there isn’t any danger of explosion,” Max said, holding him back.

Igor nodded down the road toward the blare of sirens in the distance and continued walking. He pushed some of the rubble back and flipped over a bed. Someone stuck a grubby hand out from underneath it and raised his head so covered in dirt that Igor couldn’t tell who it was.

“What’s happened here? Am I dead? Are you the angel of death?”

“Denis,” Alexandra blurted out as she walked over. “What are you doing here?”

“By time the cops let me out of questioning last night, it was really late. And they knew I was drunk, so they wouldn’t let me drive. Hoa saw me standing around and offered to let me sleep in one of the unused guest rooms. I heard all that noise and felt the house shaking. So, I dove under the bed.”

Alexandra and Max helped him up and dusted him off. The firemen told them to leave. So, everyone walked over to the other side of the house.

Hoa and Bian brought out breakfast and drinks onto the far end of the patio where they ate and chatted about the day’s events like old friends.

“Well, I’m gonna see about getting a ticket home,” Igor said.

“No. Please stay,” Alexandra asked. “I owe you a green card and a job with the police.”

Igor was surprised at the change in her voice and attitude from the night before.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll stick around some more. Things around here have been pretty adventurous these past 24 hours. Besides, I do want to eat some donuts.”

“Good,” Alexandra said with a nod. “I’ll start making calls as soon as the firemen clear the house.”

*** The End (for now) ***

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