They say that love is the lightness and obsession is its antagonistic brother, hard set into finding a way to hurt and destroy while still remaining loyal. But it is only when they come together can they blur the line that separates them. Once the hand that aided, nourished and showed mercy, now nothing but an all-consuming blaze, stretching high into the sky and forced to devour anything in its path.
He comes at me in constant, rhythmical steps. Six feet tall, dark hair and a body shape that seems all too familiar. But it doesn’t matter how long I stare at his face as he comes nearer, I can’t seem to get a grasp of where I’ve seen him before. Then he stops dead, a few feet from me and it comes to me. Arthur. For something as simple as glasses, I hardly recognize him without them. Or without his ear glued to the side of his phone. Seeing him is hardly a surprise, though I didn’t expect to see him so early on in the mission. Offices and labs that contain only the topmost personnel fill the halls above me. I expected no other place for him with his soft hands and pressed suit. At least this way we can have our privacy.
I pull my gun up and aim for where I expect a heart to be. In front of it, a pocket holds an official office pen, its clip emblazoned with the company’s logo. Ugh, Paragon. Gun at the ready, I release its safety. Arthur doesn’t move. He doesn’t speak. Not even a flinch. Nothing, and for a moment, only the pulsating bass from the club floors above us find a way to filter through the walls and coexist between us. As I tighten my grip, I wonder what Arthur’s thinking. What am I doing here, perhaps? Or maybe why I have a gun pointed at him? Where would Matt’s wife get anything like that? Easy answer: a woman gave it to me—my partner gave it to me before I left my house to aid in my wish to take you all down. And it’s a good thing she did. Taking out Arthur and getting to the offices upstairs will be so much easier this way.
“I expected no different from somebody like you,” he says right as my finger slides over the trigger. “Any woman interested in my son and isn’t fangirling all over him has something else up her sleeve.”
“Hmm…” I smirk, tilting my head. “Arthur, I never thought you noticed. Don’t tell me I got it wrong with you. You actually do see more than you let on. And to think I questioned that night of the engagement party.”
“I wouldn’t say the alcohol hadn’t overtaken my judgement, but I meant every word. It was hard not to see you coming a mile away. Just like I said that night, there’s nothing you could do to convince me differently.”
I nod. Not to agree but more of something to do. If Arthur was as on top of things as he so very much believed, why am I here with a gun to his chest and there is nothing on him but a belt and a pen? I make a gesture to the board next to me. “And this? This is all you too?”
“No, actually,” somebody says from up the stairs. I spot their white shoes with little red bows first. Then with another step, they are completely in my line of sight. “It’s been a joined effort.”
Jackie comes into focus and the blood in my veins become tingly. She’s here! She’s here and she’s calm. She walks down the stairs casually, one step then the other. Each heel of her pointy shoes clicking off the shiny stairs like she’s the last lady to arrive at a ball. She looks the part too. Eyes sparkling, hair done up without a strand out of place, like some movie star. But I hadn’t been expecting to see her now and just that makes feelings of confusion and anticipation begin to churn in my stomach. Had Paragon been able to get her after I left? No, she’d be frightened, not calmly walking down the stairs like she owns the place. No, with confidence came things working in an orderly fashion. Jackie has to be here because things are panning out. She’s here to help me take out Arthur.
Then she halts next to Arthur and I know right then that I’m wrong.
“That board is your timeline,” she says to me. “Everything from the moment your mother stepped foot into our organization is on that board and it all leads us to this very moment.”
I don’t want to believe it. That Jackie, the woman I have put all my trust and faith into, could betray me. But just the way she leers at me, lifts an eyebrow. It confirms everything.
“No,” I mumble under my breath and my aim becomes unstable. It’s as if my limbs have turned to blocks of ice and I have been impaled my countless Mack trucks. Just by the way Jackie said “our organization” too I know there is nothing between her and me. Our organization means Paragon and everybody knows what I think of Paragon. My breath catches and I actually think my heart is going to break my ribs and somehow manage to fight its way out of my chest.
“You’re with them.” I barely muster enough courage to speak the words out loud.
There’s a cold and sharp look to her otherwise pudgy face. “I am them.”
I shake my head, not wanting to believe, not wanting to hear it. This can’t be true. It can’t be!
“But you took out Outlook!”
“No, no. We took out Outlook. I lured them to the meeting, you distracted them. Paragon did the dirty work and you proved yourself to be the destroyer you always were.” She snickers as she breaks off her eye contact and looks at her nails. “Just like your mother.”
“You betrayed her too.” I spit it out like it’s made of venom.
Jackie stops smiling. “I backed your mother all the way—she was my top destroyer. But she became blind to her surroundings and lost track of her path, and it destroyed her.”
“You destroyed her!” I counter, the gun trembling in my hands the more I feel my rage bubbling inside of me.
“I was helping her. Do you not understand how many chances I had to hurt that woman?” She looks me deep in the eyes. “But you can’t let any of that go, can you? Still blaming everybody, as well as yourself, for the mess your mother put herself in. It’s because of her own rebelling behaviour that got her killed, that stuck her in that cell all those years ago.”
“Had Reginald Peters all up in arms,” Arthur tags on as more of a reminder to Jackie than to inform me directly.
“You hired him,” I say. “Tell me, Jackie, why all the running around? To museums, to Matthew? Why didn’t you just kill me when you had the chance?”
“To see how capable you were. Finding qualified men and women takes more than a filled resumé. It takes initiative, hard work and an understanding of one’s own mind. But you… You have that something special.”
“You’re insane,” I tell her.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. You’ve proven yourself worthy of the same chair your mother claimed when we first met. I see the same fire in your eyes, the same strength in your heart.”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
“Come now,” Arthur says with an air of arrogance. “There is no need for language.”
How much I hate him… But I hate her more and focus on those mutton chops of hers. “I know how you work. I’ve been watching it for years now.”
Jackie raises her eyebrows, pulling back. “You’re declining my offer then?”
“Well… it seems you’re still as naïve as the first day we met… just a stupid girl with an ego and mommy issues she can’t let go of. I would have hoped you’d have a clearer head on your shoulders now. But now you’re struggling to see the forest for the trees. Paragon could have saved you.”
The beginnings of a deranged smirk enchant my mouth. “I’m not the one who needs saving,” I say. Jackie’s belittling tone and words have begun to crawl under my skin and finally, after hearing her out, I can pull the trigger. My aim is on her and I pull down.
It doesn’t register and I pull the trigger again and again and again.
Click. Click. Click.
I know it’s loaded with a full magazine! I checked it before I left!
Jackie throws her head back in laughter. “Did you honestly think I would have sent you off with a loaded gun? All that’s in there is a weighted empty magazine.”
Now Jackie has a gun in her hands and I know for a fact that she’s not been so careless. The gun is full of bullets that she wouldn’t hesitate to use on me if I dared step out of line. In the next few moments, she gestures for Arthur to cuff me up—he has a pair of handcuffs in his back pocket—and he comes at me. I drop my own gun and listen to it clatter to the floor.
“Take her to the cells downstairs,” Jackie tells him now that my hands are tied behind my back. Then she turns her attention back on me. “Delilah, I hope you reconsider my offer. We can still work together.”
I am pushed forward, Arthur digging his knuckles into the small of my back. He leads me to the elevator he used earlier and forces me inside. I try to writhe free, but he straightens me out and closes the elevator doors. The last thing I see is Jackie’s eyes staring me down until we are separated completely.
I am left looking at my blurry reflection in the elevator doors, Jackie’s last words buzzing in my head. She wants me to join her? Take my mother’s seat in Paragon? Is she nuts? Before I can answer any of them, an overbearing voice steamrolls over everything. It reminds me of what an idiot I have been to trust in somebody so willingly. What was it that she said? That my mother became blinded from her path? I don’t think I have fallen victim to it but much the opposite. I’ve been blinded by my path and that’s it.
The elevator doors open moments later and I am pushed forward again. It’s a dark aisle made of concrete walls and a dirt floor. Two cells are on my left and for the life of me I can’t understand how they are standing under many floors of offices and a dance club. I expect to see this in some old castle off the shores of England. Not here.
Arthur turns me, takes off my cuffs, gives me an all too familiar push and I stumble into the nearest cell. He grabs the door, closes it and locks me inside. As I turn around, we share a brief look of something. Disbelief maybe? For him maybe it’s because he’s gotten me in here without much of a fight. Yeah, I can’t believe it either, but it’s as if my entire body has turned into nothing.
I grab onto the bars that separate the two of us, forcing myself to keep my eyes on his, pleading inwardly that maybe betrayal is in the air and that there is the smallest of possibilities that he could decide to betray Jackie and that he’s actually on my side, has been this whole time and will let me out.
But when he shakes his head, grinning, I know that’s a possibility for some other story, some other life where convenience is only an arm’s length away. I bang on the bars, cursing Arthur, calling him some very choice names, and slide to the floor.
It feels like an hour has gone by after I’ve considered what all has happened. Jackie has not shown up like I expected she would. Arthur hasn’t said a word. There is an open space at the end of the aisle that I can barely see, but I catch the flicker of candlelight on the far wall and Arthur’s shadow from time to time. I can also hear ruffling. Arthur must be rifling through papers of some sort. He mumbles under his breath from time to time, but I can’t understand him. And at the same time, I don’t care enough to want to.
I’m in my own mind, thinking about what Jackie said earlier, thinking about it was her behind my mother’s recruitment, that she was the one to send my mother to prison after forcing the murder of my father. I always thought it had been a man who had pulled the strings of my mother’s marionette limbs. Yet, it turned out to be another woman and just the thought of it makes me sick. Not just a woman. The woman I trusted. The woman that held my son. The woman who tossed a wrench into everything I planned one year ago.
I need to stop that woman.
I pull a bobby pin from my hair and watch Arthur’s shadow to see where he is and where he is looking. Once I am in the clear, I head for the cell door. It’s an old-fashioned thing that I could have unlocked with something the size of a fork. The bobby pin works just as well. I feel for the tumblers, play around a bit and the mechanism releases.
Pushing the door open just a pinch, wide enough to stick my head through, I sneak a peek into the open area at the end of the aisle. Arthur’s back is to me. He’s hunched over a desk with multiple papers on it. I push the door open a little bit farther and it creaks. Just from how Arthur’s shoulders stiffen, I know he’s caught onto me. He’s not fast enough, though. The bridge of my foot catches him across the face as he turns to face me and he twirls in a daze, his arms outstretched. He pushes off the wall in an attempt to regain his balance as well as launch at me. Fist aimed for my face, I grab it before it can make contact. I twist it almost instantly, hear Arthur cries in my arms as he hunches over. My knee to his abdomen stops him and he gasps for air. Using his momentum to my advantage and swift hand manoeuvres, I flip Arthur to the ground. I hear a snapping noise before I let go of his wrist.
“You bitch!” Arthur gasps, holding his wrist as I dust my hands off for effect. His eyes are burning, I can tell just by how red they are and I can only imagine the pain he’s feeling from his wrist. From the looks of it, I may have broken it.
“Oh, come now. There’s no need for language.” I smile wolfishly. “Besides, it’s nothing compared to having to live with that horrid crowd you call a family. You’re getting off easy.”
“My wrist! My wrist!”
I make it to the table behind me where he’d been hunched over previously. “Minor wound, Arthur,” I scoff. “Just payback for the jabs to my back.”
But Arthur doesn’t seem to take lightly to my offhanded comments. His breathing has gotten rapid and he’s trying to get up but can’t. I don’t feel nervous about turning my back on him as he howls and mumbled about what a terrible person I am. The papers he was rifling through earlier, however, are the Grind’s blueprints and how they are looking to create new additions. Great. Just what we need: Paragon to get as big as their egos. On the bright side, at least I now know where Jackie’s office is. I’d hate to waste time.
Arthur is still going on as I turn around, explaining how I won’t be able to get past Jackie. I know he’s trying, as pathetic as his attempts are, to get inside my head. I give him a good kick to his gut to shut him up. I am in no mood now to play nice. He may be onto something very minor, though. Going after Jackie might be a bit more difficult if I’m not prepared. The last I saw of her, she was wielding and the only gun I know of is full of blanks. No, I’ll need something else.
In the corner of the area are countless crates that hold many of the Grind’s decorations. I step over Arthur’s moaning and bitching body and pull off the tops of some. There are Halloween decorations with light up pumpkins, black and orange streamers and fake cobwebs. There are Christmas tree bobs and beads galore. But deep at the bottom of one crate is full of decorations unfit for any holiday. These things are worth money. Tapestries and displays are protected by bubble wrap and with a bit of digging, I find something I may be able to use to my advantage. It’s a family crest. Vita had one that she’d hung on the mantle above the fireplace in our home in Sunset. And like that one, this one has a pair of real mini swords crisscrossed at the back of it. I pull them out.
As I begin to head back to the elevator, Arthur speaks out.
“I should have killed you in Riverview.”
I stop in my tracks and turn back toward him. “We didn’t meet in Riverview, Arthur.”
“That doesn’t mean I didn’t know of you.” He wheezes as he breathes, trying to get to a standing position. “Who do you think was in charge of Reginald Peter’s termination?”
For the first time, I see humour tickle the corners of his lips.
“He’d lost his mind because of your mother and was going to kill you to make her pay. I was the one that stopped that from happening. I ordered his death.”
I turn still as stone, gazing down at the man. I always wondered what exactly happened that horrible winter night. Nathan in my arms, Peters going off like a mental man. It’s not hard to lose oneself in the moment and when I asked about it later, my mother said it wasn’t her. That it was Paragon who shot Peters. But I never knew who exactly… until today.
“You’re lying,” I finally say. I never want to be indebted to this man, or anybody from the hellhole for that matter.
He disregards me. “I should have continued the duty and had the rest of you offed as well. Would have saved a lot of trouble, wouldn’t you say?” He raises his hand to me. “Wouldn’t have had to deal with all this or even that bloody ring on your finger.”
“This ring?” I raise my own hand. I don’t wait for his response as I pull the ring off of its finger and toss it on the floor next to him. “It’s all yours, Arthur,” I tell him and turn back to head for the elevator. I press the button and listen to the doors open. “I would keep out of my way if I were you. If you think your wrist is something to bat an eye at, you won’t enjoy seeing me again.”