As promised, here goes episode 3 of “The Executioner”, publisher approved and re-edited. Stay tuned next Friday for episode 4, and every week for much more.
When she meets heartthrob Damian Novac, shy student Alice develops a heavy crush against her best wishes. Hoping to get close to him, she joins Damian and friends on a winter trip in the Carpathian Mountains – a choice that will change her life abruptly.
When the train derails in high snow, they seek refuge at an abandoned cottage, but soon people of their group start losing their minds and dying. Alice barely escapes with Damian and some of their friends, only to realize she’s far from safe even back home. A shady corporation which conducts experiments on humans and which seems to have ‘engineered’ Damian into something monstrous many years before is on their trail.
A man of secrets and obscure powers, Damian might be a villain or a hero. He might save Alice’s life or he might take it. Though aware of the danger he poses, she can’t fight the obsession that will draw her ever deeper. Will Damian become her lover or her executioner?
Unbelievable how Dad could still shove my questions under a carpet after all these years. He wanted to forget I wasn’t a child or a pet, and tried to shift focus by answering my questions with his own.
“Are you feeling dizzy?” – recovering from surprise, stroking my forehead.
“How do you know him?”
“Does your head feel heavy? The whole body? Lift your right hand,” – as if he didn’t hear me this time either.
“What did they do to him, Dad?”
“Is breathing difficult? How about talking?”
“Damn it, Dad!” – no difficulties there – “What’s the story?”
The door creaked ajar and Dad’s face sprang over mine. He whispered sternly in my ear, “Breathing is difficult, Alice. Everything hurts, no matter what.” Then he straightened up to face the visitor.
A mind-blowing surprise to see the person interested in my wellbeing this time was Hector, the bearded singer with aquiline features. It wasn’t until two men in POLICE jackets followed, that I realized he wasn’t there as brother-in-pain. His frown and suspicion-filled eyes measuring Dad from head to toes already spoke of a strict inspector or something, but as he flashed his badge my mouth still popped open.
“Your wife kindly announced us that Miss Preda is awake,” he croaked, low and controlled, as if he hadn’t been there with us, as if he’d only just read the case facts in a file that got slapped on his desk. What movie is this?
“She’s still weak, Detective, she won’t be able to deliver much.”
“I’d be much obliged, if she tried,” – adjusting his attitude to match Dad’s aristocratic demeanor, clearly mocking.
“Later, Detective, I must insist.”
“Time is precious, Dr. Preda, given the circumstances. Surely you understand.”
More of this back and forth, “I insist,” and “So do I,” until Dad was left with no choice, the two officers framing him on each side. With silent threat on their furrowed brows they grabbed Dad by his arms. Offended, he jerked from their grasp and whisked his suit, giving me a reassuring, “I’ll be back with you as soon as the hawk’s out. Don’t let him pressure you.”
With that the officers ushered him out, and Hector took the chair by my side, examining me with a stiff attitude. His lips were white and split like a crack addict’s, there was a large cut with stitches on his forehead, not to mention that one eye was already turning from blue to black, so it couldn’t be just in my head – He’d been there with us, he’d taken a gulp of dread and violence as large as I had.
“What is this?” I managed, unable to hide astonishment.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? Detective Hector Varlam, at your service.”
“Jesus, Hector!” – memories of lilt guitar tunes spinning in my head – “You were there with us. You lived it all first hand, what? Why? Jesus, Hector, why are you here?”
“Now, now, take it easy babe,” – with a gentle touch on my wrist, the familiar bearded singer replaced the detective with the experienced frown – “I don’t need you to recount what I already know, of course. I only need to find out what happened after you played decoy and got almost everybody out of the cottage.”
“How do you know I played decoy?” – didn’t wait for the answer though, other questions pressing against this one like a crowd against a door – “And what d’you mean almost everybody?”
“There have been fatalities, I’m afraid. Marius Iordache and six others didn’t make it out in time. I hate being the one to deliver this news.”
“Jesus Christ!” One particular memory lighting up – the wretch, coughing out blood and grunting like a dying animal.
“Alice, please,” Hector lowered his voice and face, acting the accomplice who felt with me, “This isn’t easy on my side of the barricade either. But we have to keep a cool head and recount the facts while the whole thing is still warm. If too much time passes, the brain begins to edit broken pieces of memory.”
“How long have you been on this case, Hector? How long have you been chasing BioDhrome?”
“Quite a while. For six years, to be exact.”
“So you didn’t get them in six fucking years, and now you want me to believe my account of a fight in frosty woods will make the difference?”
“A fight? Is that what happened?” – raised eyebrows, but no genuine surprise.
“I have a feeling you know more than you let on.” Like he did that I played decoy.
“The rescue team did find the body of a villager close to where they found you. But the man was all meat stripes, and I seriously doubt you were the author.”
“I wasn’t. It was wolves.” But I had a feeling he knew that, too. A shudder traveled down my spine.
“Humor me. Tell me what happened.”
I did. Short sentences, only facts – struggling to push the gate shut in the bustling face of all emotion. Hector listened, eyes down at his hands.
“You were the only one attacked, you know,” he murmured, without lifting his head. “The rest of us ran and ran, faster and faster, whipped by such rage and bloodlust that we saw red.
“The rush started to fade as I strayed through the forest and, by the time I reached the village in the valley, I was drained of strength. My lips and fingers were frostbitten. There wasn’t a soul in the village, Alice, it looked completely abandoned. But all survivors, your friends Ruxandra Ignat and George Voinescu included, found their way there – all usable paths turned out to lead to the village like a fuckin’ maze – and we sought refuge in the church.
“Interestingly enough, Damian Novac came in last, hours later, and he wasn’t alone. He’d found the military base deep in the woods, some miles from the village, and brought help. How he made it there remains a mystery. Like so many things about him.” At this point, his eyes shot at me. “He was here with your father, wasn’t he?”
“So is this it? Is this why you’re really here and pretending to be bonding with me? To find out what they talked about?” I grinned at him, unable to hide the contempt in my voice. He and Damian had been hanging out for years, and yet here he was, this stuck-up detective who thought too much of his acting skills, squeezing information from a traumatized civilian.
“He’s dangerous, Alice, you must understand. I have reason to believe he’s a BioDhrome agent. I don’t have proof, since the guy is damned shrewd, but I’ve been around him for six years. Six. That’s enough time to feel things, if not know them.
“I’d studied Novac for a long time before this mission, monitored his every move, adjusted my personality to get under his skin. We became good friends, or so I thought. But his past, he always guarded it with inhuman wit. Still, one thing slipped – his friendship with your father. Until I saw him emerge from Dr. Preda’s private booth at the Marquette . . .” he went on carefully here, “The booth where Olympia danced for him, you understand? For your father. I’m sorry, Alice. I really didn’t want to tell you this, but I need your trust.”
Rage clouding my head, “What are you fuckin’ saying?”
“I’m saying that your father rented a booth at the club and paid for anonymity. I’m saying he’s having an affair with Olympia Slavic, and Damian Novac is the only person he trusted with this secret. And there’s much more where that came from. But I’ll have to stop here, you’re in no condition to hear this . . .”
“My condition didn’t stop you until now. Go on.”
Hector gritted his teeth.
“You know how I received this assignment? The Cezare Lupan file, archived with the R.I.S., disappeared six years ago. Disappeared, you understand? No one can make that happen unless they’re the K.G.B., F.B.I., fucking David Copperfield or a nasty monster with friends in high places, like BioDhrome. That’s how the Intelligence Service got me on the job.
“After six years of fuckin’ med school with him, I still don’t have material evidence against Novac, I don’t, but I’m positive as hell he works for powerful sharks. Still, any chance of producing evidence by myself is gone with the wind. My cover is now history, blown when we got out of that frozen hell, blown when my R.I.S. superiors came forward too directly, overconfident I’d gotten all the proof and witnesses we needed to nail Novac after this. Novac sniffed them, he now knows who I am.” – Bitter grin.
“But know this, Alice: I have no doubt that he’s been playing your father, too. Maybe he even introduced Dr. Preda to Olympia, with the purpose of loosening his tongue, do you realize? BioDhrome needs information from him. Your father may be a genius, but Novac’s Machiavelli resurrected.”
The whole room spun with me. This isn’t happening was back in the charts.
“So help me.” Hector lowered his voice even more, taking my hand in both of his. They pressed on my bandaged fingers, reminding me of how my nails had come off. The pain helped revive awareness that I was still in the real world.
“What did they talk about, your father and Novac?”
There was such emphasis on this last question, that my thoughts suddenly fit together like puzzle pieces, leaving no room four doubt. He’d come to see me as an investigator, yet he’d done as good as all the talking, telling me horror stories about a Machiavellian agent and a father I refused to recognize. All this even though I was lying on a hospital bed, with IV lines snaking around my arms. “Everything hurts, no matter what.”
The son of a bitch was trying to manipulate me into betraying my own father, and Dad had known it. Maybe everything he said was indeed true, but he was wielding the truth to get a fat bonus – he was trying to nail Dad along with Damian Novac, or Cezare Lupan, or whatever his name was. I turned my head to the narrow window, letting the gray daylight flood my eyes, as stinging as it was.
“I wouldn’t know, Detective. I wasn’t yet awake.”
“Yes, you were,” he insisted. “Your mother told me you were.”
“She was wrong.”
“As simple as that?”
“It’s the simple truth. Now if you don’t mind, I’m tired. Everything hurts.”
To be continued.
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