As promised, here goes episode 6 of “The Executioner”, publisher approved and re-edited. Stay tuned next Friday for episode 7, 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 had ‘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. 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?
“See, what did I tell you? They found Mad Conan to blame it on. As for the old man, he’s a scapegoat,” Ruxandra said as images of a wrecked old doctor with Einstein hair, cuffed hands and fragile body in a suit appeared on the screen, led to a police car by two men in black uniforms.
The connection to Dad fired in my head.
“Jesus, Rux, this is bad! This is real bad!”
She looked at me, startled by my reaction but as sharp as I knew her. In a few breaths and with no second thoughts I broke my oath and told her about the extraction, glancing at the door to make sure Mom didn’t catch me on it.
“Help me, Rux,” I pleaded. “I need to see him, make sure he’s not being held hostage and questioned like a heretic.”
“There are people outside, Alice. They’ll follow you,” she retorted, skipping the surprised part. She took the information as I gave it to her, frowning and fully present.
“So what if they do? They’re not my problem, Mom is.”
“Alice, those bulldogs outside will make sure you don’t find Dr. Preda, if you’re not supposed to.”
“I’ll just go to Varlam at the station. He’s supposedly available for us at all times, isn’t he? And I’ll find a way to get him talking. I’ll offer info in return, I don’t know.”
“And why would Jenna try to stop you?”
“She deems Dad a danger for us right now, because of his ties to BioDhrome. And she knows that, if I want to see Varlam, it’s because I want to see Dad. Better yet, if I go out now, no matter the pretext, she’s gonna know what I’m actually up to. You have to get me out of the house, please.”
“You don’t have Hector’s number?”
I shook my head. “No. Mom made sure all contact details are out of my reach, probably also yours. He’s not on the internet either. Hell, I think hardly any R.I.S. agent working undercover as a bearded rocker would post himself on the web with office hours and gun registration number. The only solution is going to the station.”
Ruxandra studied me for a while. A deep-in-thought V formed between her eyebrows as she assessed my face, and the moment Mom walked back into the living room, she began talking without warning or turning her eyes from me.
“There’s no way I can spend days here without something proper to wear.”
She sounded so convincing, I fell for it myself. “You can have anything from my wardrobe,” I babbled, blinking fast.
“You’re petite, Alice, you don’t own anything I can actually take out on the street or campus tomorrow.”
Her eyes danced on mine, maybe in expectation for me to kick the ball back at her. But, since I was too puzzled to produce a sound, she went on herself.
“I need to get some things from our place.”
I appreciated the our and instantly understood what she was doing. But Mom intervened as if burnt with a hot iron.
“You’re sure not going to that part of the city, not with darkness knocking on the door.”
Ruxandra’s clever face froze for a moment, but, as she turned to Mom, it had already regained its elasticity and added a rakish smile.
“You’re right, Jenna, I didn’t think about that. We’ll ask one of the boys outside to accompany us to Marvimex.”
“They’re here as watchmen and not escorts,” Mom admonished.
“Then please, have a word with them,” Rux said.
Mom gave me an I-know-what-you’re-up-to glance, which I blocked with an innocent smile and a shrug.
“I’d love to get out of the house for a bit,” I said. “I need a breath of freedom, Mom.”
It was the begging tone that unbalanced Mom’s resolve, no doubt. After little more insistence from our part she allowed us to get ready while she went out, looking for Officer Sorescu or one of his colleagues. I had no idea why Ruxandra hadn’t tried to lose the escort, but I decided to trust her judgment in the end. She always knew what she was doing.
I parted the curtains with two fingers and spied – much like old Mrs. Teodorescu from across the street did each time a car pulled up in front of one of the neighboring houses. Mom crossed the street with rapid steps, keeping the long winter coat gathered close around her body.
To my gaping surprise, she entered the corner bar – for the very first time in her life, I was sure – where loud drunkards burned away their time gambling cigarettes and bottles, sometimes their wives’ jewelry, sometimes their wives. With its barred windows and narrow entrance the place was perfectly designed to keep interest at bay. Yes, suited for undercover tailing operations, why not.
“What if the place hadn’t existed, I wonder.” Ruxandra’s voice startled me. I’d thought she was already getting ready, didn’t realize she was still present. “Would they have extracted Mrs. Teodorescu and had an agent disguise himself as her? Imagine a guy with a moustache in an apron.”
She forced a laugh that made her look and sound mentally deranged rather than amused. The picture of Officer Sorescu’s round face framed by a colored kerchief did reach my mind’s eye, though.
Ruxandra took my hand and pulled me to the antechamber, where challenge number two was up – getting around George. He lay on the sofa with eyes fixed on the small TV, watching no less than Bugs Bunny. Mom must’ve turned to the old tape to keep his mind off anything heavy.
Ruxandra stared at him, holding a finger up in front of her pursed lips – keeping me quiet, I imagined. He seemed not to be aware of our presence, his mouth open, drooling, and brows high in the lost expression of a retarded person. Maybe the colored motion on screen simply helped him relax and put his mind off duty. Or maybe he was high on prescription medication.
Slowly, Ruxandra opened the doors to the wardrobe. The slower she moved the louder they creaked, and George stirred.
“For fuck’s sake, Rux, he’s not Alien or something,” I mumbled, refusing to accept that George wasn’t to be treated like a normal man anytime soon.
“Shhhhh! D’you want him screaming and wriggling?” she retorted through her teeth.
I knew she was right but it felt wrong anyway, treating George like an inconvenience.
Ruxandra skimmed over the shelves with an all business frown, scanned the available items – not by far satisfactory, judging by the silent scoffs – and snatched a white wool sweater and a pair of tight jeans that reminded me too much of what Olympia had been wearing in the mountains. But as soon as Rux closed the double doors to my room behind us, I shrugged off the memory as I did the nightgown and pulled them on without protest. Time was too precious.
The jeans were a couple of years old and had gone through repeated washing along with the other pairs, but I’d only worn them once on the day of acquisition. Tony had labeled this particular pair “slutty” ‘cause it molded on my thighs “like latex leggings do on hookers’ legs”. What saved them from becoming a give-away was my “modest” wardrobe, as Rux often put it, so I’d kept them to make me feel I owned at least a little more than I needed.
A change of clothes was already folded for Ruxandra on the rocking chair by the window. I watched her sinewy shape dance into it and recognized Mom’s elegant red turtleneck sweater and her white winter puffed pants.
“How do I look?” she inquired, probably trying to shallow-talk some of the pressure away.
“When did Mom give you the threads?” If Mom had offered Rux access to her wardrobe, what was the point of shopping, especially at five in the evening?
“She didn’t. I helped myself after the shower today.” She winked. “Once a gypsy, always a gypsy. We seldom need permission.” A reasonable explanation followed after a short laugh. “Joke aside, your clothes are all too small, and I figured Jenna wouldn’t mind. She never did before. I took these threads for tomorrow. I wanna go back to campus, I won’t let this thing control my life.”
“But she’ll see you’re wearing her stuff when we go out. Marvimex won’t stand, she’ll know we’re going to see Varlam. Plus, even if we manage to persuade her we’re going shopping, we might not even make it to him with one of those watchmen on our heels,” I threw at her, sounding increasingly desperate as I realized our plot was rickety.
“Oh, we’re going to Marvimex first, all right. I can’t wear Jenna’s clothes forever, she knows that. I can only wear them for a day or two, until I get myself new ones. Once we’re there, I’ll talk the guy into accompanying us to see Hector. I’ll tell him you and I have confidential information, and that our seeing him needs cover.”
“He won’t buy it,” I shook my head. “It’s weak, it won’t work.”
“Wanna bet?” Rux retorted, a mischievous grin quirking up a corner of her mouth.
In the end Rux turned out to be right, Mom didn’t even ask how come my best friend was wearing her outfit. The explanation must’ve been obvious.
Embarrassing as it was, we had to accept Mom’s pushing cash in our hands with bent heads. All the money I’d managed to save from tutoring activities was hidden in Ruxandra’s apartment – that we weren’t allowed to set foot into for, I guess, forever –, as were Ruxandra’s savings from all that baby-sitting.
In less than half an hour we were standing under the large sign creaking askew above the entrance to Marvimex, the rain rapping on our umbrellas. The crooked plate read “Shopping Center”, yet the place wasn’t far from a ghostly bazaar. Engulfed by grey blocks of flats with walls damped by rain that testified half century of communism, it looked like a stable with dozens of barracks in the middle of a concrete fortress. They were populated with small, fat men and women wearing thick golden chains around their necks, offering contraband like circus performers did their often disturbing tricks. Still, many shoppers preferred the place to the Tomis Mall for its cheap and often unique wares.
Valuable objects such as antique adornment artifacts and clay pots weren’t unusual here. There were actually even stories of vintage jewelry that had made it to the manors of lords and ladies in England or even tycoons in the States for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But to me, these were no more than myths until proven otherwise.
Officer Sorescu sheltered Rux under the umbrella he held for both of them. She’d been quicker to charm him than I’d thought possible.
I caught glimpses of her profile now and then as we slithered through strings of people towards the roofed hall that housed an anthill of booths. These glimpses were enough to read seduction off her smile and divine the batting of her thick lashes. They produced the effect of melting poor Sorescu on his feet, and I knew she would soon be able to touch on the sensitive subject, namely ask him to accompany us to the police station for a confidential meeting with Detective Hector Varlam. Then the even more sensitive core of the subject would follow – no one was to hear of this.
But the view was lost as a young family in shopping rush suddenly squeezed me among them, and disappeared again just as suddenly in the roofed hall. Persian rugs hung around among lamps and chandeliers of different shapes, their glass icicles clinking whenever they trickled too low and touched my hair. They gave dim and pleasant light of warm and silent colors.
It was as if I’d been teleported by some tornado in another dimension, this part of the bazaar as good as empty of life except for a few passer-by shadows here and there, thin and untouchable ghosts. I spun among the hanging rugs, curtains and lamps that surrounded me the way circus gadgets would a child. Intertwined patterns engraved into the carpet fabric had a hypnotic effect. An effect that was all-surrounding.
It was unsettling, this feeling, like a presentiment of danger that came true when a powerful voice called my name. I turned on my heels and gasped sharply.
To be continued.
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