“Dragged, man!” the guy rattled. “Those shits, they fucking dragged me!” He convulsed again, the foul smell of his vomit reaching my nose. It didn’t seem to bother Hector though, who grabbed his shoulders, straightening him up.
Damian intervened, his arm mowing Hector’s hands off the Wretch. “Just gather all sharp objects you can find in this place.”
“Don’t be scarce of words now,” Hector urged.
“There’s no time for this,” Damian said with a serious frown. He looked tense, terribly tense.
“Those fuckin’ animals,” the Wretch babbled. Then another spasm and another violent throw-up – the only sound in the room.
I forgot to breathe.
For quite a few moments I was convinced this was some sick joke, not feeling anything, not reacting, not moving, but seeing every line on the guy’ bent profile, every fold on his leather-patched coat, as if my senses had sharpened in a split second.
The Wretch didn’t reply to the low, puzzled “Who?” and “What?” coming from a few people with some presence of spirit, and it wasn’t until Hector asked Damian a direct, “What the hell is he talking about?” that an intelligible, however reluctant answer came.
“We found a village in the valley, not far from here. There were people, but they didn’t answer our knocks. They watched us from behind curtains.”
“Fucking animals!” the Wretch shrieked, while Damian settled him on a rickety chair in the corner, assisted by Ruxandra.
“The police station, the church, everything looked deserted,” Damian continued, his jaw rippling. “We found a house with the front door ajar and we went in. For food. There were old provisions in the basement, and old food is better than no food, so we took what looked safe. We started back.”
“We were almost here when something lashed around my leg, man!” the Wretch intervened again, neurotic. “They would’ve dragged me off the cliff!”
“We had to leave behind everything that burdened us, so we could move faster,” Damian cut him off. “We brought back very little.”
“We’re fuckin’ dead.” The Wretch breathed slower now, his lids falling heavy. Warmth made exhaustion show in his face, his whole body mellow in the chair, his chest stained with greenish vomit. It was painful only to look at him. I couldn’t keep this isn’t happening from starting another solo in my head as it slowly dawned on me – someone had tried to kill them.
It took a while until everybody processed what was said and reality kicked in. Some came to their senses with headshakes, some with rapid blinking, and a few with hysteria. As for me, I felt rooted in the ground. An avalanche of questions started, ranging from, “What’s this all about?” to painfully insensitive, “What’s that got to do with the booze?”, since Damian had everybody gather all bottles in a pile.
“Broken bottles can be used as weapons,” I heard Damian’s bass voice reply, his forehead now higher above all others across the room. “Like screwdrivers, cutlery and pens.”
“Why this mobilization?” That was George.
“They followed us back here, man,” the Wretch said, his voice shaky. “They wheezed and growled in the dark, always hidden but always close. Those shits, they’re lurking out there.”
“Maybe they were wolves!” George retorted, his pitch high with panic.
“Those were no wolves,” Damian retorted with a grave certainty that made my skin crease.
I slowly walked backwards, out of everybody’s way, until I bumped into something. By the wide, hard edge I knew it was the windowsill, which is why I didn’t turn. I pressed against it, keeping my arms across my chest and my fingers hooked in the fat coat sleeves. Damian’s explanations to panicked questions flew by me. I heard the sound of his voice but not the meaning of his words.
Despite my weakness for him, I had no doubt all this was his fault. It was either his shady background, as Ruxandra called it, or his affair with a mobster’s woman that had brought this upon us. Defending his honor or whatever, the cheated mobster must’ve sent his thugs to settle accounts with Damian, while the rest of us were just collateral damage – and Svetlana had known this. She’d expected it. “None of us will make it ‘till morning.”
But then again, would even a mobster go to such lengths for an unfaithful lover? Would even a mobster go as far as to derail a train full of neutral people in snowy mountains, forcing them to take refuge in a remote cottage, emptying a whole village and populating it with his thugs only to get back at a rival? Why, when he could’ve staged anything in Constanta? This theory hung by a thread. But the other one . . . Whatever villains the R.I.S. hunted might just have that kind of power, which they would use for the right stake. But the stake had to be pretty damn high.
Only one detail stayed the same in both cases – Svetlana had known. “This is not the work of god or devil.” “None of us will make it till morning.” Unfortunately I couldn’t get to her now to press for more info – chaotic movement and shrieking voices blocked the way out of the main room.
My eyes rested on the Wretch, who still sat in the corner chair and in my field of vision. Ruxandra bent over his chest and rubbed it with a cloth, but he didn’t seem aware of her. He had the sickening pallor and lost stare of a dead man.
I hoped he’d react somehow and come out of his shell at least a little bit, but not a muscle moved on his face. He stared as if through me. Maybe he didn’t even acknowledge my presence there, and I misinterpreted the direction of his gaze. I followed it and turned to look behind me, expecting four small windowpanes separated by wooden lines in the shape of a cross.
But suddenly two glowing circles like eyes in a black picture flashed into mine and made me give out a sharp scream.
Hope you enjoyed this:) If you did, I’d love to read from you in a comment. If the story of The Executioner now happens not to let you sleep, it’s available in whole here. Enjoy!
Also, stay tuned for a new episode of The Marquis on Friday. Check out all previous episodes of The Marquis here.