I froze. “What?”
“Yes. The police ascribed the massacre at the inn to a criminal corporation, BioDhrome. They allegedly dissolved soon after the R.I.S. started on their trail, but Marius is convinced that’s bullshit. They were a corp, much too big to evaporate in thin air just like that. He’s convinced they used their power and money to . . . transform. Based on his later investigations he’s also sure there was more than organ trafficking involved.”
“Experiments on humans. It was these experiments that became a matter beyond police competence, a matter of national security. A matter for the R.I.S., the Military and Defense. Marius tried to go deeper on this, but, as I said, he eventually hit a dead end. The R.I.S. silenced all his leads.”
“And you believe him?” I said, grinning like an idiot. This isn’t happening was on replay.
“And why not, Alice? His account fits so well with what Svetlana said that night at the Bourbon. Now she acts crazy, people try to kill us with no obvious reason and Damian’s acting all mysterious. What else could explain all this, if not that they’re after unfinished business with Cezare Lupan, as well as our kidneys and livers?”
I stared blankly at her as she went for a bag of snacks. She looked as if she chewed on her own nerves.
“It can’t be,” I shook my head. “It can’t be happening.”
“You’re in denial,” she sneered through loud gnawing.
“Cezare . . . Is that his real name?” It sounded so out-of-this world, even coming from my own mouth.
“Could be. The R.I.S. might’ve put him in a witness protection program and given him a new one.”
“Witness protection program? You’ve seen too many American movies.” Or I was indeed in denial. My reason switched to pause.
“The R.I.S. is the best disciple of the K.G.B., Alice. They do it much better than Hollywood.”
The grip of shock on my brain started to loosen against my struggles to remain under its anesthetic effect, and my mind began to wrap around the hideous reality bit by bit. A paralyzing fear gripped me.
“This is some mind-blowing shit, Ruxandra . . . Some serious shit.”
“You bet your ass.”
I was pretty hard to surprise when it came to crime, since burglars, armed gangsters, pimps and hookers were an issue in Constanta as they were in as good as all cities of Romania. I was used to walking among such people every day in the streets. I’d gone to school and played hopscotch with their kids until they’d gone rogue, like their parents.
Ruxandra herself was the daughter of a gypsy shylock with a belly like a balloon and a threatening dark frown, who’d insisted that Ruxandra remain illiterate, and planned her marriage for the age of twelve. Luckily, her mom had run away with her and her sister, and fought for their education. Whenever Ruxandra disclosed her roots – which happened as often as a solar eclipse – jaws dropped and eyes popped. I guess we both strived to bury our origins, and that had welded our bond. Her sister, Carla, on the other hand, was not at all ashamed with her heritage, but she didn’t wear it printed on a t-shirt either.
Yet organ trafficking and illegal medical experimentation were a completely different level. Derailing trains and making people disappear without a trace meant power. A whole lot of power. Something we couldn’t fight. A hydra, its claws drilling deep in the Romanian underground.
“If they want our kidneys and livers they’ll get them, Ruxandra!” I squeaked, “We don’t stand a chance!”
“Pull yourself together.” She slapped my back, then jumped up and grabbed one of the metal objects from the counter. Only when she pressed it in my palm did I realize it was a short, rust-adorned screwdriver.
“What are you doing?”
“Keep it under your sleeve,” she said, tucking a knife under her own.
“But Damian said – ”
“I don’t care what he said. Right now, I don’t trust anyone in this place any more than I do People out there.”
“Rux, you’re losing it.” The words were careful to leave my mouth. She looked as manic as Svetlana had just a few hours earlier, save for the dark circles around the eyes and the sucked cheeks.
“Oh, you think?” she snapped, her face red and her brows scrunched. “There are three people here who knew about BioDhrome – Damian, Marius and Svetlana. Now you mark my words: one of them has drawn us in this trap. One of them works with those butchers hand in hand. So I’m not following a suspect’s orders. And neither are you.”
As soon as she finished her sentence she grabbed my wrist – rather roughly – and dragged me out.
The main room was loud and crowded, but she elbowed our way close to the center, where Damian and Hector answered questions worse than in a press conference with the President. George tried for the anchor role, appointing the next questions, but no one minded him. He looked overwhelmed and utterly useless. Ruxandra shot a few of her own arrows in the mix, but they didn’t hit anyone’s ears, not until she managed to clasp Hector’s arm.
“This is crazy,” she yelled, “What’s the plan?”
“There is no plan,” Hector yelled back. “We just get out of here as soon as Damian and I have checked the area.”
“Out? Fucking out? Into what, chains, knives or bullets?”
Angered, Hector pushed her into a mass of bodies. I was in the front line, her shoulder squashing my face.
“Stay here, if you prefer gas.”
“What do you mean, you troll?” she shouted after him, but he was already too far. He talked to George and pointed in our direction, making the latter nod. Proud to have gotten a direct assignment, George hurried over and led us to the putrid sofa by the stove.
“Gas, yeah,” he said as if he’d lived through this before himself. I couldn’t decide if his composure was admirable or just plain ridiculous. “Gas that doesn’t smell or burn, but that’ll blast our adrenaline levels so high, that we’ll jump at each other’s throats.”
“We’ll fucking kill each other?” Ruxandra shrieked.
“Some would end up dead, others severely wounded,” he cut her off, dropping the loaded meaning on us like a bedrock. “In any case, it would go fast. When no one, or just too few still stand, they’ll barge in. They’ll shut down the survivors and take the bodies.”
Hellish killing techniques.
“Novac told you that? Why didn’t he fucking do it from the start?”
“You use that word a lot,” George admonished. Both he and Rux seemed to be growing furious for no real reason, as if they barely waited for a pretext to catch fire.
“Oh, don’t you try to educate me, George, I’m too old for that shit!”
“Mind your fucking tone!” Before I knew it, he slapped her hard with the back of his hand. Ruxandra’s head snapped sideward. Out of instinct, I jumped up and shielded her with my palms up, bitten by George’s violence that showed in his face as if his arms had never been around her and his lips never on hers.
“For Christ’s sake, what’s gotten into you, George?”
He skirted around me, grabbed Ruxandra’s shoulders and pushed her against the wall.
“You started this, bitch! You talked too much in front of too many, now look at the panic around you. They assaulted him with questions, he gave them answers, and all hell broke loose.”
“At least you know the shit you’re in, you slobbering moron.” Her knee found a quick way between his legs. George crouched in pain, with both hands on his jewels. His face was a swollen red, his eyelids wrinkled as he pressed them shut. Ruxandra clutched his nape and the same knee kicked his mouth, while I watched dumbfounded.
The next instant George got hauled into the wall. The attacker immediately flung himself into the picture too, hands stiff like claws, hair messed up, his nostrils almost fuming – the Wretch. No longer a zombie, but a crazed animal, holding its prey in place and looking eagerly around for something to grab, something to hurt with. Ruxandra had taken care of him when he’d come back from the horror blizzard, so he must’ve felt protective of her and furious of George. Out of reflex, I followed his scowl. Nothing, there was nothing around us.
It hit me. There was nothing weapon-like, because Damian and Hector had gathered everything in piles, which were nowhere within reach. The measure was never meant to provide us with easier access to weapons, but to keep us away from them. Like a logical wire leading to it, my next thought led to the gas. One glance around the room was enough to see a number of heated arguments and fights had started everywhere. So the poison was already in. It had been in, probably in smaller check-doses, all along, maybe even on the train. It had been in yesterday, when Marius had punched those boys and provoked Damian. Tonight, when Svetlana had plunged into fits of hysteria and attacked me. It hadn’t been the alcohol consumption that had led to those clashes, but the gas. And now it poured in full power, with no color and no smell, unlike anything we’d ever experienced before, and very effective.
But where did it come from? I spun in place, getting dizzy as I searched for the source all over the room. Windows closed. The door to the corridor open, most certainly the ones to the bunkroom and kitchen too, but the entrance door was surely shut. No draught. Gas that doesn’t smell or burn. Stoves. It was the stoves.
Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII or buy the entire book here, to enjoy fully. And there’s more good news: The Executioner Part II is already in the fine-tuning phase, and it’s due to come out 3 – 5th of July, when we’ll have a grand promotion that will last three days – like all miracles and good things : ) Until then,
enjoy the next personality test that will reveal what your Death Quotes say about you tomorrow, and a new episode of The Marquis on Friday. Stay tuned!