THE EXECUTIONER Part Two is LIVE! Released by Solstice Publishing

Big day follows big day follows big day 🙂 Solstice Publishing has released The Executioner Part Two today! This has been an intense ride, in which Alice and Damian’s story has had me completeley immersed in it. Theirs is a love story that consumed not only the characters but also the author – yours truly. I just ordered my paperbacks, and can’t wait to enjoy that cozy smell of new book. But if you want instant gratification, by all means, go ahead 🙂 Get The Executioner Part Two  (new release) and, if you haven’t read it yet, The Executioner Part One.

   

And no need to stop there 🙂 If you want yet more, my short story Hyperion – The Assassin is free for a limited amount of time here. So if after Alice and Damian you’re left craving more, there’s more to get. And if you find yourself wishing for yet more consuming love, genetic and psychological engineering, and ancient mysteries, enjoy my online novel, The Devil’s Elixir! There’s no end to all the stories and the goodies. Embark on this ride with me, and enjoy dark thrills and worthwhile secrets.

 

The Executioner – when you discover that, against all odds, you ARE special

Hello peeps, as promised here’s more goodies on and from The Executioner Part 1, my upcoming novel with a reputed traditional publisher. There’s a lot I’ve discovered on my journey of writing this novel, so much, that I’ve come to believe everything I’ve written – especially the fact that every human is special. Stay tuned and find out out why, along more teasers and posts on the psychology of attraction and limitless human potential. I’m always here for you, as well as on Twitter and Facebook and on e-mail. Let me know what you think 🙂

Teaser 3

The Executioner – Ep. XVI – Mad Conan

“See, what did I tell you? They found Mad Conan to blame it on. As for the old man, he’s a scapegoat,” Rux said as images of a sorry old doctor with Einstein hair, cuffed hands and fragile body in a tweed suit appeared on the screen, led to a police car by two men in black uniforms. According to the reporter, the car exploded only shortly later, the doctor and the policemen all dead. The connection to Dad fired in my head – first extraction, then death.

“Jesus, Rux, this is bad! This is real bad!”

She looked at me, startled by my reaction. 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, then maybe even killed in some staged accident!”

“And who’s gonna tell you where Dr. Preda is? Apparently no one wants you to know.”

“We’ll go see Varlam at the station. I’ll find a way to get him talking.”

“You don’t have his number?”

I snorted. “How do you suppose I could talk to him about these things on the phone? Plus, if we call first it’ll give him time to think of ways to ditch us or fool us. The only solution is going to the station, and talk to him face to face.”

Rux 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.

“You’re petite, Alice, you don’t own anything I can actually take out on the street or to 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 buy a few things.”

I finally understood her game, but Mom intervened as if burnt with a red iron before I could say anything.

“You’re sure not going out, not with darkness knocking on the door.”

Rux’s face froze for a moment but, as she turned to Mom, it had already regained its elasticity and added a rakish smile.

“What if we 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 a suspicion-filled look, which I blocked with an innocent smile and a shrug.

“I’d love to get out of the house for a bit,” I said. “It feels like prison, and 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 and his colleagues. I had no idea why Rux invited 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, keeping the long winter coat wrapped closely around her body.

To my gaping surprise, she entered the corner bar 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,” Rux said. “Would they have extracted your neighbor Mrs. Teodorescu and had an agent disguise himself as her, with apron an’ all?”

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.

Rux and I went 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.

Rux 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 expression of a retard. Maybe the colored motion on screen simply put his mind off duty. Or maybe he was high on prescription medication.

Slowly, Rux opened the doors to the wardrobe. The slower she moved the more they creaked, and George stirred.

“For God’s sake, Rux, he’s not Alien or something,” I mumbled, refusing to accept that George wasn’t to be treated like a normal person 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.

Rux 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 Svetlana 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 on hookers’ legs.” What saved them from becoming a giveaway 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 Rux on the rocking chair by the window. I watched her sinewy shape dance into it and recognized Mom’s elegant red turtleneck sweater and a pair of white pants.

“How do I look?” she inquired.

“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. “Your clothes are all too small, and I figured Jenna wouldn’t mind. She never did before.”

“But she’ll see you’re wearing her stuff when we go out. Marvimex won’t stand, she’ll know we’re going somewhere else. Plus, even if we manage to persuade her we’re going shopping, we might not even make it to Varlam with one of those watchmen on our heels,” I threw at her, sounding increasingly desperate as I realized the holes in our plot.

“Oh, we’re going to Marvimex, all right. I can’t wear Jenna’s clothes forever, she knows that. 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 wore 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 at our apartment in the outskirts, as were Rux’s savings from all her baby-sitting.

In less than half an hour we stood 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 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. Small, round men and women wearing thick golden chains around their necks populated them, offering contraband like circus performers did their 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 read seduction off her smile, and I divined the batting of her thick lashes. They produced the effect of melting poor Sorescu on his feet, and I knew she’d soon be able to touch on the sensitive subject, namely ask him to accompany us to the station for a confidential meeting with Agent Hector Varlam. Then the even more sensitive core of the subject would follow – no one was to hear of this.

I lost them from sight as a young family in shopping rush squeezed me among them, and disappeared again suddenly in the roofed hall. I’d lost my umbrella in the process too. Persian rugs hung 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. 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 gave me an unsettling feeling and a nagging presentiment of danger until a powerful voice called my name.

“Miss Preda.”

I turned on my heels and gasped.

The largest man that must’ve ever existed stood before me, his head much above mine. Big to the extreme, something most people don’t get to lay their eyes on in a lifetime. A black cloak that reminded me of the garment of a priest molded on his wavy, way-too-big shoulder muscles. Cold sweat trickled down my temples.

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII, Episode XIII, Episode XIV, Episode XV. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – for example, check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

I love reading from you, so don’t be shy and share your thoughts and feelings in a comment.

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The Executioner – Ep. XV – In Danger

“How can you be sure Dad is safe with the Intelligence Service?” Worry broke through my voice, no matter how hard I tried to keep it chained.

“Because there’s nothing safer than their protection in this country,” Mom said.

“The few words I exchanged with him back at the hospital, he didn’t seem anxious about his life. He wanted to stay here, with us.”

“Two of his colleagues and their families have been killed, Alice. Those men worked for the same organization as your father from Barcelona and Bristol, also in matters related to genetic research. The R.I.S. are certain BioDhrome were the moral author of these murders, and that back in the mountains they meant to finish you in the same horrendous way to teach your father the same kind of lesson. Therefore Tiberius is a risk factor in this house, for us and for himself. Without him we’re safer, but still. Officer Sorescu, the man you saw in here . . .” even more careful now, “he’s around with his colleagues, just in case. Melanie and George will be staying with us too.”

“Does this mean we’re confined to these walls?”

“No. The R.I.S. and the doctors, they all agree that the trauma will be slow to leave you, so a normal life is essential. Especially public places are benefic. Crowds are safe.”

She smiled as if this were supposed to thrill me like alcohol would a teen. And it did, to a certain extent. Crowds, places like the campus and even clubs were safe indeed in our town, people’s built-in curiosity would let no event unobserved. It worked better than CCTV, so there was strong reason to believe that BioDhrome wouldn’t risk taking action in open field. They’d try to get us alone, at night in lonely places or even in our homes. So surveillance and protection made sense.

But the feeling that Dad had been extracted against his will nagged. He’d been desperate like never before at the hospital, his tone had left no room for doubt. He’d been convinced that he could protect us, especially by being present.

“And if we want to talk to him? Is there some number we can call? Some place we can go, for example, I don’t know, a phone cabin downtown like in those detective movies or something?”

“We can contact Agent Varlam.”

“I see.” I proved unable to control an acid grin. So this is how Hector was forcing cooperation. By leaving us no way around him. On a second thought, what if extraction was no more than a cover? A gross lie? What if he’d thrown Dad in a nasty cell and punched and kicked information on Damian Novac out of him? I jumped to my feet, bumping into the table edge. My ears whistled in tune with the kettle on the stove.

“Well, I’d like a word with him right now,” I spat.

Mom stood up too, hand on my cheek to calm me down, blue eyes identical to mine wide and worried. Standing half a head taller though, she made me feel like a kid again.

“Alice, honey, the whole idea behind this was to keep out of touch. Why bother organizing an extraction, if family stops by at the hideout to say hello anytime they please?”

“And you accept this so easily?” I snapped and brushed her hand off. “Are you really not worried about him, not one bit? His absence doesn’t bother you in the least?”

Now it was Mom’s turn to frown and apply a hard edge to her voice. “It’s not much difference to the last years, is it?”

“But this is different, Mom! BioDhrome is serious shit, real trouble that not even the R.I.S. might be able to protect him from.”

“I am worried about your father, Alice, believe me, but yes, I admit, I’m more worried about you. And if his presence puts you in danger, then I don’t need or want to see him again until the afterlife.”

Her words sent a stab through my brain, but I kept protest and anger behind tightened lips. Mom’s honesty was sharp, like glass colliding with glass in her voice, leaving no trace of vulnerability. Moreover, Dad had been cheating on her for a long time, and she knew it. I happened to know even with whom. Indeed, why should she give a shit? I tried for a peace-making tone.

“But I wouldn’t be seeing him, Mom. I’ll just talk to Agent Varlam, make sure Dad’s all right. I need to convince myself.”

“I know you’re hard to assure of anything, sweetheart. You have a counterargument ready for anything, you’re able to question even the law of gravity, and I think you’re taking it too far sometimes. That’s why I’m telling you now: your father is safe and sound, take that for granted.”

Mom wasn’t the dictator Dad could often be, but when she stood for something there was no way past her will. Behind the mask of the kind, soft-spoken Madame Jenna everyone appreciated, she had ways of getting what she wanted, brains to bow to and the patience of a reptile. On days like this, I ate my heart out for not having inherited at least half of everything she was.

Still, I found the guts to try and make up a strategy around her in my head, but before it caught shape I heard the door from the antechamber to my room. Then light steps. Ruxandra’s steps. The knock on the doorframe to signal her presence was accompanied by a weak smile.

Her pretty face had lost much of its glow, her olive complexion now pale in its own way, her hair a washed-out black, rumpling down to her waist. Her jaw was locked despite the smile. The experience we’d been through had taken away what was left of her carefree self, I would say.

Mom smiled back and hurried to pour her a cup of coffee, eager to cover the subject of our conversation. Ruxandra relished Mom’s warm welcome like an orphan would a Christmas night with presents, and joined me at the table, huddled in my old pink bathrobe that came too short on her arms and legs.

They were all “Rux, dear,” and “Jenna” to each other, as always. They had a special relationship. Mom had made a life purpose of plunging deep into the troubles of the gypsy minority, she had dedicated them her time even though there was no trophy to be won. Rich wives of the Western World she came from did charity, Mom had told me, but she didn’t think much of it. “Raising funds for clerks. Trust me, half of the donated money ends up on their pay-checks,” she’d say.

But Mom was determined to be of use on a very personal, palpable level, and made a great “career” of social work. Many of the gypsy kids in our neighborhood, Ruxandra and her older sister Cora included, had listened to her winter stories and learned to read and write from her. Both Romanian and English. It had been Mom who’d helped Ruxandra’s mother leave her husband and find a job at the textile factory many years ago. She’d fought and achieved so much in those difficult times. A rush of admiration swept over me. My heroine.

Ruxandra took a long sip of coffee, fingers curled around the mug, then leaned her head back, savoring not only the aroma but also her surroundings. There was love in her gaze as it crossed over every detail of the room – the cluttered wooden cupboards nailed to the walls over the counter, the door to the back garden with its frosted glass pane, the pots, kettles and spoons dangling from a wooden stripe with hooks above the sink like bells waiting to be played.

“I’ve missed this place,” she said, her hand gently stroking the nylon table cover.

Mom gave her a warm smile. “It’s missed you, too.”

Despite the promising start, the conversation got stuck as soon as Mom uttered a “Did you sleep well?” Ruxandra lowered her head and pressed her lips, as if not wanting to remember. But, if she’d had nightmares, I hadn’t noticed. She’d been still and quiet. Only George’s low moaning and sighing had reached me once in a while through the veil of light sleep.

Mom tried to guide Ruxandra back on the conversational track, but all she got were attempted smiles from the trembling corner of Rux’s mouth. She wasn’t quite herself. But then again, neither was I.

Mom’s insistences on tea, cookies, coffee, chocolate, marmalade and another dozen sweets per minute were a clear sign I was a disturbing sight too. I wasn’t even sure to perceive and answer all her questions. I had this feeling they’d passed by my ears more than once, like “deja heards or something.

George woke up late in the afternoon. His sudden screams as if someone sliced him alive made us all jump, and Mom almost threw down the door to the antechamber to attend him. His pained groans sent chills down my back. Ruxandra slapped her palms over her face, her shoulders shaking in sobs.

Carefully, I took her in my arms. I threw a glance at the big, lazy clock on top of the bookcase – four in the afternoon. George had at least gotten a good chunk of sleep. Unlike Ruxandra and me, who hadn’t even found the energy of losing the pink bathrobes we still wore like overgrown babies, curled on the couch, TV on.

Without Mom to promptly switch channels as soon as the news came on, always packed with tragedies and subliminal, “This is the end of the world,” Ruxandra and I were now fully exposed to them. A report about a massacre at a remote cabin in the mountains of Bulgaria made both our eyes bulge.

The twin of our story, only that no one had been found, dead or alive. The perfectly groomed reporter’s words were like other “deja heards,” her voice matter-of-fact but disturbed in its depths. Censured images that played on the half of the screen next to her face accompanied her story.

“Blood on pieces of clothing and torn curtains. Broken windows and . . .” And this is where my ears began buzzing, muffling the sound of the TV. My blood pressure must’ve shot up.

So this one made it on the news.

“They’ll cover up in a few days max,” Ruxandra said, close enough to my ear to pierce through the buzz.

“How is that supposed to work? How could a footage like this be a mistake? They freaking filmed the mess. People are not stupid, Rux.”

“No, they aren’t. But there have been so many tragedies with so many explanations lately, that illegal experimentation won’t cross their minds. They’ll accept any animal attack, serial killer, drugs and orgies that ended up badly, you name it.”

Then the reporter said, “The police arrested Dr. Lazar Dobrev, a psychiatrist. He used to treat one of the missing persons. Dr. Dobrev set the man on the loose, even though he was known to have murderous impulses, which he shouldn’t have had trouble acting on at a height of two meters, and a hundred and seventy kilograms of muscle.”

 

***

 

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII, Episode XIII, Episode XIV. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

I love reading from you, so don’t be shy and share your thoughts and feelings in a comment.

Pic source.

 

The Executioner – Ep. XIV – Discoveries

Where was Dad?

I threw the blanket aside, squirmed out of bed – squashing Rux in the process, provoking a sleepy grunt – and rushed to the master bedroom.

The curtains hung open, making way for the pale winter light through the overlarge window. The bed was made – of course, Mom must’ve been up for hours, if she’d slept at all, considering the circumstances. Having left the parental home a few years ago to live with Ruxandra in the suburbs, most of my parents’ habits had moved to the back of my brain, only to resurface when exposed to them again. As they did now. I remembered the smell of scrambled eggs that used to draw me to the kitchen when I was still a teenager. It hadn’t spoilt my olfactory senses in some years and it didn’t now either, but, as I said, old memories resurfaced.

I tiptoed to the kitchen to find Mom sitting at the table, her thin fingers slowly stroking a coffee mug smeared with souvenir photos of San Francisco – one of the few items that still bound her to her own home. Her stare was lost over the black liquid that didn’t give out steam, which meant she must’ve been staring blankly at it for some time now. Her hair, blond and crisscrossed by gray strands, fell rumpled to her slim shoulders. A fluffy white nightgown clad her thin body.

The sight was disconcerting, considering her usual innate urge of always looking flawless and making an impression of aristocracy on all eyes that fell on her, including the cleaning lady’s. Now the absence of an elegant and shiny chignon and the uncovered wrinkles on her meager face in the presence of a stranger were another definite sign something was wrong.

His sitting with her, the corner cupboard hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles, was even more disturbing. A heavy winter coat hung negligently on the rest of his chair, his chubby hands cupping a coffee mug of his own like pillows of flesh emerging from under thick sweater sleeves. His mien was grave as he set small brown eyes on me.

Round and unfriendly, that’s the impression his face made. Was he her lover? No way, my inner self spat. She would’ve gone for someone less . . . stiff. Plus, he didn’t seem to be feeling awkward, nor did he try to justify his presence.

Just a few moments of puzzling silence, then he stood up, gathered his coat and turned to the door that led directly to the back garden – something told me he’d come in through the same, but I was clueless as to the reason why he refused to use the front door. With a hand on the handle and the coat on the other arm, he turned once more to Mom.

“You know where to find me.”

She nodded, and he left.

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Still, my sixth sense activated again and sent me with slow steps to the table, then seated me in the man’s place.

Mom didn’t raise her head. On the contrary, she seemed to sink it even closer to the mug, a hunch forming on her slim back that was otherwise as straight as a wood plank. Hadn’t it been for the thick bathrobe, I would’ve seen the skin stretch over her ribs. The truth of the man’s visit must’ve been a burden not much different from an affair. Could it be?

“So?” I managed after a while.

Her fingers still stroked the mug with slow, even moves. “We’ll be under police surveillance. I don’t know for how long.”

Police surveillance?

“Why’s that?”

“You and your friends. The . . .” she chewed on her lower lip, probably to keep back what looked like a nervous breakdown. Her cheek twitched. “Those people from the mountains. BioDhrome, they told me.”

Panic shot to the tips of my toes.“BioDhrome’s our priority now, Tiberius. They won’t stop here.”

“Where’s Dad?”

Only now Mom looked me in the eyes, eyebrows up like a crying pet’s. She looked for the way to put it, there was no doubt.

“No, God, please no!”

Mom’s expression grew from wrecked to worried, more alert now, the way it had been at the hospital. She touched my wrist, voice soft and soothing, though it cost her some effort. “No, baby, no. He’s all right, safe and sound.”

“Where is he then?”

This was the news she’d been nervous about, I could tell by the pause and fixed gaze on my eyes. “He’s been extracted, they told me.”

Extracted? What’s that supposed to mean?”

Another nervous chew on her lip. “This BioDhrome thing.” Then reconsidering, “Alice, this must stay between us. Tell no one, not Ruxandra, not anyone.”

“Just tell me, Mom!”

“Give me your word first. For your own safety, not my comfort.”

“I’m your daughter, you really believe I’d betray your secrets?” A stab in the chest accompanied the words. As I don’t betray Dad’s. “All right, may I die in chains, if a word on this leaves my mouth,” I went for one of the gypsy oath formulations I’d learned in Ruxandra’s crowded home as a child.

Mom shuddered. “Not like that, please. Your word suffices. Keep this all to yourself, for your own good.”

“No need to elaborate on that. Elaborate on extracted.”

She took a deep breath, gathering her nerves. “I’ll have to start with the beginning so you understand.”

“Please do.”

“For many years, Tiberius has been working with an international organization whose name he never told me. He’s been analyzing blood samples they delivered him. The results were always classified, your father never spoke of them. They often surprised and baffled him, which filled him with enthusiasm in the beginning. But after we had you, he withdrew in his shell like a turtle. Soon his work started to take too heavy a toll. We had midnight fights more and more often.” Her voice trailed off, lost in painful memory.

“Tell me about it,” I whispered. All those late nights when Dad tiptoed to the master bedroom, the quiet quarrels they thought I didn’t hear played like a movie in my head. All those empty weekends, Mom sunken in her books and I in mine, Dad only a picture on a shelf, even though he was still of this world.

“I put him under pressure to quit what he was doing. I imagine that’s why his heart grew cold to me, and he began seeking comfort elsewhere. Oh, dear baby, I haven’t asked – some coffee? Tea?”

With the premiere of her confession on my shoulders I nodded, and Mom put a kettle on the stove. I let her decide on whether coffee or tea and moved a few inches in to let her sit by me and slide a loving arm around my back, as if to support me through what she’d say next.

“Your father is a BioDhrome target, they tell me, because he works with their direct enemy, an organization which calls itself ‘the good guy,’ but I don’t know. They’re so powerful that they could order the R.I.S. to take your father in while we were still at the hospital in Brasov, and that kind of power is dubious. To be completely honest, I’m no less afraid of them than I am of your attckers in the mountains.”

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII, Episode XIII. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

I love reading from you, so don’t be shy and share your thoughts and feelings in a comment.

 

The Executioner – Ep. XIII – Dirty Secrets

 

“My Dad is the mobster she danced for?”

“The mobster thing was just speculation, cheap gossip. But Novac . . . 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 rubbing shoulders with him, I still don’t have evidence against Novac, I don’t. But I’m positive as hell he works for BioDhrome. 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.”

The 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?”

He put slightly too much emphasis on this last question. 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 lay on a hospital bed with IV lines snaking around my arms. “Everything hurts, no matter what.”

It dawned on me. The son of a bitch tried to manipulate me into betraying my own father, and Dad had known it. Maybe what he said was true, but he wielded the truth to get a fat bonus, 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, Agent Varlam. 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.”

Hector tensed, I felt it in his grip on my hand and the intensifying pain in my fingers.

“I really hope you’re not covering anything, Miss Preda,” he stressed. “More shit will happen if I don’t lock up Damian Novac soon.”

“And who else would you have locked up, Agent Varlam?”

“Whoever aids him in his endeavors, directly or indirectly,” he spat.

Especially because of this covert threat I was relieved when he left the room, and anxious to see Dad at the same time. Soon I received another visit, but it wasn’t him. Mom rushed to my side and kissed my forehead, again and again, smothering me. I was so eager to talk to Dad that I didn’t wait for the right moment to ask about him, making Mom feel superfluous. She said he’d be back any minute now, but minutes and hours flowed slowly, the nerve-wrecking clock ticking them away.

No, Damian can’t be working with BioDhrome, I chewed on my thoughts. Of this one thing his conversation with Dad should have assured me. But then again, maybe he’d been playing Dad for whatever reason all the time they’d known each other. Maybe he did sleep with Svetlana Slavic, Dad’s slut, and maybe that wasn’t the only way he betrayed Dad. Maybe he was indeed a foe.

After two phone calls in hushed voice, with her hand covering the receiver and her mouth, Mom announced that Dad had urgent business back in Constanta and had been forced to return on a short notice – a surprise, considering his vehemence in staying by my side. But when Mom mentioned the business was related to “the case at hand”, assuring me that Dad was all right, I relaxed. Her voice usually had that effect on me. She also revealed we were at the General Hospital in Brasov.

A white-lit place it was, but depressing as hell. I got to explore its corridors while searching for Ruxandra as soon as I could walk, which didn’t happen until the following day. Considering the great blood values I was supposed to have according to Dad, the weakness and vertigo that made me throw up were unexplainable. Didn’t dare talk to Mom about it, though. It was hard to even look her in the face, knowing what I knew now – that Dad had been sleeping with a girl my age, a girl I knew. But I couldn’t walk without help, so I had to live with the crushing guilt as we strolled through the hospital. To top the whole thing, I had this ever-present sensation that I saw Damian everywhere, unyielding and unnerving that I almost choked on it.

“Is it just me, or you’re hoping to see this boy?” Mom said with a patient, experienced smile.

“I do.” The truth tumbled like a rock off my chest.

“He must be very fond of you, too. He spent hours by your bed.”

My heart jumped. “He did?”

Nod. “Didn’t take his eyes off your face. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was hypnotized, standing there like a statue.”

I don’t think a bungee leap could’ve been more exhilarating than the feeling that coursed through me at those words.

“When your father and I arrived, he was already with you. God, sweetheart, never put me through this again . . .” She paused, swallowing the panic down her thin, dry-skinned throat as she skipped to a part that seemed to comfort her. “That boy was always there as doctors swarmed around you, and he stayed after they stabilized you, too. I didn’t have the heart to ask him for privacy.”

“Really?”

“He’s remarkably handsome, if I may say,” Mom continued with another conspirator smile. If only she knew how innocent she actually was, despite her long years of wisdom.

“That he is,” I whispered.

Only as we finally found Ruxandra’s room in the east wing – as dark and humid as any old building that rarely saw an investment – did the bitterness succumb, replaced by a flood of sadness at the sight of my friend lying on that piece of metal with a flimsy mattress, her chocolate eyes drooping and lips drawn downward from crying.

We exchanged no words. Just that locking of the eyes. I dropped by her side and squeezed her in my arms as hard as my tired muscles allowed. She was softer than usual too, her flesh felt like warm polenta. And tears flowed, wordless, both of us shaking with them, our fingers hooking like claws in each other’s hair, tugging as memories drained from us. We cried and leaned on each other like exhausted boxers until there was no drop of rage left, just sighs and lunatic laughs.

Although Ruxandra was perfectly healthy too, as her blood tests showed, the hospital wasn’t cleared to let her go. The police had ordered that none of the survivors leave the premises until specifically permitted to do so, which left no big difference between the hospital and prison. Hector prolonged this situation by as much as his badge allowed, so clearance came in about twenty-four hours. Every survivor was then ready to leave, no one with serious injuries or needing medical attention for an extended period of time, but mentally we were all wrecks.

Mom drove all the four-hour way to Constanta in silence. George had great need of it. He was sensitive to all sound, he’d cover his ears, his face would twist in a grotesque mask and he’d squeeze his lids shut at every word he heard. He’d killed a man with his own hands, the trauma was most severe for him, the doctor had explained. He remembered every detail of it vividly, which tormented him with violent headaches.

“Don’t leave him alone, for whatever reason,” the doctor had warned.

The street up to my parents’ house revealed itself on a last turn, cobbled and ghostly in our headlights. Barking from neighboring yards and the crisp sea air were the first to greet us, lonely and timeless, like the screech of our old iron gate and the warm darkness of our living room. I think that was my first real experience of synesthesia, I could almost feel the massive oak bookcase through my skin, the homely upholstered couch, Dad’s favorite armchair.

George didn’t wait for an invitation to throw himself face-down on the sofa in the small antechamber that opened into my room, which I used to call my “boudoir” back in high school. Ruxandra and I shared my bed.

Mom turned on the lamp outside, the thick skeleton of our old apple tree bathing in its mild light. We kept the curtains open so we could face it from the bed, my old guardian from childhood days. It felt safe, but I still couldn’t close my eyes until the early morning hours. Something was missing, something wasn’t right. Something wasn’t home. It only hit me when my eyes snapped open at midday, my brain refreshed:

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

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The Executioner – Ep. XII – An Angel with Black Wings

“Alice is a gem, I must admit. Sweet in appearance, sharp in wit and loving as an angel. But she’s your daughter.”

Expectation popped like a balloon stung with a needle. The refined barbarian that was Damian Novac had found the perfect words to avoid a direct answer, but there it was, between the lines. It may have been his way of saying I was the little sister of Shitty, since “amazing”, “stunning” or at least “attractive” hadn’t as much as touched his description of me. To save a bit of face, I prayed my playing asleep had worked the first night at the cottage as it did now.

After tormenting moments Dad spoke again, low and careful. “Don’t take this the wrong way, lad. It’s just . . .” Awkward pause. “You’re dangerous, Damian. It’s not your fault, they did this to you, yet . . .”

“I get it,” Damian cut him off.

The air was so laden that I could almost hear Dad nod. “I can’t risk them doing the same with Alice.”

“Then let me take over. Will you tolerate my wing over her?”

Long pause. Apologetic, maybe fearful answer. “I won’t, lad. Your wings are black and thorny. One can’t protect from fire with fire or from hell with demons.”

Damian lingered in silence for moments, but his anger filled the room, heavy as his presence. I could feel it as I did my own strange anxiety lacking the frantic heartbeat.

“You leave me no choice, Tiberius.” – urging. Low.

“Respect and loyalty, Damian, if I may remind you,” my dad retorted, determined yet pleading. “Just don’t do anything behind my back.”

“No. Not behind your back.” With that, Damian closed the door behind him.

A chair raked the floor as Dad pulled it close to the bed and sat down. He stroked my forehead with long, lab-man fingers for a long while, a while that I used to calm my rage at destiny, to quench the curses that burned the tip of my tongue, and to ensure I’d look innocent and unknowing when I’d open my eyes. Yet the first hoarse words that I managed when Dad’s tired face appeared through the blurry shield my eyelashes made were, “What did BioDhrome do to Damian Novac?”

***

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.

He recovered from surprise and stroked my hair. “Are you feeling dizzy?”

“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. Only when two men in POLICE jackets followed, did I realize he wasn’t there as brother-in-pain. His frown and suspicion-filled eyes measuring Dad from head to toe 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, she won’t be able to deliver much.”

“I’d be much obliged if she tried,” Hector adjusted his attitude to match Dad’s aristocratic demeanor, clearly mocking.

“Later, Agent Varlam, 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 split, a large cut with stitches presided 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? Agent Hector Varlam, at your service.”

“Jesus, Hector!” Memories of lilt guitar tunes spun in my head. “You were there with us. You lived it all first hand, what? Why? Why are you here?”

“Now, now, take it easy, babe. 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?” I 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. I hate being the one to deliver the news.”

“Jesus Christ!” One particular memory lit up – the Wretch, coughing out blood and grunting.

“Alice, please,” Hector lowered his voice and face. “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?” I didn’t even think of going about the bush. If he’d been undercover it was because he already knew, no doubt. He didn’t try to hide it either.

“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?” He looked at me with 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.

“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 taking notes on a small notebook.

“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. For me the rush started to fade as I strayed through the woods and, by the time I reached the village in the valley, I was dead tired, my lips and fingers frostbitten. I didn’t find a soul in the village, Alice, it seemed completely abandoned. I was the first to find refuge in the church. Soon the others joined, your friends Ruxandra Ignat and George Voinescu included. All usable paths turned out to lead to that village and its church like a fuckin’ maze. That church was the only friendly-looking place, all houses and other buildings looked like coffins.

“Interestingly enough, the only one who managed to escape that maze was Damian Novac. He came in last, hours later, not 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, compare my version to the one they’ll later give you?” I grinned at him, unable to hide the contempt in my voice. He’d been shadowing Damian for years, and yet here he was, squeezing information from a traumatized civilian.

“Damian Novac is 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, given, 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 before this mission, monitored his every move, adjusted my personality to get under his skin. We became friends, or so I thought. But his past, he always guarded it. Still, one thing slipped, by chance actually – his friendship with your father. I discovered it when I saw him emerge from Dr. Preda’s private booth at the Marquette . . .” he went on carefully here, “The booth where Svetlana 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 clouded 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 Svetlana Slavic, and Damian Novac is the only person he trusted with this secret.”

***

njoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

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Pic source.

 

The Executioner – Ep. XI – Upgraded

Whispering somewhere close. I might’ve been dead, but not alone. I didn’t see, but I could hear – not an ideal situation, but still something. And I felt warm and so very comfortable, all that whispering, as if somebody were careful not to disturb.

Then I must’ve fallen asleep and dreamt, even in death, and it felt anything but nice. I was small, so small, a bee in a jar. And I tried to get out, but the glass was slippery, with nothing I could grab. Every time I tried to reach up, my palms would leave traces of blood down the jar. Instead of fingernails, I had pus and blood. I screamed a sharp scream like a train whistle, then pushed hard on my hands. And then my eyes were open, though heavy, so very heavy.

I sat up, sweat trickling down my forehead and neck. The room seemed warped, like in a dream, my skull burdensome as if it contained rocks. I dropped back on pillows that smelled of disease, and something stung my arms. My body grew heavier and heavier, sinking in the mattress like a pile of steel. I realized I wouldn’t be able to lift myself again, it had been only a rush that my body wouldn’t sustain again anytime soon.

A sweet, pained voice rang close to my ear. “Alice, baby, you’re awake. Thank God, you’re awake.”

English. That moment I knew Mom leaned over me, her lips pressing on my temple and forehead. I tried to open my eyes again, but I didn’t find the strength, my lids swollen.

She held my hand, I now felt it, aware again of the life that flowed feebly through me. A slow pulse in my chest, like a lazy clock. Tick – pause – tock. Tick-pause – tock.

Among sobs, Mom began telling me the story of the Sleeping Beauty. It had been one of my favorites as a kid, and her voice brought back the oldest and sweetest memories of pink pajamas and Judy the Monkey. Memories as distant as how and why I’d ended up feeling as beaten and finished as I did. My mind filled with only the image of a prince with beautiful, sculpted face and long raven hair, the girl slumbering in a high, ivory tower, and the taste of cotton candy mingling with that of blood.

The story came to a forced end when two men walked in – I could tell they were men by the deep voices that didn’t manage to keep their heated conversation to the mere level of whispers.

“I won’t leave her under your wing alone.” The direct, determined tone immediately triggered the man’s identity in my head – Dad. The feeling of warmth and peace now became whole – they were here, both Mom and Dad. I was safe.

“You’re being unreasonable, Tiberius,” the other man warned in a commanding voice. Probably as commanding as his person, since he called my dad by his first name – very few called the great Dr., PhD., a-pile-of-titles-in-biochemistry-I-can’t-even-read Tiberius Preda by his first name.

Suddenly, images of a rusty chain and strings of fur crossed my mind’s eye like sharp lashes. Then the fall, the knock in my head. I reached the conclusion rapidly – I was at a hospital and the man must’ve been a doctor.

“I can take care of her at home,” Dad said.

“That’s not a good idea,” the doctor stressed.

Among wretched sobs Mom whispered, “She’s woken up, Tiberius. She was up on her hands, she opened her eyes.”

The shuffle of fabric told me Dad hurried to my side. Hands checked the catheter in my arm. Hospital, doctor, IV lines . . . reality caught outline. How on earth could I have survived? The leaden sensation all through my body prevented me from moving or making a sound, and a ton of sedatives and painkillers must’ve been keeping me numb to pain, but my brain activity took off like a rocket.

“She’s regaining her strength fast,” Dad said, and bent close to my ear. “Alice, do you hear me? Are you awake, sweetheart?”

Regaining my physical strength felt far from the truth, since I didn’t find enough to moan, let alone answer.

“She fell asleep again,” Mom lamented, as if I were more dead than alive. “She fell asleep, my poor girl.” My temple tickled when she caressed my hair.

“You should get some fresh air, Jen. You look and sound tragic, and that’s the last thing she needs.”

Mom took offense, it was obvious in her higher-than-usual pitch. “I’m not going anywhere. This is my baby, barely out of a cold ditch.”

“Go, Jenna.”

“Not in that tone Tiberius, I’m not one of your sluts.”

“You’re catching fire, and that’ll afflict her. You need some fresh air. I promise, I won’t stand in your way when you come back, but go come to grips first.” Dad sounded severe – that kind of severe that used to sew my lips together years ago. Now it shut Mom up and strengthened my decision of playing asleep. I sensed her linger in the doorstep, as I did her crying eyes on my face before her steps faded down an echoing hallway.

I still couldn’t understand why she put up with his brashness. Once she’d said it was for my sake, but that hadn’t kept him under the same roof with us anyway. His work took a heavy toll on our family.

“I’ll leave you with her,” the doctor said calmly.

“No, don’t. Close the door, we need to finish our talk.”

“Not here. Not now.”

“I won’t abandon her with you, lad, and I don’t want you doing anything behind my back to force my hand.”

He can force Tiberius Preda’s hand?

“I won’t take action without your knowledge”, the doctor said, “But I won’t back off.”

“I won’t have her in your custody. That’s my final word.”

“Let’s talk about it later, some other place.”

Dad seemed not to hear him. “There’s something else that can’t wait, though. Have you seen her blood count? It’s so good it’s frightening. After hours in the cold and everything she’s been through, not even a bladder infection. She fell down a precipice and not a broken bone. This is not normal. Besides, she’s always been a fragile kid.”

There was a trace of discontent in Dad’s voice that baffled me to the marrow. If I was doing so good, what was there to be urgent about? And why was I hooked to IV and felt like shit? And why ask my own doctor if he’d seen my blood count?

Thank God my face was too stiff to express anything. The slightest sign that I could hear them and false smiles would greet me, then the discussion would be taken somewhere else, leaving me with no clue as to my own situation and the reason for Dad’s distress.

The doctor wasn’t as surprised, though. “She won’t remain this strong. But either way, she remains in danger.”

“What if she doesn’t come back to normal? Ruxandra Ignat, her blood count looks just as staggering, there’s still no change …”

Ruxandra. In flashes, I began remembering the last moments at the cottage.

“BioDhrome’s our priority now, Tiberius. They won’t stop here.”

He knew about BioDhrome? And Dad did, too?

I strained to pinpoint the doctor’s voice. I knew him, I surely did. That voice, deep, composed and pleasant to my ears like thick, flowing honey. I didn’t have to search long until recognition hit – my unattainable barbarian, Damian. He was alive, thank God he was alive, thank God for learning it before I was aware enough to go nuts with the uncertainty! But how on Earth did he know Dad?

I attempted to open my eyes again, but the effort equaled lifting bricks, giving me the necessary seconds to reconsider. The conversation would come to an end at the first sign I was awake. I stayed still as a corpse, but inside excitement, joy and curiosity strained to pump my pulse. For whatever reason, they failed, my body wouldn’t respond. What the heck am I on?

“No, BioDhrome won’t stop here. Especially if these kids’ blood counts don’t come back to normal,” Dad said.

“They will. The gas effects always fade. It causes the body to regulate its chemistry so that it can become a fighting machine, the best version of itself, this is no secret to you. But the effects are always temporary. Alice will be the fragile kid you know again. But that still won’t stop BioDhrome.” There was scorn in Damian’s tone, as if he suspected Dad of wishing weakness on me. It didn’t throw Dad off his distressed track, though.

“The effects of the gas might wear off after a while, but the experience will never go away. And the experience is powerful, and, combined with the gas, it can make the effects permanent. I don’t want her . . . Forgive me, but I don’t want her ending up like you either. An Upgrade is as doomed as a target.”

A what?

“They did much more with me than they did with Alice, Tiberius, you know this. She’s far from an Upgrade, and her values will normalize. You’ve seen George Voinescu’s results, his liver’s already a wreck again.”

George made it too . . .

“What you had was inclination, Damian, talent, if you will. That played the most important part, along with your accumulated anger. Their procedure came second. Blood and spirit are connected, make no mistake about that, and don’t listen to small minds with a degree in science. Alice might not be talented, she may be soft and frail, but she is . . . in a difficult place. She is angry enough to facilitate irreversible effects from this experience and the gas.”

“For that you have only yourself to blame,” Damian said, calm but cold like a judge in court. “She gave up your inheritance, she ran away from everything you represented, she went desperate enough to want and marry a loser so she could be rid of your name. Of your shadow. And things got worse and worse.”

Pause. Both in Dad’s breathing and mine.

“Put like this it strikes you, doesn’t it, Tiberius? With all due respect, you can only hurt your own daughter. And you surely won’t be able to protect her now, not with BioDhrome’s eye on her.”

“How deeply did you two bond, boy, that she told you all of this?” Dad hissed. He’d virtually bowed his head and gulped down all Damian’s scorn, however veiled in a detached tone, but it was easy to imagine him pointing a rifle at my handsome barbarian now.

“She talked. I listened.”

“Did all that listening get her in bed with you?”

Oh, no, no, no, Dad, please don’t!

“Have I not proven my loyalty and respect?” Damian’s voice went a frequency lower, sounding like insulted bass. This time emotion was clear, making my stomach flutter with both butterflies and embarrassment. “I only got close to her when the situation turned ugly. I owe you much, Tiberius, and this is my opportunity to repay you. I can and will protect Alice until we track down BioDhrome’s head and chop it off.”

Long pause.

“So can I rest assured that you haven’t taken a special liking to my daughter, Damian? That you weren’t on this trip because of her?”

Another pause, this time in Damian’s response and in my breathing again. He hesitated. Good God, he hesitated . . . Was it a good sign? Was he reluctant to admit that he liked me? Or was he unsure of how to tell Dad his baby wasn’t worthy of attention?

“Why don’t you prove your respect once more, and keep as honest as I know you,” Dad demanded. Expectation virtually built up, but my pulse stayed steady. The strangest sensation.

Damian’s reply lagged for seconds, but when it came, it came through velvety and clear.

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

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The Executioner – Ep. VIII – The story of Damian Novac

“What was that?” I mumbled, walking slowly to her.

She shook her head and dropped on her buttocks by the fridge, drained of strength. She’d put all of it in her confrontation with Damian.

“I’ve been trying to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen. We’re in serious trouble, real trouble, Alice.”

I sat by her side, my brain buzzing with increasing alarm, now that Damian wasn’t close enough to keep my reason numb. Still, I refrained from pressuring Ruxandra and resorted to watching her intently. She looked stricken and took a while of eye darting and head scratching before she spoke, measuring her words.

“Getting Marius Iordache talking wasn’t easy, you know? He was suspicious even about the food, paranoid even. It was hard work persuading him it wasn’t poisoned. Now part of me wishes I hadn’t succeeded.” She shuddered.

“Is his story that ugly?”

“You don’t begin to imagine.”

“You know who People are, Rux?”

She inhaled deeply, trying to act calm, but she knotted her fingers nervously. “Ten years ago, Marius Iordache covered a hot story that should’ve made headlines – the Cezare Lupan case. However, while the ink was still fresh on paper, the R.I.S. classified the file, then shot down Marius’ story, stating it was all sensationalism. Marius lost all credibility.

“He archived the article at Adevarul and started his own investigation, determined to prove the story real and restore his name, but always ran into a dead end. The audience labeled him paranoid and obsessed with conspirators when he came out on TV – only cheesy trash shows – alleging the Romanian Intelligence Service had switched off all sources and covered the truth. He became the fool of the year, which is why he eventually dropped the matter, but never forgot it. Luckily, being the boss’ nephew, he didn’t lose his job, not to this day.

“Now here’s the first interesting turn: A month ago, Svetlana contacted him. They met in Bucharest, where she told him she knew all about his story, and that she’d even seen the Cezare Lupan file. That she could help him prove it all real. Marius, still obsessed with the matter, agreed to give her the archived original article from 1995 in exchange for a look at the file, which she was supposed to enable. She didn’t keep her word and went off radar. He got a hold of her in Constanta, told her he’d be a thorn in her rib until she fulfilled her promise.

“The attempted rape was the first subject we began to bond on up in the attic. Marius alleges that Svetlana, cornered by his presence in Constanta, led him on. She even invited him on this trip, facilitating access to Cezare Lupan himself. Marius was thrilled, and agreed to keep his identity secret ‘til the ‘right moment’ – if Cezare discovered who he was, he might’ve not come along or disappeared. Once here, Svetlana subtly came on to Marius and later staged the attempted rape to make him look the villain, so nobody would trust anything he might say about her. She punched him in his weak spot – credibility.”

Makes sense. Last night she’d come with him to the room and lay by his side without objection. I hadn’t even noticed them. Objection came late, very late, but that still didn’t get the rapist off the hook. The asshole should’ve stopped at her first no.

“Get to the point, what was the story?” I urged her.

“This is how Marius summarized the article: In 1994, fifteen-year-old Cezare Lupan got on a train. His purpose: illegal work abroad, since he was underage. He never came to destination though. The train broke down in a village close to the border – somewhere around Oradea, but still in the middle of nowhere – and he checked at an old inn, which offered free lodging for him and eleven other people who travelled from different places and for various reasons. What they had in common? They’d all transferred to that train in Bucharest and had almost no contact to their families. A few days after that a farmer found the place empty and messed up. There were stains of blood everywhere, and the windows broken. It looked as if a massacre had taken place, save for the main element – bodies.”

A chill went through me. “How did Iordache come upon all this?”

“Wait. One year later, Cezare burst into a hunting lodge in the Apuseni Mountains, surprising a ranger, who fortunately stopped to think before he reached for his rifle. The ranger managed to reason with him, contacted the authorities and gave him in. He was the only man Cezare ever talked to. The boy didn’t say a word to the cops, doctors or shrinks. The police got their info from the ranger, and Marius from his well established sources within the police force. But, as I said, the Romanian Intelligence Service closed the cops’ snouts overnight and he was left with nothing.”

“And what else? What had happened at the inn? Did Damian ever tell the ranger?”

“He told him that and more. Apparently there was an ambush on the inn the night Damian – or Cezare – spent there. None of the others were ever found, dead or alive. But the most shocking part was actually in the headline, which I saved until now, because it only makes sense in the context: Cezare Lupan escapes the hands of organ dealers.”

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, 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!

Pic source.

 

The Executioner – Ep. VII – The Man and the Shadow

I rushed backwards, waving my hands in a desperate attempt to cling to something, anything, and soon a wall of bodies replaced the gleam that had sent me frantic.

My brain banged against my skull for moments until I realized someone shook me. The physical sensation brought me back to awareness. George’s long, thin face appeared as an intermittent vision as I blinked fast, trying to gather myself. His words sounded muffled and the first thing that came through clear was, “Are you going mad too, Alice?”

“The window! I saw someone!” I squealed.

The Wretch moaned in his corner and my head snapped to him. His eyes were wide with fear, fixed on the pane, while his body struggled with invisible enemies, the chair screaming under him.

A commotion started, and before long people claimed, “There’s nothing here.” I pushed George aside but still hung on him for support as I craned my neck to see the panes. My jelly-soft legs barely kept me standing.

Indeed, darkness spread over the window, only the snow in its corners glistening like the veil of a ghost.

“I saw someone,” I whispered. Someone, I was sure of it. And indeed no wolf. The eyes had been at the same level as mine, which meant whoever had stood out there was a tall person. Outside the ground leveled much lower than inside the lodge, I’d realized that when I’d been out on the porch. No animal standing on its back legs could have as much as reached the sill, unless that animal was a bear.

“Are you sure?” George asked.

I already had second thoughts – not as to the glowing eyes, but to whether or not I should insist on it. Bottom line was: we all sank in deep shit, but panic was a bad advisor.

“No. I started when I bumped against the window, the rest could’ve been just in my head.”

“For fuck’s sake, Alice, you almost gave me a heart attack.” George scorned.

“We have enough pressure already,” another one called, his face hidden in the group.

I shut out all reproaches and welcomed Ruxandra’s comforting presence by my side.

“This whole thing is getting to us all,” she said. She allowed me some time to gather myself, but the small slaps on my hands and face were a clear sign of urgency.

“What did you get out of Marius?” I asked as soon as I could master my voice. Now, I too had a great urge to find out what the hell had put us in this situation.

Ruxandra searched my eyes, ensuring I could stand, then slapped me lightly once more. “Follow me.”

Before I could blink she started toward the door, snaking her way to the kitchen. I hurried to catch up with her down the narrow hallway, bumping into people who talked about what was to be done.

We found Damian and Hector forging the same kind of plans with a few others – including George, to my surprise, who listened with a serious look on his face, nodding. He seemed proud to have become a part of their closest gang.

Damian stood with his back at the counter, knives and other metallic, rusty objects lined on it, the sheepskin coat folded on a chair by his side.

“ . . . not before Hector and I have scouted the area,” he concluded as we came in.

I wanted to punch myself for how my heart fluttered as I laid eyes on him. I’d already waved a finger at my inner self and decided that Damian Novac was a no-no. I reminded myself that, if we survived this mess, he’d only have me toss and turn at night, obsessing about the smallest gestures he made and the most meaningless of glances – like I had until now. Not to mention that we most probably owed him this shitty situation. The man was serious trouble, no matter from what angle I looked at him.

Sick of myself, I kept a low profile by the door, but Ruxandra went straight to the men.

“Have you seen this before?” she interrupted Damian bluntly, her tone accusatory.

“Seen what?” Damian’s deep, forbidding tone shattered Ruxandra’s determination, but she picked herself up quickly enough.

“Damian, you’re keeping things from us and– ”

“I thought you wanted to ask, not impute something,” he interrupted.

Ruxandra brought a fist to her mouth and cleared her voice, probably buying time to rephrase once more. As she spoke, she sounded defiant. “I see, this is a game. Okay. Let’s play. Why did you have us gather all objects that can be used as weapons?”

“So we know exactly where to reach in case of need,” he replied as if he were prepared for the question.

“Why not simply arm everybody?”

“Because I don’t want you panicking at the slightest sound and hurting each other.”

“I’m sorry, Damian, but that sounds more like an excuse than a reason.”

“Do you want panicky drunks waving broken bottles around your pretty face before somebody actually bursts in?”

“You expect people to barge in on us?”

Damian’s eyes flashed as he spoke the next words.

People,” he stressed, as if saying a name, “chased the three of us from the village back here. They tried to kill one of us. A lash whipped out from the darkness and wound around his ankle. They dragged him, his body hit against trees and rocks until he came to a precipice, where he almost saw his end. Yes, I think People will eventually barge in on us, and they’ll bring some hellish killing techniques with them.” His voice was steady, but anger lurked deep in it.

“You make it sound like People are pretty good at what they do. And yet here you are, Damian, all three of you. Why do you think you made it back?”

“What are you implying, Ruxandra?”

“I’m implying People want us all in one place,” she said, raising her chin and taking a step closer to him. “I’m implying they were after us from the beginning. They were after the whole group, whom they want to take down in one blow. I’m implying they can take us down in one blow. I don’t think they need guerilla tactics, but just wanted to scare you, so you wouldn’t leave this place again. You made it back because People let you. They chased you back to your cage, and now they’re waiting for the right moment to attack, which is why they haven’t stormed in after you. You didn’t bother to block the door, so I think you know this damned well. You know what to expect.”

Damian’s jaw tightened. “And your question is?”

“Am I right?”

“It doesn’t sound like you still have a doubt.”

“To make the question clearer still: Have you met People before, Damian?”

His features hardened even more. “I have.”

My jaw dropped. Ruxandra straightened up, even more accusatory. “Then why don’t you tell us what to expect now?”

Damian’s face sealed off all expression, turning into a beautiful, sculpted mask.

“Because it won’t do you any good.” His eyes swept over us cluttered in the doorstep. I thought his gaze rested on me a second longer than on any other face.

He grabbed the sheepskin and started to the door. Toward me. I melted on my feet, cursing myself silently. How could I be so taken with him, even now? Stupid bimbo!

Hector followed, and George scurried after them like a pet. Those of us who clustered in their way drew aside. My heart smote me as Damian passed by, leaving a trace of cool air and fir scent behind. The others trailed after them like tide, soon leaving Ruxandra and me alone, gawking at each other.

***

Previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI.

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.

 

The Executioner – Ep. VI – Watched

“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.

“Who? Talk!”

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.

***

Previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V.

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.

 

Pic source.

The Executioner – Ep. V – Menace

I couldn’t identify the object until he fit it in Svetlana’s mouth – a wooden spoon, maybe to ensure she didn’t swallow her tongue. My skin creased and my mind locked on this isn’t happening like a scratched record, while the sight of her limbs slowly gumming in twisted positions burned into my memory. It never really left me.

Things Dad had taught me about breakdowns stormed to the front of my mind as Svetlana began moving her head from side to side, giving out feeble sighs.

“Let’s take her to bed, I’ll look after her,” I addressed Hector.

Without further questions, he scooped her up and followed me to the bunkroom. The others trailed like a flock of curious chickens, but Ruxandra’s confident voice stopped them at the door. “This ain’t the Big Brother house, the woman needs to rest.”

Hector laid Svetlana on the bed and shuffled the blanket over her.

“See if anyone has vitamins with them. Or any kind of medication, we’ll see if there’s anything we can use.” My tone was more assertive and matter-of-fact than I’d ever thought myself capable of, which made Hector stare at me puzzled.

“What exactly are we looking for?”

“I’m not sure, I’ll get an idea when I see what you get, but basically calcium and magnesium,” I offered a brief explanation, taking a seat by Svetlana’s side. “Better yet, talk to Ruxandra. She’ll know what to pick.”

“How will that bimbo know what to pick?” Svetlana said in a faint but resentful tone after Hector left the room.

“She’s a smart-ass bimbo.”

Few people knew, but Ruxandra had been labeled a genius four years ago, when she’d applied for university. People of her heritage required previous examining and testing before they went to the “higher” circles such as universities, which were reserved for those of nobler – “fairer” – descent. She should’ve been admitted to anything from law to med school, but her origin was nothing short of a scarlet letter even after she’d passed all tests. She only made it in English, where Mom managed to pull some strings.

“All I need is to get out of here,” Svetlana whispered as I lit the leftovers of two candles.

She looked aside, the small flames casting eerie light on her face and sending a strange sensation up my throat. Black and deep circles around her eyes made them look sunken in her skull, but what really drew my attention were her cheeks. They were sucked in, as if the person who’d laughed at me just yesterday had fallen heavily ill. I stroked the sweaty tendrils off her face with an automatic impulse. They felt like mine when I had nightmares.

“We all do. Just hang in there, the others will find help. We’ll sure be out of here in the morning.”

“In the morning . . .” A tired smile curled her mouth. “None of us will make it till morning.” She trembled, her lips white and her eyes foggy. She looked delirious.

“Try to get some rest. Fatigue and paranoia go hand in hand,” I insisted and stood up, intent to ask someone to bring water, so I could lower her fever. Otherwise I feared she’d be beyond repair before help came. But, before I could turn, she clasped my hand.

“Don’t take me for a lunatic, Alice. We won’t survive this, not unless we break them, all of us.”

“Break what?” I grimaced to keep her calm. It failed.

She took her hands to her face, her polished fingernails scratching down the skin of her throat, blood trickling in their wake. “The confinements of our flesh . . .”

She’s mad! I jolted to her, pushing her hands down in panic. “Svetlana, for Christ’s sake!”

Her grin stretched to her ears like the sneer of a skull. The blizzard now whistled beyond the walls as if aligning to her growing intensity, making the window chatter from its hinges. Chills coursed down my spine.

Her voice caught guttural, low stress. “What miracle do you expect by invoking him, that usurper? This isn’t the work of god or devil.”

“What are you, a philosophy major?” I tried for a joke to ease the ill temper that seemed to build up in her. But, before I could blink, her hands wrapped around my neck, squeezing so tightly that I panicked, sure I’d swallow my throat bones. My tongue pushed out of my mouth, I choked on every attempt to pull in air and this isn’t happening turned on fast forward.

***

 

Only when my ears stopped buzzing, making way for the voices around me, I became again aware of where I was and what had just happened. After a severe fit of coughing that abused my still sensitive ribcage, anger slowly replaced shock. Still, I didn’t get up from the floor. An ugly truth hit me – I was so darn weak, Barbie could’ve easily disposed of me. I raised my eyes to her.

Ruxandra – probably my savior this time – restrained Svetlana, whose sweat-damp hair whipped around her head as she struggled.

“You’re lab mice for the strong!” She cried over and over again. “Lab mice” was especially frequent and accompanied by spittle as Ruxandra and George tied her to the bed with wound sheets and some rope Hector brought in.

I scrambled up and dragged myself to the main room, stumbling over drunkard sleepers – people too wasted to realize anything of what happened around them – and boiling in my own juice. Tripping over bottles on the floor I fell by the terracotta stove, feeling miserable and breaking out in tears. My brain refused to think until a cluster of people walked in, led by Hector. With weak hands but strong pride I wiped the tears and blew my nose in a dirty glove I’d found around.

“I’ve seen this before,” one of them said, his voice too loud. “A cousin of mine, last year. They took her to a hospice, branded her nuts.”

“Did your cousin mention lab mice?” George laughed and slapped the guy’s back.

“I wonder whether you’d still talk shit, if it were your mamma in her place,” the first one countered.

“My mamma doesn’t strip for mobsters who fuck her into madness,” George reacted with a scowl.

“Hey, I hear neither did Svetlana,” another one chimed in, although he also sounded amused. “She used to go to the club as a client, and her dances were meant for the delivery boy, namely Novac.”

“I guess it caught the wrong guy’s attention.” That was George again. “By the way, Hector, is it true that Temptress and Muscle Tank are having an affair behind the mobster’s back?”

Now that’s direct. I perked up my ears.

“You ask dangerous questions, George,” Hector replied.

Great. Just what I needed to glaze over my wrecked self-esteem – Damian and Svetlana as protagonists in a forbidden love story. My heart ached. I’d go for someone bald and fat like Svetlana’s sugar daddy next time, but broke.

Hector’s thick fingers slid over the cords in a lilt melody, as if to block further inquiries. But his tactics had its downside. The group changed the subject but kept on opening one too many bottles – impressive how much they’d saved from the train and carried through the snowstorm like veritable addicts.

Soon the talking turned loud and chaotic. I could only make out isolated words but no sentences, while the sharp smell of alcohol gave me a headache. Just as the party went wild again, Ruxandra dropped by my side with a groan. Judging by the tucked up sleeves she must’ve gone hard on Svetlana. I didn’t pity the girl, honestly.

“No amount of calcium or magnesium could’ve stilled her, and we don’t have any anyway, so I put a bag over her head. Let her inhale her own CO2 until she turned into a vegetable. I know, it sounds horrible, but it was for a noble cause. Now she’s asleep.”

Genius.

“How’re you feeling?”

“Fine,” I lied. “Thanks for getting her off me.”

“George helped.” She dismissed the subject, but urgency was obvious in her face as she tried to touch on another. She looked tense as hell. “Alice, we need to talk.”

I couldn’t care less right now about what she had to say, sinking in the pain Damian’s affair with Svetlana caused me. My cheeks burned with jealousy.

“You were wrong,” I said, unable to contain myself. “Damian and Svetlana do have something going. Either her blackmailing strategy worked, or she’s just irresistible.”

“Alice, we have more pressing matters to discuss now,” Ruxandra insisted, growing exasperated.

“What’s pressing is that you weren’t straight forward.”

“Now hold on.” She put up her palm. “I honestly don’t believe he’s interested in her. What I really think is that he’s being halfway nice to keep her from spreading what she knows. Or . . . at the most . . . he’s been sleeping with her to ensure she keeps her mouth shut.”

These words shot a stinging image into my head, an image of Damian’s muscled, honey-skinned body undulating between Svetlana’s long legs. I couldn’t hold back a pained sigh.

“You shouldn’t have let me get my hopes high.”

“I honestly thought you had a chance there.”

“Just look at me, Ruxandra! I’m a bad joke! Do you think me so dumb as to really compare myself to Svetlana, or you, or others in your league? Are you dumb enough to do that?”

Ruxandra pulled me to my feet, keeping a tight grip on my shoulders.

“It’s that bastard Tony you have to thank for this arsenal of complexes,” she grunted through her teeth. “I can’t wait to get back home so I can seek him out and make him suffer.”

“I’m just looking truth in the face.”

“You’re a very, very pretty girl, Alice.”

“That’s right, girl. Not woman.”

“Oh, stop, please.”

“Maybe that’s why Damian rejected me when I tried to turn him on in the bunkroom. I must’ve made him feel like a pedophile.” My face caught fire as I confessed.

“Or maybe he respects you too much to do you in a filthy bunk. That’s what my gut tells me.”

“Oh, drop it, Rux, that’s just sugar coating. He simply doesn’t want me. I might as well strive to plant a flag on the moon.”

“Alice, your ruined self-esteem really has to wait,” she pressed, now shaking with urgency.

A huge frame passing the threshold drew my attention, and my resolve to quit the chase for the unattainable barbarian threatened to tumble. Damian stopped in place, his tresses and eyebrows adorned with snow, a heavy sheepskin cladding his broad shoulders. Another guy limped and hung on him like a cloth on a huge tree, seemingly ravaged not only by the blizzard but also shock, while their other companion stared at Damian as if he were Batman.

Before anybody got to utter a word, the wretched guy hanging on Damian crouched from his waist in spasms, throwing up as if all his organs constricted. Hector dropped the guitar and jumped to his feet, hollow wood and cords resounding against the floor.

“What happened?”

***

Previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV.

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, it’ll be a special one! The title of the episode is “Why Wild Roses Kill,” and it will contain shocking revelations. Check out all previous episodes of The Marquis here.

The Executioner – Ep. IV -A shady past

Previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III.

***

“Elaborate,” I said, frowning to focus.

Ruxandra crossed her arms, searching for the way to put it. She spoke fast, under her breath, her eyes darting left and right to ensure privacy.

“A few weeks ago, George and I went out to the Bourbon Pub on what was supposed to be a romantic date. Imagine my surprise to see Novac and Svetlana there, talking closely over drinks – she had scotch, he had water. Not exactly love-birds-style, but I was still worried they might be out on a date themselves, so I dragged George into it. No need to say that spoiled my boyfriend’s romantic mood.

“George felt awkward and pretended to need the men’s room, while I drew a chair and sat at their table without asking for permission. I did ask, however, if they were enjoying their night – my very presence ensuring they weren’t. But Svetlana didn’t actually look all that bothered. With a foxy grin she told me she needed Novac’s help with some research on a certain Cezare Lupan, a dangerous figure who a certain Marius Iordache had written about ten years before in an article, and on whom the R.I.S. had a classified file. She had the article in her purse, she said, that was her first source. I wondered why she’d need Novac’s help, she’s in Journalism, he’s in Med School, but she argued he knew people with information, since he delivered booze to the clubs underground thugs got wasted in. She implied he even had connections to corrupt officials who might know a lot. Anyway, I was soon sure she only used all this as a pretext to get close to him.

“Novac looked uncomfortable, but vertical. Now it occurs to me, Svetlana might’ve been past the pretexts and in the blackmailing stage, since she only stopped talking and her hand froze mid-way inside her purse to take out the article when Novac interrupted her, bluntly, coldly, and promised he’d meet her again the next evening. Her mouth sealed in a second and she grinned like a satisfied cat.”

“What would Svetlana blackmail him for?”

She shrugged and replied plainly, “Sex.”

“Oh, come on, Rux,” I laughed. “Why would someone like her need to blackmail a guy?”

“Because she’s fuckin’ obsessed with him, Alice, that’s why. And he does not want her.”

I bit hard into my lip. “And then? What happened?”

“Then Novac stood up and left. No kisses, no good-byes, not even handshakes. When I asked Svetlana if they were a couple, she grinned and said not yet. That exact second George came back and Svetlana stood, slung her purse on her shoulder, gave us a self-satisfied good-bye and pranced away on her high heels. But by then it was all clear to me.” Here Ruxandra began stressing her words. “Clear that Novac wasn’t interested in her. He was cold as ice. I didn’t tell you, because I thought it a strategy Svetlana used to spend time with him. And I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d back off if you learned how aggressively Svetlana was chasing him. And you shouldn’t back off, not because of her. But maybe because of this – a classified file with the R.I.S.”

I stared at her, not sure how to take this. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. My dad suspects they have a file on him too, and he’s not a criminal or something.”

“Do you hear yourself, Alice? We’re talking about the fucking R.I.S.! Your dad is famous, powerful, and he was once an agent abroad, he’s someone worth keeping a file on. What’s Novac’s excuse? He’s supposed to be just a student in No Man’s Town in No Man’s country.”

She shuffled from one leg to the other, eager to go, while I stared at her, stunned. The others were still busy eating and gossiping, but they would soon burn off their material and eavesdrop for ours.

“Here’s the deal,” Ruxandra said, “We need to know what that article says exactly. There’s no way we’ll hear another word on it ever again unless we use this chance. Since Novac tries so hard to bury this thing, I’m sure it’s worth the dig.” Her eyes darted around once more. “He’ll take a while until he walks through that door, but Hector will be back any minute now. Just call ‘I need a quilt’ at the base of the stairs if he wants to come up.”

Before I could reply she rushed to the attic. A few moments of head-shaking later I decided to ignore her request and run after her, but I bumped into George on the corridor, who showed himself interested in just that – Ruxandra’s whereabouts. I was tempted to tell him and get him up there too, but I knew she would never forgive me. This was on our “treason” list.

I told him she’d gone out for some fresh air and baited him to the kitchen, saying that food grew scarce. This wasn’t far from the truth, since the little that had been salvaged from the train quickly vanished in grumbling bellies, ravaged by last night’s drinking.

George walked to the short, exfoliated fridge and battled for two small bags of chips. He threw me one, and only eating and turning Ruxandra’s words on all sides in my head did I realize how privileged I was with my little university life back in Constanta, sipping steaming coffee every morning and eating three meals a day, safe from shady men who posed as poor students but could be anything from serial killers to cold war spies. The more I thought of it, the more ridiculous the possibility seemed. So ridiculous, it made me nauseous.

Soon Svetlana emerged from the bedroom. She looked tired and sick, her face still white from shock. I got up, swallowed my resentment and played the compassionate part, asking if there was anything I could do to help. She sneered me away and soon forced herself to laugh and act jovially with the others. By the time Ruxandra came back, lifting a weight off my heart, Svetlana played center of attention again, keeping all eyes and ears off us.

“What did he say?” I whispered.

“Not much. He’s sober now and won’t talk easily. You have to buy me more time.”

“Forget it. I won’t aid you in exposing yourself to a potential rapist like that, for any reason.”

“He’s wound in rope, Alice, from neck to toe. He’s lying on muddy hay and needs to be baby-fed. He’s harmless.”

The door creaked open and Hector walked in, carrying firewood on a shoulder, and for a moment Ruxandra’s eyes glinted. Yes, he was much rougher than George and surely didn’t have his sense of humor, but he looked strong and grounded. I guessed Ruxandra grew from girl to woman, and her taste in men followed suit. I elbowed her and gave her the Moon-this-is-Houston-do-you-copy line, hoping to turn her away from the ridiculous investigation. But it only served to wake her from a moment’s reverie and switch her Sherlock ambitions back on.

“Just keep him off my trail. If he goes out again, watch him. If he comes back in, keep him talking,” she said, and turned on her heels.

In the afternoon the others went back to drinking and playing cards. Ruxandra mingled with them, fixed on gathering info, while I got close to the lady I’d shared a bunk with last night. I even asked her questions about Biker, since she was part of his group, but the woman and her companions only knew Biker from the train.

He’d given them a short version of his life – an investigations journalist indeed, divorced for a year. The woman seemed desperate to convince me that she knew nothing of his “practices” and “inner demons”, and told me that she’d assured my “brunette friend” of her full cooperation with the police when the time came, too.

She even gave me a worn book she said Biker had left lying around with his things. It was a brain-wrecking, battered-looking work by a Dr. Nathaniel Sinclair about genetics, even though the vocab didn’t quite fit. It seemed archaic, as if written by a brilliant mind way ahead of its time. I only managed the first five pages, since it sounded like nothing I’d ever learned from Dad.

When evening grayed the windows, the moment came. Hector walked out the door, and Ruxandra fired a glance at me. I decided to let her have her way – I didn’t stand a chance of persuading her otherwise anyway – and darted after him, right into the sharp wind outside that nailed me on the porch, while Hector hurried to a barn blurred by snowfall.

Night descended fast over the mountains. Our shelter stood so lonely in the wilderness, so cut off from the world, that only the thought of war felt more threatening than this isolation.

There was no sign of Damian, and fear punched a void into my chest. Anything could’ve happened to him. No, something must’ve happened to him. He was gone at least eight hours.

As I made out Hector’s frame walking heavily toward me, carrying more wood on his shoulder, I held out the door.

“What are you doing here, babe?” he said hoarsely.

Babe? As in sexy? I pulled a curtain in front of the flattered face my inner self made.

“I . . . I was thinking about Damian and the others. Weren’t they supposed to be back by now?”

He dropped the pile of wood in the hallway and put his hands on his waist, moving it in circles to relieve pain. He grimaced as he spoke, looking down at the pile.

“They shouldn’t have left in the first place. Damian knew the blizzard had only taken a short break.”

My heart jumped. “Shouldn’t we go searching for them or something?”

Hector stretched and looked up, to the ceiling.

“I admire your courage, babe, but you wouldn’t last an hour out there.”

“I wouldn’t be alone. I’d be with you,” I pushed.

Hector snorted and started toward the main room.

“If it’s Damian you’re worried about, don’t be,” he threw over his shoulder.

Shit, he knows I’m into him. Everyone does. I felt exposed, I could see them all watching my midnight fantasies alone in my room, laughing at me. Shame burned in my cheeks and I wanted to hide, but for some reason I grabbed Hector’s elbow. He turned and scowled at me.

“I’m worried about all of them. Why would I think especially of Damian?” I jeered.

“Well, maybe because he saved your life?”

Yes, of course. Anyone would inquire about their rescuer and feel obliged to return the favor. My secret was still safe and my lips glued together to avoid another stupid remark.

Hector’s tone softened as he continued. “For your peace of mind, Damian can take care of himself, and he’s good with winters. As for the other two, they couldn’t hope for better company, they’re safe.”

Good with winters – so Russian spy-like, theory might just hold, my inner self mocked. But Hector didn’t lose another word on the subject of Damian. I didn’t dig any deeper either, afraid that I’d expose my infatuation with him, so we moved on to discussing survival strategies based on Discovery Channel documentaries.

In order to keep informed of his actions and intentions, I helped him feed the stoves and got a number of splinters in my bookworm hands in the process. Then, right after we’d rekindled the fire in the bunkroom, his moving toward the stairs drew a signal of alarm. He intended to check on Biker.

“I need a quilt!” I yelped. Hector stared at me as if I were a mad cow.

“And you expect me to bring you one?”

I blinked and chuckled like a schoolgirl, adrenaline rushing to my fingertips, but his attention left me in just a second. Sudden turbulence and screaming in the main room made his head snap in its direction.

We rushed into the dim chamber where Svetlana acted “all epileptic,” according to George’s wide-eyed, clueless explanation. As Hector worked our way close to her through a mass of gathered people, the sight hit me – eyes rolling, body convulsing, her hair clinging to her sweaty forehead.

“Shit, man, the woman’s possessed!” a guy called, jerking away from Svetlana as Hector fell to his knees beside her and snatched something from the guy’s shaking hand.

***

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, it’ll be a special one! The title of the episode is “Why Wild Roses Kill,” and it will contain shocking revelations. Check out all previous episodes of The Marquis here.

Pic source.

“The Executioner” Snippet

Due to delays (it’s a first!) in the developments of the episodes, I’m not able to post a new episode of “The Marquis” today, but it will be completely ready for you tomorrow. Due to editor’s cut we had to make some small changes, but fear not! (Hehe) The night is not wasted – here is a snipped of “The Executioner,” of which I posted before here (Prologue) and here (Episode II). Please enjoy Episode III as follows:

***

Before he could speak again, Damian grabbed one of Biker’s arms and Hector another. I instinctively looked at Hector, hoping something in his face, his reaction, would betray some meaning to all this.

The bearded singer’s features shimmered in the light of the oil lamp he carried. He looked robust, his small eyes shadowed by bushy eyebrows and he had the nose of an eagle. His skin had the color of ripe olives, which made me think of a gypsy, the rich beard adding to the grim air. But his face betrayed nothing besides sternness, there was nothing I could read or interpret.

Biker tried to jerk from their grasp, but he didn’t stand a chance. I heard muffled bumps and cusses as they took him up the creaky stairs to the attic. I wanted to follow but my feet wouldn’t take a step, soft and unreliable, my ears thudding with anxiety.

Talking turned up volume, and soon there was a fuss about everything: How Svetlana felt – she got most of the attention again –, the two heroes’ injuries, Biker’s words. A few hours later, as dawn slowly drew a bloody horizon across the mountainous contour, everybody reached a consensus – the man and his companions had been complete strangers to us until yesterday, so no way Biker truly knew Damian or any of us. Completely drunk, he talked nonsense.

My tired mind accepted their conclusion easily. It made sense. The one question running around in my head right now was another, anyway – how come Damian hadn’t lost his temper when he’d learned Biker had tried to force himself on Svetlana? As much as I loathed myself for it, hope bloomed in my chest. Hope that he didn’t care about her, that there was yet nothing between them.

The sleep I got tormented by daylight, snoring from at least a dozen sources and bad breath from just as many mouths ended about noon, with a headache and a sensation of weakness all through my body. I barely carried myself to the kitchen, mind numb and lids swollen.

The voices around sounded painfully cheerful. They stabbed my brain, tempting me to skirt around the overpopulated room, but it contained the only sink where I could wash my face and teeth. Toothbrushes and as good as all items for personal hygiene had been abandoned on the train – unlike the booze – so I rubbed my teeth with my finger, bent over the rusty, enamel-peeled sink. The freezing water smacked me full awake.

Chattering gained meaning. People gossiped about last night and the story took thrilling turns for those who’d been too wasted to experience it live. Even in this lonely winter cottage where the truth shouldn’t have had trouble coming to light quickly enough, there were different versions for different clusters. Some versions even talked about Svetlana kicking Biker in the balls, and Damian punching him senseless. The reason why he and Hector hadn’t barged in along with the others was that they’d been in the attic, looking for lamps and other useful objects that might help us survive several days of isolation or the road to the nearest village or town. I didn’t know if it was any truer than the kick in the balls, but it was plausible.

Groggy and with throbbing temples, I looked for Ruxandra and eventually found her arranging sandwiches on a clay plate – a rarity.

“Wow, I didn’t know people still used these things.” I looked over her shoulder and reached for a bite. She slapped my hand off.

“This ain’t for you, sweetheart. Make your own.” She was stiff and frowning – so either preoccupied or nervous.

“Breakfast or clay plate?”

She glanced around, making sure no one listened.

“I’m taking this to the attic,” she whispered, and I instantly felt like a guilty accomplice.

“You’re most certainly not! If anyone feeds that animal, it should be someone who can tame him.”

“You mean Novac or Hector? Neither are here, and this is my chance.”

Suddenly Novac? What happed to Damian? “Why should you need a chance?”

“They won’t allow anyone up to the attic. But I need to talk to him, and I don’t know how much time I have until they’re back.”

“Where are they?”

“Novac went with two others to look for the nearest village or town, if they find one within a mile or two. They’ll bring back help and food. Hector stayed back as watchdog, but right now he’s cutting wood in the barn.”

“I’m coming with you.”

She shook her head. “No you’re not. Stay here, make sure no one comes up.”

“Why are you doing this, Rux? What can you possibly want with the guy?”

She looked aside through the window. It was the first time Ruxandra formulated sentences in her head before she spoke them to me, which drew serious alarm.

“Don’t think, Rux, talk! Do you know him?”

“I don’t, but Svetlana surely does.”

“Okay . . .” It did come as a surprise, but stayed so for only a moment. It actually made sense. I’d heard most rapists turned out to be from the victim’s close circle. “But what’s your business with him?”

“He has information I need.”

Shaking my head, puzzled and a bit annoyed, “All right, what do you know of the guy?”

“If I’m right, his name is Marius Iordache and he’s an investigation reporter with Adevarul.”

I tilted my head back, inspecting her. “And that is important because . . .”

“Because he wrote an article about a certain Cezare Lupan. Che-zuh-reh,” she stressed the pronunciation like Biker had as if to emphasize the connection to badass historical character Caesare Borgia, looking me hard in the face.

“And why is that important?”

“You still ask? You heard him call Novac by that name yesterday.”

I snorted. “So Damian’s the long-lost descendant of a badass cardinal.”

“Don’t mock. Cezare Lupan is the name of a file classified by the Romanian Intelligence Service, the R.I.S.,” she spat out fast. It came like a punch in my face.

***

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!