I heard the sound of tape being pulled from skin before the pain set in and my cheeks prickled with the fire of it. I rushed to take in the breath I’d been denied for hours, air rushing into my lungs with panicked gulps as my mind struggled to escape. More tape cut into my wrists and ankles, my fingers and feet long past numb. My eyes were covered as well and I prayed to all the gods I didn’t believe in that he had used something other than tape as a blindfold. Even the thought of it made me want to scream.

So I did.

“Shut up,” he grumbled, closer than I realised or wanted. His breath was wet and hot on my cheek and I turned my head to escape it. The surface under me was hard and cold, cement, and my hands dug into the base of my spine. I rolled away, trying to get relief, to feel something I might manoeuvre to grab, but his hand grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back.

“You know why you’re here. Just give us what we want and you can go,” he said.

“Bullshit,” I answered, and spat on him. He’d made the decision to free my mouth – he’d have to live with the consequences. I heard the rustle of his coat as he wiped his face with his sleeve.

My heart fought against my chest and sweat pooled in my back. I forced my breath into a calming pattern, something that would limit the symptoms of my concern. I was not in a good place, but like hell if I was going to let them see anything other than a woman ready to kick their asses.

I braced myself for retaliation about my behaviour, but he only heaved a sigh and got to his feet, the soles of his shoes scraping against the floor. I turned my head to the side to hear anything else in the room, but there was nothing. It was just him and me. My breath came a little easier. I could deal with one of them. There was the scrape of chair legs on the floor and then his hands were under my elbows, grabbing my waist, lifting me over his shoulder. I thrashed as best I could, but under the bindings there was little effect other than to make me look like a fish. He dumped me onto the chair. It was better than the floor, but my hands still dug into my back.

“Think you could help me out here? Maybe I wouldn’t be so cranky if I was comfortable.”

He laughed. “You’d be cranky if you had a fucking bed of clouds and a Grecian boy feeding you grapes. You can stay the way you are.” Despite his words he came over and yanked the blindfold off. My relief at not feeling tape strip off my hair was only slightly outweighed by the whiplash of the pull.

“Hi John,” I greeted, able to put the face to the voice. His salt and pepper hair curled over his collar, black-framed glasses giving him a more academic look. It wasn’t feigned. He was stupidly smart. And a greedy son of a bitch.  “Long time no see.”

“I’m sure you’ve been really broken up about that,” he said and grabbed another chair, flipping it around so he straddled it, arms crossed over the back.

“You and I always got along well enough,” I shrugged. “That time you chased me through the woods with your hunting rifle? That was good times. Almost as good as when you killed your best friend for some stupid relic. Remember that? Fun as a fourth of July barbeque.”

“You made this a lot more difficult than it had to be, Annabel. It’s not like you can get the relic now without me tracking you down. And it’s definitely not like Eddie’s coming back from the grave to claim it. Why not just tell me where he hid it?”

“Sure,” I said. “You caught me, I guess it’s only fair that you win everything. Then I’ll just get a job at Starbucks and think of you on your eighty foot yacht, while I don’t even have a husband because you took him from me, too. Yeah, I don’t think so, Johnny. You didn’t really think it would be that easy, did you?”

John shook his head. He took off his coat, folded it and leaned over to set it on the stainless steel table. Then he set to work rolling up his shirt sleeves.

“And what did you think, Annie? That you’d just spit on me and refuse to talk and I’d give up and let you go?” He stood and walked around me, leaned into my ear and whispered. “You think Eddie didn’t try that?” My throat clenched and I swallowed hard, holding tightly onto the rage that had kept me going for the past three months. “Now, I’m curious. Maybe the truth is that Eddie didn’t tell you anything, either. Which makes me wonder – was he trying to protect you? Or did he not trust you?”




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