Monday, May 30, 2011

Chapter 16

Oct. 19 – 3:30am

Alex listened to Erik’s story of what had happened in the warehouse as she gathered the medical supplies and other items he’d listed for her. She couldn’t help but feel guilty that yet another person was injured because of her and this time it was all for nothing. She had been so certain that she’d interpreted Sam’s notes correctly; now she wasn’t so sure. What did she know about unlocking codes or figuring out hidden messages? Hell, she couldn’t even finish a crossword puzzle without looking at the answers! After laying out the supplies and signing off the radio, Alex returned to the desk and pulled out the papers once more, determined to find where she’d gone wrong. She wasn’t letting someone else suffer because of her mistakes again. So engrossed was she in double and triple checking her notes that she didn’t hear the car pull up, the door open, or Erik’s approach. She shrieked and nearly jumped out of her skin when a gloved hand plucked the pen from her fingers.
            “Alexandra? Are you alright?” She looked up, a bit unnerved by the intimidating black mask, then over to the sofa where al-Zahir dozed peacefully.
            “Yes…I think so. When did you get back?” Exhaustion had come and gone several hours ago leaving her running on pure adrenaline. She stood, rubbing her tired, blood shot eyes, and moved to check on the detective.
            “About ten minutes ago.” He glanced down at the papers on the desk before following her movements with watchful eyes. “Da’ud will recover quickly; it was a clean break and he’s in good shape.”
            “That’s good.” Alex tried to smile but never quite succeeded as she busied herself by straightening and packing away the medical supplies. “And you? Are you in any pain or need help changing your bandage? Oh, but maybe you’re hungry. I’ll go and fix…”
            “I’m fine.” Erik interrupted and glided over to her to take her hands in his. “What’s troubling you, ma petite?”
            “Oh, Erik,” she sighed tearfully, staring at her hands enveloped by his elegant, leather covered ones. “I’m so sorry about all this. First you get shot helping me after I stupidly tried to run away, then…then I messed up with the notes, sending you and the detective off on a wild goose hunt, and now he’s injured too and it’s all my fault and…and…”
He pulled her gently against him, enfolding her in a comforting embrace while she sobbed against his chest. ‘Poor child,’ he thought. ‘She’s had to deal with more in the last few days than any normal person should have to in their lifetimes.’ He held her until her sobs faded into watery hiccups, whispering nonsense words to calm her, and was unsurprised when he felt her sag against him. Worry, guilt, grief, and fear combined with her exhaustion had finally sapped the last of her strength. Lifting her into his arms, he carried her into her room and laid her on the bed. Quietly, he removed her shoes, pulled the blankets over her, and switched off the light before closing the door softly behind him.

Oct. 19 – 8:15am

            Soft, beautiful music gently pulled Alex from a dreamless sleep. Sitting up, she looked around the room in confusion; the last she remembered was poring over the calendar pages and waiting for Erik and the detective to return. And return they did, she knew, for no one other than her host could coax such sounds from a piano. She slid from the bed and noticed for the first time that she was still dressed in the clothes she had on the day before. Shaking her head, Alex grabbed fresh clothes and moved towards the bathroom; maybe a good shower would wake her up and chase away the cobwebs.
             While Alex and Da’ud had been sleeping, Erik had called in a few favors in search of information on the facility in Europe, the owner of the warehouse, as well as who was behind the deaths of Alex’s parents and brother. As it would be several hours to gather the necessary data, he returned to the Music Room in hopes of completing at least some of the score for his next Opera, Don Juan Triumphant. The current performances were scheduled to run until the week of Thanksgiving and he wanted to have the scripts available when everyone returned from the holiday break. By the time his guests had begun to stir, he had finished the rough draft of two songs from the final act. He wasn’t completely happy with them, they still needed to be refined a bit, but it was a good start. Satisfied that he had accomplished so much, Erik stood and stretched, wincing from the sharp pain in his shoulder. He needed a shower, a clean bandage, and to check on Da’ud’s leg.
            Entering the Library a half an hour later, he was surprised to find it empty. His golden eyes surveyed the room for signs of a struggle; his security was tight but there was always a chance… The faint murmur of voices, however, drew him to the small breakfast alcove off the kitchen where Alex and Da’ud were sharing a pot of coffee. The detective had his leg propped onto another chair with a cushion from the sofa to keep it off the hard wood of the seat. Alex, refreshed from her shower, had brewed the coffee and made some toast for the two of them and they were now sitting in cozy companionship. Erik leaned against the center island of the kitchen and listened to the two argue over everything from sports to fashion to politics. His guests appeared to be polar opposites on everything which only served to strengthen their camaraderie as they both enjoyed a good debate. He was about to grab a mug and join them when his friend said something to cause Alex to giggle and grab his hand. Scowling when her hand remained with the detective’s, Erik turned and left the room.

Oct. 19 – 9:00am

            Alex helped the detective hobble back to the Library after an enjoyable breakfast. Though Da’ud, as he’d asked to be called, shared none of her views on…well…anything, he enjoyed friendly debate as much as she. Their meal was one of the most enjoyable she’d had in some time. As she propped the detective’s leg on the footstool and brought him a couple of books, she was surprised to find the Library empty. She’d been expecting to find Erik there since she hadn’t heard anything from the Music Room in some time nor had he shown up for breakfast. Disappointment warred with relief when her host was nowhere in sight; she wasn’t entirely certain she could handle his unique intensity so early in the morning.
            Sitting at the desk, she booted up the laptop with plans to send a few emails to friends. If the press had reported that Sam’s death was murder, Lizzie would be going out of her mind wondering where Alex was; especially since they hadn’t spoken since that day. She pulled up a free email program and carefully wrote a message that she would, hopefully, reassure her friend without giving anything else away. Glancing at the inbox, she started deleting all the junk mail with a shake of her head. These companies really needed to get together; she deleted several emails that either wanted to give her bigger boobs or a bigger penis. Ah, spam. The one great constant in life, even moreso than death or taxes. Well, at least taxes. Before she finished clearing out all the junk, she received an email back from Lizzie. Eagerly, Alex opened the message from her friend and then froze in horror.
            You’re beginning to annoy us and that’s not healthy. Bring the package to the warehouse and we’ll make an exchange. Come alone. Failure to do either and we’ll get a lot more inventive with her than we did your brother. Friday night, midnight, don’t be late.
            Alex couldn’t move, could barely breathe; all she could think of were the pictures of Samuel lying in a pool of blood, beaten, shot, dead. The image shifted and it was Lizzie’s face she saw. Oh, God! She felt sick. What kind of monsters were these people? How did they even know about Lizzie? Frantically, she began looking through the drawers of the desk. She needed that drive! She couldn’t let another person get hurt because of her. Not Lizzie, she had done nothing to deserve this. So focused was she that she never heard the detective’s concerned inquiries nor his call for help. When Erik’s hands closed around her arms, she fought him in her desperation to find the small device that could save her friend. Erik frowned and lifted her from the chair, giving her a shake when she continued to struggle.
            “Let me go!” She yelled and jerked away from him, returning to the desk. “What did you do to the drive? Where is it?”
            “It’s safe,” he snapped. His patience with her emotional outbursts was beginning to wear thin. “Why?”
            “Give it to me.” Alex turned towards him once more and took a step forward with her hand held out, palm up. She prayed he wouldn’t be troublesome about this. From the arch of his brow and the set expression on his face, she knew that particular prayer would go unanswered.
            “No, not until you tell me what the hell is going on!”
            She glared at him fiercely before turning the laptop around for him to read the email she’d received. Alex made an impatient gesture towards the screen. “That is why! I’ll be damned if I’m going to be responsible for someone else getting hurt or killed when I can stop it. The drive is mine, sent to me by my brother, and I want it back.” In some part of her mind, she knew she sounded like a petulant child but it didn’t matter; not if there was a chance she could save Lizzie.
            Erik felt some of his anger drain away as he read the message. Rubbing the edge of the mask where it had begun to itch, he wondered if it would be best to tell her the truth or let her hold onto her hope. But no, she deserved to know what kind of people they were up against.
            “Alexandra. I’m sorry, ma petite, but your friend is already dead.”

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