Oct. 19 – 9:30am
“Alexandra. I’m sorry, ma petite, but your friend is already dead.”
“But…” horrified, all the blood drained from Alex’s face. “But…no! That’s not true. They…they said she was still alive; they’d free her if I gave it to them.” Shaking her head, she stumbled back away from him and into the bookshelf behind her. She wanted to scream that he was a liar, that he was cruel to tell her such things when they simply couldn’t be true, that there was no way to know; but the look in Erik’s eyes, so sad and sympathetic, crushed her feeble attempts to avoid the truth. He knew them. If not these exact people, he knew their type and what they were capable of doing. Her friend had died for no reason other than they were friends. In that moment, a part of her innocence died and her faith in humanity suffered a near-fatal blow. Tears filled her eyes but she angrily wiped them away.
No more. No more tears, no more cowering in the background while others risk everything for her. She was through being the helpless damsel in distress, through being the victim of cruel fate. It was time to take back her life and if she had to crawl through the beaten and bloodied remains of the monsters who had repeatedly hurt her family, then so be it.
Erik watched the riot of emotions play over Alex’s face, the hope fading to despair, despair changing to fear, then fear turning into anger. He could almost hear the thoughts that rushed through her mind and cursed those who had forced her to see just how terrible mankind could truly be. He watched as her naive belief in the innate goodness of people was crushed by the overwhelming evil of these murderers. He could see the advantages this could have in the days to come; it would drive her to keep going, keep fighting, and survive even when it seemed impossible. And yet…still, he mourned its loss for her sake even as he was confused as to why he cared.
“So,” Alex was proud that her voice didn’t waver. “What do we do now? I think if we want to catch these bastards, we’ve got to get into their heads and figure out a way to beat them at their own game.” She stumbled to the chair on shaky legs while avoiding Erik’s steadying hand and watchful gaze. If she accepted his help now, she’d feel as if she’d failed before she’d even begun.
“What did you have in mind, Alexandra?” Erik moved to the desk to perch upon the corner, every movement as graceful as a dancer’s.
“Well…” she looked from her host to the detective, a bit nervous to have their full attention. “Granted, I don’t have the experience the two of you do in dealing with people like this, but I think they want to separate us. It’s a very effective battle strategy, to divide and conquer, since it’s a lot easier to pick us off while alone.” Erik nodded in agreement; she seemed to have a decent grasp of the situation. “Why not let them think they’ve succeeded?”
“If they think you’re unprotected they’ll come for you, Alex, and it won’t be straight forward, but from the side or the rear when you least expect it.” The detective spoke up for the first time since calling for Erik. “Every time you walk out the door or pass by a window, you’ll be putting yourself into a sniper’s crosshairs.”
“I know and I can’t live that that, always looking over my shoulder. That’s why we have to take the control from them! Why sit and wait for them to make the first move and dictate the rules? Why not draw them to us instead of constantly meeting them on their turf? I doubt they’re expecting me to agree to their terms and walk into a trap that’s so obvious even I can see it. Let’s suggest a new location that’s easier for us to secure. Then, when they come for the drive, we can take one of them and find out who’s holding their leash and where we can find them.”
“Absolutely not!” Erik rose from the desk abruptly to glare down at her. “Have you lost your mind? This isn’t some game, child, or the movies. These are vicious professional killers who enjoy what they do. Setting yourself up as bait isn’t a plan, it’s suicide!” Alex stared wide-eyed at Erik, surprised to see the hard set to his jaw and anger in his eyes.
“Well, it’s better than sitting around doing nothing…”
“Nothing? Is that what you think we’re doing? Do you really think we’re just sitting around and amusing you while waiting for these people to give up and go away? Sometimes the world moves just a bit slower than a sound bite or 30 minute sit-com.” His once-angelic voice now echoed with demonic fury and was practically dripping in sarcasm and scorn. “But if you’re so ready to join your parents, brother, and friend on that slab at the morgue, I’m sure we can think of a more creative way to accommodate you.”
“How dare you!” Furious, Alex stood and delivered a resounding slap to his bare cheek, unknowingly dislodging the already loosened adhesive that held the mask and sending it flying into the detective’s lap. When she lifted her hand to hit him a second time, he grabbed her wrist in a bruising grip then pushed her back into the chair. Before she could move, Erik had his hands on the arms of the chair, effectively trapping her in place. He leaned close, his golden eyes glowing and his deformed face twisted in rage, causing Alex to unconsciously cringe further into the chair.
“I dare because I’m not some silly little chit who wants to play at cops and robbers. This little game you insist you want to play doesn’t follow civilized rules like in the movies. These people play to win at any cost. I know them, how they operate, how they think, because I’ve been one of them. I was the best, in fact. And I know you wouldn’t last 5 seconds against them.” Abruptly, he stood and stormed off to the Music Room leaving behind a very shaken Alex and a shocked detective.
Oct. 19 – 10:00am
Loud, angry music echoed down the hallway into the stunned silence of the Library. Rubbing her wrist, Alex looked over at the detective and then back towards the thundering music with a frown. How did he manage to function in life with such a volatile temper? And the way he dismissed her idea as nothing short of laughable…she had half a mind to follow him to the Music Room and hit him again. A rustling sound from the sofa brought her attention back to the injured detective just as he was attempting to stand.
“Da’ud, what do you think you’re doing?” Lingering anger made her tone sharper than she had intended and she winced in chagrin. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t take it out on you but really…where do you think you’re going?”
“When his anger settles, Erik will need his mask.” The detective turned the mask over in his hands with a thoughtful expression. “Perhaps you didn’t have time to notice the side of his face that this normally covers; however, he would not wish to risk your getting a second look.”
“Oh? Yes, I saw it. How could I have avoided it?” She chuckled humorlessly. “He was rather close after all. But I don’t see what the issue is. I mean, yeah, it looks like someone enthusiastically took a cheese grater to his face but it’s nothing compared to that temper of his.”
The detective was at a loss for words. He’d known Erik for years and never had he heard anyone dismiss the affliction so casually. Some of the nitwits they’d run into had even screamed at seeing the man behind the mask. Hell, even the man’s own mother hadn’t been able to deal with it, abandoning the child at a church with nothing but a mask, blanket, and note imploring the priest to pray for the infant’s devil-touched soul. And yet, here was this girl who’d known them less than a week and she shrugged it off like it was nothing worse than a bad haircut. Perhaps…
“Then, if you wouldn’t mind, would you take Erik his mask?”