Oct. 15 – 2:00am
Erik nodded to his partner and motioned towards the door. He’d enter while she provided cover, a system perfected by many years of training and working together. Easing the door open, he took a quick glance around before giving the ‘all clear’ signal. Just as he was slipping inside the doorway, a small dart imbedded itself into his neck and he was unconscious within seconds.
The first thing he noticed upon awakening was the darkness; it was like being at the bottom of a cave. Then he felt rough burlap against his face and ropes around his wrists and ankles that held him spread eagled facing a wall. Great. Torture. He hoped his partner was safe and assessing the situation calmly like he’d taught her. If he kept his captors occupied, she’d have a better chance of neutralizing the situation and cutting him free. He tensed all his major muscle groups to determine if they’d worked him over while he was unconscious but felt nothing worse than rope burns.
Time to test the waters.
Erik groaned slightly as if awakening and began to struggle against his bonds. Unfortunately, they were thick and expertly tied. A bit of a break would have been nice. Low voices murmured behind him, too faint even for him to make out the words. A door opened then closed before he heard footsteps approaching. This is it; interrogation time. A sharp pain exploded along his back and he recognized the crack of a whip. Fuck, this was going to hurt. He took several more lashes across his back before they allowed him to rest. He recognized the tactic; he’d used it before, in fact. What good is pain if you let the prisoner go numb? Relaxing as much as possible, he strained to hear any clues as to what his captors expected from him. The only sound was his ragged breathing and the creak of the ropes that held him in place. Then, the snap of the whip sounded again and he fell into a world that held nothing but blinding pain before he mercifully lost consciousness once more. They never asked a single question.
A bucket of salt water was dumped over his head and down his back to revive him. Hissing from the stinging pain, Erik snapped awake. He could hear footsteps growing closer and he forced his body to relax. The next phase would soon begin, he was certain. Instead of more abuse, he felt the light touch of a woman’s hand caressing him like a lover. He knew that touch and sighed in relief as the sack was removed. Squinting against the sudden light, he was overjoyed to see his partner…until he saw the gun in her hand. It was pointed at his chest. Again, nothing was said. The only sound was the click of the hammer being pulled into firing position; it echoed loudly in the room. Blowing him a kiss, she smiled and pulled the trigger.
“Christine!” Erik fell out of bed into a wary crouch, pistol in his hand while he looked quickly around the room. Putting the safety back on, he replaced the weapon in the holster hanging from his bed and ran a hand through his sweat-soaked hair. Damn nightmares. Five years and he still relived that moment nearly every night. Five years since he saw his partner, his pupil, his love laugh in his face and leave him to die. It took months for him to recover his health. He still hadn’t recovered from her betrayal.
A glance at the clock told him it was far too early to rise but he knew he’d not sleep again this night. At least he’d gotten three hours; that was more than he’d gotten on any one day in several months. Pulling on some lounge pants, Erik moved to pour himself a glass of whiskey just as his phone rang. He drank half in one long swallow and refilled the glass again before moving to check the caller ID.
Son of a bitch.
“Da’ud, what the hell do you want?”
“Hello, Erik. I’m doing well, thank you for asking, and you?” The slightly amused voice of his old friend grated Erik’s already raw nerves.
“It’s 2:00am and you’re on my phone. How the hell do you think I am?” He growled harshly into the receiver. Though he owed the detective his life, he really hadn’t wanted to hear from him so early in the morning nor so soon after the dream that haunted him. Too many memories were swirling in his head for him to be sociable. He downed the drink and poured another somehow knowing he wasn’t going to like the reason for the call.
“I have a favor to ask, Erik. A big one.” The detective’s voice had grown very serious. That coupled with the fact that his friend never asked for favors gave Erik pause. “I need you to protect someone for me until I can positively identify a perp in a murder case.”
“That’s it? Babysit someone for you while you run around and play cops and robbers? What happened to police protection by, oh I don’t know, the police?” He snorted in disbelief and reached for the glass.
“Erik. There was a white rose placed on the victim.” The glass slipped from his fingers and shattered on the slate floor as the detective continued. “I don’t want to say anything else on an open line. We’re coming up to the gate now. Let us in and we’ll discuss it inside where there’s no chance of prying eyes and ears.”
Erik moved towards the security console to verify the detective’s identity. Once the hand scanner was complete and the fingerprint match confirmed, he pressed the button to open the gates. The shock was starting to wear off and now a familiar feeling had begun to boil deep in his belly: anger. Love had made him foolish; happiness had been but a figment of his imagination; trust nearly cost him his life. But anger…ah, anger was a constant he could appreciate. It pulled him from that building where Christine had left him to die; it sustained him when he abandoned the Agency for the life of a reclusive composer and theater owner; and now it would get him through tonight when the dagger she’d thrust into his heart all those years ago would be twisted once more.
Ignoring the broken glass, he pulled a suit from the closet and dressed quickly. Rubbing his hand over his face, he decided on a quick shave with the electric razor before combing his hair and settling the mask over the right side of his face. As the cold, flexible rubber settled over the ridges of his deformity, Erik retreated into the role of Le Fantôme; the code name the agency had given him for his unparalleled expertise in stealth and infiltration. Le Fantôme was as cold, emotionless, and deadly as he was silent. Le Fantôme had never known love. Or betrayal. Or despair.