Friday, May 20, 2011

Chapter 8

Oct. 15 –11:00am

            After he left the girl in the Library, Erik prowled the upper floor of the house, memories haunting him. Alexandra’s question was both innocent and understandable, yet it brought back too much pain…too many memories. Christine. It all seemed to come back to her. She had been more than a trainee and partner for the Agency; she’d been his lover, his soul mate, his inspiration, his muse. How many nights had he held her in his arms and poured out his heart through song? How much of his love for her was woven into every note of his music? He had been unable to give up music entirely but he sang only for her. Now that she was his no longer his voice had grown silent. He couldn’t bring himself to sing again. Growling in frustration, he entered the small gym and stripped off his jacket. If he was to focus today and keep the girl safe, he had to release his anger somehow. As the memories continued to crash over him, Erik took out his frustration on a suspended bag, giving it a series of vicious punches and jabs.
            He could see Christine’s hair fanning out across his pillow, a gorgeous riot of soft brown curls. The satin of her skin had burned its imprint into his fingertips; he could still taste the sweetness of her lips. Each memory twisted the dagger in his heart and he could feel the skin splitting on his bare knuckles with the force of every blow. Erik welcomed the pain; anything to take the memories and lock them away where they belonged, anything to mask the breaking of his already shattered heart.
            They had gone to see an opera that night, Faust. Christine had stolen his breath away in a stunning light pink dress suspended by the thinnest of straps. It was simple, elegant, and she was so beautiful it hurt him to gaze upon her on his arm. Erik had taken special care with his own clothing; the classic tuxedo fitting his lean frame impeccably, accented only by a rose in his lapel that perfectly matched her dress, and his latex mask so matching his skin tone that it gave no hint of what lay beneath. While escorting Christine up to their box, he was twitchy, nervous; for the hundredth time that night he felt the small velvet box in his pocket.
Tonight, during intermission, he was going to lay his heart bare before her. He would ask his love to marry him, to share his life and build a family with him, a life away from the Agency and all the danger and intrigue. Erik’s first musical score had been published that week and was already receiving rave reviews. The initial payment from the publisher had been enough to purchase a small home just outside the city.
If Christine noticed his nerves, she said nothing to him about it. Little did he know his beloved had already made plans for Intermission and they didn’t include her masked partner. Just as the curtain fell on the first act, she excused herself to go to the powder room. Anxiously Erik awaited her return, turning the box round and round in his hands. Minutes seemed like hours and he had started to worry that some evil had befallen her when she slipped into the box with less than five minutes before the curtain rose on the final act. She looked flushed and disheveled, out of breath and out of sorts; all of which she blamed on her rush to get back in time. A crowd at the bathrooms, she explained, and some were out of order causing a long wait. Erik just nodded and stealthily slipped the box into his jacket pocket. He struggled to believe her but his heart was breaking; she smelled of another man’s cologne.

Oct. 15 –1:00pm

            When Erik returned to the Library downstairs, he had showered and changed into black jeans, dress shirt, and wing tips. His hair was once more slicked back into place and he’d reapplied the adhesive to his flesh-toned latex mask. Workers in government buildings rarely appreciated visits from obviously masked men; it made them nervous. He looked as calm and controlled as ever with only the faintest of bruising forming on his scraped knuckles. With the barest of nods to Alex, he crossed the room to the desk to retrieve the claim ticket they would need.
            “Are you ready to do this?” No emotion filtered into his beautiful voice as he watched her carefully. At her hesitant nod and the obvious fear in her eyes, he relented slightly and sat beside her on the sofa to hand her the ticket. “The plan is to make this look as normal and unremarkable as possible. We’ll enter the post office together, move to the counter when it’s our turn, retrieve the package, and then return here to open it. I’ll be right beside you the whole time and a detective will be stationed outside to watch the perimeter.”
            Alex nodded but her stomach had suddenly filled with a pit of writhing and hissing vipers. She hoped she didn’t break down or run screaming or throw up from nerves. She was a finance major, not an actress! How was she supposed to act? What if someone talks to her that she knows, asks her who her escort is? She struggled to keep her fear in check.
            “I know a few of the people who work at this post office, went to school with a few. What if someone asks…?” Alex glanced up and motioned towards him before placing the ticket carefully into her wallet.
            “If anyone asks, I’m the solicitor handling your brother’s affairs,” he answered smoothly. “I’ll use the name of Richard Devlin and have some business cards with all the pertinent information to back it up. If you forget the name, just use Erik. It’s listed as my middle name on the cards. Anything else?”
            “Yes…could we stop by my apartment to pick up my laptop? If Sammy managed to get to it and use it somehow, it will need to be checked and I’d like to check my grades for the final exams.” Alex smiled faintly while trying to grasp onto any sign of normalcy. “When this is over, I’ll still need a job; I can use this time to work on my résumé.”
            “We’ll drive by to see if it’s safe but no guarantees. A lot will depend on what happens at the post office and how closely your apartment is being watched.”
            Nodding in understanding, Alex stood on trembling legs and followed Erik into the garage. She didn’t know much about cars other than how to drive one and where to put the gas, but she did know that a few of them were extremely expensive. All the flashy ones were passed up for a silver-grey midsize sedan. Ford Taurus, how very…normal. As she slid into the passenger seat, Alex prayed that the worst things to happen that day would be long lines and cranky people.

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