Oct. 21 – Noon
The courthouse wasn’t its usual hive of activity due to the lunch hour; most of the offices were closed and bore “Back in 1 Hour” signs. Because of this, Erik was able to make it all the way to the judge’s reception area without confrontation. The sign on the door was a mockery: The Honorable Judge F. Winkfield. He wondered just how honorable the judge’s associates would think him if they knew he was on the take? As he entered, a bell chimed cheerfully and the receptionist completed whatever she’d been typing before looking up. Erik informed her that, no, he didn’t have an appointment but was quite certain Winkfield would see him. After several words about how busy the man was, he simply gave her a business card and told her to take it to the judge. Within moments he was being ushered into the office.
Once the door was closed, he leaned against it to observe the man behind the large desk. The suit was custom fitted and far beyond the salary of a public servant, his hands were perfectly manicured, grey roots revealed he dyed his hair, and faint scarring near his ears betrayed his vanity. Everything about the man was soft from his pudgy hands to his impressive girth; everything except the eyes. This wasn’t a man who’d betrayed his office reluctantly and under coercion. There were no threats to his family or dirty little secrets he hoped wouldn’t filter to the press. The pale blue eyes that met Erik’s golden ones were cold and calculating; he’d voluntarily crossed the line and reveled in it. That’d make things so much easier.
“The infamous Fantôme,” Winkfield sneered. “Should I be flattered?” Erik simply turned and locked the door and then began circling the perimeter of the room. “What has brought you to my door? Did I put one of your friends in jail? A lover, perchance?” At the continued silence, the judge started getting nervous. “Come now, dear boy, how can I assist you if you won’t tell me what’s going on?”
Checking the small device disguised as a PDA to pass through security, Erik approached the floor lamp and removed the bulb. He pulled out a small item no bigger than his thumbnail and snapped it between his fingers. Replacing the bulb, he continued to circle the room. He found two more electronic listening devices before he was satisfied the room was clean. Unplugging the phone from the wall, Erik stalked over to the sweating man behind the desk and took a position behind him. He let his hands rest heavily on the judge’s shoulders.
“Now we may talk, Winkfield.” Erik’s voice was golden honey flowing over a razor’s sharpened blade. “And you will tell me anything and everything you know about European Electronics or I shall get extremely…displeased.” The graceful hands gripped the man’s shoulders tightly before relaxing once more. Unseen by his prey, he’d slipped the thin lasso loosely around the man’s neck.
“Euro…European Who?” Winkfield chuckled nervously as the sweat rolled down his round face. “I’m not one of those fancy Silicon Valley hot shots, my boy; I’m just a judge doing my duty to…” The sudden loss of oxygen halted the judge’s ramblings and Erik tightened the catgut cord just a tiny bit more.
“Come now, Winkfield,” his voice was still polite, friendly even, but the judge could hear the steel underlying every beautiful note. “I know you don’t want to make this any harder than it has to be. Are you scared they’ll come after you? Don’t be. You see, I plan on relieving every single one that I can find from the inconvenience of breathing.” He loosened the lasso slightly, allowing just enough air to remove the purple tint of the judge’s face. “Since I’m so certain that you’d never,” the cord tightened slightly then relaxed again, “willingly betray your office, I know you’re going to tell me everything I need to know.”
“You’re crazy!” Winkfield was hitting the silent alarm button frantically with his knee and wondering why he’d yet to hear sirens. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Pity,” Erik tsked softly, “I was hoping you’d be useful to me. But it seems you are not so I have no more use for you.” He tightened the lasso slightly, letting the man feel it slowly cutting off his air supply.
“What? Wait!” The judge gasped, struggling for air. “You can’t do this! You don’t know who you’re messing with, boy!”
“Believe me, I do. You are such a small, insignificant part of the whole operation that you can’t even see that you’re expendable to them. Why owe them your loyalty when they haven’t even answered that alarm you keep pushing so desperately?” Leaning down, he spoke softly, persuasively in the corpulent judge’s ear. “If they’re going to leave you to die, why not take some of them down with you?”
“Okay, damn you! But I want your guarantee that they won’t come after me!”
“Certainly.” If the judge could have seen Erik’s smile, he would have been more frightened than ever. Instead, he told all that he knew about the operation, information about Samuel’s trial, and his contact routine if he needed to speak to them. He wrote down names, numbers, addresses, anything he could think would prove useful and keep him alive. When he had run out of information, he sat quivering in his chair.
“And what of the girl?”
“Girl? What girl? Hey, if you’re looking for a piece of ass, I might be able to help but you have to give me a bit more information than just ‘a girl’.” Winkfield chuckled nervously, glad to see a spark of humanity in the imposing figure.
“Very well. I’ll seek my answers elsewhere as it’s obvious you weren’t privy to that particular information.” Erik knew by this point that the judge was an even smaller fish than he’d originally assumed and was left out of much of the workings of this particular branch of the operation. Damn. “Anything else you’d like to add, Winkfield, before I go?”
“Where are you going to hide me? I can’t stay here. I’ve always been partial to the Bahamas, you know, or maybe Cancun. I’ve heard it’s lovely this time of year.”
“Hide you?” Erik chuckled softly and chills ran down the judge’s spine. “Why, I’m going to hide you in plain sight.” With a sharp tug, the rope snapped the man’s neck and he fell forward onto the desk, dead. Gathering all the notes Winkfield had made, Erik slipped out the door chuckling softly. He’d kept his side of the deal after all; no one would be going after the good judge now.
He waited for the receptionist to leave the office for lunch so that he could pencil in a few more visitors for Winkfield. He easily duplicated her handwriting and added two of the names the judge had given him as being part of European Electronics. Lastly, he wrote that the judge had to take an important conference call at 1:00pm and wasn’t to be disturbed under any circumstances. Satisfied, he left the court house and was on the way to the lawyer’s office when his telephone rang. The archives had his blueprints ready.
Oct. 21 – Noon (Devereaux Estates)
Her cell phoned chirped and Alex wondered if her warranty would cover it if she threw it across the room. Raoul had been texting her almost every half hour since 8:00am. Grumbling, she reached for the phone and read the message, rolling her eyes when it was pretty much the same as all the others: he missed her, wanted to see her again, when could they go out, blah blah blah. Three texts ago she’d given up on telling him to stop and finally just powered down the phone.
Pulling the blankets over her, she attempted once more to fall asleep. She’d been meaning to ask Da’ud if the heat was malfunctioning since her room had been alternating between cold and hot all morning. Having finally stopped the cell phone’s incessant chirping, Alex drifted into a troubled sleep.
Shivering, Alex rubbed her hands along her arms; it was so very cold. The room was dark with not even a window to cast shadows on the unseen walls. In the distance, she could hear Da’ud screaming and yelling as if in pain. Oh, God…someone help him! Can’t you hear he’s hurt? Walking slowly as she felt her way across the room, she stumbled over something large and soft on the floor. Kneeling, she was running her hands over it to see what it was when a light came on overhead and revealed her brother’s decaying body. She choked on a scream when she heard a door opening nearby.
Looking up, Erik stood in the doorway wearing his black Fantôme stealth gear and mask. Alex gave a cry and ran towards him, seeking the security she always found in his arms. Just before she reached him, however, Christine stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his waist. In shock, Alex stared as he pulled the petite brunette into his arms and kissed her passionately. She could feel the tears rolling down her face as she watched them.
“Did you think he could ever love you, Alex? He loves me; he always has and always will.” Christine’s cruel laugh echoed around the room. Erik joined her in her laughter and, with a wave of his hand, one of the walls dropped away to reveal the detective hanging from wrist shackles. The skin of his legs had been peeled away to reveal the muscle beneath. Da’ud’s pain-filled eyes focused on Alex as he asked her why she’d killed him. Shaking her head, she apologized over and over; she’d never meant for anyone to get hurt. When strong hands closed over her wrists to pull her to a metal table, she couldn’t even dredge up the strength to resist. She was lifted to lie upon the cold metal while straps were fastened over her wrists and ankles. A knife flashed in the dim light and her brother laughed as he brought it swiftly down into her chest over and over.
“Aren’t you happy, Alex?” Samuel leaned close, his dead eyes boring into hers while maggots fell from his clothing onto her. “Now we’ll be together like we always have been!” She screamed as Erik and Christine laughed while her brother chopped her into small pieces on the table.
Alex’s scream shattered the comfortable silence. Da’ud grabbed the pistol and hobbled as quickly as he could to her room. Pushing the door open, he looked around the room for an intruder before noticing the frantically thrashing girl on the bed. A nightmare. Placing the pistol within reach, he moved to the bed to try to restrain her so she wouldn’t hurt herself or open up her wound. Cursing in Farsi when Alex connected with a fist, he finally managed to pin her arms down. He just knew he was going to have a black eye later. He called her name several times before her eyes opened and focused on his face.
“Da’ud?” Alex’s voice cracked hoarsely when she whispered his name and she fainted in his arms. Feeling her forehead, the detective cursed once more. She was burning up with fever.