Oct. 23 – 8:00pm
It had only been thirty minutes since Erik had tied her to the bed but it felt like hours. During that entire time, Alex had been slowly working the cloth from her mouth and plotting her revenge. Everything she’d come up with so far was either too lenient or too gruesome; perhaps she should just do whatever comes to her at the time. The moment she heard one of the cars crank and leave the garage she started yelling for the detective. Her wrists were growing raw from her struggles, her side throbbed, she was hungry, and she had to go to the bathroom. She could have wept when Da’ud knocked on the door.
“Get me out of here, Da’ud. That son of a bitch tied me to the fucking bed!” The detective tried the handle and discovered it to be locked. He relayed that information to Alex and told her he would see if his room key would work. It seemed like forever until he was back at the door and knew before he said anything that it hadn’t worked. He begged for her patience once more and left for what seemed like an eternity. When he returned he started the painstaking task of picking the lock.
Da’ud’s eyes widened in shock when he saw Alex tied to the bedframe. He had thought … he didn’t know what he thought but he certainly didn’t believe Erik would do something like this. Hurriedly, he untied her arms and checked them for bruising or redness. Her stomach gave a rumbly protest and she asked if he’d get her something while she loosened the muscles in her arms and shoulders. Though mostly comfortable, her efforts to get free of her bidings had left her feeling cramped and tingly in places. Da’ud left the room as quickly as he was able and headed for the kitchen. With his hands needed for his crutches, he made a sandwich and grabbed a soda and a bottle of water from the refrigerator. Sealing the sandwich in a plastic bag, he placed everything into a sack and made his way back to Alex’s room. He and Erik were definitely going to have words later.
Once the tingly pain had left her fingers, she checked her side to ensure she hadn’t reopened the wound with the stretching and twisting. Satisfied that she hadn’t snapped a stitch or made it bleed, Alex had just pulled her shirt down when Da’ud hobbled back into her room. She drained the water quickly, her mouth dry as a desert from the cotton of the sheets. After finishing off her sandwich and soda, she excused herself to take care of necessary business but asked the detective to wait as she wanted to talk to him about a certain masked friend of his.
Meanwhile, Erik was racing down the highway to a rendezvous with the past. He had arranged an early meeting as he didn’t trust leaving Alexandra and Da’ud alone overnight. The daroga had a soft heart and was sure to have freed the stubborn woman the moment Erik left the house. Perhaps he’d been a bit harsh with her but he refused to spend another two days watching her fight off her nightmares in a high fever. Each tormented cry, each plea, and each tear had ripped his heart in two. Nothing he had said or done had helped until he’d sang for her. Ruefully he shook his head; leave it to Alexandra to convince him to do what he swore never to do again. When he saw her on her feet so soon after waking, he couldn’t believe his eyes. There had been shock, then anger, but underneath it all was the fear; the fear that she would relapse and be trapped in those terrible dreams once more. But he knew…once he returned home there’d be hell to pay.
The city park was normally off limits after dark to discourage vagrants and drug dealers but Da’ud had called in a request to patrol it only after midnight. The meeting should be over by then. Once he’d pulled into a spot under a street light, Erik checked to make sure he had all his weapons ready and accessible. He might have agreed to the meeting but that didn’t mean he was going in blind. If he was instructed to disarm, he’d simply leave. If they tried to stop him, he’d take as many out as he could. He wasn’t here to play games but get answers. Glancing at the clock, he slowly climbed out of the car and leaned against the door. It was show time.
The sleek baby blue corvette pulled in beside him. The windows were tinted but not so drastically as to prevent him from seeing the sole occupant. He wasn’t naïve enough to believe the contact would come alone so that means someone was here when he arrived. Keeping his sedan between himself and the corvette, Erik stepped into the shadows and scoured the trees for potential sniper nests. When the corvette’s driver emerged from the vehicle, he slowly approached while staying half in shadow.
“Good evening, Christine.” He threw his voice so that it sounded directly behind the petite woman and watched as she spun around quickly, raising a hand to the level of her eyes. He nearly chuckled at that. ‘Not as sure of ourselves as we thought, hmm, Christine?’ Grinning wickedly, he decided to unnerve his former partner a bit more before showing himself. “I do hope you’ve come alone as promised.” This time, the voice was over by the lamp post. “I wouldn’t want to become…displeased at meeting such an old…friend.” The last was whispered directly in her ear.
“Stop it with the games, Erik,” she snapped, looking around trying to find where he was hiding. Stepping from the shadows, he soundlessly moved behind her.
“I thought you liked games, Christine,” he chuckled awfully when she jumped and spun around once more to face him. “You played them so well five years ago. Which one are you playing now, I wonder? The partner, the lover, the traitor…the murderer?” He stared into her crystal blue eyes and saw nothing there of the girl he once knew and loved. The Christine he had loved was young and vibrant, full of laughter and joy; this Christine was a stranger with cold, calculating, dead eyes.
“Oh, Erik, I told you how it was. I couldn’t escape!” Christine stepped forward and gripped his arm while pressing the entire length of her body against him. “They would have killed me. They would have killed you! I couldn’t let them kill you, Erik.” He was impressed with her acting skills but then again, he always had been. She had made him think she loved him after all. Slowly, he pried her fingers from his arm and stepped away.
“If ever you wish to give up this life, Hollywood would be forever grateful to have someone of your skill.” His golden eyes flashed dangerously when she stepped towards him again. “I do not advise your grabbing my person again, mademoiselle, or I will not be responsible for my actions. I generally don’t allow myself to be accosted by someone who tried to kill me.” His voice was cold, clipped, and unrelenting; he would not be dragged into her games again. “Now, you wanted to meet me and I doubt it was to discuss old times so get to the point or I’m going home.”
“Erik…” Christine’s eyes filled with tears and she twisted a curl around her finger nervously. “I wanted to see you to know you were alright. I hated leaving you in that warehouse but I had no choice. Darling…” her voice dropped to a purr and she advanced close enough to run her hands up his chest. “You loved me once. How can you be so cruel?”
“Miss Daae,” Erik growled and gripped her wrists tight, stopping their path up his body. “Do not speak to me of cruelty when you are its mistress. I loved you and you took that love and discarded it like piece of trash. Did you ever care for me at all or was it all a part of your assignment?” His hands tightened even more and he twisted slightly until she fell to her knees or risk broken wrists. “How did you like making love to the monster, Miss Daae? Did you include all the details in your reports of how I doted on you, gave you anything you could have ever wanted, even created a new mask that was practically undetectable so you wouldn’t have to be seen with a freak?” He was shouting by the end, golden eyes full of molten fire and hatred. When she struggled to get her hands free, he merely tightened his grip more. “No, do not speak to me of love. You no longer have that right.” Sneering down at the kneeling girl with disgust, he stepped back and mockingly gave her a bow. “But where are my manners? You wished to see me.”
“You never change at all, do you Erik?” Christine rose slowly, rubbing her wrists. “It always amazed me how you could be so incredibly arrogant and yet childishly insecure at the same time.” She looked away briefly but not before he saw the calculating look on her face. When she turned back, her eyes swam with tears as she took a small, hesitating step towards her former lover. “Please, Erik. You don’t understand how hard it was. I was so young and…and they offered me so much. They promised me that you wouldn’t get hurt and it nearly killed me to leave you in that warehouse. I only did because I knew Da’ud would get you to safety.” She let two fat tears roll down her cheeks as she reached up and laid a hand gently on the unmasked side of his face. “I loved you, Erik. I still do. I’ll be free once this is over; free to come back to you. Help me and we can be together like we were always meant to be.”
Erik’s glowing amber eyes gazed down upon the woman he’d sworn to love until the day he died and felt the last of dreams of happiness with her melt beneath her calculated caresses. The Christine he’d fallen in love with was nowhere to be found in the hard, cold woman whose beauty still rivalled the very angels in heaven. Slowly, he raised a hand and began to peel the mask from his face. His eyes held hers captive until he felt the wind upon his bare cheek. Her eyes roamed the entirety of his face and, had he not watched her so closely or knew her so well, he might have missed the slight curl of her lip as her eyes quickly slid from the scarred side of his face. With a smile containing no warmth or humor, Erik backed away and returned the mask to his face. Again, she was unable to hide the brief look of relief that flitted across her face.
“I believe that says it all, doesn’t it, Christine? Now, perhaps you might enlighten me as to why you wished to meet and why you let Ms. Butler ‘escape’?”
“I was hoping you would come to your senses, Erik. Your place is with me not some paltry opera house with second rate talent. You were always the best at extracting information from even the most stubborn prisoner and now you’re wasting your skills plunking out some maudlin tune. Stand by my side and you’ll have anything you’d ever dream of: money, power…me. And you know you want me; you always have.”
“And the price?”
“Give me the girl. Her family has been a thorn in our side for far too long and it’s time we put an end to it. You’ll never have to see her again.” Pressing her every curve against his hard, muscular frame, Christine ran her hands greedily up his broad back. “We’ll even make sure to spare your detective friend.”
“And that’s all?”
“Oh yes. And then we can return to Venice to celebrate. You were very skilled back then; I’m sure you’ll be most impressive now.”
“I see. Since you leave me no choice, and only because of what we once were, I’ll give you fair warning, Miss Daae. I have a job to do and if you get in my way, you will be dealt with like any other obstruction. Au revoir.”
Erik returned to his car and pulled out of the parking lot with a shriek of tortured rubber on asphalt. He had only gotten twenty miles onto the highway when he pulled over on the side of the road, removed his mask, and cried over a love that never truly was.