Drifting in and out of consciousness, Alex heard the shift in the engines that signaled the plane was landing. Plane? Thank God! She’d been so afraid she’d actually been buried that she nearly wept in relief; she might survive this yet. Feeling along the seam where the lid met the sides, she searched for anything that might be a latch or handle. She was disheartened but not surprised to find nothing but smooth wood. ‘The least they could have done was put me in one with cushions; my rear is starting to grow numb,’ Alex grumbled silently to herself. Shifting what little she could, her hands brushed the pocket of her jeans and felt the distinct, rectangular shape of her cell phone. Slowly and carefully she inched the phone from her pocket knowing that she’d not be able to retrieve it if it fell. The faint glow of the screen was both welcome and horrifying as it made her situation all the more real. As the plane bumped around upon landing, Alex typed out a text message to Erik and prayed it would go through. Then, she dialed his number, muted the speaker, placed it on speaker phone, and slid it back into her pocket. If nothing else, maybe they could trace the signal.
There was a loud screeching sound from beyond the coffin and Alex dearly wished she could cover her ears to blot out the shrill, painful noise. There was little time to ponder what was causing it before she felt movement. Straining her ears to hear anything that might give her a clue as to her whereabouts, she could tell there was some sort of problem as the voices beyond her dark prison continue to grow louder and ever more heated. Even when their volume was such that she could hear them plainly it proved to be of little help; she didn’t recognize the language at all. After several minutes, those who were arguing seemed to come to some kind of agreement and she felt movement once more.
Placed in the back of some sort of cargo vehicle, Alex eventually adjusted to the bumping and swaying as they traveled over uneven roads. After a particularly sharp turn, she was thankful to whomever chose to strap the coffin tightly to prevent sliding. The cold that had begun to bite during the transition from plane to land vehicle had given way to a comfortable warmth so she assumed that she was in an enclosed truck, perhaps even a hearse. A chuckle bordering on hysteria threatened to emerge as she wondered if her mode of transportation was a premonition of things to come. Breathing deeply, Alex concentrated on the breathing and relaxation exercises she’d learned from her meditation lessons of so long ago. As she calmed, the stress of the last few days’ events, along with the silence and gentle motions, lulled her into an uneasy sleep.
She awakened not due to intense noise or jarring motion but from the absolute lack of both. The stillness and silence were far more terrible as it conjured up panicked thoughts once more of being buried alive. Remaining calm only by sheer force of will, Alex raised her hands to the lid of the coffin only to find it gone. Her eyes popped open in surprise which was compounded by the beauty of the room in which she found herself. The relief she felt was short lived, however, when she realized she’d been disrobed and bound to a bed with nothing more than a light sheet to cover her nudity. A quick glance around the room showed no sign of her clothing which meant a loss of her cell phone and her only possible link to Erik and rescue.
Erik. She nearly wept at the thought that the last time she’d seen him, they’d fought. The more she dwelled on it, the more she realized she’d fallen quite nicely into the trap. Alex knew that once he’d gotten over his initial anger, Erik would have been more open to listening to reason. She also knew that he was insecure and constantly feared she’d wish to be freed from the ‘monster’ he still considered himself to be. Loving him would never be easy, she surmised, but it would always be worth it. If she made it out of this alive, that is. Noises outside the room jerked her thoughts back to her present situation and she forced her tense muscles to relax. Calming her breathing, Alex feigned sleep in hopes of discovering more about where she was for she greatly feared she knew who had captured her.
The door opened and through the barest of slits she watched as a large, maternal looking woman bustled in with a tray. Several times, the maid walked out of Alex’s limited field of vision; her actions only becoming clear when the soft restraints about her wrists and ankles were loosened and then removed all together. Gentle pats on her cheeks were meant to wake her so Alex tried to make her performance believable. The maid helped her to sit up and placed the tray over her legs and removed the cover.
“Cъесть. Съесть.” At her blank stare, the lady placed a fork in her hand and made eating motions. “Cъесть!” Nodding in sudden understanding, Alex speared a carrot and took a bite while the maid smiled and quickly left the room, locking it behind her. Though she didn’t truly trust the food not to be laced with some vile poison, she still ate the simple stew and bread. She would need her strength if she was to escape and starving herself wouldn’t help.
Once she’d set the tray onto the side table, Alex pulled the sheet from the bed and wrapped it around her while she searched through the closets and dressers for clothing. She breathed a sigh of relief when she found her own clothes, minus her cell phone of course, and quickly dressed. She’d just finished tying her shoes when the door opened once more and the man she knew as Raoul de Chagny entered the room.
“Здравствуйте пропустите Робертс.” Chuckling at her when she merely arched a brow, he bowed elegantly and repeated his greeting in English. “Hello, Miss Roberts, and welcome to my home. I heard about your long stay in the hospital; I do hope you are feeling better now?” The grin on his face was absolutely feral as he watched her closely.
“What do you want with me, Zakharov?” Alex was proud that her voice remained steady for her insides were shaking like a willow in a hurricane.
“Ah, so the freak told you my name, hmm? Did he tell you the rest? Did he tell how he came to my parents’ home on my sister’s birthday and killed my father in cold blood? I can see he did not.” Once more he chuckled and this time it sent a shiver of fear down her spine. “For years I’ve waited and plotted and planned my revenge only to have it all thrown away by that Daaé slut. Once things were in place, she refused to let me kill him as we’d planned. She wanted to bed that…that…she actually preferred that monster to me. Me!”
Alex nervously watched him pace about the room as he ranted. Everything about the man practically oozed a twisted type of danger. Where Erik was controlled and even unemotional when he retreated into his Le Fantôme persona, Zakharov was clearly mad. His lack of sanity made him unpredictable which made him even more dangerous. She feared saying the wrong thing and focusing his anger on her so she remained silent but watchful.
“But now, you see,” her captor continued after a string of what she could only guess were curses in his native tongue, “now, I’ve come to realize that she did me a favor. Too bad she’s dead and won’t know it.” Though much calmer, his laughter still held that tinge of madness that froze the very blood in her veins. “No longer do I wish to kill him, you see. Instead, I have the chance to truly hurt him as he hurt me. With one shot, he destroyed my life. I’d thought to do the same for him, you know. There were many opportunities I could have killed you, my dear, but I realized in time that would not do. I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him to know that the woman he loves lives but was taken from him; that she’s hurting because of him.”
“You failed to realize something, Zakharov,” all the blood had fled her face and only through sheer force of will had she not collapsed from fear. Holding up her ringless left hand, she fought for a casual tone. “Erik and I have called off the engagement. He will not come for me.” The frown on his face very nearly soothed the very real fear that she was telling the truth; nearly but not quite. Alex hoped that, after their argument and her returning the ring, he would still come for her.
“Sure he will. Did he not mourn his precious Christine for years? I’d think he’d miss you longer than the few days it took to bring you here.”
Chuckling as he left the room, the lock slid back into place and Alex fought the urge to collapse onto the bed in hysterics.
The clock by the bed read 3:17am as Erik glared fiercely at it. He’d not long fallen into an exhausted sleep when something, some sound, had jerked him back awake. Instinctively, he checked the other side of the bed to make sure he hadn’t awakened Alexandra and felt fresh pain when it remained cold and empty. He was about to lay back down when his cell phone rang. Cursing, he crossed the room ready to take his anger out on the poor soul who’d disturbed him when he glanced at the Caller ID. Alexandra. He eagerly answered and was confused when there was no one on the other end. He could hear faint sounds of an engine and Alex’s voice, though it was too muffled and indistinct to comprehend. ‘Clever girl,’ he thought proudly as he rushed to throw on the light. Calling a friend at the Agency from the land line, Erik had them start a tape and trace on her cell number while he hooked the phone to his recording equipment in his room. They would have better luck capturing the sounds than he but he wanted to start work on analyzing immediately.
A series of sporadic squeaks were followed by the rattling of metal on metal. Erik pulled a notepad over to jot down his initial impressions of the sounds for sometimes those are the most accurate. There was a long period of silence before he heard voices. Muffled by whatever separated her phone from her captor’s attention, all he knew for certain were that the speakers were male and the language wasn’t English. Considering what Carla had told him, Erik guessed Russian though it could be any of a number of Slavic languages and dialects. He hoped that one of the recordings could be cleaned up enough to translate. Again, there was a long stretch of silence with the occasional muffled sound of an engine and even less distinct voices. After nearly twenty minutes, the engine ceased and he could hear what appeared to be the clicking of locks before the voices grew louder. Flipping to a fresh sheet of paper, Erik began translating.
“Did she get it? Good, now we can get her into the house and she can be someone else’s problem.” Voice One was rough and uncultured with a faint smoker’s wheeze to the lungs. Erik figured he was a hired thug paid to do as he was told and not bother with thinking on his own.
“Yes, she should remain unconscious for at least another hour or two. Take her into the house to the room the boss has prepared. I hear he’s got a buyer already lined up for her once she’s learned her place.” Voice Two was more refined yet still held a hint of…something that pointed towards a humble beginning. A farmer or hitman who’d been put into an overseer role, perhaps. The talk of a buyer had him clenching the pencil tightly; his Alexandra would not be sold into the same sort of hell as Zakharov’s other victims.
“D’you think the boss would let me help him with that? She ain’t the prettiest he’s brought to the villa but she’s curvy enough for me.” At the lewd glee in Voice One, Erik snapped the pencil in his hand as his rage threatened to take over. Searching for another, he promised a fitting end to the thug on behalf of his love.
“Gregori, anything female is enough for you. I dunno what the boss has planned but I’d keep my hands to myself if I was you. Katya will be tending to her until he says otherwise. Understand?” Only a grunt acknowledged Voice Two’s clear warning.
Silence was followed by heavy boots on stairs. What had they given her to make her sleep? He heard doors open and close several times before a female’s voice spoke to a silent occupant in the room. Unfortunately, she only spoke because she’d found Alex’s cell phone and was giving it to the one whose orders she followed. It was no surprise to Erik when Zakharov’s smug voice came through the small speaker clearly.
“Monsieur Le Fantôme, I must commend you. Your fiancée is a clever girl; too clever in fact. I’m sorry to say that she will have to pay for this minor bit of resourcefulness.”
“You’re not sorry at all, you bastard. What do you want?”
“That’s the beauty of it, Devereaux, I already have it. The fact that I have her and you have no idea what will happen to her by the time you get here is enough for now. Yes, I know you’ll come for her; you’re disgustingly predictable that way. I look forward to meeting you again. До свидания!”
The moment the cell phone fell silent Erik was calling the Agency. The recording of the transmission had already been sent to the lab to be cleaned up and background noises isolated and identified; they gave him an ETA of two hours max. The trace only confirmed what Erik already knew: Zakharov had taken Alexandra to his father’s villa in the former Soviet Union. That meant this was no longer about European Electronics and their failed attempts to recruit Alex’s family; it was now about personal vengeance.
“Be strong, ma petite chère. Le Fantôme is coming for you.” Erik gently touched the ruby engagement ring before standing to gather the things he’d need for the trip.