Authors: Ruby Reid
She went into her small study, fired up her computer, and waited for it to boot up. She checked her e-mail smirking at the reminder e-mail she had received from the e-dating site that she had signed up for three days ago. She promptly deleted it and managed to get into the flow of work without too much of a problem.
By lunchtime, she was invigorated. She had more energy than she’d had in a while and could not remember the last time she’d been in such a great mood. Had sex
done this for her?
she answered herself.
something about him.
Then, a counter to that thought came and it hit her hard.
Maybe it’s because he does this kind of thing all of the time. He’s gotten practice. He
in a motorcycle club.
She thought about this for a moment and decided it wasn’t worth thinking about. While she had no problem admitting she was saddened she would never see Alex again, she had, in a way, gotten what she needed from him. And it had been more than sex.
What Alex had given her was proof there was still a part of her that very much wanted to enjoy life and to move on. It was a part of her that now scoffed at the pills she had nearly taken and stomped out any selfish and meandering thoughts she had about ending her own life.
Alex had given her motivation (and much more than that, the sensitive area beneath her waist reminded her). He had given her the strength to pick herself back up and face life with a new purpose and vibrancy.
The only thing that kept going through Alex’s mind as he stood outside of the small warehouse on the outermost edge of a sketchy Chicago neighborhood was that Chicago wasn’t as cold has he had expected. The dry desert heat had ruined him for colder climates, but Chicago wasn’t so bad—at least not gauging from the two and a half hours he had been here.
Alex stood in the dark and looked at this cell phone. The display told him that it was 11:43. He was supposed to meet Marco O’Brien at the warehouse behind him—a place he knew only as Jameson’s Dark Place. Marco O’Brien apparently also knew it by that name because when Alex had requested the man meet him there, Marco had instantly sounded timid and unsure of himself on the phone.
Alex peered back up the alley and could barely make out the darkened smudge of Slim as he leaned against a neighboring building. If Alex hadn’t known he was there, it would have been impossible to see him…which was exactly how it had been planned.
The sound of an approaching engine from the opposite direction caused Alex to turn around. He saw a pair of headlights trimming the darkness as a car turned into the alleyway. As Alex watched it approach, he marveled over how ingenious Jameson’s plan was.
Marco knew The Unknowns were coming to Chicago and was quite excited, thinking it meant more business and a better relationship with the club. The building that was now called Jameson’s Dark Place
belong to Jameson. He had purchased through a realtor a month ago after Marco had found it for him. It was to be one of two or three hideaways for The Unknowns once they landed in Chicago.
And who better than to come out to meet Marco slightly ahead of the rest of the crew than one of The Unknown’s younger recruits? It would seem perfectly normal to Marco, having a younger kid with less experience come out to do such a tedious errand. As far as Marco knew, he was simply meeting Alex to go over renovation plans and to have the construction already underway when Jameson and the rest of his crew arrived in town.
Of course, as Alex and Slim knew, there was something totally different going on. When Jameson had sent Alex the texts with the location and Marco’s number, he had also delivered a message that he wanted conveyed to Marco before Alex left him.
Alex went over all of this as the car pulled to a stop a few feet ahead of him. Marco O’Brien stepped out and right away, Alex felt bad about what he had to do. Marco was easily seventy-five pounds overweight. He wore a pair of thick glasses and was losing the hair on top of his large head. But then Alex remembered what this man did for a living and that pity went away. From the little bit Slim had shared about the man (which wasn’t much, as Jameson kept these sorts of secrets close to his chest), Marco had killed more than twenty people for fees that were exceptionally low for a man in his despicable field.
“Hey, Mr. O’Brien,” Alex said, doing his best to sound non-threatening and even a bit intimidated.
“Alex, right?” Marco said.
“That’s me,” Alex said. “Sorry to have you out here so late, but that’s how Jameson wanted it.”
“He’s smart for that,” he said. “The cops don’t come out here much at night. Parts of this neighborhood scare them, badge or no badge. During the day, though…they’re like cockroaches.”
“Do you have the key?” Alex asked.
Marco pulled a single key out of his pocket and started for the door. As he stood under the brick and concrete awning that was cracked and covered in dust and cobwebs, Alex looked back out to the end of the alley. He could still just barely make out Slim, still on lookout patrol.
Marco opened the door and they both stepped inside. Instantly, the smell of dust and neglect hit Alex. Marco flipped a switch on the wall and a few overhead halogens popped on with an electric hum, casting sick yellow light down on the floor. The small warehouse was totally empty except for a few old sawhorses and strewn newspapers.
“I figure a few separating walls is a good place to start,” Marco said. “If you can get the right people to do it, you can—”
That’s when Alex drew his right foot up and kicked Marco hard in the back of his left knee. The man let out a yell of pain and surprise as he went to the ground. He immediately started grabbing at his waist, a sure sign that he was carrying a gun. Before he could grab it, Alex stomped down hard on his arm and twisted his foot. There was a sickening cracking noise as Marco’s arm broke.
Marco screamed, now forgetting the gun altogether. He opened his mouth to say something but the wind was sucked out of him as Alex leaned down, picked him up by the collar of his jacket, and delivered a devastating blow to Marco’s face. Marco hobbled and fell again, looking at Alex like a dog in the midst of being beaten by its master.
“What the fuck is this?”
Marco screamed in pain. Blood was pouring from his mouth from the shot to the face. He was scrambling back to the far wall, now using his left hand to grab for the gun. Alex saw it now, a small 9 mm tucked into a holster on his left side.
Alex took a large stride and threw a knee into Marco’s chest. A sound like a hurricane-force wind came out of the fat man. Alex then reached down and took the gun. When he held it up, Marco held his good arm up, shielding himself.
“Please no! Just tell me what this is about!”
“Jameson sent me as a messenger,” Alex said. He studied the gun and then emptied the bullets out. He reached back down to Marco and hauled him up, pushing him against the wall. He then used the gun to deliver two harsh blows to both sides of Marco’s face. He tried to fall, but Alex stopped him, holding him pressed against the wall. He threw the emptied gun to the ground and blasted Marco with a hard shot directly to the mouth.
Alex felt Marco’s teeth cracking and when he pulled his hand away, he saw shards of it in the blood that coursed down his chin. There was horror in his eyes and that was when Alex knew Marco expected to die here. It made him pity the man and, for just a moment, made him feel like a monster.
As he looked at the man, the pity came back. This beating was far from over. Jameson had requested a broken arm, a few broken ribs, some damage to the face. He wanted to make sure Marco would be immobilized for quite some time.
Suddenly, nothing about this felt right to Alex. He didn’t even know this man and here he was, beating the poor fat man to a pulp.
Then, out of nowhere, an image of Amanda flashed through his head. He saw her as she had looked in the coffee shop last night, her eyes slightly swollen from crying and her lips curved in the slightest of smiles.
He pushed the image away and focused on the matter at hand.
“What message?” Marco asked.
Out of sheer frustration, Alex slapped the man almost playfully in the face.
“The last two jobs you did for him were traced back to The Unknowns. Two of our men will see jail time because you were sloppy. Jameson’s message is that this beating is your warning. Next time, the beating won’t stop until you’re dead.”
“Sloppy?” Marco asked. “But I—”
Alex interrupted him with a thundering punch to the stomach. He felt bad for it but also felt as if it were the most natural thing in the world. That was bad, as far as Alex was concerned. Was this all he had become? Was he nothing more than a machine that inflicted punishment and scared the hell out of Jameson’s enemies?
With the punch delivered, Marco doubled over, gasping for breath, and when he did Alex straightened him back up with a quick uppercut. Marco’s eyes were rolling in their sockets, the last shot nearly knocking him out cold.
Alex drew his right arm back to deliver a punch that was intended to break Marco’s nose. But before he could deliver it, Amanda was back in his head. He saw several things at once, like a montage in his head. He saw the first kiss after she had asked for it in his ear. He saw her placing his hand on her breast through her shirt. He saw her looking up at him from the kitchen floor with hunger, lust, and something else he had not been able to define in her beautiful brown eyes.
Alex’s hand paused in the air. He actually took a moment to look at it, giving it a distrustful look.
Without realizing what he was doing, Alex gave Marco a quick little shove to the floor. Marco cried out with relief when he hit the floor. Alex looked down and saw the man bleeding everywhere. As he watched, Marco spit out shards of his broken teeth. The right side of his face was already beginning to swell. He was far from finishing the job Jameson had asked him to do but…
…but, he didn’t care. And that was a dangerous thought to have.
Alex kicked Marco’s empty gun across the warehouse floor and rubbed a hand across his eyes, trying to clear his head. When it was clear, he again saw Amanda. This time, he saw her standing in the doorway of her house, waving to him as he climbed onto his motorcycle.
What the hell is this? This has to stop…
It was a scary question because he thought he knew the answer.
This isn’t where I want to be,
This isn’t what I want to do. I’m better than this and…
And what? He didn’t know. But he thought the statement ended with
…and there’s something more for me out there.
And when Amanda’s face popped into his head in tandem with this thought, smiling with those thin lips of hers, it felt warm and welcoming.
He then heard another voice in his head. It was Jameson, speaking in the place of a father Alex had never known.
Well then where in the hell
you want to be? With your limited skills, there’s not much else for you to do. Nowhere for you to be…
But Amanda was still there in his head. He saw her placing her arms around him and kissing him in a way that the countless women he had bedded in the past had not been able to do. God, it sounded cheesy, but Amanda had somehow tapped into something he had kept away from all of those women.
“Shit,” he said.
“Please,” Marco said. “No more.”
Alex looked at him with disgust and sadness. “No,” he said. “No more.”
With that, he turned his back and left the warehouse. He felt lost, as if he had nowhere to go and no reason to be anywhere in particular.
But for the first time since he was a child, he felt a yearning to belong to something…maybe even to someone. It had come at the worst possible time, but it was too strong to ignore.
He shut the warehouse lights off behind him and stepped out into the night.
“Wait one damn minute,” Slim said. “You’re doing
They were sitting in a bar several blocks away from the warehouse. Alex was sipping on a beer, his eyes distant. There was a knot of nervousness in his stomach that felt like lead. The bar was smoky and Alex was finding it hard to breathe. He tried to tell himself it was the thick smoke in the small bar but he knew that was a lie.
“I’m leaving. I’m going away for a while.”
“I don’t know,” he lied. “I just…something snapped in me when I was beating Marco. It was…I don’t know…”
Slim studied him and gave him a skeptical eye. “Is it that girl?”
Not seeing the point in lying outright, Alex gave a shrug. “I don’t know.”
“Are you coming back?”
Again, he could only shrug.
“Are you planning to tell Jameson?”
“Eventually. Just not right now. Man, I don’t even know what the hell this thing is. I just know that everything inside of me is telling me I should not be here right now.”
“Then where the hell are you supposed to be? You sound like a fucking Zen master or something.”
“I don’t know,” he said, finding that the small secret he was keeping made him feel almost overwhelmed with hope. Well, there were two secrets now, weren’t there? There was this thing with Amanda that had practically turned his world upside down and then there was the other thing that he had nearly spilled to Slim last night.