Death’s Game 16: Vivian Bates, 3

Cars are roaring overhead and what little warmth being out of the rain provides is chipped away with every gust of wind. The concrete is cold—has been all night—and my neck is stiff both from the brief fight and laying on such an uninviting surface.

I ran away from the bus and hid until I found another less crowded one to take, eventually settling on this overpass as my only shelter since I know the Sadistic Woman would be lying in wait at Vivian’s house.

Sleep was always an afterthought and I’ve barely gotten any all night. Isabel hasn’t spoken since we left John, Ally has been whining about how bored she is, and even Rebecca, typically pragmatic, has been little help.

On top of that, the Guilty Man is still silent.

There are at least a dozen tiny bottles of alcohol surrounding me but they were no help. I’m still cold and the hole in my chest is larger than it was before. I’ve been thinking about Donavan all night, wishing I could go see him but holding back for fear that I’d just get him killed. I’d be thinking about my parents, too, if Gerard hadn’t ripped away all my memories of them.

_________________________

My phone buzzes. I’ve been dreading it all morning as I watched the world illuminate around me. Gerard is brutally consistent. Unwavering.

It takes me a minute before I bother looking. I’m surprised it’s even alive, but here it is, still kicking well beyond its expiration date, running on fumes but somehow still going just like its owner. Dammit. I just compared myself to a phone.

“Victoria, this is your friend. Sorry I’ve been out of touch, but I’d like to talk to you. Can you meet me somewhere today?”

An involuntary laugh escapes me. “My friend”? Gerard is cold as ice, I’ll give him that.. Up to this point, I’ve resisted responding to any of his messages, but I feel like this one deserves something in return.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”

I send it with a close-up of my middle finger. I’m salivating at the thought of the response. I do not have to wait long.

“Seriously, I’d like to meet up with you. Somewhere protected so Gerard’s goons don’t catch us.”

“And just who are you supposed to be?”

“Are you going to make me spell it out for you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“The Guilty Man. You call me that, right?”

For the first time, I really look at the number at the top of the screen. It’s the one he gave me before Ally died.

There’s no way anyone else would know you called him that, Isabel whispers softly in my ear.

The first grin in hours spreads on my face. Hey, you’re back.

I am. Thank you for what you did yesterday.

The grin disappears and I sink into the wall behind me. I’m so sorry about how it turned out.

Don’t be. I saw what I needed to see. She pauses, her voice wavering. Let’s get this over with.

Do you think this is really him?

I don’t care, Ally says, I just want to do something. Anything!

No one else knows you call him the Guilty Man, Rebecca says.

Unless they caught him and forced it out of him, I say, rereading the conversation.

Do you think they’d be worrying about you if they caught him? Rebecca says. It has to be him. There’s no way around it.

I type out my response, cryptically as possible.

“How do I know it’s you?”

The phone buzzes again almost immediately.

“You don’t. You just have to trust me. I want to talk to you. We can help each other out.”

“How can I possibly help you?”

“By joining us in our fight against Gerard.”

“I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“Meet me at the corner of 1st and Stewart in an hour. I’ll be in a gray, hooded sweatshirt, black jeans, about 5’10’’, blonde hair, green eyes.”

I spring to my feet, my neck and back sore from spending a whole night on the concrete, and start making my way down to the sidewalk. It’s cold and drizzling, but at least I’m still alone. I search in every direction once I’m at street level just to make sure.

_________________________

I’m at a half-walk, half-jog, still a block away from 1st. I can’t tell if I’m drenched in rain or covered in sweat, but either way I’m struggling. The last meal I ate was that small bowl of pho while waiting for John, which means it must be almost a day by now, and the frigid walk from my cold overpass was one big hill I forgot existed.

The phone is long-since dead, the last battery used to bring up Maps so I could memorize how to get to where I needed to go.

The street-corner is crowded even during the storm. It suddenly dawns on me that the corner of 1st and Stewart can be any of four different quadrants, and a gray hoodie with black jeans is more common than the Guilty Man maybe thinks it is. There are at least half a dozen men here who match that description, especially when you throw in the decidedly average height into it.

This guy better be here after letting us die and then abandoning us for days, Ally says. And he’d better be who he says he is. I’d almost forgotten she died in ‘his’ apartment. It must be hard for her to trust him after that. Truth be told, I’d still be apprehensive about him too if I weren’t at my wit’s end.

I make it across one street without finding what I’m looking for, and then across the other as well. At one point I looked up and locked eyes with a man in a gray hoodie, but they looked dead and vacant, nothing like the ones I’ve seen so many times before. Likewise, I caught up to another man in a gray sweatshirt just as we reached the curb, but he was shorter than I first thought and kept walking up the street without looking back. Other men here and there have fit the description, but I’m now kitty-corner from where I started with nothing to show for it other than a quickly tightening ball of apprehension in my stomach.

This is starting to feel like we’re being played, Ally says, and I feel uneasiness seeping into me from Rebecca and Isabel.

We’re next to the brick façade of an apartment complex, so I walk over and lean against it to give myself a place to think. I have no idea what time it is, and there’s an uncomfortable realization welling inside me: if we’re not being set up, it could simply be that he just left because I never showed up, shooting me texts that have been lost in the ether, feeling too exposed to stay out and risk being found waiting for the dead girl. Or maybe it was never him at all. Maybe, as Ally suggested, this is all some cruel trick by Gerard.

A body sidles up next to me as I’m staring at the pavement.

“Victoria.”

Gray hoodie pulled over his head. Black jeans. A few inches taller than I am. Friendly eyes. I can barely control myself, but I muster out a greeting as coolly as I can. “You came.”

“Yes, of course I did.” He scans the crowd as it passes, checking each face, smiling at those who look in his direction, but never looking at mine. “We need to talk.”

“Where? Here?”

“No.” He gestures his head across the street, the last quadrant of the intersection. “Room 508. Head up in fifteen.”

“Is that where you live?” I blurt out.

“Not out here, just go up.” He turns and jogs in the opposite direction, trying to catch up to the end of a crowd as they walk across the street. “I’ll be right back.”

I’m leaning against his door when he comes out of the elevator. He’s carrying his hoodie in one hand and a bag of takeout in the other that’s so heavy the veins in his forearm are nearly exploding. The aroma is intoxicating.

“Greek,” he says when he notices my slack-jaw excitement. “Best place in the city.”

I follow him inside, trying not to drool. The apartment is plain but hospitable: warm, furnished, little pieces of art here or there, a window that overlooks the street below while the rest of the view is obstructed by the buildings on the other side.

“Do you live here?” I say.

He flashes me a grin as he runs his hand through his sandy blonde hair. “Sort of. I have a half a dozen places around the city. I stay here occasionally, when I want to be left alone.”

“Why so many?”

“Flexibility.” He shrugs. “You never know what you’re going to need to do with Gerard.” He notices my revulsion at the name. “Don’t worry, he won’t find us here. He doesn’t know I have this place and I have the same proximity charms here as I did in the last place.”

Ally catches herself in a sigh. She probably doesn’t trust something like that after last time.

“Where did you go?” I ask. “They came back and killed me.”

He lowers his head, not hiding any of his guilt. “Yes, sorry. I knew they were coming, but I was too far away to do anything, and it was too late to help you. I won’t leave you here alone this time.”

“How do I use the charm?” I ask.

“It’s a little beyond you at this point, and you’d need your anchor to do it anyway.” He motions to the table. “Please, eat and then we can talk about how to get rid of Gerard.”

Be careful of ‘helpful’ men who say things are beyond you, Rebecca says.

I try to stay calm as I listen to her speak. I’d love to press the issue further, but the food is calling and my mouth is watering. The Guilty Man sits across the table and attempts small-talk, but I give him little-to-no response, only nods, single-word answers, and the sounds of ravenous chewing.

His laughter breaks my concentration. “Breathe. It’s not like I’m going to take it away.”

I flash a grin that can only be described as hummus-filled. “Do you have something to drink?”

“Yes, water, beer, juice?”

“Vodka.”

He brings a bottle to the table, pours a glass. “I bet you’d like a shower too?”

I grin and take a swig before refilling the glass. Vivian’s a mess and she could die at any moment, so cleanliness isn’t necessarily important, but now that I’m realizing the simple joy of eating I’m craving the simply joy of hot, running water as well.

“We can wait to talk about the plans,” he says, standing and walking to the bathroom. “I’ll go get you a towel.”

“No, we need to talk now. They’re after me. I can’t waste time showering.”

He laughs and shakes his head. “Trust me, Victoria, we’re safe here. If they get anywhere near this apartment, we’ll know and be able to run.”

When he turns the shower on it echoes so much in his tiny apartment that it’s all you can hear. I barely even taste the rest of the food before I run into the bathroom, strip off Vivian’s disgusting clothes, which I dread putting back on, and jump in.

Steamy paradise. The water rushes over me and can never be hot enough. Every second is better than the last. My hair, my skin, my face, even my mouth, I’m savoring every bit of it. It’s been so long. I can’t remember the last time I showered. Britney? Ally?

Memories flood back, not peaceful ones of my last shower, but the painful ones of just about everything that’s happened in between. The green jewel. The flash from the revolver. Jenny’s fall from the roof. Hayley’s fall from the plane. Isabel’s fall from the trees. The first time I died without falling was Yvonne’s overdose, which still wracks me with guilt. The bullet in Britney’s head. The bullet in Ally’s.

I must have blacked out, because the next thing I know I’m huddled in the corner of the shower in the fetal position, tears streaming down my face, openly sobbing. I make no attempt at hiding any of it, and it drags on for what feels like an eternity before the Guilty Man knocks on the door.

“I’m so sorry Victoria.” The pain in his voice reflects my own. “I never meant for any of this to happen.”

No response, just more moaning and sobs. I stay there until the water goes from hot to lukewarm. The air is clear by the time I rise, and the mirror noticeably un-steamy.

I exit the bathroom wrapped in nothing but a towel. He’s sitting on the couch reading a book, his eyes red with tears.

“Do you have a robe or something?” My voice chokes. “I don’t want to put those clothes back on.”

He jumps to his feet, throws me a green bathrobe, turns away as I put it on.

I’m still shivering when I sit down in the middle of his couch with what’s left of the bottle of vodka from the table. I’m barely holding myself together, but the pains in my stomach start dissipating almost as soon as I take a drink.

He’s sitting in the chair next to the couch, silently staring out the window on the opposite wall, when his phone vibrates in his pocket.

“What’s that about?” I ask.

He turns to me, his eyes no less red than before. “You’re not the only one who’s dead because of me.” He puts his phone on the coffee table in front of us.

Several minutes of near-silence pass before he finally speaks. “You know, he talks about you a lot lately. Just yesterday he was saying how surprised he was that you’d almost found our hideout.”

The word ‘almost’ is like a knife to the stomach. I’ve been ‘almost’ good enough for several lives now, but I still get killed at the end of each. “Good, because he’s just about all I can think about,” I mutter.

“You can help us take him down. We could use someone as capable as you.”

After what he did to Javier? What he did to me? To all the women inside me? Absolutely, but it seems implausible, too good to be true. “How? I have no control over where I’ll be at any given moment.”

“That’s fine.” He leans back, takes a drink of water, his hand shaking ever-so-slightly. “We just need you to keep doing what you’ve been doing and when the time comes you lead the hunters on a chase for as long as you possibly can.”

Memories of Isabel’s death and the resulting punishment flood back. “Lead them on a chase?”

“Yes, he’s so preoccupied by you that if you were to run again at the right time he’d let his guard down. Plus, he’d send both the Cruel Man and Sadistic Woman, as you call them, after you so he’d be even more exposed.”

You don’t even know this guy’s name and he wants to use you as bait? Ally questions.

I shift in my seat, thinking. “That’s a big ask. I’m barely holding on over here, and if I got caught that might be the end. I’d be just like Javier.”

The Guilty Man exhales, deflated, looking even more guilty than he already did. “I’m so sorry about what happened to your friend. I truly am.”

“I’m not quite there yet, but if I get tortured much more I will be,” I say after a pause. “Plus, I don’t even know your name. How can I trust you?”

“I still can’t tell you that, I’m afraid,” he says matter-of-factly.

Then I still can’t trust him, Ally moans, to which Rebecca grunts her agreement.

“How can you ask me to do something like this for you without even giving me your name?”

He shrugs. “I hired you to steal his anchor in the first place without giving you my name.”

I ponder it for a moment. He’s right, I’ve put myself on the line for much less in the past, and the payoff here would be enormous.

“Fine, I’ll help you.”

The relief on his face is evident. “We’re not quite ready, so it’ll probably be a few lives yet, but once we’re ready, we’re going to destroy him.”

“And just how do you do that?”

“Well, we have to steal his anchor first, and right now we don’t even know where it is.”

“And then what?”

“Once we have it, we break it and attack. He can make another if he knows his is broken, so we have to strike quickly.”

His phone buzzes. He grabs it and quickly responds. When he notices my concern, he smiles, says, “Please, Victoria, don’t worry about this. Like I said, you’re not the only one who is being tortured because of me.”

I force a deep breath. “How many others have you gotten killed?” It sounds more like interrogation than I had intended.

“Recently? A few.” He sinks into the couch, tilts his head back. “I’m trying to make it right. I want to help you.”

I want to help you. It’s been so long since I’ve heard something like that, it nearly brings me back to tears. “By setting me free?”

“Whatever you want.” He puts his hand on my knee to reassure me. “Once Gerard is dead, you’re free to live or die. You can disappear and live out your life as your host. You can choose to die a final time.” He pauses, looking at me intently. “Though I’ll admit I’d be sad to see someone as strong-willed as you let themselves die and drift away like they’re just a normal person.”

The thought is appalling. “There’s no way I could consciously do this to anyone else.”

“I understand. It’s better when you get to pick who you want and can control how the meshing goes.”

“Control the meshing?” I ask.

“Like I told you before,” he says, “if you’re good at this, you can control which parts to keep and which to throw away. You can even choose to jump into a host and leave them later completely unharmed. I do it all the time.”

Oh, fuck this guy, Rebecca nearly screams in my ear. So it’s better when you get to pick whose life you ruin and how much of them to keep?

And then if you leave them later it’s all fine? Isabel adds. You take their body without asking, use it for a few days, and then let it go? He’s way too comfortable with all this.

His phone buzzes again, and he leans forward to answer it while I listen to the women in my head. Despite the strange circumstances, it’s nice sitting here and talking to someone. It’s been so long since I’ve had anything near normal: a hot meal, a hot shower, a bathrobe, talking to a man while he texts someone whose name he won’t tell you. It’s… soothing, a word I never thought I’d get to use again.

“How come you took so long to get back to me?” I blurt out into the silence between us.

He looks away, trying to hide the guilt. “Because I’ve either been busy or not alone since the last time I saw you. The person I’m texting is asking the same thing. I can’t really be seen texting anyone when I’m supposedly with my whole Family.”

My eyebrows are raised. “Family? You keep referring to it as that.”

“We’re ‘Morta’s Children’, not ‘Morta’s Work Associates’,” he says, laughing.

“Who’s Morta?”

“Roman goddess of death.” He elaborates when he sees the blank look on my face. “According to the Extended Family, the first of us was born in the Roman Empire. She was their god of death and all the incantations for our magic are done in Latin.”

“The first person created all the magic you use?”

“Not all of it. Some, the more basic stuff like jumping from host to host. The rest was created over time by others.” He catches himself, the look on his face letting me know he thinks he may have said too much. “But look, none of that is important right now. What’s important is getting rid of Gerard.”

Hearing on his voice at Gerard’s name provides another piece of comfort: I’m not alone in my profound loathing of the man who killed me, and if all goes well I’ll soon be free of him forever.

“It seems lonely, being you,” I say. It catches him off-guard and he shoots me a sideways glance. “You’re so desperate you can’t trust anyone but me.”

“Take a look in the mirror,” he says with a laugh.

It feels crazy, the normalcy, the mundanity. We’re sitting here on the couch, talking like normal adults with a goal in mind and obstacles along the way, as though we’ve been at it for years. I know it’s only because I have nothing else and that I’m reeling from the sadness of only a few minutes ago, but right now, on this couch, joking with a—dare I say, friend?—I’m the happiest I’ve been since I can remember. It’s probably just the hope I feel, or maybe the alcohol in my stomach. I take a drink to celebrate.

“How long have you been with him?” I ask, sliding my legs underneath me, leaning forward.

“Let’s see,” he says, trailing off, “I was born in 1887 and died when I was in my late twenties, so it’s been about a hundred years by now. I was a boxer before I met him. A good one, too.”

Ally squeaks something unintelligible in my ear when he pauses. I don’t have time to ask her what she said before he starts up again.

“I wouldn’t throw a fight my manager promised I would,” he says, grinning. “They sent a hitman after me, who just by chance ended up being Gerard. You might not realize it at first, but it’s difficult to build any of your own wealth when you’re in a different body every day. Gerard had a deal with the mafia that he and his organization of hitmen, who were really just him and a few other Family members in different bodies, would do their dirty work for them in exchange for payments.”

“And that’s his deal with Deane Turner now,” I interrupt.

It makes him chuckle. “How do you know that?”

“It’s not like I’ve been idly sitting around this whole time,” I say. “I remember where I was killed, I did some research.”

“Now that you mention it, Gerard did say something like that recently.” There’s a wide grin on his face. “He was furious with the hunters after that.”

Hearing his laugh is soothing. “So, Gerard killed you, too, then?”

“Yeah, but I put up a fight, just like you,” he says, smiling, leaning back with his hands behind his head. “He was impressed and needed someone for his team.”

‘Put up a fight just like you’. From anyone else it could be a hollow compliment. From a man whose been reborn hundreds of times, it’s about the nicest thing he could have ever said. “And I’m guessing the alternative was death?”

“We’re all weak when it gets right down to it,” he says. “We can live our lives saying we don’t fear the end, but when the barrel’s in your face all you can think about is how much time you’ve wasted, how much more wanted to do.”

“Funny, I was thinking about how out of place you looked at the back of the room.”

He holds back a laugh. “They couldn’t stop talking about you afterward, laughing behind Gerard’s back about how you said he looked like he had a racoon on his face.”

I finish off what’s left of my glass of vodka, grinning from ear to ear. “I never could keep my mouth shut when I needed to.”

“He was so pissed,” he says, laughing. “It still eats at him what you said, getting insulted by someone who should have been cowering and begging for their life.”

He moves to the couch to refill my glass and pour one of his own. “I’ve never cowered from anything,” I say.

“I don’t know you all that well, but I can tell.” He puts his hand softly on my arm and then pulls it away. “That’s why I want you to help us. We need people like you.”

My skin is tingling where his hand briefly rested. I can’t remember the last time someone touched me so gently instead of throwing a fist.

“I’m all yours,” I say, my heart thumping. “Whatever you need.”

“How about what you need?” he says, gazing at me longingly as he gulps the rest of his glass.

I’m shivering again, but this time with anticipation. “I don’t know what I need,” I say, downing the rest of my drink to warm the parts of my chest not reached by the sudden warmth suddenly burning within me. “But I think I know what’ll help.”

I drop what’s left of my glass of vodka and lunge at him. When I lock my lips onto his own it’s like the rest of the world fades away. I know it’s dumb, short-sighted, not even my body, and I don’t even know his name. But this is the closest I’ve felt to anyone since I nearly ran over that man in the parking lot as Isabel, and I’m more desperate than I imagined.

Ally moans in disgust. He’s just using you, Victoria!

She’s right. It’s undeniable, but at this point, it doesn’t matter. I try my best to block her and Rebecca and Isabel out. They’d best do the same.

The Guilty Man doesn’t resist me, not in the slightest, his hands reaching into my robe and running up my bare skin. My body is tingling, and I can barely pull myself away long enough to rip his shirt off before we’re back together. I should stop but I don’t want to. I can’t. I won’t. You have to take any chance you can to feel good when you’re being killed for sport, no matter how fleeting it is.

I get the feeling halfway through that he may have to move, not because Gerard knows where we are but because his neighbors are going to demand he leave. That won’t stop us. For a night, least, things will be normal. And what normal adults do when they’re alone together is get it on like it’s their last day on Earth, because it very well could be.

_________________________

It’s well-past noon the next day by the time we’re done, the sky is uncharacteristically sunny after a gray and dreary morning. I’m hungry but, dare I say, content otherwise. It’s amazing what having a single person to talk to will do for you.

We’re walking up the street, going to a diner a few blocks from his apartment.

“So, Morta’s Children? What’s the point?” It’s a question I’ve been dying to ask and now seems as good a time as any.

He speaks matter-of-factly, doesn’t break his stride. “Gerard’s in exile, so his goal is different than the Extended Family’s. He’s actually trying to get back in their good graces after the Decemvirate exiled him again.”

“Exile? Again?”

“Long story,” he says, looking up and smiling at the surprisingly sunny sky, “but what it boils down to is that he’s too ruthless and doesn’t follow their orders.”

I feel anger bubbling out from Ally, but it’s Isabel who speaks. Too ruthless, she whispers. At least there’s a boundary somewhere.

“He was in exile when he found me, too,” he continues. “That’s actually why he needed the mafia and needs Deane Turner now. The Decemvirate has unlimited resources. When you get exiled you need to figure it all out on your own.”

“Well, it’s nice to know not everyone is as nuts as he is.”

The Guilty Man laughs heartily, dodges a woman who walks past us in the other direction. “Imagine being so out of control that you get kicked out of a Family that kills people for killing too many people.”

“That can’t be all they do, though.”

“No, actually the Family’s goal is benevolent, even if Gerard goes about it in an asinine way.” He cuts himself short as though considering what to tell me. “The Decemvirate determines how they do it, but in the end the goal of the Family is to help guide society by controlling key decisions that pop up all the time.”

Jeez, this guy is just giving everything away, huh? Ally grunts, half-laughing.

We pass a homeless man begging on the sidewalk. I look down at him, smiling but acknowledging that I’m unable to help, before turning back to the Guilty Man. “Political?”

“Yes, but Gerard never saw eye-to-eye with them on how to do it, which is why he was exiled. Both times.”

There’s a gentle wind to counter the warm sun on our backs. Our destination, the diner, is just around the corner. We missed out on breakfast and my mouth is watering thinking of the food I’m about to eat.

“How is he going to get back into the Family?” I ask, following the sidewalk as it bends right.

“His plan is to—” He stops short, his eyes transfixed on something just in front of us. “—Oh shit.”

I crash into a woman standing in our path. Her head snaps backward, her phone flying to the pavement. I just barely catch her as she’s falling.

My arms are wrapped around her. Her eyes are toxic, full of rage, widening as soon as they meet my own.

She shoves herself out of my grasp. “You!”

“Me? I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to run into you.” My voice trails off as she turns to the Guilty Man, her expression transitioning from anger to confusion.

“Albert?” she says, blinking her eyes, bewildered. “I didn’t know you were working on this now?”

Isabel gasps inside my head. Albert?

My face tingles with confusion and my heartrate nearly triples in only a few beats.

“Oh—yes, yes, he put me on it,” the Guilty Man stammers, stiffening, stepping away from me.

‘He put me on it’? Isabel says. That must mean—

This is the Sadistic Woman! Rebecca says.

Run, Victoria! Isabel screams, but in my utter horror and surprise my feet are like concrete.

“Well, at least you found her!” the woman says.

I’m staring at the two of them, slack-jaw, unable to move anything other than my neck and eyes. “What’s—”

“Yes. She was hard to track down,” he says with a cold glare. I can’t determine whether it’s for me or the Sadistic Woman. “No wonder you’re having so much trouble.”

He betrayed you! Isabel yells. Run!

The woman turns to me and then back to the Guilty Man. “Where are you taking her?”

He glances between us. I can see his mind spinning, much like my own. Suddenly, he grasps my arm just above the elbow, his fingers digging into my skin. “I caught her a few blocks away. Taking her to a less crowded location.”

“You’ve always cared too much about scarring the weak stomachs of the normies,” the Sadistic Woman says, laughing. “You should just do it right here.”

“No, no, we can’t do it here.” He starts pulling me up the sidewalk. I obediently follow, so stunned at what’s happening. “I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s day.”

She reaches across me, places a hand on his shoulder, looks him directly in the eyes. “Do it here, Albert. She’s squirrelly. She might escape if you don’t take it seriously.”

“I’m not you or Thomas,” he says with a forced grin I assume is meant to both ease my fears and ease the worries of the Sadistic Woman, but which seems to do neither. “She’s not going to get away from me.”

The woman laughs, brushes off what he said. “Yes, we all saw what you did to her lover, but she’s different. She demands a heavier touch.”

She looks at me, the smile widening. Her eyes have gone from toxic to murder. There’s a sinking feeling in my stomach as I realize what’s about to happen, how there’s no way of stopping it. She retrieves a gun from her waistband, hands it to the man she called Albert, the man who tortured Javier into insanity. “Here. I’d drag it out, but I know that’s not you.”

He takes the gun, studies it, turns it over in his hand, as though he’s considering what he can do. For a fleeting moment, I think he might turn it on her. Then, he turns to me instead. His eyes are guilty, just as they’ve always been. He takes a deep breath, backs two steps away before I can react.

The hammer strikes. There’s a spark, a hot shell casing floats harmlessly away. I don’t see any of that. Or hear it. Or even feel it. When they’re quick like this, the physical pain isn’t what gets you. It’s the mental pain, the emotional pain, the simple fact that you slept with the man who tortured your best friend until not even death was an escape.

Vivian Bates is dead.

Chapter 15 here.

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