Authors: Drew Sinclair
"I don't need my 'geek glasses' to see that. What I saw today and what I'm looking at right now is a hot, beautiful girl, smart as hell and all wrapped up in herself, shutting out the world in every way she can, even to the extent of using illegal technology to encrypt, cloak and hide all of her life away."
Her heart was pounding again while Clayton looked incredibly calm, as though he knew exactly what he was doing. He was back in control again.
"I also saw someone I couldn't walk away from." He continued. "I've been waiting my whole life to meet someone like you--"
"Stop." Katy said. "I want to change my question. I'm sorry I asked you that."
"It's okay, I want to answer."
"I don't want to hear it."
"Then that's my next question. Why don't you want to? Why are you so God damn hell bent on shutting the world out Katy? What happened to you that I don't know about yet? What is it my people didn’t find out about you?"
Katy prayed for him to stop. Another word and she would be torn in two. One minute he was making her come the next minute he was making her cry.
"What is it Katy?" He repeated softly. "What is it that you think you still can't tell me?"
The silence between them as he waited for her response rippled with intense emotion.
At last she whispered. "So much Clay, there's so, so much I just can't tell you."
He reached out and brushed her cheek lightly with his hand.
tell me." he said. "I already know more about you than anyone else you've met in the last four years, right? And the sky hasn't fallen down, you're still here, still safe, still with me."
She nodded her head. It was true. He had achieved in one afternoon what no-one else in the last four years had succeeded in even coming close to doing. He was truly unique in her world, but did she dare to go deeper down this particular rabbit hole or not? After all, he was a mystery to her as well.
"If you can't elaborate then just answer yes or no, okay? If yes or no is too much then just shake your head when I'm off the mark. Can you do that?"
She nodded, slowly, every question left her more naked and alone than the last. She wasn't sure how much more she could bear.
"You entered the Witness Security Program for a very specific reason. Nadia Komerov was a very brave woman but even brave women have weaknesses and yours was your family."
Katy trembled while he watched, carefully gauging her reactions to his words.
"Although it was covered up you lost something. You lost a lot. The witness protection program didn't come soon enough to save your family."
Tears filled Katy's huge green eyes at the thought. He was stripping her soul bare and she didn't even need to say a word.
"Was it a friend? Your boyfriend?"
She shook her head.
"A family member?"
It was too much. The trembling of her limbs had become a constant shudder and now Clayton drew her in, enclosing her in his huge strong arms, rocking her from side to side. Since her mother had disappeared no-one had taken her into their arms like that. She had refused all comfort. The disappearance of her mother after she had agreed to testify had made her even more determined to see the case through.
"It's okay." He said. "I won’t let anything happen to you. But you have to tell me the truth about everything, absolutely everything if I'm going to help you."
She shook in his arms, torn between her need to confide in someone, her need to trust another living, present human being and her desperately ingrained need for secrecy.
She pushed him away again and rubbed her eyes clean of tears.
"You can't help me." She said. "Not even you can help me. It's too big."
"Just try me." He said softly, watching her intently. She was still shaking, still wondering if she could tell him the truth or not without hurting him. Her enemies were too many, too strong and he was just a business tycoon, albeit beyond wealthy and hands down the hottest one she had ever seen.
"It's not the mafia you're running from, is it?" He said. Her silence was all the answer he needed.
"You were too smart for them, too smart for Uncle Sam to just let you go live your life quietly somewhere in Idaho or Montana or wherever they wanted to leave you. The government wanted you to work for them. To spy for them."
She didn't move a muscle. If she didn't say a word it then it wouldn’t be her fault what the consequences were, but God she so didn’t want him to be hurt because of this.
"You had had enough of being controlled and manipulated and so you ran from them as well, the people who were supposed to protect you. The NSA must have been dying to get their hands on you, but instead of using your intelligence to help the US government spy on the whole world you decided you were going to help paying citizens avoid being spied on. And you've been extremely successful in what you've done."
He was close, so very close, but did he know everything? Absolutely everything about what they said she had done?
She waited but he didn't say anything else.
"Like I told you." She said. "I'm the best there is."
He watched her with those eyes, those damn eyes looking into her soul.
"The best there is, but maybe one of the loneliest too."
They held each others' gaze, watching, waiting.
"You have no idea." She whispered.
Clayton felt more intensely alive right now than he had in years. He was getting close, but there was something more, he was sure of it, something she was still holding back.
She's the one.
This has to be the one.
He was no romantic and no believer in happy endings, but still this girl was the closest thing to perfection he had ever seen.
He moved closer beside her and against her weak resistance gathered her into his arms again.
"I just want to see her one more time." She whispered. "I don’t even know if she's alive or dead."
When Katy woke up it took her several seconds to realize where she was and that old fear ran through. The same thing always happened when she woke up in an unfamiliar bedroom and didn’t recognize her surroundings. 'Is it another blackout? Has it happened again?'
The room was still dark but dawn was breaking on the ocean through her bedroom window and slowly filing her room with the first light of day.
No. Images were coming back. There was no loss of time or of events. Her last memory was of being held by Clayton Hargrave and she had fallen asleep in his arms.
She pushed herself upright in bed and scanned the room. She was still in his home. She looked beside her. There was no-one. She must have fallen asleep in his arms and then he had put her to bed. She was still wearing her dress from the night before.
A massive hand covered her mouth and she began to struggle.
"Don’t say a fucking word. Don't fucking move."
She froze, recognizing the voice instantly. It was Angel.
"I'm not going to hurt you, I just want you to shut up. Got it?"
She nodded her head and he released her.
"You did good Katy. I've never seen him so happy. Now get your shit together so we can get out of here."
"He won’t be happy--"
"Shut up." He hissed. "Get your shit together. Don’t make me say it again." He pointed to a small bag he had for her but she shook her head. All she needed was her phone, cards, her bag. It was all she had left. That and the one hundred thousand dollars in the back of her car.
"This way." he said. The walk through the silent house was as hard as anything she had ever done. It would be another permanent goodbye to someone who she… who she what? She had met Clayton Hargrave less then twenty-four hours ago, what could she possibly feel about him. She stopped in the middle of the living area and looked back to the hallway that led to the bedrooms. He was asleep in there somewhere. Was he really finished with her? Was Angel right? She felt his huge hand push against her.
"Keep going." He hissed, but she didn’t move yet. She glared back at the hulking figure in the morning half light and stared defiantly.
"You're making a mistake Angel." She whispered to him.
"Ain't no mistake Katy. Keep moving."
He went to push her but she shoved his hand away.
"He's not finished with me. I know it."
Angel looked at her. Gauging the situation. He had considered just chloroforming her or injecting her with a sedative while she slept but the CCTV footage showing him carrying her unconscious to his car would have been hard to explain. He needed her to walk out of that house on her own two feet, without a struggle, and to all intents and purposes of her own free will.
"You want him dragged into all this shit with you? Is that it? You want him to save you from the mess you made of your life?"
Her defiance faltered. It was true. Whatever she felt for him was outweighed by her need to be protected. She had always looked after herself and his desire to protect her was just foolish male pride. He would never be able to hide her and the mob or the government would bring him down as well.
But what if she were to protect him? If she worked for him she could cover her own tracks. No-one would ever know. She could stay with him, contribute her expertise to his business and his technology. She had hidden herself from the Mafia and from the NSA without any help for nearly three years. With the resources of the Clayton Robotics corporation she could hide forever and be with the one man she had ever met who could… God damn it, the one man who could…
"You want to know what happened to Louise?"
Katy's mouth dropped open. That was her mother's name.
"Keep going." Angel shoved her again and this time she complied without a word.
Clayton woke early with a knot of inexplicable anxiety twisting his stomach. The last twenty-four hours had been bizarre, even by his standards. He considered going to Katy's room to check on her but changed his mind and set to preparing breakfast instead. She hadn't eaten much the day before and had been under enormous emotional stress. He was sure she could use the extra rest and the food when she finally came to. He went down to his personal gym at ground level and got on the treadmill to begin warming up. What he saw outside stopped him dead in his tracks.
Angel's parking spot was empty.
He threw his headphones to the ground and sprinted back upstairs to Katy's room.
The door was open.
He bit down hard, the muscles in his jaw tensing as he approached, knowing already what he would find, but hoping against hope.
The covers were thrown back on the bed. Her bag, the one possession she had arrived with, was gone from the bedside table where he had placed it the night before.
He walked over to the bed and sat down, staring at the light dent in the pillow from her sleeping form.
He took a deep breath and then lay back down across the bed, his eyes shut tightly shut.
After several seconds he released a long, slow howl of anger and regret.
Angel hadn't said a word since he had gotten into his car with Katy and they had been driving for a full hour already. She had been in shock since he had spoken her mother's name and her mind was still racing a thousand miles a minute trying to figure out what his connection could be, what he might know. He had made it clear he wasn't interested in conversation and as they travelled further south on back roads it became clear that he had no intention of volunteering any more information to her than he already had.
After a long interval of staring out the passenger window she finally figured she knew what was really going on.
"You're not going to drop me off anywhere I want to be, isn’t that right Angel."
He didn't answer.
"In fact, you don’t care about your boss or so-called friend at all."
He still didn’t answer her.
"I bet you don’t even answer to him, isn’t that right?"
"Shut up Katy." He shouted so violently at her that she jumped in the seat, but she wouldn't be cowed. If this was her last journey then she would speak while she could and wouldn't go down without a fight.
"You know you're completely fucked, don’t you?" She said.
"Last warning Katy. Next word and you're in the trunk."
"You can do whatever you want to me Angel. Put me in the trunk or put a bullet in my head and bury me by the side of the road. It won't stop them tracking you down and locking you up for the rest of your natural life."
Angel threw his head back and laughed.
"You really do want to ride in that trunk, don’t you?"
"Not really. In fact, I'd much prefer it if we could come to some arrangement that would benefit both of us."
"I've already got an arrangement, but the only benefit will be to me. Don't break a sweat though because I'm not gonna hurt you. Not unless I have to."
"So who are you selling me to? Because that's it, isn’t it? You tell Clayton I walked out of his life, asking you to go to the grave with the secret of where you left me, but in reality you just hand me over to the highest bidder."
Angel nodded his head and smiled.
"It took you a whole hour to figure that out? You may be good with machines honey, but kidnapping and crime is not your thing."
Katy took a deep breath.
"It's the Mafia, right? My old employer? Well at least you could tell me how they found you."
Angel smiled but didn’t answer.
"Oh, of course.
. How silly of me. Clayton hasn't done enough for you over the years, in fact he has demeaned you by hiring you as his top goon; all muscle and no brains and now this is payback time. He told you all about me, confided in you as a friend and you saw your opportunity. Nice."
"You can talk all you want Katy. Won’t change a thing. We'll soon be there and you can tell Mikhail and his boys all about it. Maybe they'll give a damn about your bullshit."
"Honestly Angel? When I first met you I knew you had the strength of a gorilla and I thought you had the intelligence of one as well. Now I see how wrong I was because even a great ape wouldn’t be dumb enough to try and get away with a stunt like this."
"You are beginning to annoy me now Katy. Trust me, the trunk fits two people comfortably. I know from experience. I'm going to pull over now."
"Aren’t you curious to find out why what you're doing is so incredibly stupid?"
He sighed loudly, but the truth was, he had to hear what she was going to say.
"Go on then. Shoot. I'm all ears. What is this great mistake I've made? Because the way I see it, you don’t exist. When I hand you over you disappear forever and no-one is going to come looking for you. No cops, no missing persons bureau, no relatives. You've taken care of all that a long time ago by being the invisible girl. Clay will think you walked out on him because of all that creepy shit he does with chicks he likes and he won't think twice about you once he starts hunting down the next sucker to land in that screwy bedroom scenario of his. So tell me genius, MIT grad, what am I missing?"
"Mikhail wants me dead. Or maybe he wants me alive for a little longer. Who knows? He also wants no witnesses, no paper trail, no nothing. Hell, I'll probably live longer than you will."
"I thought you said I would be locked up, now I'm going to get whacked?" He pulled the car over. "You can make your mind up in the trunk."
"I told Clayton last night that I would never leave him."
"You didn't. I was listening. Now I'm serious. Get in the trunk. Just in case these guys don't kill you, I don’t need you knowing where any of this shit went down."
"Are you serious?" The bluffs hadn't worked.
"It's not as bad as you think. Now come on, don’t make me have to force you."
The trunk closed with a clunk and to Katy it sounded like the end of everything. Things had come full circle. Soon she would be looking at Mikhail Boyevik again, the man she had tried but failed to put behind bars, but who's billion dollar company she had ruined. At least it would put an end to her running and at least no-one else would be hurt because of her.
It was crazy to think Clayton could protect her. After all, she had no idea when or if those black outs would return and what she would do if they did.
Her one regret, never having taken the time to track down her natural father. If she made it out of this alive she would do it. She would use everything that she had learned about running and hiding to track down the man whose ghost haunted her childhood memories.
Tears welled up in her eyes, but she choked them back. That man, whoever he was and wherever he was might be the only living relative she still had.
She couldn't give up. Not yet. Not until she had found him.
She felt around in the dark, trying to find tools for a spare tire change. As soon as Angel popped the trunk she would lash out and knock him unconscious. She visualized it in her mind but soon abandoned the plan. The guy was huge and he was a trained body guard. Plus he would be with Mikhail's men the next time he opened the trunk so even if she did manage to somehow take him out she would hardly be able to fight off whoever else was there with him.
Her hands stopped at something that felt familiar. It had to be her getaway bag. Angel must have put it into his car when he had picked her up in the woods or maybe later when her car had been collected by Clayton's staff. How it got there didn’t matter; the important thing was that there were one hundred thousand dollars in there and obviously he hadn't brought it along for her benefit.
She had locked the hard surface suitcase and would need to put in her combination to get it open. In the pitch black of the trunk, bouncing around on the back roads she might as well have had no idea what it was. She would have to get out the tools from underneath her and see if she could pry it open. In the darkness it seemed to take forever but eventually she found something sharp enough to wedge in underneath the locks and pop them open.
She found the small bag of money inside ordered together in neat stacks of one hundred dollar bills. That would make one thousand notes in all.
It would have to be enough.
She set to work right away - this shindig wasn't over yet.
The emptiness that Clayton felt was unlike anything he could recall. Normally he was unshakeable but something wasn't adding up. The woman he had comforted and put to bed the night before had been ready to open up to him completely, so why would she change her mind and run? He considered calling Angel but that wasn't part of the protocol. If a woman said she wanted to leave then she had every right to go without any interference from him or from anybody else. No meant no on both sides and he had promised her there would be no questions asked.
But Katy was different.
She was in real trouble, unlike anything he had come across before; she might have made a decision without thinking it through completely.
He checked his watch. Angel had been gone a long time. He went to the living area and clicked his fingers to make a huge, curved screen TV rise up from the flooring and then lay down on the sofa holding his customized, secure Blackphone. There was zero tolerance for security breaches at Hargrave Robotics so essential elements of the phone had been designed and manufactured in-house. The feature he considered accessing now was one he had created himself but he had never used it live before and he now he hesitated. Ethically there was no question; it was absolutely wrong. He had promised to let her go this was a breach of that agreement.
There was also the possibility that it could compromise Katy's, or more accurately, Nadia Komerov's anonymity.
He swiped the screen on his phone and activated the tracking software. She needed his protection. If he didn’t do this the consequences for her could be far worse than.
For several seconds there was nothing on screen.
"Shit." He hissed. Maybe Katy had been clever enough to find the device.
"Impossible." He whispered to himself. "It's undetectable, untraceable." It wasn't a question of intelligence or not, she would have no idea the device was even on her.
As the pathway started mapping out on the screen of his phone he breathed a sigh of relief and then frowned in confusion as he examined the route they had taken. It was an erratic line, heading south and clearly following only back roads. Then abruptly they had veered off towards the highway and began making a beeline towards New York City.
He closed down the app and picked up the phone next the bed. Dialing zero put him in contact with his property manager.
"Get the chopper ready. I'm flying today."
Angel rapped heavily on the trunk.
"No funny business Katy. I'm gonna open up now so I need you on your best behavior. Knock once if you understand."
There was a dull thud from the inside and then as the lid lifted Katy peered out, momentarily blinded by the high midday sun until her eyes could adapt.
She climbed out and looked around to get her bearings. She was in the middle of a forest on a small dead end road. There was a shack nearby.
"Walk." Angel said, pushing her in the back with the muzzle of his gun.
"Where are we going?"
The one hundred yard walk to the small building was the longest of her life. Stark reality was beginning to hit home.
This would be it.
The game was over and justice hadn't been done. She would never see her mother again and never know what had happened to her. She would never find know who her father was. Never get to say goodbye to him, just as she had never said goodbye to her mom.
In her darker moments she had often pictured this scenario in her mind and wondered why people walked meekly to their doom. Why didn't run? Just make a last ditch break to get away?
Now she knew why.
If she ran then Angel would surely catch her, probably beat her, maybe even kill her. If she walked then at least she was guaranteed a few more seconds of life, maybe even find something unexpected to fight back with. Walking was the only smart thing to do, whatever the outcome.
They reached the warped wooden door of the shack and she stopped, looking surreptitiously from side to side, but there was nothing. No object within reach to be turned into a weapon.
"Open the door and go inside Katy." Angel said with another shove.
She put her trembling hand to the door and pulled it slowly inwards. There was a sound of soft, regular grunting from insides - it was sickeningly familiar. As her eyes re-adapted to the shadows she made out the figure of a man, prone, in the push-up position, slowly counting out his reps.