Authors: EJ McBride
'Save me the sob story', replied Clara, not looking up from the table, although sensing that this wasn't the point he was trying to make.
'She's also the daughter of Mikhail Lebedev, one of the Russian Mafia's most up-and-coming members.' He throws a bunch of files across the table landing right under Clara's line of vision. The photo taking pride of place at the top of the file is a surveillance shot of the very man who was trying to kill her some 30 minutes ago. 'We know he's murdered at least 6 people personally, and can't even begin to count how many executions he's had some kind of involvement with. He's well connected and good at what he does, which is why we can't bring him in for any of those 6 murders. A couple of our undercover guys tell us his nickname in the family is 'Pal'tsy', which roughly translated from Russian means fingers. We're told it's because this guy is somewhat fond of the hands when it comes to making people suffer. Old fashioned shit like thumbscrews, new-age stuff like razor blades under your finger nails, or even just grabbing a hammer and going to work until your hand looks like a packet of rotten sausages.' He tosses a few more black and whites showing what Clara believes are hands in various states of destruction, photographs taken from crime scenes. She winces and looks away, trying not to make her disgust too apparent.
'He knows who you are, and if he doesn't, the Bratva has enough cops on their payroll here to lead him right to you. He'll have your name, your address, the names of your friends and family within the hour'
He paused for a moment, and Clara glanced up, catching his eyes. At this point, she didn't even want to know what he was thinking, but figured it wouldn't hurt to see if there was anything she could say or do to improve her situation. This guy looked serious, and while Clara knew there was no amount of flirting or 'puppy dog eyes' that would make a difference, anything was worth a shot at this stage. She stared deep into the guy's eyes, holding his gaze for a moment. Her icy-cold expression, her 'you can't scare me' bravado, shattered in a split-second, a look of horror replacing her previous look of utter defiance. '
I know you're reading what I'm thinking
', was what she saw, as the man stared calmly back into her eyes.
Trust me Clara, you're only seeing this because I'm letting you.
Then, nothing. Blank. For the first time in as long as she could remember, Clara was trying desperately to read someone, but seeing nothing. She'd learnt over the years how to 'switch off' certain people, allowing her to focus her mind a little from the external noise of everyday life, but that was different, that was because she chose not to read them, she was in control. This was the first time she'd ever been unable to read someone despite trying, and the guy appeared to put her in that situation completely effortlessly. Clara gasped, broke away from the impromptu staring competition she'd started, and looked down at the floor beside her, her heart racing, her breathing visibly more laboured.
'You want to know how I blocked you out don't you?', the man asked.
'I don't know what you're talking about', replied Clara.
'Sure you do. You know exactly what I'm talking about. You've spent years of your life racing around the city dipping in and out of people's thoughts at random, like your own personal fucking playground. You don't ask for permission, you don't respect people's innermost secrets, desires and wishes. You just break in, take what you need and exploit it. You're the worst kind of criminal. You're a step down from the guys who rob old ladies.'
Clara took a breath, before tilting her head to look into the man's eyes again. Caught on a good day, that kind of tough-talk would have elicited some kind of smart-arse response, but today she was more interested in working out what had just happened, still unable to see anything.
'You quite finished?', she asked, her voice shaken, desperately trying to claw back a shred of arrogance.
'No. You have an ability. And at some point in your pathetic life you chose what to do with that ability. I'm not going to lecture you about all the good you could have done with it, those days are long behind you now. But your days of making everyone around you vulnerable, your days of exploiting people are done.'
He paused, waiting to see if Clara would look back at him, before flicking back through his paperwork, finally tussling all of the papers into a folder and placing it gently on the table in front of him, interlocking his hands and resting them in his lap.
'You're not walking out of here free. Not this time. You have two options, and I'm not going to bullshit you, these are your choices. Right now, you can choose the one you prefer, but if you fuck me about, I'll take the decision out of your hands. Number one, you face the judge for what you did today, along with your previous rap-sheet.'
He tapped his right-index finger on the pile of paperwork in front of him. Clara, still unable to read his thoughts, looked at the file and saw her name at the top. She knew there was a chance that he was bluffing, that the file could be full of the proverbial hot air, but she also knew that if the file contained even a tenth of the crimes she'd committed, she was in trouble, and this guy had so far proven himself to be pretty accurate and honest.
'With a lenient judge you're looking at 10 to 15 years inside. I will personally ensure that you don't get a lenient judge. Lebedev is part of a brotherhood with countless thugs and goons in jail, many of whom are never going to see the light of day and live every moment for the chance to destroy whiny little bitches like you.'
Clara shuffled in her chair, clearly uncomfortable by what he was saying, but doing her best not to look up.
'Or option two. You come and work for me. We'll offer you protection from the Russians, and your criminal record gets wiped. You start from scratch. Maybe even redeem yourself a little for all the shit you've done.'
He stopped talking, leaning casually back for a moment, eyes fixated on her. 'You have thirty seconds to decide.'
Clara looked at him, her expression a mix of fear and anger, a couple of tears dropping delicately down her face, her voice broken.
'You want me to agree to work for you, and you want a decision in the next thirty seconds?' She waited for the man to respond, but he ignored her question, his eyes still fixated on her. 'What's the job?', she quizzed.
'You'll find out later, after you've said yes', he replied.
Clara let out a halfhearted laugh. 'Later? Fuck you. This is bullshit.'
'As you wish', the man responded, lifting to his feet, turning and walking to the door, banging a couple of times. 'Guards, we're done here', he shouted.
'Wait!', Clara yelled, visibly angrier. 'I just want to know what the fucking job is going to be. You expect me to sign my life away in thirty seconds with no explanation about what I'm going to do?'
'That's the offer', replied the man.
'Your offer, is bullshit!', screeched Clara in response. The door opened, and two Police officers walked in, moving straight past the man and toward Clara. One grabbed her shoulder, hoisting her up out of her chair, while the other grabbed her hands, and began to march her out of the room. She looked across at the suited man, who was standing by the door she was about to exit through, and took one last glance into his eyes.
You'll die in jail Clara and you know it
', was the thought she read.
'Wait!', yelled Clara, the guards pausing for a second and looking back at the man.
'I'll take her from here, thank you gentlemen', he replied.
The plane journey hadn't taken long, maybe an hour or so, and from her surroundings Clara figured she was still in the USA, although her new colleagues were less than cooperative when the subject of whereabouts was brought up. Certainly, she knew she'd not needed a passport, which was handy as she didn't have a passport, although she'd also noted that the guys she was travelling with knew enough about her to not really need one, plus the travel method hadn't exactly been the '
did you pack your bags yourself
' type. The last 24 hours had been a blur, so much so that she wasn't even sure which day it was anymore. She'd been taken directly from the Police station by undercover armed escort to her home and given a tiny suitcase in which she was told to pack enough clothes to last a couple of days, on a strict 3 minute time-limit, and everything else would be provided for her at a later date. She was told that any sentimental items that could fit in the case could come, everything else would have to be left behind. It was kind of like the Witness Protection Program, only sped up and with zero compassion on offer. She was then taken to a helipad somewhere in the city, which took her to a private airstrip, and on-board a private jet, landing a couple of hours later.
She stepped off of the plane and was told to get into an unmarked car. She'd noticed throughout the entire process that in real life, these government agencies, as she assumed they were, didn't actually race around in tinted out, all-black SUVs like they do in the movies, because nothing attracts more attention. Their vehicles of choice are often bland and nondescript, designed specifically to blend in with every day life, and the car she was being transported in was about as bland as it came, a dull grey Ford, bottom of the luxury pile. She hunched into the middle of the backseat, a plain-clothed agent flanking her on each side, squashing her into the vehicle. She knew she wasn't exactly the president, but she felt as though they could have made a bit of effort.
Clara didn't know either of the burly agents sat on either side of her, nor did she know the guy who was driving, but she recognised the man in the passenger seat from the police station earlier on.
'Where are we going?', she asked. The man didn't respond, continuing his stare straight ahead out of the windscreen for a good ten seconds or so, before tilting his head back and making eye contact with Clara, his thoughts still strictly off-limits to her.
'You and I will talk when we get there', he said. 'Don't panic, there's nothing to worry about. Just relax, try and enjoy the journey.'
He turned back to his previous pose.
'I'd ask you if you fancied a game of eye-spy, but we both know you'd win', he said. Clara grinned for a moment, then after catching his eye in the rear-view mirror, wiped the smile from her face and remained quiet for the rest of the journey.
It was late by the time they arrived at the huge, sprawling home somewhere up in the hillside. Whoever it was she was about to start working for, they had money, or at the very least they had friends in high places that they could call in favours from. From the outside, it just looked like a nice house, nothing too grand about it. A paved driveway with LED lights all the way along led to a four-car garage that automatically opened as they approached, allowing the car to pull in. Clara and the others exited the car, she grabbed her bag and looked around at the interior. It was minimalist, grey and almost surgical in it's look. It was missing character, missing the kind of objects that give you some clue as to the people who live inside, luxurious but purely functional on the most basic of levels. The place gave the impression that this wasn't a family home, it didn't have the telltale signs of everyday life that come with homes that are really being lived in. This was the kind of place that people moved into for a short period then moved on. An agent held open a door leading into the house itself, and beckoned Clara to go through.
The house was made up of multiple levels, cleverly intertwined with walkways and balconies, creating clearly sectioned off areas of the home whilst being open-plan enough that you could stand in the middle and see almost all of the building from one spot. Wooden floors covered every area of ground, and the main living area boasted high arching ceilings, an enormous fireplace and views out on to a quiet valley. The kitchen was modern, stainless steel and granite all over, various kitchen appliances in mint condition. The house boasted a small library, a home-theatre on the bottom floor and even a gym. It was pretty spectacular, especially if you came from the kind of world that Clara came from. She glanced out of the double-doors and noted that as far as she could see, this was the only house around for miles. Wherever they were, they were pretty much on their own. She dropped her bag on one of the large leather couches and began to examine some of the various artefacts and ornaments, mainly Far East and Asian, that were positioned around the house. The agent she'd been speaking with at the police station approached her, tapping her on the shoulder and gesturing up the large wooden stairs to the next floor up, Clara squinting slightly to try and better understand his thick Scottish accent.
'Up there, third door on the right. That's you. You've got an en-suite and a balcony if you want some air. We'll eat in one hour, go get yourself cleaned up.'
Clara paused. 'When do I find out what this is all about?', she quizzed.
'I'll tell you everything you need to know over dinner', he replied, picking her bag up off of the couch and handing it to her. Clara snatched the satchel out of his hand and headed up off the stairs, before turning back to face him.
'So I'm like a prisoner here then?', she asked.
'Nope, not in the slightest. Free to go whenever you like.'
Clara gestured at the front door of the house.
'What's to stop me walking out of that door right now?'
'The next house is about 45km due South. No roads, no people until that point. The only other civilisation around here is the people you're sharing this house with. There are no phones in the building, other than the ones that me and my guys have, and you'll have to kill us before we let you make a phone call that we don't have absolute control over.'