I light the gas lamp in the one-roomed wooden cabin, and the yellow light flickers before glowing brightly. In front of me, a slender woman, tied to a chair, sits unconscious with her head hung to the side. Her long hair falls forward like a golden curtain. I stare at her for a long while as I think about my relationship with her. I’ve known her for well over a decade. Once upon a time I might have gone so far as to call her a friend, and I have very few people in my life I would consider friends. She was loyal—or, at least I thought she was—and she had an strong understanding of the kind of life me and my family live, because she’s lived a similar one. Perhaps I should feeling guilty that she’s about to take a bullet to the head, but I don’t. Not even a little. In fact, I hope it hurts. You fuck with my family, and you deserve all you get.
My cellphone rings, and I pull it out of the inside pocket of my black leather jacket.
Maxim. My cousin.
“I’m just pulling off the highway,” he says calmly. “I’ll be there in ten min—.” In the background, the sound of cars rushing by cuts off his words.
“We’ll be here,” I say.
Alexandra is a present for Maxim, wrapped in yellow braided ropes around her arms, legs and neck. Weeks ago, she tried to kill him, though half-heatedly. She also kidnapped his mother—my aunt—and his pregnant girlfriend, Luna. She would have killed them both eventually, after she’d tortured Maxim’s girlfriend first. Exes can be crazy, I suppose, especially when they were raised like us.
I walk to the kitchenette and grab a small bucket off the beat-up linoleum countertop. After filling the bucket nearly to the top, I approach Alexandra, and I throw the water at her face.
She wakes with a start, her eyes opening wide as her head spins around the room. Her eyes finally settle on me and then she scowls.
“Hello, sweetheart,” I say with a grin.
“Yuri,” she growls. She tries to flip her hair out of her face but it’s stuck to her skin.
Like a gentleman, I reach over and use one of my index fingers to push her hair aside, first around her left temple, and then her right. I don’t expect a thank you. She wouldn’t give me that. I grab a nearby chair and drag it over close to her. The hind legs scrape along the rough wood floorboards. The noise echoes through the space, and the floorboards vibrate underfoot.
“Where am I?” She asks. She jerks her arms and wrists as she tries to break free, but I’m good at knots. I’m good at a lot of things, though not a lot I’d admit to.
“I don’t think where you are is your biggest problem right now.”
I sit down on the chair now in front of her and lean forward to rest my elbows on my knees. She’s a pretty thing. That’s perhaps what makes her so dangerous. On the surface, she’s a blue-eyed blond with a full, round face and a body full of curves that any man would feel lucky to touch. I might have if she wasn’t such a head case.
Like the true fighter she is, she holds her head up high. She should be very afraid right now, but she’d never show it.
“How’d you find me?” she says, her voice a touch sour.
“You know me. I’m resourceful.”
“How?” She demands.
I’d been relentlessly searching for her since the night we found Maxim’s mother and girlfriend alive. She’s a wealthy woman. She could have hopped a plane or taken one of her father’s boat to the ends of the Earth to start over. She could have lived that way—the smarter way—but inherently, she’s an extreme breed of stubborn with a side of vengefulness. When she sets herself on a goal, there’s nothing that would make her change course. And her goal was to marry Maxim or to make him suffer for choosing someone else.
“You’re not the kind of woman to give up easily. I knew you’d be close by, waiting in the shadows, picking your moment to attack again.”
“Am I that predictable?”
“To me? Yeah. You forget how well I know you.”
“No,” she rattles her forearms against the arms of the chair, “I haven’t forgotten.”
“I did what I knew you’d do. I followed Luna. Every single day. Waiting for you to show up. Eventually, I saw you, followed you back to your place, and like you, I also waited for the right moment.”
“It only took you a month,” she says with a roll of her eyes.
“I’m a patient man.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Clearly, I am.”
“Did you kill them? My men?” She asks. Her gaze casts down to the floorboards.
I nod before leaning back in my seat. A burning sensation on my left side almost makes me wince. Though I managed to take one of her men out with a silencer, the other one moved faster. He stabbed me with a kitchen knife before I snapped his neck.
Once I’d killed them, I patiently waited for her to finish showering in her rented apartment. She never heard a thing. When she opened the bathroom door, still dressed in her robe, I pounced. She fought, but ultimately a little chloroform over her mouth knocked her out quickly.
“I knew Mark since I was four,” she says. Her tone changes. It’s softer. Quieter. She grew up with wealth and a criminal father so she’s had men who’ve protected her her whole life. Of course, they’d be still be with her when she went into hiding.
I shrug. I’m actually shocked to hear she cares about these men. Here I thought she might be a complete narcissist. In my experience, Alex doesn’t care for a whole lot of people. She can be colder than me, even colder than my uncle was, and I’m pretty sure my uncle was a sociopath.
A clap of thunder booms in the sky and a flash of light streaks outside through one of the two small windows. The rain outside picks up, pelleting the roof of the cabin.
Alexandra looks to the window before attempting to flick her hair away from her face again. It doesn’t move. She purses her lips and blows, but it stays exactly where it was.
“Why haven’t you killed me yet?” She asks.
“Not my party,” I say. I lean back in the chair and sigh.
I stare at her.
“He might want me dead, but he won’t kill me. Not himself. He doesn’t have it in him. No matter how mad he is right now. I thought that’s why you grabbed me instead of him. I thought it’d be you.”
“You underestimate him. Luna’s pregnant.”
Her eyes open wide. There is a flash of anger in her eyes, but it’s quickly replaced with sadness and deep furrow between her brows. Maxim’s girlfriend being pregnant ups the stakes a lot, and she knows it.
“He still won’t do it,” she whispers, not nearly as confident.
“You’ll always be a problem for him. For the rest of his life, he’ll be looking over his shoulder to make sure you aren’t there.” I shake my head. “You tried to take the most important person in the world from him, and whether or not he’s conflicted about any feelings he has for you, he’ll kill you. Because he has to. Because it’s you or them. Granted, he might feel bad later.” I think about that for a moment. “Much later.”
“He’ll never forgive himself. It’ll eat away at him. He doesn’t kill women, and he certainly wouldn’t kill me. We have too much history.”
“I wouldn’t bet your life on it.” I lift my ass up and stretch out so I can grab my smokes and my lighter out of my back pocket. My wound burns again, and I sit back down quickly. I’m trying to quit, but one won’t hurt me. After lighting it, I take a long drag with my eyes closed, savouring the taste and the calm it gives me.
“You gonna share?” Alexandra asks.
I open my eyes and consider it.
“For old times sake,” she adds.
I nod. I turn the cigarette around and allow her to take a few deep puffs before I take another one myself.
“He should have ended up with me,” Alexandra says. “We both know it.”
“You can’t honestly like her? Little Miss Ray of Sunshine.” She rolls her eyes.
“She’s growing on me.”
“Ugh.” She holds my eyes for a long moment before shaking her head. “She’ll change him. Eventually he won’t recognize himself, and he’ll hate himself—and her. Fuck. I should have just waited until he couldn’t stand being near her anymore. Until the boredom set in. Then he would have married me, like he was supposed to.”
I smile at her. “Careful. You sound bitter.”
“Bitter doesn’t begin to describe how I feel. I love him, Yuri. Down to my core. I would have done anything for him. I’d die for him, too. Beg you to kill me yourself if I have to. Because I’d rather you live with it, than him.”
“You think I’d care?” I ask her.
“I know you wouldn’t.”
“Stop talking, Alex. It’s all bullshit. We both know you don’t wanna die, and you don’t have it in you to beg.”
“You’re wrong. Maxim cared about it. He could have had me and inherited his father estate! He still chose her. He rejected me, just like Claire rejected you.”
I feel a tick in my jaw at the mention of Claire.
“I don’t want the last thing I experience in this world to be the man I love pointing a gun at me. Don’t you get that? I don’t want that millisecond of realization before my heart stops of him realizing he’s able to do it. Or worse, maybe he’s happy to.”
“Maybe you should have thought of that before.”
“You’re such an asshole. Such an unbelievable asshole.”
I take a long drag of my cigarette and slowly blow it out the corner of my mouth.
“I once suggested Claire give you a shot. She laughed at me. She couldn’t imagine being with you like that. Not even after she got knocked up at seventeen and the dad ran off.”
“It’s not going to work Alex, no matter how fucking hard you try.”
“It’s been eight years and you’re still pining for her. I don’t even think you’ve ever had a girlfriend, all because of her. You just don’t know when to quit.”
I curl and uncurl my fingers into a fist in my free hand as I glance around the room. She’s trying to piss me off, and it’s working. She’s hoping she’ll push just the right button so I won’t be able to help myself but to kill her.
There’s duct tape in here somewhere. I probably have some in my duffle bag.
I stand up and stuff out my cigarette in the metal sink and leave the butt there. Then I roam around the room looking for something to put over her mouth. Another piece of rope, a sock, a piece of fabric. There’s none in my bag. How the hell did I forget to replace that the last time I used it?
“There was no chase when it came to you. You were too easy. She wanted the chase. And boy did she get some. I know of at least eight guys she screwed before the guy who knocked her up.”
“I swear to God, Alex. Shut the fuck up.” I snatch an old rag off the floor by the small fridge and I stomp over to Alex.
“You’re right, Alex. Claire didn’t love me like I loved her. But the difference between us is, I accepted it. You didn’t.”
“If she wanted me, would I have taken her? Absolutely, but I also loved her enough to let her decide without manipulating her to get what I wanted. You and me aren’t the same. Don’t kid yourself.”
Her face twists up. “No, don’t. Please, Yuri. I’m sorry. Help me. Let me go. I’ll go away and stay gone this time. I won’t ever come back!”
“We both know you’re not going anywhere.”
Alex screams at me as I try to shove the cloth in her mouth. I hold the back of her head and she tries to bite my other hand, but I get in there, nice and deep. I hope she fucking chokes on it.
Another thunderclap echoes through the forest outside. Footsteps bound on the front porch and Alex’s eyes open wide in alarm. I pull my gun out from the holster under my arm, just in case.
Maxim says, “It’s me,” before opening the door.
“No, no, no,” Alexandra mumbles through the rag, tears springing to her blue eyes.
I lower my weapon as Maxim opens the door. He stands tall in the frame, but with his neck dipped forward slightly to fit underneath it as he takes a step inside. The gas lamp illuminating the edges of his body. His hair is slick against his face from the rain. His eyes blaze with anger as he focusses on Alex.
“Thank you,” he says to me. His voice is low and filled with ice.
I nod. Once upon a time he delivered the man who killed my Claire to me. He never stopped until he found him because I was so fucking overcome with pain that I couldn’t do it myself. When he did, he left me alone in this very room with that man. And I spent hours unleashing my anger on him. I promised I would give Maxim the same revenge, so here we are, me repaying one of the many debts I owe to this man.
“She’s all yours,” I say.
Alexandra moans and tries to say something through her gag. She stares directly at me, like somehow I might stay and help her avoid her fate. I thought maybe Maxim might lose his nerve and try to find a way to keep her alive. It’s clear to me now, that he might never have considered it. His hands flex and unflex at his sides, from what I assume is eagerness.
I start for the door. Alex manages to spit out her gag and she screams for me, “Yuri! It has to be you!Please!”
“You want me to stick around to help you clean up?” I ask him, ignoring Alex’s pleas.
“No. This mess is mine.”
I lay a hand on his shoulder when I pass him, and I close the door behind me after I leave. Alex begs for her life behind the door, but I don’t stick around to listen to it. Instead, I saunter to the overgrown path leading to my car. Her screams are muted by the rustling leaves and the rain.
Alexandra got to me. Just not in the way she’d think. She simply got into my head and reinforced feelings I’ve always had but never quite wanted to face.
Claire never would have chosen me. Yet I still love her. Years later I still want her and only her.
And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Another scream echoes in the night. It cuts through the wind and the rain. It’s guttural. Filled with an agony and pain that I’m not sure is more mental than physical.
I still as I feel it down to my bones.
But then, suddenly, the only noise I hear is the gentle splatter of rain on the ground and in the trees.