We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity as I began to understand what he was telling me with his eyes. I nodded once before turning to leave and shutting the door. I didn’t feel the massive slump of shoulders or the rhythmic beat of my heart as it slowed or the fucking emotion foreign to me but quickly becoming familiar—Regret.
My cousin. My brother. Hated me.
* * *
I drove around aimlessly until Mario called saying he wanted to meet. I wasn’t in the mood for his shit. He had been after me to work for him for a long time, and the answer was always the same.
I wouldn’t work for anyone.
It wasn’t until I found myself in deeper shit that I started to consider his proposition. It had been years since I had been on that side of the law, and even then, I was just a kid.
I pulled into the hotel where he pretended to be holed up and parked. I didn’t immediately get out. Instead, I checked my surroundings, looking for any unfriendly or unwanted faces. My slime of a father managed to evade my eyes and ears, and there were even a few out there watching and listening for me. Eventually, I would have to stop playing hide and seek with my past. It wouldn’t wait forever.
Once inside the hotel, I surveyed the lobby and surrounding areas again before moving toward the elevator. I made my way down the hallway when the elevator stopped on his floor. The door opened before I could knock, and he ushered me in.
The room was barren and empty of luggage or anything indicating the space was inhabited. Mario was extremely cautious and distrusting, so he wouldn’t let anyone, including me, know where he laid his head.
“What was so important?”
“There is something you need to see.”
When he pulled out his phone, I quickly became annoyed.
“And it wasn’t something you could have sent to me by email? Text? Fucking Facebook?”
I knew my anger was unnecessary, but I was in a shitty spot. Everyone was a target.
I needed Lake.
I had to remind myself I wasn’t using her that way anymore. She became something more precious than my personal punching bag over the last few months and fuck me if I knew how.
“Trust me. This isn’t something you want to be caught with.”
He tossed the phone to me and I caught it in mid-air. I looked down at the phone and saw what looked like a video before raising my eyes to meet his and hold them.
After moments of silent communication, I tapped the triangle symbol and the video began to play. The quality of it was good so I could see everything clearly. A bed with red satin sheets came on the screen, and a young girl, who looked around nine or ten, appeared, blindfolded with her hands restrained.
A lump began to form in my throat as I gripped the phone in my hand. I wanted to break it.
I knew what this was, what he was trying to show me. It was déjà vu all over again, except this time, it wasn’t Lily and me. It was some unknown victim and a grown ass man on the screen.
Before Mario could react, his phone flew through the room at the nearest wall and shattered to pieces before falling, much like the girl in the video might have done after being—
I could form only one complete thought.
Somebody needed to die.
Mario remained silent against his perch on the wall as if the phone hadn’t just crashed just two inches from his head.
“Why did you show me that?” I barked, finally finding my voice.
“So you could wake the fuck up, man.”
“You don’t think I’m awake?”
The base of my voice rose to a deafening roar. So many emotions and none of them wanted. The same emotions many thought were nonexistence. I was to blame for it. The last thing the world needed was someone like me being led by feelings.
“Not if you can continue to sit by and let this happen to hundreds, no, thousands more kids. How many do you think it’s been since you, huh? You think it stopped when you left? It sure as hell didn’t stop after you had to kill the little girl.”
His throat was in my hands as I pinned him to the wall before I could think twice about it.
I needed to hurt someone. To lash out.
I needed Lake.
I needed to make her feel my sick obsession with her. Mario had at least forty pounds on my hundred-ninety, but at the moment, I was far beyond reason. It took some elaborate moves on his part to dislodge from my grip.
“You can stop this, Keiran,” he urged through labored breaths.
“I intend to.” I spoke calmly as if I hadn’t just tried to murder a former undercover FBI agent who’d gone rogue when the bureau determined he was corrupt and unfit for duty.
“What do you mean you intend to?”
“I am going to bring that motherfucker down. But on my terms.”
* * *
I spent the next few hours hashing out a strategy with Mario until it was well after dark. John never bothered to call after I had left the hospital, so I knew he was still at hospital letting his guilt turn him into a wannabe decent father. Imagine that.
After reaching Six Forks, I drove down endless streets to avoid going home or the one place that would land me back in jail. I wrestled with all the different hands I was playing—Mario, Lake, Keenan, John, Mitch, and Arthur.
I took a risk when I called my former owner because he now knew where I lived and where my family lived. He could have me killed at any time, and it was likely I would never see it coming. I did have a small advantage. It was why my heart was still beating. He wasn’t as untouchable and well hidden as he thought he was—not to someone who had been there. I may have been young, but I wasn’t blind, and the conditions I grew up in made me comprehend faster than any kid my age should have.