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Chris Jameson, Madeline’s thirty year-old brother, was behind the wheel of his car, driving at high speed towards the familiar streets of Armitage. He gripped the steering wheel as he stared out into the night, his gaze wavering only to check his rear and side view mirrors. He would have been driving a lot faster, but he did not want a run in with the police, not when his sister needed him.

He shifted gear and turned off the highway, the never-ending line of lampposts now replaced by trees and rooftops. The arrival of suburban streets indicated that he was back in Armitage, and it would not be long before he was at the hospital. He silently prayed that Madeline was all right. He also vowed revenge on whoever had hurt his baby sister. Although Madeline herself was less than thrilled that her brother was on his way.

‘Why did you guys have to go and call him?’ she whined to Ben and Abby from her hospital bed.

‘Maddie, he’s your brother,’ said Abby. ‘And besides, he was the closest.’

‘But you know what he’s like,’ said Madeline. ‘He’ll come in here, guns blazing, promising to tear this town apart until he finds the guy. I just don’t need that right now.’

‘We’re sorry,’ said Ben. ‘You’re right; we should have asked first.’

‘It’s okay,’ said Madeline, calming down somewhat. ‘It’s not your fault, and I guess it will be nice to see Chris again, as long as he keeps his cool.’ Chris Jameson was legendarily hot headed and impetuous, and this had got him into trouble throughout his life. Like Madeline, he had once been a student at Armitage University, receiving a Masters Degree in Structural Engineering. It had been expected that he would settle into a successful career once he gained his degree, but Chris hardly ever did what was expected of him. Instead, he had spent the last several years since leaving university moving from job to job, never seeming to be satisfied and always looking to the horizon.

The jobs that Chris found himself in were always good ones; his qualifications and experience saw to it that he was never short of employment, but for one reason or another he never seemed to stay in one place for very long. He seemed to have a laundry list of reasons why his jobs never went anywhere, from disagreements with the management to simply stating that he was bored. He was currently working as a chef in a top restaurant, but he had called to tell them he would not be in for the next few days, and if they didn’t like it then he didn’t care.

He pulled into the hospital grounds and parked outside the main doors. Walking straight up to the Reception desk he did not even bother to wait for the woman to notice him.

‘I’m here to see Madeline Jameson,’ he said abruptly. ‘She was brought in earlier tonight.’ The woman stopped what she was doing and looked up at Chris over her glasses.

‘And your name is?’ she asked.

‘Chris Jameson, I’m her brother.’

‘Well Mister Jameson, if you’d like to take a seat I’ll find out where she is for you.’

‘No thanks,’ replied Chris. ‘I’ll stand.’ The woman picked up a nearby phone and dialled an extension number. She talked briefly into the telephone before turning her attention back to Chris.

‘Miss Jameson’s in Curtain Area Two,’ she said politely. ‘She’s ready to go home if you want to take her.’

‘Thanks,’ said Chris, instantly making his way down the corridor. After a few wrong turns he finally found Curtain Area Two and burst in on Madeline, Ben and Abby, making them all jump.

‘Maddie, are you okay? Who did this?’ he said immediately.

‘Hi Chris,’ said Madeline, still reeling from his sudden entrance.

‘How’s it going Chris?’ said Ben.

‘Oh, hi guys,’ he said, turning briefly to face Ben and Abby. ‘Do you know who did this?’

‘Slow down,’ said Madeline. ‘They don’t know anymore than I do, and I’m fine.’

‘I came as soon as I could,’ he said, visibly relieved that Madeline wasn’t hurt.

‘I know, and I appreciate it, but I really am fine.’

‘Well, have the police been called?’ asked Chris.

‘Yeah, they’ve already been, me and Professor Mason both gave statements.’

‘Who’s Professor Mason?’

‘My History Professor, he saved me and Mike.’

‘Wait, who’s Mike?’

‘He was with me when I got attacked; he’s… a friend of Ben’s.’ Madeline looked sheepishly at Ben as she said this and Chris followed her gaze, looking to Ben for confirmation.

‘Yeah, he’s in a couple of my classes,’ said Ben. ‘We saw him tonight at Jack’s.’

‘That place still going?’ smiled Chris, relaxing somewhat.

‘Yes,’ said Madeline. ‘I went down with Ben and Abby tonight and we met Mike there.’

‘Is he okay?’ asked Chris.

‘I haven’t seen him but he was still unconscious when we arrived. He’s apparently got concussion.’

‘Where were you two?’ asked Chris, turning to face Ben and Abby once again.

‘We were at The Blue Room,’ said Ben. ‘Mike was walking Maddie home as they didn’t feel like coming.’

‘Well I owe him one for that,’ said Chris. ‘I hope he pulls through. Didn’t you get a look at the guy who attacked you though?’

‘It was dark, Chris,’ said Madeline. ‘It all happened so fast.’

‘What did happen exactly?’

‘Mike and I were walking back to campus when he came out of nowhere and knocked Mike out cold. He grabbed me and pulled me into the alley where…’ Madeline’s eyes began to well up with tears as the raw memory of her attack filled her once again with fear and anger.

‘Oh Maddie I’m sorry,’ said Chris, sitting down on the bed and holding his sister to him. ‘I didn’t mean to upset you.’

‘It’s okay,’ said Madeline, fighting back the tears. ‘I was just so scared.’

‘Lucky Professor Mason was nearby,’ said Ben.

‘Yeah, about that,’ said Chris, sitting back from Madeline. ‘What happened there?’

‘I don’t really know,’ said Madeline, dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief. ‘It was like one minute he wasn’t there and then suddenly he was.’

‘And he saved you and brought you here?’

‘Yes, but…’

‘But what?’ asked Chris, pricking up instantly at Madeline’s uncertainty.

‘I think he spoke to the guy who attacked me.’

‘What?’ said Chris, Ben and Abby almost in unison.

‘I don’t know though, I couldn’t think straight, everything seemed fuzzy.’

‘You were scared half to death no doubt,’ said Chris, patting Madeline’s hand reassuringly. ‘No wonder you couldn’t think straight.’

‘I’m not a little kid, Chris,’ said Madeline, pulling her hand away. ‘And I wasn’t hysterical. I was scared, yes, but this felt…weird.

‘How do you mean?’ asked Abby, interjecting as she saw Chris bristle at Madeline snapping at him.

‘I can’t really explain it. It was like my thoughts went out of focus for a few seconds, as if they left my head, you know?’ As Madeline attempted to explain how she had felt when Professor Mason confronted her attacker an orderly approached them.

‘Excuse me sir,’ he said, addressing Chris. ‘Is that your car parked outside the main doors?’

‘Yeah, why?’ said Chris, turning to face the young man in blue scrubs.

‘Well could you please move it? You’ve parked in the ambulance zone.’ Madeline rolled her eyes and smiled to herself; guns blazing, she thought. Chris turned to Madeline and ran his fingers through his flame red hair.

‘Will you be alright?’ he asked.

‘Yes, go move your car. I’ll see you later.’ Chris leaned down and kissed Madeline on the top of her head, nodded to Ben and Abby and followed the orderly down the corridor.

‘So, Chris seems well,’ said Ben, trying to lighten the mood. Madeline smiled and shifted position in bed. Her visit from Chris had gone pretty much how she had expected; she was glad to see that he was well, but she had predicted correctly that he would bluster in playing the hero.

‘Yeah, I wonder how long he’s planning to stay,’ she said.

‘You think he’ll stick around?’ asked Ben.

‘I know he will,’ said Madeline seriously. ‘He’ll probably stay in town until the guy who attacked me and Mike is caught.’

‘You don’t think he’ll go after him alone do you?’ asked Abby.

‘I don’t know,’ sighed Madeline. ‘I hope not.’

‘Anyway, you ready to go?’ asked Ben.

‘I’d like to see Mike first.’

‘Okay.’

 

***

 

Madeline hoped that her tempestuous brother had enough sense about him to not go looking for someone as dangerous as her attacker, but he could be maddeningly single-minded when he wanted to be. She had the comfort of knowing that the police were on the case so she hoped that the man was caught before Chris had a chance to act too rashly.

Through the darkened streets of Armitage, as Chris moved his car, another was in motion, the driver heading for the rundown part of town. The sleek black car purred through deserted streets and past boarded up buildings like a large cat seeking its prey. Andreas pulled up outside a nondescript building and turned off the engine, looking up at the dilapidated structure that stood shabbily to his left. He knew they were here, he knew where the cracks in society were and how to get through them; they couldn’t hide from him, not forever.

Stepping out of the car he closed the door quietly and walked up to the front door of the building. He knew his expensive vehicle was completely safe from theft or vandalism, no one would dare touch it, they all knew who it belonged to. He tried the rusty doorknob in case the door was unlocked but it wasn’t, although that was not going to stop him. With a grunt he plunged forward and kicked the door off its filthy hinges, sending splinters of wood and clouds of dust billowing into the gloomy interior of the building. As the crash echoed throughout the empty street, Andreas’ normal stony expression changed for a fleeting moment, his lips curling back into a vicious snarl, but he regained his composure even before the aged door had come to rest at the far end of the room. He brushed a flake of dry, crumbling paint off the lapel of his impeccable suit jacket and stepped over the threshold.

The sudden noise of his entrance had alerted the inhabitants of the tumbledown house to Andreas’ presence, and as he made his way through the first murky room he could hear scrambling footsteps coming from further within. He came to a room that had a door draped in grubby stringed beads on the other side and noticed that several strands were still reeling from the movement of someone else passing through them. He listened carefully as he made his way toward the back staircase; he could definitely hear people moving around upstairs, it sounded like there were at least half a dozen. He knew there would be a group of them, they very rarely went into hiding alone, strength in numbers was the idea, not that it would do them any good.

Andreas picked his way through a dishevelled dining room; a single light bulb illuminating the grimy decor and casting abstract shadows all around. Through another doorway he found the staircase, and climbed slowly to the second floor. He was in no hurry, not now he had located his target. When he reached the second floor hallway he was presented with a series of doors: two on opposite sides of the wall and one at the far end of the hallway. Another lone light bulb did its best to lighten the decrepit insides of this decaying building, but was falling far short of success.

As Andreas stood at the top of the ramshackle hallway, one or two doors were opened slightly to investigate the sudden surge in activity. Each time that a door was opened a crack it was instantly slammed shut again when the occupants caught a glimpse of the silhouetted figure standing motionless in the hall. Andreas was listening intently, his eyes closed and his body unmoving. After several seconds he turned on his heel and retreated down the staircase, never once looking back. He hurried back through the dining room and out of the front door, leaving only the sound of clacking beads behind him. He did not return to his car, but instead walked around the side of the building and stood in front of the fire escape steps. Concealing himself in the shadows he stood, and waited, still as a gargoyle.

He didn’t have to wait long until he heard a creaking window frame open and the sound of feet landing on metal. Rapid footsteps descended the iron stairs two at a time and as Andreas raised his head he could see the target of his pursuit coming into view. The man who attacked Madeline barrelled down the stairs looking panic stricken, his eyes bulging and his head whipping from side to side, expecting to be ambushed at any second. He cleared the last two steps and was about to make a run for it when an arm shot out of the darkness and closed round his throat at terrifying speed. He flailed his arms manically in an attempt to strike whoever had him in such a powerful grip, while strained choking noises emitted from his quivering mouth. Slowly and deliberately the body that belonged to the arm emerged into the subdued light and Andreas’ face, etched heavily with shadows, brought itself in close to his.

‘My employer would like a word with you,’ said Andreas in a smooth and richly accented voice. The man stiffened under the chokehold, he knew what was coming, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

 

***

 

After Chris had parked his car in a more acceptable location he came back to find Madeline standing at the Reception desk with Ben and Abby.

‘What’s going on?’ he asked as he approached them.

‘I’m being discharged,’ said Madeline. ‘To be honest I was only here as long as I have been because I was waiting for you to show.’

‘I got here as fast as I could,’ replied her brother, sounding slightly hurt.

‘I know, don’t worry about it, but I don’t really want people knowing about what happened and you coming to my building wouldn’t have helped.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Nothing, I would just have rather not have had our conversation in the dorm with everyone trying to listen in.’

‘They should mind their own business,’ said Chris moodily.

‘Should but don’t,’ smiled Madeline. ‘Anyway, I’m almost ready; I just want to check on Mike before we leave.’

‘Okay.’

‘You guys don’t have to stay if you want to go and get some sleep,’ said Madeline to Ben and Abby. ‘I’m sure Chris can see me home.’

‘Well I am pretty tired,’ said Ben.

‘Shut up,’ said Abby. ‘We’ll stay with you Maddie, it’s the least we can do.’ She tried to stifle a yawn as she said this but Madeline wasn’t fooled.

‘No, you both look beat, go and get some sleep and I’ll catch up with you later. I mean it.’ Abby was about to protest once again but Ben had got the message enough.

‘Come on babe,’ he said, not trying to stifle his yawns at all. ‘I’m dead on my feet and Maddie’s in good hands.’ He nodded to Chris as he said this, Madeline’s older brother nodding back.

‘Alright, but you call me, okay?’ said Abby as she hugged Madeline goodbye.

‘I promise, now go.’

‘Say hi to Mike for me,’ said Ben.

‘I will.’ As Ben and Abby left the hospital Doctor Bradford emerged from a side corridor and approached Madeline and Chris.

‘Hi Madeline,’ she said warmly. ‘This must be your brother.’

‘Chris Jameson, nice to meet you,’ said Chris, holding out his hand.

‘Doctor Karen Bradford,’ said the doctor, shaking Chris’ hand.

‘How’s Mike?’ asked Madeline.

‘Sore, but he’ll be okay.’

‘He’s awake?’

‘Yes, would you like to see him?’

‘Please.’ The doctor led Madeline and Chris to where Mike was sitting up in bed, a violent bruise covering a sizeable portion of his face, his right eye swollen shut.

‘Mike, you have visitors,’ said Doctor Bradford.

‘Hi Mike,’ said Madeline.

‘Hi Madeline, how are you?’

‘I’m fine, but are you okay?’

‘I’ve got one hell of a headache but the doctor said I’ll be fine.’

‘Oh, this is my brother, Chris,’ said Madeline, stepping aside for a moment.

‘Nice to meet you Chris,’ said Mike.

‘Likewise,’ said Chris. ‘Listen, thanks for looking after my sister, I appreciate it.’

‘I don’t know about that,’ said Mike, trying to smile. ‘That guy sucker punched me good; I was out like a light.’

‘Yeah but you offered to walk her home, that counts for something.’

‘I’m glad you think so.’

‘I’m sorry about all this, Mike,’ said Madeline.

‘It’s okay. That guy didn’t hurt you, did he?’

‘No, thank God.’

‘I was just worried, what with those murders and everything.’

What?’ interrupted Chris.

Oh great, thought Madeline. Here we go.

‘There have been some murders in Armitage over the past few weeks,’ said Mike, not noticing Madeline’s perturbed expression. ‘That’s why I didn’t think it was safe for Madeline to walk back to campus by herself.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me this before?’ asked Chris, turning to face his sister.

‘Chris please, let’s not do this here.’

‘Maddie this is serious, you should have told me.’

‘Chris wait outside for me, I’ll just be a minute.’

‘But…’ began Chris.

‘Go!’ Chris slinked off to wait at Reception while Mike looked sheepishly at Madeline through his one good eye.

‘I hope I haven’t gotten you in hot water,’ he said meekly.

‘No it’s okay,’ sighed Madeline. ‘He just gets this way sometimes. Well, most of the time, actually.’

‘Sorry.’

‘Not your fault.’ Madeline looked over her shoulder and back at Mike. ‘Listen I have to go, you take it easy, okay?’

‘You too,’ said Mike.

‘Bye.’ Madeline made her way out to Reception, knowing all too well what state her brother would be in when she got there.

‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me about this?’ he said as soon as he saw Madeline.

‘Because I knew you’d get like this,’ she said, trying to contain her annoyance at her brother’s insistent questioning.

‘I’m looking out for my sister,’ he said heatedly. ‘For God’s sake Maddie that nutjob could have killed you!’

‘Thanks,’ said Madeline coldly. She pushed past Chris and headed out of the main doors of the hospital.

‘Maddie wait, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go off on one, I just worry, you know?’

‘I know you do, Chris,’ said Madeline, turning around. ‘But the last thing I need right now is you charging up here like the damn cavalry or something. I appreciate your concern but we don’t even know if the guy who attacked me is linked with the other incidents, it could be completely unrelated.’

‘But what if it isn’t?’

‘What do you want from me, Chris? Do you want my permission to go tearing off after this guy? You think I want to see you get hurt?’

‘Of course not,’ said Chris, who was starting to feel ashamed at his outburst. ‘Look, I’m sorry. You’re right; I’m jumping the gun as usual. I shouldn’t have come.’

‘Don’t say that,’ said Madeline, approaching her brother. ‘I love seeing you, you know that. I just want to see my brother Chris, not Mad Chris the Revenge Machine.’ Chris smiled and hugged his sister.

‘Can I drive you home?’ he asked.

‘That would be great, I feel like I could sleep forever.’

 

***

 

Somewhere on the outskirts of Armitage stood a large and impressive looking building. A looming concrete wall encircled the post-modern structure; blocking the outside view from every angle, save for a set of double iron gates that were currently locked. A fine gravel path led from the gates up to and around the house, and a short, well-trimmed hedge ran the circumference of the three-storey building. The roof was flat and the windows tall and narrow, the black slate of the roof tiles contrasting with the buildings’ off-white stone. Parked just outside the front door was a black Mercedes Benz, its engine having not long been turned off.

The house was silent; the rooms all vacant, except for one. In one room there was a nondescript door, through which there was a staircase. At the foot of this staircase was a long narrow passage, carpeted in similarly rich textures as the rest of the house. Light fittings hung from the ceiling at regular intervals and lit the passage all along its length, the very last one being suspended over a slightly larger, heavier looking door. This door, made of dark wood and iron hinges, sat covering the entrance to a secret part of the house, a vast expanse of underground chambers that existed far from the knowledge of the world above. The door, while heavy and very locked, was not sound proofed, and into the silence of the passageway echoed a string of agonising screams that would chill the blood of anyone who heard them.

The owner of these bloodcurdling cries was standing limply in a darkly lit room, his arms held above him by iron manacles. His eyes, tears of pain streaming from them, were closed tightly, his face contorted as he tried to shield himself from what was making him scream.

‘Again,’ came a voice from somewhere in the darkness. A painfully bright shaft of light erupted from somewhere on the other side of the room and cast itself on the chained man’s face, which instantly erupted with screams of pain. His haggard features twisted and contorted into grotesque expressions of excruciating agony, as the blinding shaft of light caught every line and contour of his face. As soon as it had started it was over, and the room fell dark once again, the man’s ragged breathing the only sound to be heard. As he stood there, hanging lifelessly from his shackles, great blotches smearing themselves across his vision, he heard a door open somewhere off in the distance and was dimly aware of a pair of approaching footsteps.

‘So,’ said a cool and calm voice. ‘I’m going to ask you again. Why her?’ The owner of the voice stopped a few paces in front of the manacled figure and placed his hands behind his back, waiting for an answer. ‘Well?’

‘I…I didn’t know,’ gasped the man.

‘You didn’t know,’ said the voice slowly. ‘And, when you found out, you didn’t think to apologise to me?’ The tone was formal and friendly on the surface, which belied the cold malice that dwelled underneath.

‘I was…I…’ the man faltered, the words failing him.

‘Yes?’ said the voice, not really caring what answer was given.

‘I was…afraid of what you might do to me,’ breathed the man quickly.

‘Ah, I see.’ The owner of the voice placed his hands behind his back and began walking slowly back and forth in front of his shackled prisoner. ‘So let me see if I understand the situation correctly. You’ve been gallivanting around this city for quite some time now, operating either on your own or with this…gang you spoke of,’ he spat the word gang out of his mouth as if it tasted foul. ‘Not only that but you pick the one person I have set my sights upon, try and attack her and then when you fail you don’t even have the decency to come to me and apologise.’

‘I’m…I’m sorry,’ stuttered the man.

‘Instead you force me to take drastic measures,’ continued the voice, completely ignoring the man’s belated apology. ‘Making it necessary for me to send my man here to fetch you.’ With a casual wave of his hand he indicated the silent figure standing a few steps behind him. He then turned his full attention back to the chained captive, hanging by his wrists like a sodden garment on a washing line. ‘This simply will not do.’

The owner of the voice turned on his heel and began walking back to the opposite end of the room. The silent figure followed, staying behind by a few paces, and when both sets of footsteps stopped the sound of door opening could be heard again. The dungeon like room was once again plunged into eerie calm, with nothing but the chained captive’s ragged breathing penetrating the silence. Seconds stretched into minutes, and then without warning the same blinding shaft of light came bursting across the room, again landing squarely on the man’s face, causing him to screw his eyes up in pain and wail ferociously as he squirmed and shook in his manacles. Behind a heavily protected door on the opposite side of the room, the two men watched their victim thrash and flail under the piercing scrutiny of the harsh, unforgiving light. The dark figure turned to his employer.

‘How long do we give him?’ asked Andreas.

‘As long as it takes,’ said Mason.

‘Yes sir.’ Mason watched intently through a pane of thick glass as his victim shrieked in agony, his body thrashing wildly.

‘Excellent work Andreas, I feel this clears the matter up quite succinctly. I feel like celebrating.’

‘I shall make the usual arrangements, sir.’

‘Capital!’


Submitted: October 06, 2014

© Copyright 2022 Weatherwax. All rights reserved.

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