“How long have you known Esguerra?” the man asks, addressing me. He has a British accent, mixed with a hint of something foreign and exotic. At the sound of his voice, Beth looks up, startled, and I see that she’s back with us for the moment.
I hesitate for a second before answering. “About fifteen months,” I finally say. I don’t see the harm in revealing that much.
He lifts his eyebrows. “And he kept you hidden this whole time? Impressive . . .”
I suppress the sudden urge to snicker. Julian quite literally kept me hidden on his island, so this guy is more right than he realizes. My lips twitch involuntarily, and I see a flicker of surprise cross the man’s face.
“Well, you’re a brave little whore, aren’t you?” he says slowly, watching me with his dark gaze. “Or do you think this is all a joke?”
I don’t say anything in response. What can I say? No, I don’t think it’s a joke. I know you’re going to torture me and probably kill me to get back at Julian. Somehow that just doesn’t have the right ring to it.
His eyes narrow, and I realize I somehow managed to make him angry. He looks like a cobra about to strike. My heartbeat spikes, and I tense, bracing myself for a blow, but he simply reaches for his Strotter bag and opens it to reveal his iPad. Glancing down, he quickly types some email, then looks up at me. “Let’s see if Esguerra thinks it’s a joke,” he says quietly, closing the bag. “For your sake, girl, I hope that’s not the case.”
Then he turns and walks away, heading back to where the other men are gathered.
Despite my terror and discomfort, I somehow manage to fall asleep in the chair. My body is still recovering from the operation, and I’m both physically and emotionally exhausted from the events of the past day.
I wake up to the sound of voices. The guy in the suit and the short one I had pegged as the leader are standing in front of me, setting up what looks like a large camera on a tall tripod.
I swallow, staring at them. My mouth feels as dry as the Sahara desert, and despite all the time that’s passed, I don’t have the least urge to pee. I’m guessing that means I’m badly dehydrated.
Seeing that I’m awake, the Suit—I decide to call him that in my mind—gives me a thin-lipped smile. “It’s showtime. Let’s see just how much Esguerra wants his little whore back.”
Nausea roils my empty stomach, and I turn my head to look at Beth. She’s staring straight ahead, her face white and her gaze vacant. I don’t know if she slept at all, but she seems even more out of it than before.
They point the camera toward us, checking the angle a couple of times, and then the Suit comes over to stand next to me. As soon as the camera light goes on, he puts his hand on my head, roughly stroking my tangled hair. “You know what I want, Esguerra,” he says evenly, looking at the camera. “You have until midnight tomorrow to get it to me. Do that, and your slut will remain unharmed. I’ll even give her back to you. If not, well . . . you’ll get her back anyway.” He pauses, smiling cruelly. “Little by little.”
I stare at the camera, bile rising in my throat. I haven’t been harmed—yet—but I can sense the violence in these men. It’s the same darkness that stains Julian’s soul. Men like these are different. They don’t abide by the social contract. They don’t play by the same rules as everyone else.
The Suit’s hand leaves my hair, and he takes a step toward Beth. “You may be doubting me, Esguerra,” he says, still speaking to the camera. “You may be thinking that I lack resolve. Well, let me do a little demonstration of what will happen to your pretty whore if I don’t get what I want. We’ll start with the redhead and move on to that one—” he nods toward me, “—tomorrow after midnight.”
“No!” I scream, realizing what he means to do. “Don’t touch her!” I struggle to get free, but the ropes are holding me too tightly. There is nothing I can do but watch helplessly as he wraps his hand around Beth’s throat and begins to squeeze. “Don’t you fucking touch her! Julian will kill you for this! He’ll fucking murder you—”
Ignoring my screams, the Suit barks out an order in Arabic, and a man steps forward, cutting Beth’s ropes with a sharp knife. I catch a glimpse of her terrified eyes, and then they throw her on the ground, face down. The Suit presses his knee against her back and yanks on her hair, forcing her head to arch back. I can see her legs drumming uselessly against the ground, and my screams grow louder as the Suit takes out a short, thin knife and begins cutting Beth’s cheek.
She yells, struggling, and I can see blood spraying everywhere as he slices open her face, leaving behind a deep bloody gash. I gag, my stomach heaving, but he’s far from done. Beth’s other cheek is next, and then he presses the knife into her upper arm, cutting off a strip of flesh. Her agonized screams echo throughout the warehouse, joined by my own hysterical cries. I feel her pain as though it’s my own, and I can’t bear it. “Leave her alone!” I shriek. “You fucking bastard! Leave her alone!”
He doesn’t, of course. He continues cutting her, his dark eyes shining with excitement. He’s enjoying this, I realize with sick horror; he’s not doing it just for the camera. Beth’s struggles grow weaker, her cries turning into sobbing moans. There is blood everywhere; Beth is practically drowning in it. I don’t know how she’s able to remain conscious through this. Black spots swim in front of my vision, and I feel like the walls are closing in on me, my ribcage squeezing my lungs and preventing me from drawing in air.