Suddenly, Beth’s body jerks, and she lets out a strange gurgle before falling silent. All I can hear now is the sound of my own harsh, sobbing breaths. Beth is lying there unmoving, a pool of blood spreading out from her neck area. The Suit gets up, wiping the knife on his pants, and faces the camera. “That was an expedited show for you, Esguerra,” he says, smiling widely. “I didn’t want to drag it out too much, since I know you’ll need the time to get me what I asked for. Of course, if I don’t receive it, the next show will be much, much longer.” Taking a step toward me, he runs one bloody finger down my cheek. “Your little whore is so pretty, I might even let my men play with her before I start . . .”
This time I can’t control myself. Hot vomit rushes into my throat, and I barely manage to turn my head to the side before the contents of my stomach empty out onto the floor in a series of violent heaves.
After the camera is turned off, they leave me alone again. Beth’s body is dragged away, and the floor is carelessly mopped, leaving behind several reddish-brown streaks. I stare at them, my thoughts slow and sluggish, as if I’m in a stupor. I’m no longer shaking, though an occasional shudder still wracks my body. My stitches ache dully, and I wonder if I tore any of them during my struggles earlier. I don’t see any blood seeping through my hospital gown, so maybe I didn’t.
A little while later, they bring me some water. I greedily gulp down the whole cup, causing some of the men to laugh and say something in Arabic while rubbing their crotches suggestively. I almost think they are hoping that Julian doesn’t come through, so they get to ‘play’ with me before the Suit goes to work.
For now, though, they mercifully leave me alone. I am even allowed outside for a minute to use the restroom, and the same guy as before—the impassive one—guards me while I go into the bushes. I think he’s now my official bathroom companion, and I mentally start calling him Toilet Guy.
I name some of the others, too. The one with the black beard down to the middle of his chest—I call him Blackbeard. The one with the receding hairline is Baldie. The short guy who led the raid on the clinic—he’s Garlic Breath.
I do this to distract myself from thoughts of Beth. I can’t allow myself to think about her yet—not if I want to remain sane. If I get out of this alive, then I will mourn the woman who had become my friend. If I survive, then I will allow myself to cry and grieve, to rage at the senseless violence of her death. But right now, I can only exist from moment to moment, focusing on the most inconsequential, ridiculous things to keep myself from being crushed under the weight of brutal reality.
Time ticks by slowly. As darkness descends, I stare at the floor, the walls, the ceiling. I think I even nod off a couple of times, although I jerk awake at the least hint of any sound, my heart racing. They still haven’t fed me, and the hunger pangs in my stomach are a gnawing ache. It doesn’t matter, though. I’m just grateful to still be alive—a state of affairs I know will not continue for long, unless Julian comes through with the weapon.
Closing my eyes, I try to pretend that I’m home on the island, reading a book on the beach. I try to imagine that at any moment, I can go back to the house and find Beth there, prepping dinner for us. I try to convince myself that Julian is simply away on one of his business trips and I will see him again soon. I picture his smile, the way his dark hair curls around his face, framing the hard masculine perfection of his features, and I ache for him, for the warmth and safety of his strong embrace, even as my mind gradually drifts toward an uneasy sleep.
A large hand clamps tightly over my mouth, jerking me awake. My eyes fly open, adrenaline surging through my veins. Terrified, I begin to struggle . . . and then I hear a familiar voice whispering in my ear, “Shh, Nora. It’s me. I need you to be quiet now, okay?”
I nod slightly, my body shaking with relief, and the hand leaves my mouth. Turning my head, I stare at Julian in disbelief.
Crouching beside me, he’s dressed all in black. A bulletproof vest is covering his chest and shoulders, and his face is painted with black diagonal stripes. There is a machine gun hanging across his shoulder, and an entire array of weapons is clipped to his belt. He looks like a deadly stranger. Only his eyes are familiar, startlingly bright in his paint-darkened face.
For a second, I’m convinced that I’m dreaming. He can’t be standing here, in this warehouse in the middle of nowhere, talking to me. Not when his enemies are less than thirty yards away. My heart racing, I cast a quick, frantic glance around the warehouse.
The men in the other corner appear to be asleep, stretched out on blankets on the floor. I count eight of them—which means that several of them are probably outside, guarding the building. I don’t see the Suit anywhere; he must also be outside.
Turning my attention back to Julian, I see him cutting through the ropes at my ankles with a wicked-looking knife. “How did you get in here?” I whisper, staring at him in dazed wonder.
He pauses for a second, looking up at me. “Be quiet,” he says, his words almost inaudible. “I need to get you out before they wake up.”
I nod, falling silent as he resumes cutting my ropes. Despite our perilous situation, I am almost dizzy with joy. Julian is here, with me. He came for me. The surge of love and gratitude is so strong, I can barely contain it. I want to jump up and hug him, but I remain still as he finishes his task, getting rid of the remaining ropes.