Sabrina pushed the bangs of her pixie cut out of her face as she stared at the bald-headed presenter in the middle of the small, indoor amphitheater. He was describing an AK-47. Bidding started at $10,000. The glaring ceiling lights made it hot, and Sabrina wouldn’t have been surprised if her eyeliner started to run. Being clothed in a halter, tight pants, and thigh high boots didn’t make her any more comfortable. It wasn’t a look she would’ve normally chosen. But she wasn’t playing herself. She was playing Nikki and the outfit was Nikki’s style.
Josiah, however, looked comfortable in a navy polo, trousers, and dark jacket. Sabrina didn’t know how he could stand the heat. Ironically, he took a tissue out of his pants pocket and dabbed some sweat from his brown hairline. Sabrina almost laughed. She was seated with Josiah and his crew on the end of what was about the tenth or twelfth row from the front. The bald man was moving onto the next weapon.
“How long?” Josiah suddenly asked.
“How long what?” Sabrina inquired.
Josiah flicked a piece of imaginary lint from his jacket.
“How long have you been working with the Feds?”
Sabrina kept a straight face, but her insides tensed. “What?”
Josiah looked up. His eyes were opal stones glazed with intensity. He gave a small smile. “You heard me. How long have you been working with the FBI?”
He twisted piece of Sabrina’s hair around his right pointer finger. Too close for comfort. Sabrina took a deep breath.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…” she said.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“You’re being paranoid,” she replied.
Josiah’s hand was immediately around her neck, squeezing. The ceiling lights became brighter and sharper.
“Don’t…do that!” Josiah snarled. The intensity in his eyes increased. Sabrina could almost hear his teeth grind together. “Don’t make me out to be crazy.”
“I’m not,” Sabrina chocked.
A meaty hand come down on Josiah’s shoulder. “Jo, relax.”
It was Ray, Josiah’s bodyguard, right-hand man and best friend. At 6’6 with a wide, solid body he could give the Hulk a run for his money. Despite his words, the pressure on Sabrina’s throat didn’t waver.
“You know…” Josiah whispered. “Ever since you came back things have been off. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I had this feeling that…that things weren’t as they appeared to be.” He furiously searched Sabrina’s face. She kept her eyes focused on the gritty panels above.
“Then it hit me,” he continued. “You turned, didn’t you?”
She remained silent.
“When the chips fell and the Feds came you made a deal to save your own ass. Didn’t you?!”
People in the next row were starting to stare. Mercenaries, kingpins and other criminals ready to throw down at the first sign of trouble.
“Jo, keep your voice down,” Ray advised.
But Josiah wasn’t about to let up. His temples were pulsating and he breathed fire on Sabrina’s cheek. She had to do something quick.
“Josiah…listen to me. You got it all wrong. I didn’t turn. After the Feds raided the compound they locked me up. They questioned me, but I wouldn’t talk. Plus, they didn’t have enough evidence on you to make an arrest. So they let me go.”
Josiah scoffed. “You expect me to believe that?!”
He squeezed harder. Sabrina could feel the blood beating against her throat.
“Jo! Seriously! You really want to air your business out here like this?” Ray looked as if he wanted to take his best friend out himself.
“It’s true!” Sabrina cried. “I wouldn’t lie to you, baby. You know that.” Sabrina was able to conjure up tears. The salty rivers were ready to overflow at a moment’s notice.
Josiah’s eyes softened. He slowly released his gripping hand. Sabrina took in as much air as her lungs would allow. Her vision focused and the commotion around her became clearer. Ray resumed his position overlooking the crowd while Josiah sat back and stared straight ahead.
Baldy was now grasping a different weapon; big as an AK but heavy like a bazooka. It was lifted onto his shoulders. He touched a button and a red beam shot out. He pointed it at the crowd as if he were specifically choosing a target. Sabrina, on the other hand, could still feel the imprint of her companion’s meaty digits. Her speeding heart slowed. She shakily swooped the bangs out of her eyes again. Keep it together, she thought.
“Why didn’t you look for me?” a soft voice spoke.
Sabrina turned. Josiah was still looking ahead but his demeanor had changed. He slouched and his hands hung loosely between his legs.
“Why didn’t you try to find me?” he repeated. Hurt. Josiah was hurt.
“I could ask you the same question,” Sabrina shot back.
“I tried,” she replied quickly. “But I was under surveillance. Feds had people tailing me everywhere. I didn’t want to lead them to you.” She watched for a reaction. Josiah just blinked.
“When the heat died down, that’s when I went looking. I couldn’t run the risk of traveling out of the country but I kept my ear to the ground. Nothing. Nobody had heard from you; Beanie, The Flynn Boys, not even Marko’s crew.”
Josiah still said nothing.
“Now answer my question; why didn’t you look for me?” Sabrina asked.
Josiah started to say something but he changed his mind. Instead he said “You wouldn’t lie to me…would you, Nikki?”
Sabrina shook her head. “Of course not,” she answered.
She didn’t reply. What was this man up to? What was with the third degree? He turned towards her. His jaw was relaxed, eyes gentle yet cautious. He sighed.
“That’s ok,” he whispered, patting Sabrina on the knee. Then, he raised his hand, causing Sabrina to flinch.
But he cupped her chin and brought his steady lips to her nervous ones. His usual confident, pressuring kiss was now comforting and pleasurable, loving even.
Something was wrong.
Josiah stood and nodded towards something in the row behind. Sabrina felt the tip of something sharp press itself against her spine. She craned her neck to see one of Josiah’s other men, Benning, displaying a gold-toothed grin. His jet black hair fell into his right eye covering an old scar above his eyebrow. He pressed the blade slightly. That was Sabrina’s que to move. She stood. She followed with Josiah and Ray leading, Benning at her side, and Troy at her back. Sabrina walked with her head held high, but her legs were noodles and her stomach was folding in on itself. Who knew what Josiah and his crew were going to do once they stepped out the door?
Sabrina had a pretty good indication.
* * *
Agent Matthew Stanfield was dressed in a black shirt, jeans, and boots. The heat was getting to him but he couldn’t worry about that now. He was situated in a seat towards the back right corner of the amphitheater. From there it looked as if Agent Urie and Josiah Alexander were necking. Nothing to be alarmed about. But it made him sick. Agent Stanfield, along with agents Gutterman and Cassidy, had been tailing Agent Urie as backup for about a month now, and it didn’t get any easier seeing Alexander paw his fellow countryman. But Sabrina could handle herself. Stanfield causally looked to his left. Cassidy was located two rows behind the intended target. She was wearing leather pants and a low cut blouse with a sapphire necklace nestled in her bosom. Gutterman was on the far left occupying a space on the wall. His dark baseball cap masked most of his face and his oversized tee hung on his twiggy body. It was almost comical.
“What’s your status?” Stanfield asked through an invisible microphone in his ear.
“Not sure,” Cassidy replied. “He seems to be whispering something but…it doesn’t look good. His buddy looks worried.”
“How about you, Gutterman?”
“Pretty much the same on my end,” the other agent responded. “People are starting to stare. And the bodyguard doesn’t look happy. Josiah must be pissed about something.”
A big bruiser of a man with a plaid shirt and bad tan walked by, making Gutterman duck his head.
“Okay,” Stanfield declared. “Remember the plan; observe, no interference.”
“We’ve been doing this for a while now, Matt. I think we can handle it,” Gutterman remarked.
“Not what I meant, smartass. No matter what happens we can’t risk blowing our cover. Or Agent Urie’s.”
“Who are you trying to convince, Matt?” Cassidy chimed in.
Stanfield said nothing. He honestly wasn’t sure. He never wanted Sabrina to go back under in the first place, but they had no choice. The Agency had failed once and they weren’t going to fail again. Other than the bodyguard, Raymond Ambrose, Agent Urie was the only one Alexander really trusted. After the raid, they held Agent Urie “in custody” for a while hoping to draw Alexander out. Three days had passed and nothing. Josiah Alexander still didn’t resurface even after two weeks of surveillance once Agent Urie was “released.”
“Why?” she had asked. “Why didn’t he come for me?”
“He could be lying low. Waiting until the perfect time to strike,” Stanfield had assured her. But Sabrina wasn’t easily swayed. She was convinced Alexander would’ve rescued her. She sounded…wounded. Matt didn’t know how to feel about that. Sabrina Urie was one of the best agents in the field; precise, alert, motivated. She couldn’t possible care for a low-life arms dealer.
“He’s calm now.”
Stanfield snapped out of his reverie once Gutterman spoke. He refocused on the task at hand. From what he could make out, the bodyguard was surveying the crowd while Alexander and Agent Urie were looking straight ahead. Suddenly, Agent Urie turned her head towards the criminal.
“What’s happening?” Stanfield asked.
“They’re talking,” Cassidy replied.
“Can you make out what they’re staying?”
“Nope. How ‘bout you Gutterman?” Cassidy asked.
Gutternman squinted his eyes and tried to focus on Agent Urie’s lips but to no avail.
“Nah. I’m too far. Maybe if I get closer…”
“Be careful, Trevor,” Stanfield cautioned. He watched as Agent Gutterman casually moved down the aisle. He stopped when he got about three rows away from Agent Urie. He leaned against the wall, folded his arms across his chest, and tried to look bored and restless.
“Well?” Cassidy prodded.
Gutterman observed. Agent Urie’s natural full brown lips were coated in deep purple lipstick and they were moving slowly with pauses in between her sentences.
“She’s talking about her supposed arrest…and that she tried to look for him…”
Stanfield’s heart raced. “Shit.”
“Do you think he knows?” Gutterman asked.
“He may suspect.”
Stanfield was afraid of this. This was exactly why Sabrina didn’t want to go back under; for fear that after all this time Alexander would finally know she was an FBI agent and kill her. Or worse.
“They’re on the move,” Cassidy announced.
Stanfield watched Alexander, Urie and the rest of Alexander’s crew get up from their seats and head towards the aisle. They had Agent Urie boxed in. Gutterman put his head down as they went by. Stanfield’s heart beat faster. This was not good. A few seconds later, the group disappeared from his sight.
“What do we do now?” Cassidy asked with a hint of panic.
Stanfield took a deep breath. “We do what we’ve been doing; we tail, we surveil. Nothing more. Cassidy, you leave first. After a few seconds, Gutterman. I’ll bring up the rear.”
Cassidy stood and made her way towards the exit. Stanfield counted: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…”
Gutterman pushed himself from the wall and followed suit. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…”
Stanfield stood, smoothed out his shirt, and sauntered casually up the aisle. When he got outside the two other agents were already waiting by the black Ford Focus. Stanfield started to jog while pressing the button to unlock it.
“They couldn’t have gotten far. What’s their location, Trev?”
Gutterman held a small gray device in his hand. On its screen was a satellite image and a little green dot that moved at a steady pace.
“They’re heading south,” he said.
“South? Are you sure?” Stanfield asked.
Stanfield started the car, shifted gears and barreled out of the parking lot heading towards the direction of the green dot.
“South is in the opposite direction of town,” Cassidy observed. “What’s south?”
Gutterman tapped the glowing screen twice to zoom out. He rotated, zoomed back in, rotated again, and so on. He frowned.
“Uh…nothing really. Just a lot of wooded areas, a stream here and there, a field or two. The two lanes stop about a mile and a half where a gas station is. But after that…zip. If they keep driving they’ll reach the next city in an hour and a half. Two tops.”
“You think they’re going to the next city?” Cassidy asked.
Stanfield didn’t respond. He highly doubted Alexander’s attending target was leaving the city. Driving down the road in the middle of the night with nothing but towering trees and vast fields on either side of the road? No. Matthew Stanfield believed Josiah Alexander had something else in mind and it wasn’t a pretty picture.
Sabrina was still sweating. Not just from the multiple bodies in close proximity, but also from nervousness. She was seated in between two of Josiah’s goons in the back seat of a GMC Yukon; Troy was to her left and Benning was on her right, still pointing the knife at her. Out of the corner of her eye, Sabrina could see him smirking at her. His eyes roamed the length of her body and lingered a little too long on her chest. His smirked widened. Sabrina groaned in disgust. She and Benning had never got along. She couldn’t believe Josiah allowed this grade A pervert to be a part of his posse. According to agency files, Benning was associated with two sex trafficking rings in Latvia and Croatia. But then again nobody was actually able to prove it. It wouldn’t have surprised Sabrina in the slightest.
Once when the boys were playing cards, she had overheard Benning bragging about banging a 20-year-old redhead. Sabrina didn’t think much of it at the time. Sure, Benning was a misogynistic asshole, but every man bragged about sleeping with a younger woman whether it was true or not. But sometime later, when they all went out to dinner, and Benning had too much to drink, he set his sights on a group of young girls who looked to be high school age. Josiah had just closed a deal with one of the biggest drug lords in Europe, Preston Santos, and the crew was celebrating at one of Jo’s favorite restaurants in Spain. The girls were sitting a table across the courtyard from theirs; two blondes, an Asian and one girl who could’ve been either white or Hispanic. They were laughing and drinking, and Benning was eyeing them the whole time. After the fourth drink, he decided to make his move.
“Where are you going?” Josiah had asked when Benning stood up from the table.
Benning smiled his devious smile and said “Well…if you must know there are a couple of women over there that need my…special attention.”
Sabrina scoffed and took a sip of wine.
“You got something to say, Nik?” Benning had asked.
“No. Not at all.” Sabrina dramatically licked the chocolate off her fork and smacked her lips loudly. Josiah was amused.
“If you’ve got something to say, say it babe.”
“Well,” Sabrina started. “I was just wondering…just how special Benning’s attention actually is.” She made doe eyes at Benning and batted her eyelashes innocently. His coyote smile wavered. Josiah chuckled. Even Ray and Troy, who were standing on either side of the table, cracked a smile.
“I’m just saying B. These girls may be young but I’m pretty sure they know it’s supposed to last more than five minutes.”
This made everyone laugh out loud.
Benning placed his tongue in his cheek. “Is that right?” he asked.
Sabrina shrugged. A few seconds passed when suddenly Benning slammed his hand down on the table. Everybody stopped laughing. Even Sabrina was surprised.
“How ‘bout I take you out back and show you how special I really am!”
“You better watch yourself, Benning,” Josiah said evenly pointing a ring clad finger. “You don’t talk to my lady like that.”
Ray and Troy sobered up; tensed and ready to handle business if needed. Benning took a deep breath and let it out with a laugh.
“It’s all good Jo-Jo!” He aimed a pointer finger at Sabrina. “It’s all good, babe.”
Sabrina gave him a head nod.
“All good, B,” Josiah said. “But Nikki’s got a point, you know. Get with those girls and you’re just asking to be put in prison.”
“Don’t worry about me, Jo. I can handle myself.” Benning’s gold tooth shined brighter than the overhead lanterns in that devilish grin of his. He swaggered his way over to the young girls and started to make conversation.
“You shouldn’t make fun of Benning, you know,” Josiah advised.
“How else am I supposed to entertain myself?”
“I thought I was entertaining you pretty well these past few days.”
Josiah purred and kissed Sabrina’s neck sensually. But Sabrina wasn’t paying attention. Within a minute, the high school girls invited Benning to sit down. He looked over his shoulder and winked. Sabrina wanted to gag. What was wrong with these young women? Didn’t they know better than to invite a strange man to sit with them, especially in a foreign country?
“Let it go,” Josiah said.
Sabrina turned towards him. “What?”
“Just forget it.”
“This man is about to commit statutory rape and you want me to let it go?”
“Oh, please. Benning’s not gonna sleep with those girls.”
“Oh, really? So what the hell is ‘special attention’?”
Josiah waved the question away. “All talk, Nikki. Man talk.”
Sabrina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
“Besides for all we know those girls could be legal,” Josiah said.
“For all we know they’re not,” Sabrina shot back.
“Goddamn it, Nikki! You’re the one egging him on in the first place, remember?”
For that Sabrina didn’t have an answer. Poking fun at Benning was an impulse, but she did it anyway. As she said before; she and Benning had never gotten along. And now, because of he,r some girl was in for what could be the worst night of her life. Josiah sighed and wrapped an arm around his significant other.
“Look baby…as a woman I know you want to protect them, but truthfully it’s none of our business. Now I may be his boss, but I’m not gonna deny the man the simple pleasures in life. Okay?”
When Sabrina didn’t answer Josiah jostled her shoulder. “Okay?”
Sabrina sighed. “Okay.”
Josiah went back to his drink and dessert. In a sick, twisted way, Josiah was right. He was her intended target. No matter what Benning, Ray or anybody else did, Josiah Alexander was her concern. That was one of the worst things about the job; not being able to stop all of the bad things that you came across.
Back in the present, Josiah hadn’t said a word since they left the auction and that was 20 minutes ago. He stared straight ahead.
“Josiah?” Sabrina tried. No answer. “Josiah, where are we going?”
Again nothing. He just sighed deeply.
“Josiah, answer me,” Sabrina almost screeched on the brink of panic.
Benning held the knife to Sabrina’s throat and pressed slightly.
“I’d shut up if I were you, princess,” he said. Sabrina could feel the serrated edge prick her skin.
“Relax Benning,” Josiah finally answered. “She’s no good to me dead.”
Sabrina’s blood ran cold. She knew Josiah was planning something sinister, but it wasn’t so bad that he wanted to kill her. Yet. He needed her. Benning removed the knife and replaced it near Sabrina’s rib. She was pretty sure the cut was going to scab over gruesomely in a matter of minutes. Her throat was going to be sore in the morning. Up ahead, stark white lights illuminated the dark road. It was a gas station.
“Turn in here,” Josiah commanded.
As the Yukon got closer, Sabrina could see the outline of a mermaid spinning on top of a pole near the driveway. The minimart situated across the lot said Merlin’s in big blue and green lettering. Ray decided to park furthest away from the building in the darkest corner of the gas station. At this time Josiah turned around. His eyes were blank. Sabrina couldn’t tell what was going through that mind of his. He looked at Benning and Troy.
“We’ll be back. Try not to kill her.” With that, he and Ray got out of the car. They both headed towards Merlin’s and disappeared inside. There was nothing in the parking lot except for a red Camry and what looked to be a green station wagon parked near the entrance of the mart. On the left side of the Yukon were three air machines and to the right were trees; a thick canopy of vegetation. Other than the sound of the wind, it was silent. So silent it made Sabrina even more anxious.
“What’s the matter, princess?” Benning whispered in her ear. “Scared?”
Without looking at him Sabrina asked, “What makes you say that?”
“Because you don’t look as tough as you think you do.”
Sabrina said nothing. Benning scoffed.
“You do know Jo is going to kill you, right?”
Sabrina swallowed. “Why? He needs me.”
“Not for long he doesn’t. That’s why we’re here; for supplies.”
Sabrina turned then. Benning was wearing that same smirk. She couldn’t help but ask, “Supplies for what?”
Benning’s smirk turned into his signature coyote grin. “You’ll see.”
Troy was quiet throughout this conversation. The whole car ride in fact. He wasn’t much of a talker anyway. There was a running joke that Troy’s tongue was cut out sometime in his life, and that’s why he couldn’t speak. It was a ridiculous joke but the more he hung around the more paranoid Sabrina got about it being true. About five minutes had passed and Josiah and Ray were still inside. Sabrina thought about Matthew Stanfield.
She knew he had been surveilling her at the auction and he couldn’t be far behind. Especially not with a small tracking device fitted on her back molar. It can track up to five miles through satellite imaging. Sabrina was glad it wasn’t a microphone. On the one hand, it could save the Agency a lot of time if everything were recorded, but then again she didn’t want the higher-ups listening to the flirting that was exchanged between her and Josiah. And especially the sordid conversations, among other things, that happened behind closed doors. Sabrina would do anything for her country, and she accepted the fact that she would have to do things she wasn’t proud of. Regardless, she didn’t have to like it. Sabrina took a deep breath and sighed.
“Getting restless, are we?” Benning asked.
In fact, she was. What could possibly be taking Josiah and Raymond so long? It wasn’t like the minimart was filled with customers.
“It’s not like you have anywhere to be, you know,” Benning continued. “At least not now anyway. Soon, you’ll be six feet under. Buried where no one can find you.”
Beside her, Troy breathed a sigh of annoyance. The problem with Benning was that he didn’t always know when to shut up. Similarly, Sabrina didn’t always know when to keep her mouth shut, either. Like now.
“You don’t really believe that?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“They say behind every good man is a good woman.” Sabrina leaned in closer and whispered, “I’m that woman. I make Josiah better. A better business man than he ever was before.”
Benning glowered. “Please! You mean nothing to him. You’re just a piece he keeps around to play with. A common whore.”
Sabrina smirked. “Maybe so. But who does he trust to count his money, to set up meetings, to use his personal computer? Me. Who does he constantly protect, Benning? Who does he care about? Again, me.”
Sabrina knew she was getting to him. His breathing was getting deeper and his eyes had hardened.
“Even after all this time, after all the shit that went down at the compound, Josiah let me back into his arms as if nothing ever happened. He loves me.” Sabrina figured that last part was a bit of a stretch but it still had the desired effect. “Face it, Benning. I’m better than you. Always have been and always will be.”
Sabrina scoffed. “A common whore as you put it. So if anybody’s going to be six feet under, it’s you. And your soul? It’s going straight to hell.”
Before Sabrina could process what was happening, Benning reached out and punched her so hard on the jaw that it sent her head flying into Troy’s rough shoulder. He then grabbed the back of her neck and brought it down on the console and back. Sabrina was seeing stars. Her head was pounding and her nose throbbed viciously. She wasn’t sure if Benning had broken it or not, but one thing was for sure; blood started to dribble from her nostrils. Her jaw was on fire, feeling like it had been dislocated. With a good grip on the nape of Sabrina’s neck, Benning growled. She hoped that her wig hadn’t fallen out of place.
“You always did have a mouth on you, Nikki. Maybe that was something Josiah liked about you. Maybe you’ll extend that same pleasure to me, princess.” Benning cackled like an insane hyena.
“Benning.” Troy spoke and placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder. “Enough. Josiah’s coming.”
Sure enough, Josiah and Ray were strolling through the parking lot with a shopping bag in tow. One damn bag. Benning gave one last squeeze before letting go. Josiah climbed into the passenger seat, and as he did, he met Sabrina’s eye in rear mirror. No doubt he saw the blood on her face as well as bruises beginning to form. Something flashed in his eyes. Concern maybe, but it was gone as soon as it came. Ray climbed into the car next and tossed the grocery bag to Troy. He followed Josiah’s eyes and saw the same thing. He immediately frowned.
“What the hell happened?” he demanded.
Benning shrugged. “Jo said not to kill her. She’s still here isn’t she?”