azombiewrites: (Department S)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: The Man with a New Body
Fandom: Department S
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Angst.
Rating: PG
Warning: Whumpage
Main Characters: Stewart Sullivan, Annabelle Hurst and Jason King.
Secondary Characters: Sir Curtis Seretse.
Disclaimer: Based on the characters created by Dennis Spooner and Monty Berman.
Challenge: Written for [livejournal.com profile] 10_hurt_comfort
Prompt: #5 Pain
Chapter Word Count: 9,969
Total Word Count: 34,760
Status: Complete

Summary: In an attempt to keep a case unsolved, the agents of Department S are abducted. Kept hidden away in an isolated location. When two of them escape plans begin to unravel leaving one life at risk.




The Man with a New Body

Chapter Two


Impatient. Concerned. Gaze erratic, Annabelle searched the street. Front and back. Anxiety nagging at the back of her mind. Something was wrong, she was sure of it. She looked back over her shoulder. Bridge Street still empty. Turned back to the front . . .

Coming around the corner, a man on foot. Tall, thick head of hair, neat moustache. Hands in his pockets, head held high, he looked liked he belonged. She took her hand off the steering wheel, left it hovering over the car’s horn, ready to alert Stewart.

Behind her. The sound of a vehicle’s engine. She flicked her gaze upward. A white van reflected in the rear-view mirror. It moved slowly, with intent. Two men in the front seat. Annabelle took a moment to look away, find the man walking along the street. He stepped onto the road, his pace picking up speed. Stopped in front of her car, blocking the way.

Everything happening so quickly. In the middle of the road, the van stopped beside her.

Indecisive, Annabelle no longer sure, if she should alert Stewart to the danger now present. If these men were unaware Stewart and Jason were searching Finch’s home . . . Decision made, she lowered her hand. Stewart wouldn’t be happy, she knew but she also felt the need to protect him, Stewart still healing. Still vulnerable. She shuddered, the sight of Stewart caught in a violent nightmare still so fresh . . .

The man, satisfied expression, moved around the car . . .

Annabelle turned the ignition. Reached for the handbrake . . .

He opened the car door. Reached in. Took her upper arm in a powerful grip and pulled her out of the car. No use struggling, Annabelle not strong enough to escape his hold.

The side door of the van slid open . . .

Stewart Sullivan lay in an uncoordinated lump on the floor of the van, his face toward her, eyes closed. Fear embracing her chest, her heart skipped a beat. Beside Stewart, Jason King sat against the wall of the van. He stared back at her, arms behind his back, legs stretched out in front of him. A cut above his right eye, still bleeding, a trickle of blood marking his skin like a dark scar.

“Get in.”

No choice, pushed forward and up, she stumbled and fell into the van. Floor painful against her knees. She stole a moment, fingers of her right hand touching the side of Sullivan’s face. He felt warm . . . too warm. Annabelle searched what she could see of Sullivan, looking for any injuries; a reason he was unconscious. A growing bruise on his jaw. A puncture wound on the side of his neck. Drugged.

The man with the moustache stepped up into the van. Settled down on the floor, back to the front of the van. A crowded space, Annabelle moved away, closer to the wall. She realised the man had been watching. A mistake made. Her physical touch of Sullivan giving away too much; something to use against them. She turned her head. King stared ahead, refusing to look at her. Beyond King, sat John Finch.

The van’s door slammed shut. A small amount of light in the back of the van, the front section shut off. The only window covered with a curtain. The engine roared, the van jerked, drove away from Bridge Street, Stratford.

Annabelle calmed her beating heart. Concentrated. At the end of the street, the van turned left and followed a straight road. Turned right. If she could follow the turns, the direction of the sun. More light in the van when the sun faced the van’s small window. She leaned back against the van. Intent gaze on the window, easier to concentrate . . .

“I wouldn’t bother, Miss. Hurst,” said the man. “It’s going to be a long drive.”

She shifted her gaze. Refused to look down at Sullivan. “You have me at a disadvantage. I don’t know who you are.”

“Until I’m ready, you’ll stay at a disadvantage.”

“You abducted Henry Declan.”

“Of course he did,” said King, breaking his silence. “And he’s abducting us because we’ve gotten too close.”

The man smiled. No humour in the expression. Reached into a coat pocket. Pulled out a Walter PPK handgun. Pressed the barrel against Sullivan’s forehead. A warning given. “I don’t need Sullivan. It’s dangerous to keep a man with his abilities alive. You’ll stay silent, both of you. If you don’t . . .”

Expecting Jason to make an off-handed comment, Annabelle held her breath. Waited. King remained silent. Annabelle grateful. The van turned a corner, too sharp, its occupants thrown to the side. A moment of insanity, Annabelle considered attempting to take the gun from the man’s fingers. Common sense returned she glanced away, downward. Stewart now lay on his back, head swaying side to side, matching the van’s movements. She wanted to reach out. Touch him. Make him more comfortable. She couldn’t. Her first touch of Sullivan when she entered the van already used against them.

The man slammed a fist against the piece of wood hiding the front section. Shouted over his shoulder. “Take it easy. We don’t want to draw any attention to ourselves.”

A barely heard grunt of acknowledgement from the front seat.

It felt like hours. The drive long. An anxious wait. Sullivan not waking. They had driven out of London, Annabelle was sure of that. Now in the country. The sun no longer facing the window. She was unsure of their direction. The van finally slowed. Turned onto a road rough with potholes. Followed a long curve in the road and came to a stop. They had reached their final destination.

The man stayed still. Gun still held in his right hand. John Finch stood up. Reached forward and opened the van’s sliding door. He jumped out. Turned. Grabbed Sullivan’s leg and pulled. Stopped when Sullivan’s legs hung over the edge of the door. Took a wrist and pulled Sullivan upright. Sullivan limp, body palpable. Finch leaned down. Shoulder against Sullivan’s abdomen, he lifted, slinging Sullivan over his shoulder. Walked away.

Annabelle watched, helpless, her fear for Sullivan growing. If this man was so willing to kill Stewart . . .

The man moved backward, stepping out of the van. Gun held upright. “Out.”

Using the heels of his feet, King dragged himself forward. A clumsy attempt. Annabelle noticed the rope restraining King’s hands behind his back. King managed to find the edge of the door. A small push and he was out. Stood up. Stepped to the side and waited. Gaze steady, he watched the man with the gun.

Annabelle stood up. Shoulders hunched. Moved forward and climbed out of the van. She turned her head at the sound of the van’s front doors closing. A man, similar build to the one in front of her, stood close by. His face bloody. Nose obviously broken. Another man walked around the front of the van. Stopped by the second man. Guns removed from coat pockets. They were careful. Coordinated. No chance of escape. Not yet.

“Inside.”

Annabelle turned. Looked. An old, single-storey industrial building stretched out before them. A crumbling, brick chimney made a futile attempt to cling to the right side of the building. She searched the immediate area. Low, rock walls separating green paddocks. Trees sparse. No other buildings in sight . . . Nowhere to hide.

“Now!”

A hand against her back, pushing her forward. She took in as much as she could. In front of her, King would be doing the same. They entered the building through an open roller door. A button pushed, the door rolled down. Closed.

Inside the building. Miss-matched fabricated rooms set in crooked rows. At least a four-foot gap between the ceiling of the building and the flat roofs of the fabricated rooms. Short hallways. Sharp corners. No sign of Finch or Sullivan.

The man with the clean-shaven face, and lack of blood, moved around them, taking the lead. Expected to follow, Annabelle moved forward, King behind her. She looked into every open room. Every short corridor. Unable to see Stewart, she became anxious for his safety. The man in front of her stopped. Opened a door. Stood to the side.

“Inside.”

Expecting to find Sullivan, Annabelle stepped into an empty room. King moved in behind her. The door closed. Locked. She turned to face King, an expression of concern on his features.

Stewart.

.
.
.

Not a quick, sudden return to a conscious state. Awareness lingering on the sidelines, waiting. A slow arrival. Heavy fatigue unwilling to leave. A slow retreat. An ache behind his eyes, spreading through his skull. His body. Pain burrowing through his right side. A pulsating rhythm. Thump. Thump. Thump. Pushing forward. Pulling back. Playing with him. Thump. Thump. Thump. He shifted his body. An attempt to roll away from the pain . . . A hiss escaped through dry lips.

Faculties a stumbling mess, unable to understand why he couldn’t move. A second attempt. Limbs still heavy. Still unable to move. Brain attempting to gain knowledge, understanding of his situation . . .

Something tight around his wrists. His ankles.

A warm breath against the side of his face . . .

Fear ripped through him.

He was still in the room.

Still strapped into the chair.

No.

Please.

No.

Sullivan’s head snapped up. Fell back, lolling to the side. Drug-induced fatigue sapping his strength. His gaze clumsy, flickering across the ceiling, unable to settle on one thing. The fear tightened his chest. Lungs unable to pull in a deep breath. He panicked. Fast, shallow breaths. Pulled at his restraints, fingers curling into fists. A deep, gutted groan tore from his throat.

They will break him. He had no doubt. His mind would fracture into a thousand pieces. It would be his undoing. If he survived the torture . . . he would be useless, a liability . . . a man broken beyond repair. Yet to reach the point of no return, he was going to fight. Fight with everything he had and more. Fight until they broke him.

Finding more strength, Sullivan fought to free his limbs. Head lifting, shoulders hunching, body tense with the effort. Pulled with his hands. Pushed with his feet, fighting against what held him down. His entire body moved. Balance lost, he began to fall backward. Stopped, a firm touch on his shoulder pushing him back.

Fingers seized his jaw. A painful grip turned his head, holding him still. Vision blurred, Sullivan struggled to focus. Jaw released, his head falling back once more, gaze finding the ceiling. Blinked. Breaths still shallow, fear still strong. Tried for a deep breath. Couldn’t take one in, the fear constricting his lungs.

A tall, thin man stood over him, upper body hovering over Sullivan. Face so close. Breath, warm against Sullivan’s skin. Sullivan blinked. Frowned. Something familiar about the man. Brain sluggish, he couldn’t think. Couldn’t recognise the man standing over him. Standing too close.

Couldn’t see it coming . . .

Fast and violent, the fist collided with the left side of his face, his head snapping sideways. Edges of his vision turned dark, Sullivan struggling to stay awake. Fingers in his hair, pulling his head back, a sharp tug. Painful. His vision danced. Everything out of focus. Mouth open, he struggled to breathe. The fear and panic still in him.

His fingers still in Sullivan’s hair, grip still tight, still painful, the man stepped back. Moved around the chair, standing beside it, keeping Sullivan’s head up . . .

A violent flow of ice-cold water against his face . . .

Abrupt awareness.

Sullivan gasped, swallowed. Fought to breathe.

His head pulled back, fingers brushing through his short hair . . .

Water entered his lungs, cold and painful, drawing out a violent cough. He held back a groan when the pain tore at his side. Coughed once more. His fingers curled around the arms of the chair, a tight hold. He blinked the water out of his eyes, vision beginning to clear. Rivulets of water ran down his skin, over his face. His neck. Soaking into the collar of his shirt. Skin chilled, goose bumps forming.

Head released, Sullivan forced forward, his upper body bending at the waist. The change of position quick and unexpected. A sudden bout of dizziness, his world spinning. Closed his eyes and hoped for the best. A few moments. An eventual settlement, his world stopping its sickening spin. He opened his eyes.

Beneath him, a cement floor. His feet were bare, shoes and socks removed. Rope wrapped around his ankles, the front legs of a wooden chair. He lifted his gaze, heart pounding in his chest. His wrists tied to the arms of the chair . . . rope used. No leather straps. Gray trousers. White shirt. His waistcoat, tie and jacket gone . . .

He wasn’t in that room.

He wasn’t strapped down into a chair with leather restraints.

Sullivan closed his eyes. Released a grateful breath. It wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be as bad. He would survive unbroken, his mind in one piece. It couldn’t be as bad . . .

Hands on his shoulders pulled him back up. His balance shifted, an ugly feeling, mind floating, still slow to respond. The hands pressed downward, fingers digging into his shoulders, keeping him in place.

It couldn’t be as bad.

Sullivan uncurled his fingers. Relaxed his body. He couldn’t let them see his fear, not as strong as it had been, but still there. Lingering. It can’t be as bad. Breathed in. Slow and deep. He looked up, gaze searching. Something tugged at his memory, pushing forward. He couldn’t grasp it, the memory quickly fading into the background.

There before him, stood the man with thick hair, trimmed moustache, wearing a brown suit. Like a slap in the face, the memory snapped forward . . .

Jason.

Annabelle.

A warm breath against the side of his face . . . He wasn’t in that room. He turned his head. Calm and slow. Beside him, John Finch, an expression of anger on his face. A flash of movement. Sullivan turned his head, tried to roll with the punch. Too late, brain still trying to free itself of a drug-induced stupor. Finch’s fist hit his jaw with surprising accuracy. A solid blow. Painful. Teeth biting his tongue, he could taste the blood. A second punch left him stunned, brain shutting down, eyes closing . . .

Another torrent of cold water thrown into his face.

His eyes snapped open. No time given to react. To think. Fingers in his hair pulled his head back, his neck straining. An open-handed slap across the side of his face . . .

The next blow more accurate than the last. His head spun. Pain, unforgiving, heavy and thick filled his skull. The heel of Finch’s hand slammed into his chest, his solar plexus. The air burst from his lungs. His diaphragm froze . . .

“Enough!”

Head released, Sullivan fell forward. Water cold against his skin, he did everything he could to take a breath. His body refused, diaphragm unwilling to co-operate. A sound of wheezing filled the room, Sullivan’s struggle to breathe obvious to those around him.

A hand against his shoulder, pushing him back against the chair. A hand cupped his jaw, a soft touch. His head lifted. Sullivan’s gaze unsteady, losing focus. He couldn’t breathe. His chest ached. Panic churned his gut. He couldn’t breathe, his lungs fighting a losing battle.

“Breathe, Mr. Sullivan.”

He closed his eyes. Concentrated. Relaxed his muscles. Allowed his body to do what it did naturally. Edges of his vision turning black, his diaphragm moved. A deep breath. A sharp pain in his chest. His side. Breathe out. Back in. Shallow breaths, the pain too sharp. It felt like something was broken.

A gentle slap against his cheek. Sullivan opened his eyes, his focus returning. His gaze shifted. Looked up into the eyes of Henry Declan. Sullivan blinked. A slow movement. His eyelids heavy. Confused, Sullivan frowned.

Henry Declan stepped back. Smiled. Waved his hand toward Finch.

Sullivan expected the violence to continue. He turned his head. Watched as John Finch moved away. A slap against the back of his head. Sullivan winced. A man came from behind him. Stopped next to Finch. The face familiar, Sullivan recognised him. Jack. A third man stood by the door. Nose broken. A collection of small buckets on the floor beside him.

It couldn’t be as bad as the last time.

Sullivan turned his head back. Ache in his skull shifting, growing to a new level of pain. In front of him, Henry Declan and the man with the moustache. He had to concentrate. A very difficult thing to do. He blinked. Bit his teeth into his cheek. The sharp pain brought his mind into focus. Concentration a little easier.

“I’m sorry Eddie couldn’t join us,” said the man with the moustache. “You gave him a skull fracture.”

His throat dry, Sullivan swallowed. The effort painful. “I’ll send him a get well card.” His voice was hoarse, barely a whisper. The underlying message clearly understood. Defiant, he was going to fight them all the way.

Finch stepped forward. Fist at the ready . . .

“John,” said in warning. “We’ll ask first.”

Continuing forward, Finch stopped beside Sullivan. Waited.

Sullivan refused to acknowledge Finch. Gaze steady, Sullivan watched the two men in front of him.

“My name is Albert Stanford. You know Mr. Declan,” said Stanford. “And you’ve met John, Jack and Stanley.”

There was only one reason Albert Stanford would give his name. Only one reason they would allow him to see Declan as a willing participant. An understanding of his intended fate left an uncomfortable feeling in Sullivan’s gut. He wasn’t afraid to die. His life at risk every day. What he didn’t want was to die in this chair. Arms and legs restrained; a reminder of the torture he’d endured resting at the back of his mind. He didn’t want to take that memory with him to the grave.

“You’re missing someone,” said Sullivan.

Stanford stepped forward. “And who would that be, Mr. Sullivan?”

“Sarah Townsend.”

Not surprised, Stanford nodded. “Very perceptive, Mr. Sullivan but expected. Sarah was a risk we had to take. We needed someone on the inside. Obviously, that was a mistake.”

The statement confused Sullivan. He had too many questions. If Declan was willing, why did they need someone inside? Why take the risk? For appearance sake? For the benefit of Declan’s wife?

“What led you to John Finch?”

An immediate answer required. Not yet willing to release the information gained during the short investigation into Declan’s disappearance, Sullivan remained silent. Stared back at Stanford. Knowing what was coming, he kept the tension from his body. Relaxed his neck . . . clenched his jaw. The blow more powerful than he anticipated.

“Not so hard next time, John. I want him awake.”

Not as bad as before . . .

They were just getting started . . .

Taking it as permission to continue, Finch struck again. The punch just as hard. Just as destructive as the previous one.

Head falling forward, Sullivan grimaced. If they kept this up, he wasn’t going to last. He wasn’t going to stay conscious long enough . . . The back of Finch’s left fist struck the side of Sullivan’s head.

Thrown into his face, another bucket of cold water.

Still conscious. The water cold enough to bring him back to his senses.

Stanford stepped forward. Stopped next to Sullivan. Leaned down . . . so close. His breath warm against Sullivan’s chilled skin. Snatches of memory stumbling through his mind, Sullivan fought to control his emotions. He could feel the fear. Hear his own voice screaming, the pain unbearable. A never-ending barrage of questions. He wasn’t in that room. He wasn’t there. This couldn’t be any worse . . .

Fingers gripped his jaw, a painful grip on bruised and swelling flesh. Stanford lifted and turned Sullivan’s head, staring into pain-filled eyes.

“I want to know everything, Sullivan. I want to know what led you to Finch. I want to know if our mission has been compromised. You will tell me.”

“No,” said Sullivan. No more words required.

Stanford released his hold. Stood upright. “You think you can hold out on us.”

“I don’t think. I know.”

It can’t be as bad as the last time.

Stanford smiled. “I’ve been told you’re very good at what you do, Mr. Sullivan. Department S solves the unsolvable. You’re here because we don’t want the case solved. But we need to know how much you’ve learnt. We need to know if you’ve told anyone what you’ve found out. I need to know if you told anyone about John Finch.”

Gaze steady; assured, showing more confidence than he felt, Sullivan stared at Stanford.

“You’re either very stubborn or very stupid, Mr. Sullivan.”

A silent response.

“You know the situation you’re in. You know what’s going to happen if you don’t talk and yet you sit there, defiant, willing to take a beating and for what? To show me how tough you are?” Stanford smiled. “This is why I chose to question you and not your fellow Department S agents. You’re strong. Mentally and physically. I see you as a challenge. Something to play with. Something to break. And I will break you.” Stanford returned to his previous position, leaning down. Close . . . too close. Breath warm. Words whispered into Sullivan’s ear. “If you don’t break, I’ll question the woman.”

Annabelle.

Sullivan kept his expression neutral.

Was Stanford bluffing?

Sullivan decided to call Stanford’s bluff. See how far the man was willing to go. A lie given. “They don’t know what led me to Finch.”

“I’m sure you told them.”

“If you thought they knew, you’d ask them,” said Sullivan. Understanding dawned on him. Slow on the uptake, physical abuse affecting his ability to think clearly. “You didn’t choose me to break me. You chose me because you know I’m the one with all the information. I’m calling your bluff.”

Stanford smiled. Nodded. Stood up and stepped away, turning his back on Sullivan. “Break him. Do whatever it takes.”

Sullivan laughed. A reaction caused by anxiety. It won’t be as bad. “Yuri Krasnoff couldn’t break me.”

Turning around, Stanford frowned. “Yuri Krasnoff?”

“Ask him,” said Sullivan, looking at Declan.

Stanford did, turning toward Henry Declan. “Do you know who he’s talking about?”

Declan took a long moment, forehead creasing in thought. Face relaxing, he said, “No. He’s pulling his own bluff.”

Sullivan frowned. Suspicious. Yuri Krasnoff, very well known amongst the hierarchy of MI5. Declan should have known Krasnoff. He began to think. Sullivan didn’t believe there had been enough time to brainwash Declan; something that would take days, maybe weeks. Was it possible . . . Declan should have known. Sullivan stared at Declan, taking in his appearance. Compared it with the photos they had of Declan. He noticed a mild difference, only there if you took the time to look. A faint scar beneath his right ear.

It wasn’t Henry Declan . . .

“What do you see, Mr. Sullivan?” said Stanford.

Sullivan tore his gaze away from Declan. “I see Henry Declan.”

Stanford shook his head. “I saw it in your eyes. You understand. Very smart, Mr. Sullivan. You now know too much. It will cost you. But, first . . . what did you see?”

Silence.

Stanford nodded to Finch.

Finch changed position. Stood in front of Sullivan. Smiled. Sullivan stared back. It won’t be as . . .

A powerful punch to the right side of Sullivan’s face. He could feel the pain through his cheek, his jaw. The room began a slow turn, his balance threatened. Unexpected, Finch went lower, a punch to the right side of his ribcage, targeting his liver. The pain so strong, so sharp, Sullivan cried out. Curled his body forward. Tried to lift his knees, rope holding his legs in place. Eyes moist with the pain. Gagged on the bile rising into his throat. Sullivan began to lose focus.

His upper body pulled back, neck against the back of the chair. A second punch to the same area. Already injured rib breaking. Body held in place. Sullivan’s mouth opened in a silent scream, voice caught in his throat. He couldn’t breathe through the pain. Fingers dug into the chair’s arms, knuckles turning white. Too much pain. A short, painful, shallow breath. It was all he could manage. Harsh, shallow breaths . . .

Happy with his work, Finch stepped back.

Stanford moved forward, around Finch. Stopped next to Sullivan. Leaned over. Face so close. Sullivan couldn’t focus on what was above him, the pain too great. Stanford placed the palm of his hand on Sullivan’s forehead. Sullivan’s gaze unsteady, pupils dilated with pain.

“What did you see?”

Patience lost, Stanford shouted, “What did you see!”

Finch moved back into position . . .

Stanford removed his hand. Held it up. “No. I don’t think he’ll feel it right now. We’ll give him some time to recover. Finch, you and Stanley bring the other two in. Jack, go make a call. Find out who Yuri Krasnoff is and what his association is with Mr. Sullivan. Henry, take your leave. I don’t want King and Hurst to see you.”

Orders followed, the four men left the room.

Moving toward the door, Stanford picked up one of the buckets. Returned to Sullivan. Lifted the bucket over Sullivan. Tipped it over, the water falling onto Sullivan’s face and head.

Sullivan’s body jerked in surprise. He lifted his head, turning it away. Difficult. Body weak and in pain, his head falling forward. Water in his mouth, Sullivan coughed. It hurt. Swallowed. The water in his lungs painful. So much pain. He closed his eyes. Tried to breathe. Quick breaths. It felt like an eternity. The pain finally beginning to fade. No longer sharp, turning into a deep, pulsing ache.

Focus returning, Sullivan evaluated his injuries. He knew his rib was broken; the pain recognised. If Finch had hit him hard enough, it was possible his liver suffered trauma. A bruised liver needed no medical treatment but if there was a tear, or a rupture, he was in serious trouble. His head and face hurt, much like a migraine. Certain he hadn’t suffered a concussion . . . yet.

It could be worse.

It was going to get worse.

The door opened. Sullivan glanced to his left. So out of it, he hadn’t realised four of the men had left the room. Annabelle stood in the doorway, expression composed. Good girl. He lifted his head. Noticed his fingers cramped around the arms of the chair. He relaxed his hands. Allowed the tension to fall from his body. Putting on a show of strength for Annabelle. A subtle shift, a single twitch of his left eyelid. Message sent; he was okay. He’d been through worse.

He knew he didn’t look okay. Left side of his face the colour of fresh bruising. Sure to be an ugly, red in colour, the flesh swollen. Water still dripping from his hair. Shirt and trousers soaked. Not wanting to keep eye contact, Sullivan looked away. Searched for Stanford. The man was watching the door. Annabelle. He nodded. Annabelle pushed into the room.

Sullivan refused to react. If he showed any concern, any emotion, Stanford would use it against him. A familiar odour. Nicotine. Sobranie cigarettes. Jason. They moved into the center of the room. In front of Sullivan. Finch followed, gun in his right hand. The other man . . . Stanley behind him, a chair in each hand. Stanley placed the chairs on the other side of the room, a large gap between them; Sullivan on the opposite side, a triangle created . . .

Their positions would give Annabelle and Jason a clear line of sight . . . front row seats. It was possible Stanford was about to change tactics. Use him against his colleagues. If they didn’t talk . . . Sullivan would suffer the consequences. Sullivan wasn’t sure how long Annabelle would last, not normally placed in such a violent situation. She had seen the aftermath of injuries suffered, but she had never seen him receive a serious injury . . . never seen him tortured.

It could also go the other way. Continue to question him. Jason or Annabelle hurt if he remained silent . . .

So hard to keep his expression inflexible. In his mind, Sullivan recited a piece of childhood poetry. Watched as Stanley tied Annabelle and Jason to the chairs. He looked at Jason. The man unharmed except for a small cut above his eye. Jason stared back. Sullivan could read his expression. Refusing to answer, Sullivan looked away.

Finch stepped in front of Sullivan.

Stanford moved in, closer to Sullivan, stopping beside him. “Shall we try again, Mr. Sullivan? What did you see? How did you know?”

Expecting a frontal attack, Sullivan watched Finch.

Beside him, Stanford moved quickly. A strong, sudden hold over Sullivan’s right hand. A grip on his small finger. In one, quick fluid movement, Stanford forced the finger to the side, bone breaking at the base. Sullivan screamed a guttural shout. Leaned forward. Pain through his right side. Broken rib protesting. Stanford held on, twisting the finger. Sullivan clenched his eyes closed. Gritted his teeth. Short breaths through his nose.

Across the room, Annabelle looked away, unable to watch.

King held onto the arms of the chair, his grip tight.

The door opened.

Stanford let go. Stepped away from Sullivan, moving into a corner on the far left side of the room. Jack joined him. A quiet conversation started. Stanford glanced back over his shoulder, his gaze assessing Sullivan. Conversation over, Stanford returned to Sullivan’s side. Took a handful of hair, pulled Sullivan’s head up. Back.

Refusing to show any weakness, Sullivan glared back at him.

“I don’t know if I should respect you,” said Stanford, “or fear you, Mr. Sullivan. Anyone who can endure such pain should be treated as a worthy adversary.”

Don’t go there. Don’t put it out in the open. He hadn’t told Annabelle everything. Left out certain details. He swallowed the fear rising into his throat, his chest tight with emotion. Don’t go there. He wasn’t in that room. He wanted to close his eyes. Take a moment . . . the smell of Brown Avon aftershave lingered in the air. He could feel the leather around his wrists. Hear his own screams . . . a warm breath on the side of his face.

Sullivan closed his eyes.

“I can break him,” said Finch.

“No, John. It seems we’ve been wasting our time on Sullivan. We need to change tactics.” Stanford leaned down. A position of power. Close to Sullivan. “Mr. Finch isn’t averse to hitting a woman.”

His eyes snapped opened. Stanford’s words bringing him back to the present. The thing he feared more than being back in that room, strapped to that chair with leather restraints was someone hurting Annabelle. He didn’t want Annabelle to feel what he was feeling. Didn’t want her to feel the pain of torture. He would talk to protect her. Anything to protect her . . .

“Gag him,” said Stanford, returning to an upright position.

Quick. Jack moved forward, taking up a position behind Sullivan.

“No--”

Jack’s hand clamped over Sullivan’s mouth. Fingers dug into bruised cheeks. An arm wrapped around Sullivan’s throat, keeping his head up, pressed back into the crook of Jack’s shoulder, his gaze forward. Jack’s face so close, Sullivan could feel the stubble on his cheek. Words whispered into his left ear. “Bite me, and I promise you, I’ll break her fingers.”

Stanford smiled. “I can see it in your eyes, Mr. Sullivan. You’re willing to talk to protect her. But before you do talk . . . I want you to watch.”

King shifted in his chair. “You don’t have to hurt her. I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

“It’s too late for that. Sullivan saw something. I need to know what he saw so I can fix it.”

King frowned. Looked at Sullivan.

Sullivan’s heart pounded against his ribcage, a painful beat. His fear so strong. He struggled within Jack’s hold. Ropes burned his wrists. His ankles. He closed his eyes . . . if he couldn’t see . . . the arm around his throat tightened. Air supply constricted . . .

“Open your eyes, Sullivan,” said Stanford. “If you don’t watch, I’ll make her scream.”

Reluctant. Left without a choice, Sullivan opened his eyes. Stared at Annabelle. His eyes expressive. A silent apology given. She nodded. Annabelle understood. A heavy knot in his chest, the emotional ache hurting him more than the physical pain. If they hurt Annabelle . . . if she screamed . . . it would break him.

Finch stepped into Sullivan’s line of sight. Pulling his gaze away, Sullivan stared at Finch. The man smiled. Turned. Moved to stand in front of Annabelle.

King turned his head. No fear in his expression. Only acceptance. “I wouldn’t hurt her.”

Stanford placed a hand on Sullivan’s right shoulder. Fingers digging deep.

Finch turned to King. Raised an eyebrow. “You’re not. I am.”

“If you hurt her. . .” King nodded toward Sullivan.

Understanding, Sullivan relaxed his body. His features. The threat of violence he carried below a usually calm exterior rose to the surface. Expression speaking volumes, his eyes held a promised threat. He would kill without hesitation to protect Annabelle. To protect King.

Finch turned his head. Looked at Sullivan. Confidence dropping, Finch hesitated before turning back. An open-handed slap across the left side of Annabelle’s face. She cried out, more in surprise than pain but it was enough for Sullivan.

Stanford strengthened his grip, the hold on Sullivan’s shoulder becoming painful. Ignored it. Controlled his anger. His fear. If he could take a deep breath, he would, knowing it would help. Kept the silent threat in his expression. His eyes. Waited for Finch . . . hoped the man would look at him before he struck a second time.

Finch looked back over his shoulder . . . attempted a smile. Failed when he saw the way Sullivan was looking at him. Turned his back on Sullivan.

“Don’t be an idiot, John,” said Stanford. “There’s nothing Sullivan can do to stop you.”

“No,” said King. “But the moment he gets an opportunity, he will kill you for what you just did.”

Beads of sweat appeared on Finch’s forehead.

King smiled. Nodded in understanding. “Stewart was right. You are a nervous man--”

Stanford released his grip on Sullivan’s shoulder.

Sullivan closed his eyes. He wanted to keep that piece of information from Stanford.

“What are you talking about, Mr. King,” said Stanford, moving away from Sullivan, closer to King.

Opening his eyes, Sullivan watched. Waited for the inevitable.

King looked at Sullivan.

If he could shake his head, Sullivan would. Once Stanford had all the information they possessed about the abduction of Henry Declan, he will kill them.

“He didn’t tell you about their . . .” King hesitated, as though looking for the right words.

Annabelle smiled. “Stewart called it a one-sided altercation.”

“Really,” said King. “I must use that in my next book.”

Despite the situation, Sullivan rolled his eyes.

Ignoring the room and everyone in it, Stanford stepped close to Finch. “You had a run-in with Sullivan? I told you to keep your distance. Not to approach him or let him see you!”

“He’s lying,” said Finch. “They’re trying to turn us against each other.”

“Explain.”

“Considering Finch was unconscious for most of it,” said King, “you may want to ask Stewart to explain.”

Stewart didn’t want to explain.

Undeterred, King continued. “He showed up at the Tearoom when Stewart was meeting with Seretse. We’re assuming he had prior knowledge of their meeting. A leak in--”

Sullivan’s anger changed direction. A deep growl rising in his throat, the sound muffled behind Jack’s hand. He glared at King.

King noticed Sullivan’s reaction. He looked embarrassed. “I fear, I’ve said too much.”

Stanford looked back at Sullivan before turning back to King. “Please continue, Mr. King.”

“What more is there to say?”

“Jack,” said Stanford.

Jack tightened his hold on Sullivan’s throat. Breathing already difficult, the chokehold successful, Sullivan’s source of air cut off. No longer able to breathe. An attempt to force King to talk. Sullivan closed his eyes. Recited poetry. Anything to stay calm. He didn’t want Annabelle to see this, to watch him suffer . . . Seconds passed. A minute. Two minutes. He couldn’t keep fighting his body’s need for oxygen . . .

Lungs screamed. Fingers curled around the arms of the chair, broken finger sticking out at an odd angle. Someone had to give in. Jack held on, embrace around Sullivan’s throat still too tight. Stanford remained silent. Sullivan’s upper body tried to move, back arching forward, body slumping further down into the chair. Jack moved with him, keeping his grip around Sullivan’s throat.

If he could hold out. Stanford wanted him conscious . . . an idea began to form in Sullivan’s mind.

“Stop,” said King.

Stanford waved his hand in the air.

Jack weakened his grip.

Sullivan drew in a painful, harsh breath. He wanted to take a deep breath. Knew he couldn’t. Shallow breaths in and out through his nose, he couldn’t get enough oxygen into his lungs. Relax. One breath at a time. His lungs settled, no longer fighting.

“Talk, Mr. King.”

No.

If Jason talked . . . all this pain for nothing.

“We assume there’s a leak in Seretse’s office. Stewart confronted Finch. Knocked him unconscious with one punch, if Stewart told the story truthfully. He then searched Finch and found his identification. When they questioned Mrs. Declan, she told Stewart and Annabelle a man had come to her home a few days before her husband was abducted. When she described him, Stewart realised she was talking about Finch. It wasn’t a coincidence. Finch at the Declan’s home and there at the meeting. We knew Finch was the key. Find him and we find you.”

Finch began to fidget, unable to stand still. A trickle of sweat running down the side of his face.

“And what made . . . Stewart, suspicious of Finch?”

“Finch isn’t very good at spying on people.”

“So,” said Stanford. “The person who led you to Finch was Finch.”

“Gave himself away, I’m afraid,” said King.

“Does anyone outside of Department S know about Finch?”

Said too quickly. “Yes.”

Stanford turned his shoulders, toward Sullivan . . .

“Stewart was going to make a report to Seretse this afternoon.”

Sullivan closed his eyes. He had to do something drastic. Anything to end this.

“Our mission hasn’t been compromised, then.”

Finch relaxed, tense shoulders sagging with relief.

Time running short, Sullivan aware that Stanford had one remaining question. An answer only Sullivan could give.

So unexpected. Stanford drew the Walter PPK from his coat pocket and shot Finch. A heavy weight, Finch fell, dead when he hit the floor. A bullet to the heart. Very little blood. A silent, almost painless death. Sullivan knew Stanford wouldn’t give him the same . . . kindness. His own death would be violent and very painful.

Stanford put the gun away, patted his pockets. Turned and walked to the other side of the room. Stopped in front of Sullivan. Nodded to Jack.

Jack released his hold on Sullivan. Stepped back.

Already in the correct position, Sullivan stayed slouched in the chair. He was ready. Waiting. Any opportunity and he would take it. He should have done it sooner. Knew it would only bring him more pain. No longer cared. Knew Stanford would do whatever it took to gain information. Sullivan had to stop this now.

Stanford leaned over . . .

Sullivan shifted forward. Tilted his head downward. Clenched his teeth. Neck muscles stiff. Bending the middle of his back, he snapped his head back then forward. Forehead slamming into Stanford’s nose. Enough strength behind the blow to break bone.

Stanford stood up and stumbled back, a strangled noise hissed out through clenched teeth. Hands reached for his face, blood spurting from his nose.

Refusing to look at Annabelle or King, Sullivan smiled in satisfaction, sat back and waited for the consequences of his actions.

He didn’t have to wait long . . .

Stanford roared in pain and anger. Moved quickly. Wanting to cause as much damage as possible, Stanford struck out, closed fist battering Sullivan’s right side. Stanford so angry, his efforts clumsy. Not a direct hit to the liver but it was still painful.

Not what Sullivan wanted or needed.

Stanford threw a second punch. The blow to the side of Sullivan’s head so powerful, it knocked Sullivan off his feet, momentum forcing the chair to tip. Balance lost, the chair fell over, taking Sullivan with it. His right shoulder hit the floor hard, the pain jarring his collarbone. Pain burned through his right side. Broken finger caught beneath the arm of the chair . . .

He could hear Annabelle’s voice, her tone desperate, begging Stanford to stop. He could hear King’s threats . . .

Could feel his consciousness leaving him . . . closed his eyes and let it go.

.
.
.

Not finished, not enough satisfaction given, Stanford stepped around the chair. Raised his leg, heel forward. His intent obvious . . .

Annabelle, heart in her throat, fear squeezing her chest and curling her stomach, struggled to speak. “You still need him. He saw something!”

Jack reacted. A hold on Stanford’s right elbow. Pulled him back, away from Sullivan. No words spoken. Pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket, holding it up for Stanford. The offer taken, Stanford held it against his nose. White quickly turned red, blood dripping onto Stanford’s shirt, the floor.

Her heart still pounding painfully in her chest, Annabelle leaned to her left. An awkward position. Searched Sullivan’s face. His features relaxed, she knew he was unconscious . . . no longer in pain. The left side of his face swollen, an angry red already beginning to turn purple. She blinked back the tears filling her eyes. Couldn’t afford to show any emotion. Sat up. A quick glance toward King. Toward Finch. Returned her gaze to the front. Watched the man with the newly broken nose.

King was dealing with his own emotions. Wearing an expression of guilt, he stared at Sullivan, unable to look away.

Stanford, anger now under control, turned away from Sullivan. He nodded at the man by the door. Grimaced. Stepped back and watched. Bucket now in hand, Stanley moved forward. Close enough, he threw the water into Sullivan’s face. Annabelle flinched. Thankful no one had seen her reaction. Sullivan remained still, body and limbs slack. He wasn’t waking anytime soon. Stanley shook the dregs out of the bucket over Sullivan. Returned to his position beside the door. Dropped the bucket. Arms by his side.

Unsure of what would happen next, Annabelle held her breath. Not difficult. Fear and worry restricting her air supply. The room quiet, she could hear Sullivan’s quick, shallow breaths. Risked another glance. Sullivan’s chest and diaphragm rose and fell but the movement was clumsy, graceless. Something was wrong. A possible internal injury. Her worry grew. For Stewart. Herself . . . Jason.

Stewart seriously injured . . . escape more difficult.

“Untie the woman,” said Stanford.

Glance snapping forward, Annabelle acted as though nothing were wrong. Such a hard thing to do. Jack moved toward her. She made every attempt not to react to his touch. His actions rough as he untied her hands. Tried not to flinch when his gaze roamed over her lower body as he released her legs from the chair. Fingers caressed her ankles. She held her ground. Her breath. Stared back when he lifted his gaze to see her reaction. He smiled; something evil in his expression. Unlike Finch, this man didn’t fear Stewart Sullivan.

“Jack.”

Slow to react, Jack stood up. Walked away, finding a position next to the prone Sullivan. Smile still on his face. Worried, Annabelle looked away. Stanford moved forward, taking Jack’s place. He leaned forward. His face so close she could feel his breath, smell the blood, taste it on her tongue. She kept her expression still.

“You’ve been given a reprieve, Miss. Hurst. Be grateful Sullivan knows what he’s doing,” said Stanford. “You’ve got one hour. I want him awake. I want him still willing to talk. Do not convince him to stay silent.”

“He’s hurt,” said King. “No doubt, he now has a concussion. You won’t get much out of him.”

Annabelle understood. An attempt to buy more time.

“I need to know what he saw--”

“If he has suffered a concussion,” said Annabelle, “he won’t remember what he saw.”

Stanford smiled. “You’ll make sure he remembers.”

“I can’t. Not in an hour.”

A glance back over his shoulder. Gaze returning to Annabelle. “You’re very close. I can see how much you care for each other. Miss. Hurst, I am willing to kill to get an answer. I am willing to kill you. Do you want him to carry that guilt for the rest of his life?”

Not a stupid person, Annabelle said, “Once you have your answer, you won’t let him to live long enough to feel any guilt.”

“You underestimate me, Miss, Hurst. I can keep him here and alive for a very long time.”

Her eyes gave her away.

Stanford smiled. A smug expression. Pleased with her reaction.

King added his own observation. “If you kill Annabelle, you won’t get your answer.”

“And if I kill you?”

“It’s possible my death would be a conversation starter,” said King. “More so than Miss. Hurst’s.”

“Well, then, Mr. King, if you want to live, you will get him ready. One hour.”

Stanford walked away. Opened the door. Left the room. Stanley followed. Jack hesitated. Looked down at Sullivan . . .

Please don’t hurt him anymore.

Jack sighed. A sound of disappointment. Walked to the body in the middle of the room. Reached down. Picked up Finch’s legs and dragged him out of the room. Closed the door behind him. Locked it.

No hesitation. Annabelle stood up. Quickly moved to Sullivan’s side. She knelt beside him, fingers reaching for his carotid pulse point. Fingers hovered . . . afraid something was seriously wrong. No time to wait, imagination wild, creating so many scenarios . . . best to get on with it. Tips of her fingers pressed against the side of Sullivan’s neck. Annabelle closed her eyes. His pulse strong . . . rapid. Moved her hand up, palm against his forehead. Skin too warm. Ran her fingers through his wet hair, the water still cold, droplets still falling to the floor. Anger welled in her belly . . .

“Annabelle.”

She swallowed the emotion rising into her throat. Closed her eyes against the tears. Like Sullivan, she was normally calm, able to do her job . . . able to get herself out of a difficult situation. This . . . so much different. Stewart suffering another form of torture and she had been witness to part of it. Saw enough to make it so much harder to gain control. She removed her hand. A long look. Seeing so much. His long lashes against pale skin. Mouth open, he still breathed with difficulty . . . Annabelle shut her emotions down. She had to do this for Stewart. He was relying on her. On Jason. It was up to them to get him out. Get him home.

Stood up. Her legs trembling, she walked back to Jason. Refused to look into his eyes. Her emotions lingering on the edge of her mind, waiting for her to lose control. She wasn’t going to give into the fear, the worry. Stayed in control.

The knots tight, it took too long to release King from his bindings. Even longer to remove Sullivan from the chair; the skin on his wrists and ankles raw. Time wasted. Not enough time left. King curled his arms around Sullivan’s upper body. Annabelle took his legs. Together they lifted him. Carried him to the other side of the room, the floor dry. Laid him down, movements careful. Gentle. Positions changed, Annabelle sat on the floor. Lifted Sullivan’s head. Shifted her body into a better position. Back against the wall. Legs curled beneath her, she rested Sullivan’s head in her lap. Placed the palm of her hand on his chest. She could feel the heat building in his body . . .

For a moment, her mind wandered. Yuri Krasnoff. Had it been this bad . . .

“Finger first,” said King.

Pulled away from her thoughts, Annabelle nodded.

“Hold his hand.” King, sitting beside Sullivan, looked up. Stared at Annabelle. “A strong hold, Annabelle. I only want to do this once.”

She understood his meaning. Hesitated, not wanting to cause Stewart more pain. Unconscious, he wouldn’t remember it. She would. . . “Why did he do it?”

King frowned, expression growing impatient. “We don’t have time for--”

“I want to know why Stewart provoked that man. He had to have known he would retaliate.”

“It’s simple,” said King.

“Is it?”

“Stewart didn’t want you hurt. The only way he could think of to stop--”

“He did it on purpose, knowing . . .” She looked down at Sullivan.

“They can’t make him talk if he’s unconscious. He knew they wouldn’t hurt you if he couldn’t watch. Stewart did it to protect you.”

Resolve crumbling, Annabelle needed a moment. She knew and understood Stewart would go to the extreme to protect her. A deep breath. It was her turn; willing to do whatever it took to protect Stewart. She leaned forward, reached for Sullivan’s right hand. Held it in her hands. As instructed. A strong hold.

A sharp tug. Bone grinding back into place . . .

.
.
.

An abrupt return to consciousness. A quick intake of breath, the sound abrasive. Painful. His body shifting, pulling away from the pain.

A soft touch on the side of his face. Warm breath against his skin. Words spoken. Touch recognised. Sullivan knew it was Annabelle. He opened his eyes, the lids too heavy. Through blurred vision, he saw Annabelle above him. Smiled in relief.

The emotion torn from his features, pain through his right hand. Gaze shifting, Sullivan grated his back teeth. King strapped Sullivan’s fingers with the handkerchief from his jacket’s breast pocket. Pinkie and ring finger an odd couple. Pulled the wet shirt from Sullivan’s trousers, gathering the right side up far enough to reveal damaged flesh. Dark reds already changing colour. Amongst the growing bruise. Two inches in length . . . a scar across the side of the fifth rib, the skin still pink. Still healing. King reached toward it, fingers probing . . .

The pain so sharp. So sudden. Sullivan unable to stay quiet. A rasping cry escaped. Shallow breaths. Broken rib expanding, contracting. He felt faint. Dizziness clouded his vision. Nausea churned his stomach. Closed his eyes. Concentrated on the fingers caressing his face, Annabelle’s touch gentle. Her fingers brushing through his wet hair . . .

“Broken rib.” Explanation blunt, King lowered Sullivan’s shirt.

Feeling the need to explain, Sullivan said, “Liver punch. Two.”

“Check his abdomen,” said Annabelle.

“For?”

“Check if it’s swollen or firm.”

King followed Annabelle’s instructions.

Sullivan became tense. Feared that something was seriously wrong. He felt his abdomen give beneath King’s touch. Released his breath.

“Everything’s fine,” said King.

“Press into the right side.”

Not wanting any more pain, Sullivan tried to pull away . . .

Annabelle explained. “Right side of his abdomen. If there’s any tenderness. ..”

Nothing. No injury to his liver. Opened his eyes. Vision slightly clearer, Sullivan saw the emotion in Annabelle’s eyes . . . the red mark on the side of her face. He lifted his left hand, fingers reaching. “Annie?”

“I’m okay,” said Annabelle. Fingers stroking Sullivan’s forehead, she smiled. Gave Sullivan the reassurance he required. Needed. “They didn’t hurt me.”

“Your plan worked,” said King.

Hand falling to his side, Sullivan said, “It did?”

King smiled. “Can you stand up?”

Sullivan glared up at King.

“Of course you can,” said King.

Left arm supporting his side, Sullivan sat up. His head spun. Unable to locate his balance, he fell back. Stubborn, he made a second attempt. Behind him, Annabelle pressed her hands against his back, pushing him forward. Kept him upright. Arms under Sullivan’s, Annabelle lifted. Sullivan moved with her, gathering his legs beneath him, pushing up. He made it to his feet . . .

Knees refusing to lock into place, he fell back to the floor. Annabelle followed him. Her arms embracing him. A strong hold. A show of comfort.

“Time for a cigarette, then,” said King.

Sullivan continued to glare. “You must be dying . . .”

“Now that you’ve mentioned it.”

“I didn’t,” said Sullivan.

King reached into an inside pocket. Pulled out a packet of cigarettes . . .

“Jason,” said Annabelle. “At a time like this.”

“For some reason, they conveniently left me my cigarettes.” Opened the packet. Removed and held up a strip of plastic. “Simple is always best.”

Sullivan smiled. The bruising on his face painful. At least nothing was broken. Jaw and cheekbone still in one piece. He closed his eyes. Shallow breaths. He had to do this. A feeling of urgency filling him. Opened his eyes. A third attempt more successful. With Annabelle’s help, Sullivan made it to his feet. Knees locked. Annabelle now beside him, her arm around his waist. He looked into King’s eyes. Saw the worry . . . saw the need to hurry.

“How long?”

King looked down at his watch. Lifted his gaze back up. “We have twenty minutes until they come back. Unless he lied.”

Sullivan nodded. “How many?”

King frowned. “Three. And they’re armed.”

“Okay,” said Sullivan. “Let’s get one thing out of the way. If something goes wrong, don’t stop. Keep going. Is that understood?”

He saw the understanding.

“We’re not leaving you behind, Stewart,” said Annabelle.

“You might not have a choice,” said Sullivan. “Jason. If I can’t make it, get Annabelle out of here.”

King nodded in agreement. “Then, you need to tell us what you saw.”

“What?”

“What did you see?”

Sullivan flinched. Stepped back. Away from the expected pain. Unsteady on his own, he stumbled. Caught himself before he fell. Breathed as deep as he could, not enough air, the breath miserable. Concentrated. So hard to think. His head ached.

“It’s not Declan.”

“What do you mean?” said King.

“Declan. He was here, but it wasn’t him.”

King stepped forward. Held up two fingers . . .

Sullivan shook his head. A mistake. Felt like a bowling ball bouncing around the inside of his skull. Pressed the heel of his left hand against his forehead. His knees buckled. Not good . . . Surprised he stayed upright. Annabelle and King, each taking a side. A strong hold on his upper arms, keeping him from falling.

“You can explain later,” said King.

“No. I might not . . . There’s a scar below his right ear.”

“Declan doesn’t have a scar. . .” said Annabelle, words trailing off when she understood.

“A surgery scar?” said King. “Plastic surgery? They’re replacing Henry Declan with their own model.”

Sullivan swallowed. “He didn’t know who Yuri Krasnoff is.”

“Should he?”

Looked at King. “Yes.”

King nodded.

“We have to escape,” said Sullivan. “Stanford is willing--”

“We know,” said Annabelle. “Stewart, you can’t tell him what you saw.”

“Annabelle, I--”

“You can’t tell him, Stewart. Once you do, he’ll have no need to keep us alive,” said King.

Angry, Sullivan turned on him. Pulled himself from King’s grip. “If I wanted Stanford to know about Finch, I would have told him. This might be more of a hobby for you, Jason, but for me . . . I didn’t go through all that pain for you to . . .” Sullivan bit down on the words, saying too much. Revealing too much. Annabelle’s hand on his lower back. She understood.

“I’m sorry, Stewart. I--”

“We need to go.” No time to wait, Sullivan snatched the piece of plastic from King’s fingers. Legs unsteady, balance shifting, he walked to the door. Annabelle staying close. He knew he wouldn’t make it. Knew he would hold them back. If confronted, not enough strength in his body to win a physical confrontation, the pain taking almost everything he had. If he could give Annabelle and King an opportunity, give them any chance to escape, he would take it. He would give his life to save them.

A cheap lock, Sullivan unlocking the door within seconds. Handed the makeshift lock pick back to King. Waited. Listened for any sound. His short breaths loud. Took a chance. Opened the door. Glanced out into a thin corridor. Empty. Opened the door wide, stepped out of the room. A glance left, then right. He turned and motioned for King and Annabelle to join him. Closed the door behind them. No key in the lock.

“This way,” said Annabelle, taking the lead.

Sullivan reached out. Took her arm and pulled her back. Nodded to King, motioning him forward. Once King and Annabelle were moving, Sullivan followed. Left arm using the walls of the small rooms as a crutch, he managed to keep himself upright, body ready to collapse. He could feel his balance leaving . . . not much left to keep him going.

To their left, a small dark cavern. Large open fireplace . . . It looked lost and unwelcomed amongst the collection of rooms and corridors.

A sharp, snap of sound behind them. Sullivan turned . . . too quickly. Dizzy, he leaned against a room. Gaze unsteady, he searched for the source of sound. Footsteps.

Harsh whispers. “Annabelle. Jason. Get in the fireplace. Now.”

No time for arguments. They did as told. No doubt expecting him to follow. He didn’t. Drawing on the last of his strength, Sullivan kept moving. Stumbling steps. Turned a corner. A dead end. Turned back. Sense of direction lost. He looked up, gaze following the ceiling. Smiled when he saw a wall . . . front or back of the building. Hopefully, an exit.

Running footsteps. Escape revealed to their captors.

Moving as fast as his body was capable, Sullivan followed the corridors to the end of the building. A large roller door. A backward glance over his shoulder. Nothing there. Searched for the switch to open the door. Found it. Pushed the button. The door opened. A slow, rumbling sound echoed through the building. His location given. He would leave the door open . . . oldest trick in the book. It might by some time . . .

A single gunshot.

Pain tore through his right shoulder . . . bullet exploding through the front. He stood still, in shock, pain lacking. Knees collapsing, Sullivan fell forward . . .

Consciousness fled.






Part One | Part Two | Part Three


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