Dad calls men who ride motorcycles temporary citizens. He’s seen so many fatalities over the years, so many decapitated heads still inside crushed helmets. He swears blind if he ever catches me on the back of one of the things he’ll ground me for life. The patients he’s dealt with in the past are usually riders of sports bikes, though, aerodynamic things designed for going way too fast. The men who just passed me—at least twenty of them—were on machines constructed from polished chrome and exposed engines, handlebars way too high, exhausts way too fat. Society tells me they are criminals. Perhaps they are.
I carry on toward the bus depot, my iPod shuffling through songs. The streets are clear by the time I find myself closing in on my destination. Everyone’s playing it smart tonight, already inside, enjoying the warmth and a hot meal. That’s exactly where I’ll be soon, and I cannot wait. I’m getting ready to cross over the street when a tall man with silvered hair staggers out of the darkened side alley beside me.
I don’t hear him—the music blocks out any sound he makes—and the sight of him suddenly emerging from nowhere has me jumping out of my skin. My heart slams against my ribcage, adrenalin fires through me. There’s blood in the snow. He’s bleeding. I tear the headphones out of my ears, and then he’s lurching toward me, one hand outstretched.
“Help…please help…me,” he gasps.
I skitter away from him, clutching my hands to my chest. It’s a natural reaction most people would have, I think. A terrifying old man, dressed in a torn great coat, and covered head to toe in blood comes flying at you from out of nowhere, and your first instinct is to run. Not people like my father or my sister, of course; they would run straight toward someone like that. It takes a heartbeat to get myself together before I realize this guy needs me to be like my dad. Or like Sloane.
“What…what happened?” I hurry forward, unravelling the scarf from around my neck, preparing to use it to staunch the bleeding, wherever it’s coming from.
The old man’s eyes grow round. Suddenly he’s not staggering toward me anymore; he’s backing away. “No…” His voice comes out in a ragged, wet rasp. “No!” The look on his face is sheer terror. And he’s staring at something behind me.
I’ve seen enough films to know what comes next. The hand that clamps over my mouth. The iron grip of the arm that wraps around me, pinning my arms to my sides. The weightless, stomach-churning sensation of being lifted off the floor by someone much bigger and much stronger than me.
I try to scream. Pain rips down my throat, but I barely make a sound. The hand covering my mouth captures my cry and shoves it back inside me, effectively putting me on mute. My heart’s racing. I can’t…I can’t see properly. Black spots dance in my vision. I’ve never been good with small spaces, and being trapped inside this person’s arms is a very small fucking space. I react. I’d like to say I remember the training I received from the on-campus security team, showing us how to protect ourselves when out walking alone late at night, but that’s not what this is. This is the panicked flailing of a twenty-one-year-old girl gripped in the deepest throes of fear.
I bite down on the hand and taste blood. A loud hiss from the man behind me lets me know I’ve caused him some discomfort, but the bastard doesn’t let go. My feet are still off the ground. I lash out, kicking backward. My heels hit shinbone and strong muscle, but the grip around me doesn’t falter.
“What the fuck you doing with that bitch, hijo?” a voice demands. The accent is strong and thick. “Get her off the fucking street.”
I’ve been too terrified to take in much, but now I see the bloody man, on his knees, staring off up the street. He looks devastated, like he knows this is the end. His abject hopelessness hits me like a wave; this man, whoever he is, knows he is alone right now and no one is coming to his rescue. Which means no one is coming to my rescue, either.
He looks up at me, his mouth hanging open, and shakes his head. “I’m sorry,” he tells me. I try screaming again, with just as much luck. My captor tightens his hold on me and then we’re moving, heading into the darkness of the side alley. Fuck. I know it instinctively: if I disappear into the darkness of this alleyway, I will never be seen again. And pinned to this stranger, struggling with every last ounce of strength I possess, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. I see the face of another man, a Hispanic guy with a shaved head and a spider tattoo underneath his right eye, as he moves forward and grabs hold of the bloody old man under one arm. He spits on the old man, takes hold of him, and drags him behind us into the alleyway.
Dumpsters, trash, broken wooden crates; there’s nothing back here to indicate someone is going to come along at any moment and save us. The sound of footfall—many pairs of boots—rings off the walls on either side. We reach the iron railings of a tall gate in the middle of the alleyway, dividing it into two, and this is where my captor stops. He spins us around, and for the first time I see exactly just how much trouble I’m in.
Seven men, all with guns drawn, stare back at me. The same cold, indifferent look marks most of their faces; only one man wears a different expression—the guy who dragged the old man behind us. His victim is laying face down on the concrete, shoulders shaking, and now he has turned his attention to me. And he looks…excited.
My stomach drops through the floor.
He’s wearing a black Parka with grey fur trim, which strikes me as odd fashion sense for someone of his…standing. It’s also strange that I should be thinking things like this when he’s stalking toward me and sticking his face into mine. Regardless of his fashion sense, I know with certainty I’m looking into the eyes of a killer.