Content Warning: Scenes of War, Gore
I pressed the panel to the built-in music system on the wall by my gym door. Danheim blasted through the speakers as I walked to the center of the open floor. I rolled my shoulders, hiking my loose-fitting cotton trousers over my knees, practice sword in hand, I took up a fighting stance. Practiced over decades, I moved with a skilled precision that flowed into organic and natural motions. A slight whistle cut the air from the slices and swings as I spun on my heels, throwing blocks to my imaginary opponents.
The nightmares were coming more frequently. More than just my mother haunted my dreams. I needed to sleep to function at work. It was too critical a time to be ill-prepared or dull-minded. Business was picking up in New York, and the staff was scrambling to stay on top of all the new clientele. I finished my routine, showered, and dressed. I chose a cornflower coloured shirt with a green and navy tie. Opening the hidden panel where I kept my personal weapon stash, I withdrew my axe, Wirglld. I ran my thumb along its blade and kissed it. I slid it into its holster and slipped it onto my back before adding my suit coat. I finished my last gulp of bourbon and headed out to the car park.
Weaving through traffic, I made it in record time. The valet and I got past our first encounter. He grinned as he took my keys. “Morning, sir. Sleep any better last night?”
“Not a wink, Ryan, but I will be okay. Thanks for your concern. Enjoy the ride, young man.” I entered the building, nodding at the personnel as I passed them on my way to the elevator. Stereotypical men in black suits and earpieces stood at the entrance as well as by the elevators. The doors closed, and I entered my passcode for the upper floors. The elevator lurched, climbing to the top floor before opening silently. The staff ran around and conversed, the cacophony of chatter hitting me like the surf on a longship. Silence greeted me once more as I closed my office door behind me.
Seated at my desk, I opened my military-grade laptop and began the daily run-through. That part of my job was monotonous. It left me itching for the action of my youth. But it was a good gig that, for the most part, I enjoyed. I furrowed my brow as I rubbed my chest, images flashing through my mind as I read the name Demetri Paulson. Clearly, this wasn’t the man from my nightmares, but the memory of him and his death flooded me upon reading it. I sat back in my chair, allowing the memory to consume me.
Bullets rang out all around me. Men screaming in agony or anger filled my ears. The tang of gunpowder, the metallic scent of blood and carnage filled my nostrils. I clenched my fists as I shook, letting out a battle cry. It was all-consuming. The bloodlust coursed through me as I charged towards the building where the sniper was perched, not caring if I had coverage or not. My entire platoon had just been picked off by that bastard. One. By. One. He needed to be snuffed out for good. I neared the top floor on rickety stairs, my rage reaching berserker level when I saw him sitting there, perched on the windowsill. He was as comfortable as could be in the chaos. He sipped from a bottle of some unknown dark liquor, a fag between his lips as he leaned into his rifle and popped off another shot. My blood boiled, but I knew if I smote him, I would be no good to the men below. So I let out a roar and charged him, throwing both of us out the window to drop five stories to the earth below. I landed atop him with a satisfying crunch. Crimson filled the street as his brain oozed from his skull, completely shattered from the impact. I stood, shaking off the fall, rejoining the men as they stared at me in a mix of awe, horror, and disbelief. The first voice I heard over the clamor was Sergeant Paulson’s.
I stood suddenly, flipping my chair back in my haste. I opened a desk drawer, pulled out a bottle of scotch, and unscrewed the half-empty bottle. I drank it quickly, moving to the window to gaze out at the city below. My chest still ached as if a bull were sitting on it. I absently rubbed it, muttering obscenities to myself. A sharp rap interrupted my internal tirade.
“What?!” My voice was gritty and peppered with wrath. I was in no mood for people at that moment.
The knock came again, and I spun on my heel, storming towards it. I flung the door open, glaring down at Polly, my delicate but capable secretary. She gazed up at me wide-eyed, feeling the anger pouring off of me. “What do you need, Polly?” My growl reverberated throughout the room, causing the staff to hush immediately and stare at me.
“Ph-phone call, sir. You weren’t answering your intercom.” Her normally strong voice trembled as she pointed to my desk where my chair was still lying on its back. When it had fallen, it had unplugged the intercom and phone line.
With a deep sigh, I looked at her, my face softening. “Sorry, Polly, that was my fault,” I said, my tone subdued.
“Another flashback, Mr. Blackthorne?” She had regained her composure and found her voice. She tilted her head at me with a soft expression filled with concern. I nodded, and she spun on her heels. “Oi! Get back to work! All of yous! There isn’t anythin’ to see here!” she called, then followed me inside, closing the door behind her.
Returning to my desk, I righted my chair and knelt to plug in the wires. Before I could figure out how to fit my bulk under the desk, I felt her light touch on my shoulder. I glanced back at her to see her smiling softly at me. “Allow me, Cade.”
I sat back, granting her access to the small space as she nimbly slipped under it. “So why were you angry just now? You seemed okay when you arrived,” she asked, her slight frame still under the desk.
“Daytime flashes, Polly. I haven’t had those in years.” She climbed back out and cupped my face as I knelt before her. She had become as close to a mother figure as I’d had in eons. She had followed me to the states to keep me calm on days like that one.
“No, you haven’t, boy. I assume the change of scenery has somethin’ to do with it?”
“Mayhaps, Polly. But why the bloody hell does my chest ache during an episode?”
“What do you mean, aches?”
I sighed again and sat back on my heels. The sound of leather creaking from my shoes as I did so pricked in my ears. “Like a bull was sitting on my chest. Quite uncomfortable.”
“That is interesting. Have you experienced this before with an episode?”
“Not until I arrived here.”
“Hmmm, that’s thought-provoking, Cade. Might be keeping a note of that when it happens.”
“I will. We should get back to work. Thank you for helping me with the cables.”
“Anytime.” She headed back to the door. “Call Mr. Denelly back. He’s in your files.” Then she left the room, closing the sounds out once more.
Standing, I stretched, pitched the empty bottle in the bin, and resumed my work. I pulled up the file of Antoine Denelly, one of our new highball clients, and read it over. He had procured our services across his entire estate, so I gave him a bell to see why he needed to speak with me.
“Why the hell didn’t you pick up, Mr. Blackthorne? I pay you, remember?” Antione’s voice echoed through the room as he shouted into the receiver, making me hold it away from my head. I rubbed the bridge of my nose and brought it closer to my ear once more, trying to focus on the sense of calm Polly had infused in me. I muttered under my breath, “meyla krafla mikli thur syr,” before speaking.
“Mr. Denelly, a pleasure as always. My apologies for the delay. If you recall, you are not my only client, sir. How may I assist you?”
“One of your men was hitting on my…assistant as she left this morning, and I won’t stand for it!” He continued shouting, clearly more embarrassed than upset at my staff. We were used to these types having consorts come and go. Even though the handbook for my agents clearly stated no fraternizing with clients or their families, they often found the loophole afforded them with the women that frequented the clientele. Hells, I’d left that loophole there for a reason. It kept both my staff and clients honest. That call was no different than the hundreds I had dealt with in the past.
“I understand your concern and will address the entire staff. I promise you. This won’t happen again.” With that assurance, he hung up. I placed the receiver back on the cradle and rolled my eyes. “Dumbass. Don’t cheat on your wife, and this won’t be a problem,” I grumbled to myself as I gazed back out the window, resuming the absent rubbing of my chest.