Not the final edit, and for those of you who haven’t read book 4, I don’t suggest you read this.
”Tell me where she is.”
Mihheer grinned, his mouthful of piranha teeth glistening for the wideness of it. He was seated comfortably in a chair just a few feet out of reach. Katon lurked to my right and Rahim hovered off to my left. The alien’s smugness was salt in the wound his master had inflicted by kidnapping Karra. He crossed his arms and settled back, unrestrained for the power dampener that had been injected into his spinal column. The hamburger meat of his cheery face was healing nicely after the beating I’d given him, though it didn’t look like the horn was ever gonna grow back. Can’t say I cared.
DRAC had been holding him for a week now, and it was clear they’d been treating him pretty damn good. It was far kinder than I would have, which was why dark and darker were up my ass deeper than a TSA agent on a hunt for bomb residue. They knew me too well.
Mihheer gave a little snort of a laugh, his lip curling into a sneer. Up to then, I’d been calm, under control. I drew a deep breath and let it sink into my lungs. Rahim made me promise I wouldn’t do anything stupid, wouldn’t go after the alien shit no matter what he said or did to provoke me. When I agreed, we all knew I was lying, but they let me in anyway.
I exhaled and my shoulders slumped, my chin drooping, but there was nothing I could do to hide the fury that seared my cheeks. My knuckles sang out like Snap, Crackle, and Pop when I forced my fists open and turned my back on Mihheer. He’d been asked that same question about Karra a thousand times and wasn’t talking. Nothing DRAC had done had broken him, but I knew there was a line they wouldn’t cross…not for Karra, at least. Not for me, either, it seemed. That was why I was there.
“Okay, I’m done with his ass.” The words chiseled their way through gnashed teeth while I took a step toward the door. The tension left the room with an almost audible whoosh, Rahim and Katon shifting to follow after me, probably proud of me for doing what I promised.
That’d been what I was waiting for.
Unlike the Pantera song, I didn’t need five minutes alone with Mihheer to get what I needed out of him…I only needed five seconds.
My fingers on the knob, I yanked the door open with a pissed off grunt I didn’t have to fake. For just an instant, Katon disappeared behind the steel of the door. I couldn’t see him, and he couldn’t see me. It was my one chance.
I spun and dropped low, diving across the room at Mihheer before Rahim realized what I’d done. The alien’s eyes went wide and he cursed while trying to get up. His feet scrabbled for purchase, but they just slid on the slick tile floor. Both he and the chair toppled to the ground with a crash.
“Damn it, Frank!” Katon growled at my back. He’d be on me in a second, but there was no stopping what I came here to do.
Mihheer squawked like a prison-raised chicken when I got ahold of him, my hands pawing at his face. The terror in his eyes set them to swirling, yellowish-orange kaleidoscopes in their blackened wells. My fingers sunk into cold flesh and grabbed hold, the tips clawing at his wide eyes. He opened his mouth and screamed, which was just what I wanted.
I felt Katon at my back, but he was too late. I forced my thumb into Mihheer’s mouth. Sharp teeth tore open the flesh as I forced the digit deeper and deeper into the jagged maw. He gulped hard and swallowed, instinct taking over at the warm gush of fluid hitting his throat. Katon’s hands locked about my waist and yanked me back. I didn’t bother resisting. We tumbled to the floor in a mass of entangled limbs, but there weren’t any weapons in the mix. Despite it all, Katon wasn’t trying to hurt me.
“Enough,” he growled in my ear, and I nodded, raising my hands in meek compliance.
Katon rolled me to the side, away from the alien, and stood between us, keeping a restraining hand on my shoulder. My gaze crossed the room to where Mihheer crouched in the corner. He wiped at the blood, which stained his chin and teeth, spreading the mess across the back of his hand and down his wrist. His lips quivered, and he huffed to catch his breath, but I could see the subtle flickers of his arrogance resurfacing. His eyes flared with it, certain now that Rahim and Katon would keep him from harm. I choked back a laugh.
I got to my feet with deliberate slowness, not giving Katon any reason to think I was gonna go after the little shit again. The enforcer hung over me, and I couldn’t blame him. Rahim was in my face a heartbeat later.
“What the hell was that?” He stood tall, forcing me to look up at him, jabbing a long finger into my chest. “I know his master took Karra, but do you really think some pathetic attempt at hurting him will help you get her back?”
Behind the anger that darkened his cheeks was a disappointment I’d remembered seeing on Abe’s face a couple of times in the distant past. It was a swift kick in the balls to spot it now, having thought those days long over. I’d expected to feel guilty when I came to DRAC’s headquarters for the sole purpose of confronting Mihheer, but I thought I could handle it. I was clearly wrong.
In spite of the alien scuzzbag having helped his boss to kidnap my woman, the inferno of my anger sputtered and fizzled out under Rahim’s frigid gaze. Though it wasn’t the first time I’d let him down, it looked as though he’d pinned some miraculous hope on the off-chance I wouldn’t do it this time. A ragged sigh slipped loose as I realized that. His hope never stood a chance.
He drew a deep breath at my words, a father believing his child’s penance as nothing more than reactionary training, an effort to mitigate its losses, but there was more to my apology than that. I wasn’t sorry for what I’d done to Mihheer. That was nothing. He deserved every bit of the agony that came his way, but my little outburst was only the very tip of what I’d have to atone for later.
“I’m sorry,” I repeated, turning to make sure Katon knew I was speaking to him, as well. His dark eyes narrowed as he assessed me, widening suddenly as he caught on.
“Oh shit. What have you done, Frank?” His gaze shifted to Mihheer who went still under his intense scrutiny, realizing perhaps that things weren’t as cut and dry as he believed.
“Only what I had to.”
Rahim looked to Katon, and then to me, and finally back to the alien. Just then, Mihheer twitched, his body shuddering as though he were suffering a seizure. He gasped, a drowning fish out of water, and was gone, only the vague outline of his form still visible before it, too, faded into nothingness. Katon and Rahim spun to glare at me, spears of accusation hurled from their eyes. A bitter sickness welled in my throat as time ground to a halt; it was the sour taste of betrayal.
“This is the only way to find her.” The words fell from my tongue like stones, broken and brittle, tumbling hollow into the space between us. These were my friends, and I’d not only let them down, but I’d stabbed them in the back, the pre-meditation of it obvious even to Stevie Wonder. I’d come into their home and took a big ol’ Taco Bell dump on their kindness and smeared it into the carpet and drapes for good measure. That stink wasn’t coming out.
I sighed as I felt the subtle tingle of magic wash over me. The twin of the transportation gem I’d snuck into DRAC embedded in the tip of my thumb–the same one I forced down Mihheer’s throat–warmed inside my guts as its energy took hold. In a moment, I’d be gone, too. I muttered one last apology before the magic whipped me away. Their crestfallen expressions lingered on my retinas long after I was gone.