☠ Chapter Fifty ☠
➳ ARIELLE'S POV
"Death is inevitable. It's a promise made to us at birth."
The quote flashes suddenly in my mind, almost as if it's some sort of signal. I remember the quote from Zayn's chalk walls in his bedroom. It was one of the many written on the surface, which I read when I was cradling a bottle of wine back when I'd sort of first come to know him.
I'm not sure why it decides to come to me at this particular moment, but I hate it.
After meeting with Lieutenant Malik yesterday, it was a blur of a night. I didn't tell anybody about what I was doing, but that's not entirely by my own choice. I mean, yeah, I didn't want anyone knowing, Louis especially, but it was a part of working with the police–they wouldn't allow me to tell anyone in fear that the plan would be leaked. And if that would've happened, then Sullivan could've prepared for my arrival, whether that be with a gun, or removing himself from the country, or whatever he could do to save his ass.
And we definitely couldn't have that happening.
I've already been wired up–the wire placed inconspicuously in the valley between my breasts. The man said it was the best place for quality of sound, although I'm not entirely sure I believe that. I've also been driven to the location where I'll finally be meeting with the dreaded Sullivan.
Honestly, I wasn't feeling all that nervous, but once my brain suddenly decided to remember that quote, I'm kneeling over, afraid I'll vomit up my lunch. I end up nervously gagging a few times while Janet–the woman who's been briefing me on what's going on–rubs soothing circles on my back.
How in the hell did I get myself into this mess? My palms are sweating, my skin is flushing, my head is spinning, and I'm practically dry heaving up my salad from earlier.
"Look, everyone feels nervous about stuff like this," Janet says as she rubs another circle on my back and grabs my hair, despite the fact that I'm not actually vomiting. I'm just going through my own sick, little twisted hell because I can't vomit. It's just heaving so hard that I swear my innards are about to come up.
I feel irritated with Janet because she's practically trivializing the anxiety I'm feeling right now. I mean, yeah, it is my own fault for putting myself into this situation, but hell, you could at least help a girl out.
I don't even respond to her comment, I just gag again and utter whatever strangled sound that manages to come out of my diaphragm.
"How about we go over the plan again?"
I don't respond, and so she continues.
"So, you're going to go in there, introduce yourself as Emilia . . ." She starts.
I stand up then, irritated because we've gone over this a thousand times, and I get it. I get what I have to do, that's not the issue here! The issue is nerves. I'm nervous because I'm about to face some fucking mob boss or something and I could easily get killed with a snap of his blood stained fingers!
And yes, again, I realize I've put myself in this situation and so I can't yell and scream at her about it, but Jesus, woman.
"Yes. I'm Emilia, I'm an assistant to Dixon who runs a car trafficking ring similar to Sullivan's in California. I need to talk with Sullivan about striking up a deal to make his operation larger, in theory, to come together with Dixon so that the two of them will basically own the entire border."
That was what I was told to do. Dixon is actually a deeply undercover agent, working for Lieutenant Malik to try and catch Sullivan. He is in California, and apparently is known around town in the social group of criminals, but I'm still crazy nervous about it. I've memorized everything Janet told me to say, but I'm scared that I'll buckle under pressure, that I'll suddenly do or say something stupid that'll anger him.
I take a few deep breaths while closing my eyes. As I'm focusing, Janet decides that's the appropriate time to speak. "Alright, so you're clear on everything then?"
"Yes, Janet, I am." I look at her with a dirty look plastered on my face, as if to tell her to go away for a moment so I can regain some composure. "Now, please–"
"Actually, I'm not entirely sure you can pull this off."
That's what sets me off. Instantaneously my stomach is no longer upset, my palms are no longer sweaty, but my head is still spinning–this time with anticipation. Who is she to say that I can't do this? I know for a fact that I can do this! Fuck her and her condescension.
I surprise her by pushing past her. "Get out of my way," I mutter.
She rushes after me as I stomp across the parking lot. I can see the so-called 'headquarters' across the street–it's a larger looking building that appears to be an abandoned warehouse. With the several cars parked outside that totally look like cars used to illegally race, who couldn't find this place?
"Arielle!" She yells out, grabbing onto my arm and jerking me back towards her. "You can't just go in there guns blazing!"
"And why not?" I know the reason why I can't, it's just that Janet's managed to piss me off so much that I utter the question before I actually think about it. Of course I can't go in there guns blazing, I'd be shot the instant I stepped foot inside.
We had to be smart.
"You can't be stupid about this," she explains. "Just take a moment to calm down and then you can go in . . . just like we talked about."
She grips onto both of my arms as she ducks her head to look at me. I breathe heavily for a few moments to try to calm myself.
"Jesus, what'd I say?"
Fuck you. I don't respond to what she asks.
"Do you remember the safe word?" She asks, again.
"Mango," I reply, practically gritting my teeth. If she'd stop asking me the same things over and over again, I'd be alright, but it's just so annoying when she has zero faith in me. Who the fuck even chose 'mango' as the safe word?
"Good. You okay?"
I nod my head.
"Okay, I think you're good to go in now."
I close my eyes and take one big breath. Here goes nothing. Janet hands me a briefcase and I grip onto it tightly in my right hand. She finally gives me the nod that I'm okay to go and I immediately turn away from her and begin the journey across the street.
"Good luck," I hear her say softly from behind me.
I jaywalk across the street and follow the sidewalk to the front door to the warehouse. As I approach the door, my stomach does a flip, but it's out of excitement this time. I can feel the adrenaline overwhelming my senses as I grab hold of the door handle and pull it open to reveal two guards.
The guards immediately stand from their chairs. I'm sure they're armed, because they both each have one hand behind their back, as if they're ready to grab hold of a pistol, if need be. Both men tower over me. They must each be six foot five, and that almost makes me shrink back out the door.
"State your business here," the one with red hair says with a deeply stern voice.
I use an old technique that I learned from Zayn, squaring my shoulders in defence before the men that I'm positive could very easily lift me over their shoulders and carry me back out where I came in. "I am Emilia. I'm here to meet with Sullivan."
"Fuck off," the one with black hair says.
I give him a harsh glare. "That's no way to talk to a woman. I do believe that my boss, Dixon will not be happy to hear of the way you're speaking to me."
The red-haired man's eyes go wide, but the raven-haired one looks down at the briefcase in my hands, as if I'm holding a bomb inside. I step forward towards a table, placing the case on it. I hear a click! and I struggle to keep my composure because I'm absolutely positive that someone's just cocked their gun.
I open the lock on the briefcase, revealing a case full of money. This immediately interests the guards because the flame haired man says, "come this way."
I quickly relock the case, scurrying to catch up to the redheaded guard, who begins to lead me down a hallway. I don't say a word to him, afraid that I'll break this composure that I've miraculously built up. He stays quiet the entire time, and I can only assume that's probably because he's paid to protect, not to talk.
As he's walking, I spot the outline of a pistol tucked neatly into the back of his jeans. I'm tempted to lift it from him, but I'm sure that he'd feel me removing it from his jeans. Besides, I have an entire police force at my beck and call. But I won't need them, will I?
Eventually, we reach a door and he opens it. "Wait here," he demands and then takes a step inside the room.
I can't spot the nefarious man himself, but I can hear him question his employee when he walks in, "what is it?"
"Boss, there's a woman named Emilia here to see you."
"Oh right, Dixon's assistant. Send her in."
My heart skips a beat with anticipation. Oh my God, this is it. There's absolutely no turning back now as I hear the guard's boots stomping towards me. He steps through the threshold of the door and I almost faint right there.
"Come on in," he says before opening his arm as an invitation inside. Once I step past him, he leaves the room, closing the door behind him. I'm now locked inside of Sullivan's office. That nervous feeling from earlier stirs my stomach up and I suddenly feel like I'm going to vomit again.
"Emilia, I presume." Sullivan says without turning to face me. He's hunched over his desk, back away from me, so I'm basically staring at the back of his oversized office chair.
I take note of the office itself, which is excessively expensive looking. The desk looks like it's solid oak, the walls are painted a deep green, and the flooring appears to be a pricey hardwood. What kind of operation is this?
"Yes, sir. Dixon's assistant. I'm here to discuss a possible joining of operations with you." I speak in my most confident voice, reluctantly taking the tiniest step closer to him.
"Very well then," he replies. It almost happens in slow motion as he twists the chair around to face me. I first notice the silver stained hair, and then I notice the stubble that covers his face, and finally my eyes land on his own piercingly familiar blue ones.
I choke. Literally choke out loud when I realize exactly who the infamous Sullivan is. My heart squeezes in my chest, and I swear I blackout for a minute.
It doesn't help when he recognizes me. "Ella?" He recites, absolutely stupefied.
My insides twist even tighter when I hear that stupid fucking nickname that brings everything back in a furry that I've tried forgetting my entire young adulthood.
I stare at the floor and furiously try to figure out how in the hell this happened. But I can't figure it out for the life of me. It doesn't help that I feel like I'm going to faint, or vomit, or miraculously die because my heart feels like it's slowing to a crawl.
Out of all of the people I've tried avoiding in my life, the worst is without a doubt, Ezra. My stepfather is the most wretched person I've ever come across in my life, and my life is filled with people who have evil laced in their hearts.
When I left Minnesota, and Vivien, my list of people I'd hoped to never see again was massive, and Ezra was one of the top people on the list. He was the main reason I left the state; why I left home, and yet here he was, in the flesh, currently smirking at me.
The familiar smirk itself is enough to send me into shock, and my body feels absolutely numb as I stand before him.
There's suddenly a sharp pain in my stomach, and that familiar horrible ache appears in my throat because I feel like I'm going to cry. Everything in my body is screaming at me to run, run far away from Ezra, and this whole situation because I know that this isn't going to go well. There's no way in hell there could ever be a positive reunion between the two of us.
I'm waiting for my mother to pop out from a hidden corner, or a man to appear from a false wall, yelling surprise! as he explains that this is just a game show, or some sick, twisted soap opera. Because honestly, at this point, my life feels like it's all a joke—like someone wrote a script and I'm just a naïve little character playing along.
One of the worst things about seeing him again is the utter rage I'm feeling. I can feel it in the way my chest starts heaving, and my vision focuses on nothing in the room but him. The man who touched me, who slapped me, who called me degrading names, who forced me to lie to everyone I loved about what was happening to me—all of it for his own sick, demented sense of pleasure.
I find myself wishing I did lift that pistol from the guard, because then I could use it to put Ezra down like the monster he is. I could've so easily aimed the weapon at him and shot a bullet right between his eyes, forever ending his hold he has on my life. I'd finally feel free knowing that he could never harm me again.
"Ella, dear, what are you doing here?" He gives me a lascivious smile, but I don't tear my gaze away from him. My heartbeat is echoing in my ears because all I can focus on is attempting to make him spontaneously combust.
He stands before me dressed like the 'legitimate' businessman he is. He's wearing black dress shoes, dark blue dress slacks, and a white button up shirt. A thick black leather strap wraps around his upper torso, around his shoulders where he holsters his pistol underneath his left arm. The sight of the weapon makes me worry, and I have to gulp down the anxiety.
I tense before him, and he notices. "Where's Sullivan?" I spit.
"You're looking at him," he chimes cockily, extending his arms out in a show of his own ego.
He attempts to take a step forward, but I shove my hand up in a hurry. "Don't take another fucking step!" I yell, but my voice fails me when it cracks and I take a step back in shame. C'mon Arielle!
"Ella, after everything we've been through . . . that's how you greet your father?" He taunts me. He taunts with referring to himself as my father, like he always used to. He knows he's not my father. He just adores haunting me with the fact that he married my mother, and abused his position of authority by raping her daughter—me.
"Fuck you!" I scream at him this time, and when I hear the power in my voice it only pushes me further. "Don't you dare fucking call me that name! You are not my father, you sick demented fucking monster! You're a fucking rapist is what you are!"
"That's not how your mother seems to see it."
I close my eyes as his words slap me hard in the face. He uses my moment of weakness to take another step towards me, but the second I hear those dress shoes tap against the hardwood, my eyes snap open and I give him a look that'd kill. If only.
"You sure have grown up, Ella." Ezra's eyes scan up down my body and he spends extra time admiring the curve of my hips as well as my breasts. I have to look away from him because vile rises up my esophagus. When I look back at him, he swipes his tongue along his lower lip.
"Stop," I say firmly, as if it'll actually make him cease his actions.
He gives me an intense gaze, and it's almost too much for me to handle. "Now tell me how you ended up here." He looks down at the briefcase I'm still clutching in my hand, eyeing it up suspiciously.
"I work for Dixon," I respond. "I'm here to make a deal."
"Hm," he hums. "Then what's with the false name?" Ezra raises an eyebrow before turning around and walking across his office. I'm tempted to use the opportunity to charge at him, rip his gun out of its holster and shoot him as many times as the clip will allow, but I decide against it. It's too risky.
He pours himself a shot of some dark coloured liquor and then leans up against the edge of his desk, staring at me as he waits for an answer to his question.
"Anonymity in the business, you of all people should understand that." I decide to play along with wherever he's going with this. I know for a fact that he won't just let me leave this room, and there's no way in hell I could easily just charge out of here. My only real option here is to play along.
He nods his head before taking a sip of the alcohol. "Makes sense," he quips, but I know the look on his face, and I'm positive he doesn't believe it. "And the briefcase?"
"I told you, I'm here to make a deal on Dixon's behalf."
"Ah, yes, a joining of operations . . . weren't those your words?"
I nod my head, not trusting my voice. It's horrible being in the same room as this monster; it almost feels as if my skin is crawling. I can't help feeling like my entire life is full of sick, twisted coincidences. What're the odds that Zayn's boss just happens to be my ex-stepfather? I mean, when my mother married Ezra, we really didn't know much about him–now that I think about it, we knew very little about him–but I'd never imagined him being a criminal leader of sorts.
He swirls his glass around, staring at it for a moment intensely before he looks up at me. He tsks, before questioning with a deep monotone, "now Ella, you wouldn't lie to me, would you?" I realize that he's questioning my candor, and I'm positive that he's caught on, but I deny his accusation.
"Fuck you. I'm here to make a deal, now are we going to do this, or not?"
"Ella . . . my doll," he scolds. When he looks at me, I know that he knows more than he's letting on. I close my eyes at the realization that this could very possibly spell the end of my life. It's not smart to piss off Ezra, I of all people would know that. He very gently places his glass down onto his desk. "Now, would you like to try that again?"
I swallow the lump that's formed in my throat. My heart instantly races in my chest, to the point where I'm short of breath. I'm immobile as I watch him stand from his desk, pour himself another glass, and rest himself against the wooden structure.
"How is Zayn these days?" He taunts me.
"Don't you dare–"
"How about his mother, the Lieutenant?"
"What'd you do, you–" I try to get a word in again, but he's relentless in his ploy to taunt me.
"Did you really think that I was so blindly ignorant to these facts, Ella? I knew the moment you stepped into this damn state. I know about your little boyfriend, Zayn, your little friends, Louis, Zoe, Niall . . . I also know about the pathetic police force that's parked outside my building. Did you take me for a fucking idiot?" He says it all with such calm in his voice that it absolutely terrifies me.
Oh God, I'm in so much shit.
"Your mother's in the state now too. Did you plan on keeping that from me? I see she's got another new beau, Theo . . . Interesting guy."
My breathing shallows. She's here. He's here. Florida's become tainted with horrible, horrible people. This isn't The Sunshine State any longer, at least not as long as these malicious people are here.
Ezra must see the fact that I'm near hyperventilation, because he utters, "don't worry my doll, I promise they won't be here for long." What does that mean? "Now do tell me what exactly you're doing here. Wanted to see daddy again?"
"What do you mean? What are you doing to Vivien and Chef?"
"Chef?" He questions, but then he replies, "ah. Chef Wilson! Right, I'd forgotten he was your teacher. Culinary school . . . what an accomplishment, Ella."
"Don't fucking patronize me." I ball my free fist up at my side.
"I'm only being truthful, my doll. I'm proud of you for not ending up sucking off men in back alleys, Lord knows how much of a slut your mother is, and you are half her genes."
"Mm, but you already have, my doll." He says as he sips on his liquor. I know what he's doing; he's trying to get a rise out of me. He's doing this so I charge at him, so I get close to him. That's when he'll use the opportunity to do something to me. He'll knock me out, or slip a needle into my arm, or touch me inappropriately again. Ezra's unpredictable when it comes to these things, and so I know for a fact that I should keep my distance.
"What are you going to do to Vivien?" I press, but I'm doubtful that he'll answer the question. If he knows about the police force outside of his headquarters right now, he probably knows that I'm working with Lieutenant Malik, which also means he probably knows about the wire.
He carefully places the glass down against the wood again. I watch him with terrified eyes as he takes slow steps away from his desk and past a few chairs. I can tell he's going to get closer, I just don't know when or how exactly he plans to do that—or what he's going to do to me when he nears my body.
He thoughtfully licks his lips again, before looking at me. "Where is it? Hm?" He questions, but I'm not entirely sure what he's referring to at first. His eyes trail towards my breasts for the second time and it petrifies me. "Ella," he warns.
"I don't know what you're–"
He interrupts me by shushing me and placing an index finger up to his ear, signalling that he knows someone's listening. "Don't you dare move," he whispers, then pointing to the pistol holstered beneath his arm.
He slowly walks towards me and I stand there completely immobile. My mind's telling me to protest–to slap him, kick him, scream at him, run, do something, but my body absolutely refuses to move. Eventually he reaches me, and I have to shut my eyes at the smell of his disgustingly familiar cologne.
I glare at him, but he raises his left eyebrow before shaking his head. He mouths, "don't move." He places a large hand on my hip and just the feeling of his hand is enough to make me hysterical. I look away from his eyes, staring off as I desperately try to ignore the situation. I have to bite my lower lip to suppress the tears from falling from my eyes.
Slap him, Arielle!
He uses his other hand to skim it across my clothed stomach, and when he reaches the area just below my breasts, his fingers brush against part of the wire and he stops dead in his tracks. "Off," he mouths.
A tear slips out of my right eye when his hand crawls underneath the hem of my shirt. He brushes against my navel piercing and I bite my lip to stop the whimper. His mouth falls open in surprise at the piercing, and I feel absolutely disgusting. He slowly peels the wire off of my skin, until it's fully removed.
He holds the small device up to his face until he finds the power switch, turning it in the off position before placing it on the little bookshelf behind me. He smirks down at me before taking the briefcase from my hand. I watch Ezra turn his back to me and saunter over to his desk.
I quickly use the opportunity to switch the wire back on. Guess you are a fucking idiot, Ezra. I wipe the stray tear away from my cheek, and take a moment to just close my eyes and regain some confidence. Despite the fact that I want to rip that pistol out from its holster and execute him, I know that it'd be better for him to rot away in jail. I need to be strong now. I need to do whatever it takes to get information out of him for the tape. I take a few steps towards him, acting as if I'm more comfortable around him as he mulls over the money. "What are you going to do to Vivien, Ezra?"
"We both know your mother is marrying rich foreign men to get green cards for them and loads of cash for herself," he comments.
"Where do you come into that?" I question, praying that the wire is picking this all up, despite the fact that it's halfway across the room.
Ezra closes the briefcase and turns to face my body. He takes the few steps towards me to close the space between us, like I'd hoped he would. "I'm just giving the police a little . . . nudge, if you will. A little nudge in her direction. That should hopefully get rid of her for a while. As for Theo, I'm not sure yet, but I'll have him gone too for you, my doll."
"And why would you do that? I never asked you to do that for me."
"I know that. I love you, and I'll do that to protect you."
My insides churn. "What about you?"
"What about me?" He asks.
"Who'll protect me from you?"
He looks at me, almost with hurt in his eyes. "Ella, what happened when you were a child . . . that'll never happen again, unless you want it to happen between us. I want to protect you, my doll."
"Why the change of heart? You raped me. You taunt me with it when the wire's on, but now that it's off, you're suddenly expressing regret or something? What the fuck is wrong with you? I don't want you to do anything for me, besides leave me the fuck alone!" My fists shake in anger.
"I know, Ella. You'll see," he says vaguely, "you'll see, my doll. I promise." He hands me the briefcase. "Take this back to Lieutenant Malik. Give her my best."
He shoves the briefcase into my hand. "Take it. It'll be a sign of good faith. Tell them that I'll do the deal with their man, Dixon. It'll get me in good with her. Now please, go."
"On one condition," I respond. I adjust the case in my hand, preparing myself.
"What is it?" He picks up his glass as he turns towards me.
"Answer me one question."
He nods his head.
"Were you the one who ordered the attack on Zayn?" The pain radiates across my face, preparing for what's about to come. He believes he isn't being recorded, he might say anything.
"That's why you're here, isn't it?" He gazes at me carefully for a reaction, and when I break eye contact, he has his answer. "You're trying to find his attacker. Hm, that's very noble of you, my doll. Zayn was my best employee, I've been really struggling without him."
"So that means–"
"No, I didn't order the attack on him."
"But you caught him up in an illegal car trafficking ring."
"Ella, please. You have bigger things to worry about."
I sigh heavily. If Ezra or Sullivan didn't do it then, "do you know who attacked him?"
"Unfortunately not. But do let me know when you find out who did it. My men will take care of it." He pronounces the two words carefully, hinting that he must know of someone who will kill Zayn's attacker for him. I cringe.
"Now please, leave. Your little police officer friends are probably worried about you."
I clutch the briefcase in my hand as I give him a harsh glare. This is it. I wait a few moments before doing anything.
"Don't touch me!" I randomly yell out. Ezra looks at me with confusion. "Stop!" Gripping the case with a wicked smirk on my face, I bring it up, swinging it towards his head as hard as I can possibly muster. It hits his cranium with a loud crack!
He immediately falls to his knees, holding his head in his hands. He curses and then pulls his one hand away from his head, eyes going wide when he notices the red stain of blood on his hands.
I've been worrying for weeks now about Sullivan's blood stained hands, and it's true. Here he kneels right in front of me with bloody hands, both literally and figuratively.
I cross the room, grabbing the wire in my hands. I look back at him one last time, where he's still kneeling against the ground. I can tell he's stunned when he looks up at me with confused eyes. I quickly shut the wire off.
"Do not fuck with me." I spit, venom laced in my voice.
I turn on my heel, holding my head high as I walk down the hallway, and straight past the guards. The second I step outside, I begin sprinting across the road towards the safety of the police officers.
But that's the thing, with Ezra around apparently nowhere is safe.