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Authors: Sara Vinduska

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BOOK: The Drowning Man
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And she got to share it all with Simon. He deserved to be a part of something like this. Simon had comforted her when she needed it the most. He was there at the times when she couldn’t bring herself to get out of bed, crushed with grief over the loss of her husband and son.

She’d married an older man, but my God, how she’d loved him. Their son Eddie had been three when her husband was killed in a car accident on his way home from work. Then it was just her and Eddie. Her son became her world. Then he too was taken from her and she’d been left with nothing. Just the knowledge that she was a doctor, a healer, and she hadn’t been able to save either one of them. The two most important people in her life and she hadn’t been able to save either of them.

Meeting Simon had helped. Her work had helped. And it had been enough for a while.

Then her life had changed again. She didn’t want to think about that day six months ago, but the memories came anyway.

If only she hadn’t opened the paper that morning. Then she wouldn’t have seen the front-page black and white picture of the firefighter carrying a child to safety, dark smoke pouring out around him like a halo as he raced through the door. There was no name below the picture but the face from her darkest days was all too clear and the memories came flooding back, forcing her to her knees even after twenty years. She left the house in a blur and went to work. Staying home was not a good idea. She needed to keep busy.

She should have left when her shift was over, but instead, not yet ready to go home where nothing needed to be done, she stayed when a young child was brought in. Male, about six years old. A drowning victim.

“I’m calling it. Time of death, eleven a.m.”

Her hands kept pushing down rhythmically on the small chest.

“Caroline. He’s gone,” someone said.

“No.” She didn’t look away from the tiny fragile body.

“Get her out of here.” Another voice.

“Eddie,” she cried, reaching out to the child’s lifeless body, as she was dragged out into the hallway.

They’d sent her home, ordered her to take a few days off.

She’d failed again.

Then she'd thought of Trent Barlow’s picture in the paper that morning. So heroic. Saving someone so effortlessly.
She
was supposed to be the one to save people. Not him.

She’d wanted to die. A part of her had been dead for twenty years already. She was nothing without her job. And now she was ordered to stay away.

She'd thought of drowning herself, had even gone so far as to fill up the bathtub, her nose just touching the surface, tears dripping off her face, disturbing the stillness of the water. But in the end, she couldn't do it. That was when she thought again of Trent Barlow and the sacrifice that needed to be made.

Chapter 7

Simple Simon met a pie man.

Trent couldn’t remember the rest of the words to the nursery rhyme. Simple Simon. That was what Trent had come to call to the tall, scarred blond man now walking him back to his room. The bastard rarely said a word. Not to Caroline and not to him. A thick, white scar ran along the man’s right cheek from his nose to his ear. Most likely a knife wound. Trent was sure Simon had given his fair share of wounds over the years as well. He sure as hell had no problem beating the living shit out of Trent. Pain still radiated throughout his face from his busted nose.

“What? Can't you talk? Did the bitch cut out your tongue so you couldn't talk back to her?” Trent asked him now.

Simon's face showed no reaction but his fist quickly found Trent's stomach. Trent doubled over, gasping to catch his breath. Simon shoved him the rest of the way into the room and slammed the door shut. Trent heard the lock click into place.

Simon took a deep breath and exhaled slowly as he walked away. That had been how he'd survived all these years. It was the only way to do what he had to do. He never talked to the people he had to hurt or kill, it made things too personal. And while he wasn't killing the kid with his own hands, he knew Trent Barlow would die sooner or later. There was no point in making the effort to communicate with him. It was a waste of time and energy.

 

Trent coughed violently, his lungs expelling the water he'd inhaled. He rolled onto his side, automatically gasping in air hungrily.

He was alive. Dammit, he was still alive. He didn't even remember them coming for him this time.

God, please, just let me die.

“Welcome back, Trent.”

He did not want to look into her eyes. The loathsome voice was enough.

“How are you feeling?”

He didn't answer her. They were beyond that.

Back in his room, he lay on the bed, flat on his back, the familiar burning ache again in his lungs and airway as he forced air in and out. Maybe death was too good for him. But how long was he destined to suffer at her hands? How much longer would his body hold up? He'd given up any hope of escape. When he wasn't locked in his room, Simon was always right there with that damned shotgun pointed at his head.

No way out.

Trent closed his eyes, exhaustion overtaking his body.

The escape of sleep was cut short. Someone was in the room with him.

Caroline.

He knew it was her by her scent. He never heard the door open, but he felt the bed dip as she sat down next to him. He
hated
her being that close to him but didn’t have the strength to move or push her away. He kept his eyes closed.

“You're only alive because I allow you to live. It would be so easy to just not save you.” There was no mistaking the hate that punctuated her words.

“Then don't. Let me die.”

It was so clear when Caroline looked at him now. He truly wanted to die. Even with his eyes closed, she knew it. She reached out a hand, ran it along the side of his face, enjoying how he flinched and turned his head away from her. “Oh Trent, why would I do that when we're having so much fun together?”

His eyes opened. “You need help, Caroline. It's not too late. I'll help you. Just let me go.”

“Oh you'll help me all right. You don't have a choice.” She stood and stared down at him. “Get some rest.”

Trent closed his eyes again and didn’t open them until he heard the door shut behind her. There was no way to reason with someone that far gone. Though the longer he was around her, the closer he was to losing his own mind. There was a part of him, down in the deep dark corners of his mind, that thought he deserved to be right there where he was, suffering endlessly until death welcomed him.

Chapter 8

She had the damned recorder again.

“What did you feel, Trent? What did you see?” Caroline asked.

Trent coughed and pushed himself to a seated position. “Fuck you.”

Her face twisted with rage.

“What?” he challenged. “If I don't tell you what will you do to me? Kill me?” He gave a bitter laugh. “Sic your manservant on me?”

Her mouth was drawn tight. She cocked her head to the side. “You really don’t want to provoke me, Trent. There aren’t a lot of people in this world you care about. It would be a shame if something happened to one of them.”

He wanted to believe she would never harm his family, but he really didn’t know what she was capable of. “I can’t give you what I don’t know,” he said quietly, looking into her eyes, willing her to see the truth.

She stood and looked down at him. “Then I guess we’ll just have to keep trying.” She turned and walked out of the room.

Trent fought the urge to collapse onto the floor in despair. Simon was already coming towards him. He forced himself to his feet. He could fall apart once he was back in his room.

They walked in silence down the hall. He waited until he was sure Caroline wasn’t within earshot.

“Why are you doing this? What does she have over you?” he asked.

Simon ignored him.

“She's insane, you know.”

Still no response.

“Come on, there's got to be something I can say to get you to look the other way while I get the hell out of here.”

Simon smirked without looking Trent in the eye and shook his head as he stood in the hall, waiting for Trent to walk into his room.

He wished the big man would slug him a good one, wanted to be pounded into oblivion. Maybe he could even get in a few good hits of his own before Simon put him down. But Simon just stood there, and shook his head as if he knew what Trent wanted and was denying him.

Trent changed tactics. “I can’t help her. If I could, I would, but what she wants is impossible. Hell, I don’t even think she knows what she wants.”

No reaction from Simon.

“She’s going downhill fast and I think you know that. She has no future if she keeps this up. I don’t know how much longer I can survive this. And what then? She’ll never be able to move on. But you and I together, we can get her the help she needs.”

A flicker of emotion passed over Simon’s face, just one tiny flicker, but it was enough. “You’re in love with her,” Trent muttered. “Shit.”

Anger colored Simon’s face, but this time he didn’t take it out on Trent, just slammed the door in Trent’s face, his footsteps echoing loudly down the hall.

Jesus Christ. The big guy wasn’t paid muscle. He wasn’t being blackmailed. He was there because he
wanted
to be there. Wanted to be with
her
. There had to be a way he could use this information. A tiny bubble of hope surged. If he could get Simon convinced that Caroline had to let him go so they could have a future together, the whole damned nightmare would be over. Of course once he was free, he wouldn’t rest until they were both brought down.

No point in worrying about that until he was free.

Chapter 9

Watching Trent suffer was exhilarating. More so than she'd ever thought it would be. It wasn't enough for him to die now. Caroline wanted to make him suffer endlessly. Wanted to watch him suffer. She'd started taking notes, recorded their conversations afterwards. It was so different from that first time, when he'd been all defiance, clinging to hope of life. Then she'd seen his horror when he realized she was going to do it again. Now she saw acceptance, yet still, somehow, he was clinging to the hope that she'd let him go. But that glimmer of hope was slowly dying each time he slipped under the water.

Her mission had changed. She had a purpose, a goal, a reason to live. And the way the plan had come to her, it was as if God himself had given her a sign. It was fascinating. She had enough vacation time saved up at work. She needed to devote more time to this. Work could wait.

 

“He's dying, Carol,” Simon said. They were in her kitchen, each halfway through a bottle of beer.

“He dies when I say he dies,” she shot back defiantly.

“I don't like what this is doing to you. When we started, I thought this would bring you closure. It needs to end, Carol.”

Her eyes softened and she put a hand on his face. “It will, I promise. I just need a little more time with him.”

Simon watched her go. It would be so easy to just kill the kid, get it over with. But he wouldn't betray Caroline. He couldn't. Not when he owed her his life. Of course, she hadn't realized at the time she'd fixed his broken body that she was saving the life of a paid hit man. Neither of them planned on it happening, but they'd found their way into a mutually beneficial relationship. One that had evolved into something neither was sure what to call anymore. Some days she didn’t speak to him at all, but that was just her way. The one thing Simon understood was loyalty and someone saving your life deserved the ultimate loyalty. Whatever happened between them, he'd be loyal to her until the day he died.

 

Caroline looked into Trent's eyes as they faced each other on the platform. He looked older and thinner. Though his face was flushed with fever, he held her gaze steadily, never flinching. But she could see it in his eyes, the hope was dimming, being replaced with a bitter anger and hate, maybe even a quiet acceptance of his fate. The sense of power elated her. She controlled his destiny and he knew it. She could make him suffer endlessly. She had all the power.

She'd experimented with varying the length of time before she brought him back, carefully timing it with a stopwatch. On average, the human brain could survive for four minutes without permanent brain damage. Depending on her mood, she sometimes pushed it to the limit.

She watched the seconds tick by. Four minutes. One second. Two. Three. Simon squatted next to her on the platform, waiting for her to give the word. She could just give it up, let Trent slip away, and get on with her life. But what life did she have left? She felt a shuddering wave of emptiness. She looked down. Four minutes 30 seconds. “Get him out,” she said.

Simon plunged into the tank.

Caroline felt the bones of Trent's chest as she worked to start his heart again. It had been over too quickly this time. He hadn't fought it at all.

Caroline pressed the stethoscope against his chest six minutes after he'd gone under. She listened carefully to his heartbeat and his breathing.

Trent was too exhausted to push her away from him but it was clear by her face that she wasn’t happy with what she'd heard. He didn't really need her to say the words anyway. As a runner and trained EMT, he was very familiar with how far he could push his body and he knew when it wasn't working right. He didn’t need her to tell him that he was in rough shape. His body was a wreck and his mind wasn't in much better shape.

He rolled onto his side, gulping in air. It was several long minutes before he was able to speak. Several more before they helped him to his feet.

No, he definitely didn't look good, Caroline thought as they walked down the hall towards his room. Trent could barely stand or walk on his own and his face was a pale gray where it showed through his facial hair. His breathing was rapid and shallow. He didn't even look at her when they got to his room and let him inside, he headed straight for the bed and collapsed onto it without a sound.

When she asked him questions, his answers often didn't make any sense. He babbled and stuttered, his eyes unfocused and darting around the room, every now and then coming to rest on the tank. Then he’d get quiet and still. It was very possible, probable even, that his brain was suffering the effects of lack of oxygen. It was also clear that he’d developed full-blown pneumonia now. She was going to need more supplies.

BOOK: The Drowning Man
3.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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