Book: OtherSide Of Fear (Outside The Ropes #3)

Previous: 42: Does It Hurt
Next: 44: Madness

 

43: Prove Yourself

WE SAT IN THE OPEN WAREHOUSE, A draft blowing in from somewhere, chilling me. It gave me an excuse for shaking, uncontrollable tremors that vibrated my muscles in random spurts. I only hoped that my arms around my waist, holding me in place, were enough to cover them.

It all seemed to be going okay, but dread was building, consuming my thoughts with each moment that passed. Only minutes before, Rusnak had stepped out of the room on his phone and left Gage and I alone. Although, not really alone. A few men spotted the open, empty, space. Metal pipes and ducts showed on the ceiling and walls. There were construction piles and a half designed bar spread out over the room. Rusnak had explained that this was going to be his new club, one of many. The men at the bar didn’t even pretend to do anything besides watching Gage and I.

“This is Dex.” Gage gripped my thigh under the table as he pulled out his vibrating phone. “You two still there? With them?” He paused, listening to Dexter, and then his eyes swept to the door.

Rusnak entered but stopped to say something to another man there.

There were other rooms in this sprawling warehouse, but I hadn’t seen them. Others had been in and out though, including Alessandra and Cherry.

“Good. Then have Sam drop off the truck and you can still make your flight,” Gage continued his phone conversation.

The man left at Rusnak’s signal and then he was walked towards us.

“All right,” Gage spoke soft into the phone. “You too.” He rose to his feet as he hung up and I followed.

“Everything was exchanged.” Rusnak stopped on the opposite side of the table. “It’s all been confirmed. See, it went smooth. There was nothing to worry about. I told you, your brother would be a good addition.”

Gage’s small grunt could have been mistaken for a laugh. “It’s done. I’ll pick up my share of the money when your man gets back tomorrow.”

I let out the breath I’d been holding. My relief for Dexter flooded my insides with heat, but all my senses were still revved, especially when Rusnak put out his hand to stop us.

“Wait.” His bright smile didn’t lesson my anxiety at all. “Sit. Stay. We still have more to discuss. Things to work out.”

Gage didn’t sit, but he didn’t continue walking away either.

Rusnak’s smile dropped, but he pressed forward. “We made more money in these past two days than Viktor made all year. It’s to both our benefit to work together. But it’s important to trust each other, and I’ve had my doubts.”

Gage stared at him for a moment, nothing crossing his face, no ripple, no lines, completely still and calm. “I do too. Changing the plans on me every chance you had doesn’t help improve that trust.”

“I had my reasons. Sit.” He gestured to the chair Gage had been sitting on as he relaxed in his chair, smiling up at him. “We’ve always had someone between us, a buffer. First, your father. Then, Nick and Silas. And more recently, Viktor. But they’re gone now.” His voice hardened, “A conversation is long overdue.”

I could only half focus on Rusnak. My attention pulled as the man from earlier returned, saying something in a thick accent to the other men in the room. The three others laughed, a gritty sandpaper like sound, as they walked towards our table.

Rusnak didn’t acknowledge them, his eyes stayed locked on Gage.

“Another time,” I answered for Gage, not wanting to give him the chance to say okay. A warning rung in my head, blaring out everything as I watched the men’s slow approach.

“Regan, this isn’t something that can wait.” Rusnak only glanced at me before turning back to Gage. “I’m already thinking of our next project. We need to clear this up. Now.”

“No. We have to go.” I focused on Gage, not sure I could control the panic rising in me. My flight response was taking over. I wanted to push him towards the door.

“Regan,” His voice was low as his hand gripped my arm, and the second I heard his tone, I knew. It was an apology. My lungs collapsed, all air vacuumed out. We weren’t leaving. He tried to meet my eyes, but I focused back on the group that now surrounded us.

Two on either side of Rusnak. All on the other side of the folding table but spread out enough that whichever way we tried to go, they would be there. And a wall blocked us at our back.

So I sat down with a deep breath. If I couldn’t run, I’d face this head on. And maybe I was overreacting. I had been scared about every step this week, and they’d all turned out okay. Maybe this would be the same. It was a desperate hope I clung to. We just had to agree to whatever he wanted and then leave.

Gage sat next to me, pulling his folding chair right up to my side so we were touching.

Rusnak’s satisfied smile reached his hazel eyes, and he turned to the man at his side. “Get us a bottle and glasses.” He gestured to the man at his other side, the one who’d only just entered the room. “What did they find out?”

That man stepped forward, slipping a folded paper into Rusnak’s hands. Rusnak unfolded the small scrap and glanced to him. He spoke low into his ear, too low for us to hear, but Rusnak nodded with hooded eyes.

“Trace it and let me know.” Rusnak handed back the paper. He turned to face us, dismissing the man without another word. “Some FBI turned up dead at the club,” he stated, matter of fact.

“I heard,” Gage used the same straight tone with an edge that Rusnak had used.

I tensed but controlled the urge to grip the gun holstered inside my jacket.

Rusnak’s head cocked slightly and eyes narrowed, considering Gage. “You heard. From whom?”

“Viktor told me, but he didn’t have any information. He wanted me to look into it. I haven’t found out anything certain. Have you?”

He scratched the side of his neck and peered at Gage through slits in his eyes. “You looked into it? And found nothing?”

Gage leaned forward. His words and actions came out confident, sure, “Barely. He mentioned it on the boat and with everything that happened…”Gage spread out his hands, we all knew what happened that night. “I’ve focused on other things.”

“You didn’t think to mention it to me?”

“They had connected Viktor to the Bratva. And then you took out Viktor.” Gage shrugged. “I thought you set up those men too. It didn’t seem like a problem anymore.”

The sound of my breathing ripped through me and I held my breath, not wanting to be the one to ruin things, not wanting to draw attention to me. Gage appeared so calm, so certain in his lie.

The man Rusnak sent away for drinks returned and poured liquor into glasses. Rusnak flicked his fingers, making the man stop. “Leave us to talk, but leave the bottle.”

The man set the bottle down in the center of the glasses, and then him and the other men returned to the half built bar. They sat on the stools there, far enough away that we couldn’t hear their muffled conversation but close enough to feel their eyes on us.

“It was convenient.” Rusnak picked up the bottle, raising one eyebrow as he topped off his drink. “But suspicious because I didn’t set it up. And I haven’t heard anything about who did. If it was someone for us, then they should reveal themselves.” He gestured the bottle at Gage in a silent offer.

Gage grabbed the bottle and poured his own glass half full, adding a shots worth in another tumbler. He handed that to me, his steady fingers grazing mine. The small connection was enough to calm me some, to reassure me that he knew what he was doing.

As the men sipped their drinks, I downed mine, needing to silence the crackle of my thoughts and focus on them.

“Didn’t they shoot each other? Maybe there was no one else. Was either under your pay roll or Viktor’s?”

Rusnak shook his head, silently sipping his drink, but his eyes seemed to speak in another language, sparking as Gage continued.

“Then maybe one worked for someone who was.”

“That’s a good thought. Reasonable. But no one’s claiming them.” He looked between Gage and me. “Did you know them?” The question could have been directed at either of us. “Kalvin McDonnely and Anthony Fields.” His gaze settled on me.

“Anthony. I knew him,” I answered, knowing that Rusnak already knew that truth.

“Regan new him when he was a cop in Baltimore. He approached her once here in New York, but we sent him away. I told Viktor and Alessandra about that. It was the same time the FBI were questioning me.”

Rusnak’s gaze stayed attached to me. “What did he question you about?”

“Gage. Shadow. They were after Shadow.” I had to break eye contact. I looked to Gage. “Maybe it was Shadow who had them killed.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and forced myself to face Rusnak again. “Or maybe one of them worked for him.”

He tilted his head, eyes penetrating me like a knife. “Maybe.”

“Does it matter at this point?” I asked, unable to keep silent under his look. “If they were only on to Viktor, that connection is gone. Is there something else going on that we should be worried about? Has someone else been asking questions?” I wanted to get us off the questioning table.

“That’s what I’m looking into, if there’s anything else to worry about. Hopefully they will follow the clues and tie Viktor to Shadow and consider it closed.” He braced his forearms on the table, talking to me like he was teaching me something. “I’m looking out for my interests though, for our business, and Shadow is a large part of that. Protecting Shadow protects us and our investments.”

“Shadow—”

“Now that this deal is behind us,” Gage cut me off. “I’ll look into this further and make sure it won’t be a threat to future projects. That’s where my interest lies, so we’re both in agreement on that. I don’t want things interfering with potential business either.”

“Good, that’s what I wanted to hear. But can you really? Even with her?”

Neither of them looked at me, but my heart stuttered at being put in the center of their conversation.

“Leave her out of it,” his voice strained as he tried to keep control, lines flashing in his neck and jaw. “That’s my one demand. You leave her out of it, and I’m willing to put aside our past differences so we can both benefit.”

“But can I trust you?” He asked like he was talking to himself, trying to decide.

“I’m asking myself the same thing about you.” Gage nodded towards Rusnak. “But at least my track record proves you can. I’ve never betrayed the brotherhood.”

“Neither have I.” Rusnak sat up, voice forceful as he defended Gage’s slight.

“But you undermine me.”

That man came back in, his beard hiding his expression as he walked straight to Rusnak. The others in the room took notice, perking up in their seats.

“My changes were to protect the shipment, to make sure it stayed secure.” Rusnak nodded to Gage, taking the slip of paper the bearded man handed him. He dropped his eyes, smoothing his suit as the man behind him spoke into his ear. His face transformed, hardening. “They’re sure?” He turned to the man who nodded. Rusnak lifted his hand and the others in the room gathered where we sat.

Rusnak turned back to Gage with a smile that extinguished any hope I had. His smile promised nothing good, something terrible crawling behind those eyes. “You’re right. We should leave her out of this. Leave, Regan. My driver can take you home.”

“No,” I sat up, nerves bursting in flashes behind my eyes. “I’m not leaving.”

Gage put his hand out, blocking me, to keep me still or to send a message. I saw now the others were moving closer, and the bald man closest to me had stepped to my side of the table.

Rusnak raised an eyebrow at Gage. “Now’s the time to prove yourself. Send her home.”

Gage rose to his feet, pulling me close to his side. “I’ll take her home, and then I’ll come back and we can talk.”

We made it out from behind the table before two men blocked our path, and the other two came up behind us.

Rusnak stepped in-between them, facing Gage. “You need to stay here.” He nodded back to the table. “You know I’ll get her home safe.”

Gage pulled me to him, knocking Rusnak’s arm down before he could reach me. “Don’t fucking touch her.”

The blur of dark suits in the corner of my vision was hard to follow. Everyone moved at once, but the flash of a gun being pulled caused me to pull out my own.

The bald man pointed his weapon at Gage, and I put him in the sights of my gun, finger on the trigger. He swung his gun, shifting his aim at me.

A hand slid over my glock, over my finger, squeezing as I pulled the trigger. The gun blast vibrated through my arm and the man in front of me dropped. My arm was jerked up to point my gun at my own head, my finger trapped on the trigger by another hand. I froze, afraid the struggle would fire the gun, and Rusnak pulled me tight against him, my back pressed to his front.

“Stop,” he bit out his command.

Gage released the bearded man’s head, and he collapsed to the ground, neck twisted unnaturally on his shoulders. A sure sign of death. His body radiated rage, shoulders inflating and falling with each breath as he glared behind me at Rusnak. “You wouldn’t hurt her.”

The gun shoved against the side of my head, the tip searing my skin from the heat of the shot fired before. “I’ll do what I have to. Are you willing to test that?”

Gage stayed still, breath slowing.

“Put your gun down,” Rusnak commanded.

Gage crouched down slow, setting the gun on the ground at his feet.

“Get him.”

The other two men were hesitant as they closed in on him, until one pulled out a bright gun, firing at Gage’s back. The prongs of the Taser attached to him, sending him flat on the ground as he convulsed.

The glock was removed from my head, and Rusnak gripped me in both arms. I was fighting against his hold, unaware of myself, only of Gage on the ground swiping at the cords but not able to reach them on his back. Every new round of shocks, killing me to watch.

Rusnak turned us away from the sight, but I could still hear it. Gage’s body jerking on the ground. The sudden groans as a new wave hit his muscles. The two men laughing.

“Sh-Sh-Shh, Sweetheart. Stop fighting. It’ll be better if you stop fighting.”

I couldn’t stop the tears that started, but I tried to strangled down my instinct to struggle against Rusnak’s hold, wanting to do nothing more than help Gage.

“Blyad,” Rusnak’s voice changed and his body went rigid. “You should have left when you had the chance. Don’t say anything.”

“What’s happened?” Alessandra asked, walking in with Cherry and another man.

Rusnak flung me away from him, on to the hard ground. “Get her. I’ll handle him from here.”

He had my gun in his hand as he walked towards Gage.

Previous: 42: Does It Hurt
Next: 44: Madness