Chapter Sixteen

Monday, February 3rd, 1986

“I can’t do this anymore!”

I frowned, holding my head while I stared at the floor. Beside me, Summit stood from behind his desk, bracing himself on its shining mahogany surface. James Quint was curled into his chair, yanking his hair out at the roots.

“What, exactly, is the problem, James?” Summit muttered, rolling his eyes heavenward. “Your business is thriving, isn’t that what you wanted?”

“I can’t handle the sneaking around! The press is hanging me, and you’re leaving me out to dry! My brother called me to tell me I need religion. They think I’m some kind of Hitler out there.”

Summit shook his head, disappointed. “Oh, morality. It always kills my good men. Pathetic. Would it help to remind you that you have no choice?”

Quint was clearly crying, eyes flickering from Summit to me. I did not make eye contact; my own morality was clambering to the surface. “They know they’re getting the guns from me. They’re bringing on more police which means more taxes, more traffic, angrier citizens and the crime rate is still at an all-time high! They’re blaming me.”

“God forbid you not be the popular kid, Quint,” he snapped. “But I feel like you’re missing the point. You don’t have a choice. You do what I tell you, or Garrett breaks your kneecaps. That was the deal.”

Quint shook his head. “I think I’d rather take the busted kneecaps.”

“Really?” Summit said. “Should I up the deal then? Is it worth your life? I’m guessing not.”

The tears streaming from Quint’s eyes grew larger in number. “Please, have mercy.”

“Mercy? I’m not your friend, James, and I won’t act like it. You’re a business partner and a tool in my plans. If you won’t cooperate, then you’re no longer useful to me. Certainly, you of all people can understand how that sort of thing works.”

“It’s not right.”

The man laughed, loudly and without end. “Right? Why should I care what is or isn’t right? It’s what I want. And I get what I want. As far as I’m concerned you will give me what I want or suffer the ultimate price.”

“Please,” James cried. “Please, I can’t, I can’t. I can’t be responsible for all the death anymore.”

“You didn’t care about that when it was the army buying your stuff. Don’t they kill people?”

“Children. Children are dying. Innocent men, women, and children are getting caught in it.”

Summit circled the desk, taking a seat on its front. “Innocent. Who is innocent?”

“Don’t make me do it anymore. It’s tearing me apart.”

The angry partner heaved a deep sigh, looking for the answers on the ceiling. “Well, if you’re unwilling to help me, Mr. Quint, I really can’t force you to obey me.”

James fell to his knees, pulling Summit’s hands into his. He kissed them repeatedly. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“However,” Summit said, yanking himself away from the sniveling man. “I’m sure you can also understand that I can’t keep someone with knowledge of all my secrets just running around free. Who knows what you’d say, who you’d tell, to preserve your own image.”

The fear returned to James’s face. “No, no, Mr. Freeman, I promise I won’t tell.”

“I’m not so sure about that, James,” Summit countered leisurely. “You have a bit of a big mouth when you drink, and you drink an awful lot.”

I winced, hoping to God that Summit was exaggerating. It was never in our agreement that I would be taking lives, only intimidating and, occasionally, providing a little physical persuasion. I wrung my hands together.

“Garrett,” Summit called, “I think your services may be required.”

“No!” James shrieked. “Garrett, your services aren’t required.”

Summit looked down into his newest victim’s face, “James, you said the moral conflict is tearing you apart. I don’t think you know exactly what that feels like. Would you like to find out?”

The old man shook his hung head, crying with a fury that wet the carpet beneath him. He chanted, no, no, no, no, mixed with the occasional please.

Summit looked to me, forcing me to stand with a gesture of two fingers. “Garrett, I want you to tear Mr. Quint apart.”

I hoped that I had heard him wrong; my heart was beating loud enough in my ears to make it a possibility. “Sir?”

Summit’s jaw dropped. The act of defiance on my part was a clear embarrassment. “I told you to tear him apart, Garrett. Do it.”

My head shook fervently back and forth. “Sir, I don’t think I can.”

“You will do as you’re told, Garrett. I want this man dead. Get to work.”

I looked down at James, who was crawling over to my feet. He wrapped his arms around my thick legs, “Please, don’t kill me. Please, please, I’ll do anything.”

I hushed him, but it only made the sobs louder. I could offer no words of comfort when I was the one in need of them most. I did not know what to do.

“What are you waiting for?” Freeman said.

I could not think, could hardly stand to speak. “I can’t do it, Mr. Freeman, it wasn’t in the deal. I can’t kill a man.”

“In the deal? I am the deal! I make the deal! If I tell you to kill someone then you do it.”

I was shaking my head without listening. “No. I can’t. The deal said—”

“You coward. All the power of the Gods themselves and you won’t use them. And for what? This sniveling worm? Who will mourn him, Garrett? No one!”

James was crying and begging me, muffling the words pouring from Summit’s sharp tongue. It was making it very hard for me to think. “Please, shut up.”

“You killed Hartl! Are you so high above that now? He made you who you are today, like a father. But you wouldn’t know much about that would you?”

“Stop,” I insisted.

“Stop? Why don’t you make me stop, Garrett? Oh, right, I forgot, you’re a sniveling worm, just like that thing kissing your feet. Don’t kill him, Garrett, I’ll do it myself. And when I do, I’ll turn you and your worthless mother out onto the street!”

James begged me, over and over again to spare him, but it only fueled my upset. I shook my head, covering my ears. “Please, shut up.”

“I’m sure it’ll be exactly what she needs! No money, no house means no booze. Starvation can kill her instead!”

“Enough,” I exclaimed, throwing my arms out in either direction.

Summit and James went flying back, Summit into the comfortable arms of a cushy chair and James into the wall. His back struck first, knocking the breath from his lungs and his chest hit the floor, silencing his protests. I had not needed to touch them.

Summit laughed, clapping along in ecstasy, “Ah, yes, how perfect, Garrett. I knew you only needed a little persuasion.”

James slowly pulled himself to his feet, moaning through the pain.

“Finish the job.”

I froze, clenching and unclenching my fists. The trinkets on the desk were shaking, moved by the strength of my mind. It would be too easy to end the old man’s life and it would only take a second. I comforted myself with the knowledge that our victim would hardly feel a thing. It would only take a second. So why was I so worried?

“For your mother, Garrett.”

For my mother.

I kept the words circulating in my mind while I crossed the room. It was all I cared to think about while I stooped to the floor, lifting the unfortunate man off his feet by the throat. The chant echoed in my ears until the job was done and the life had left James Quint.

However, while I was doubled over, vomiting in the corner of the office, it was not those words that played over and over again in my head. Instead, it was, I have to get out of here.

Sunday, December, 13th, 2015

“So you did it?” she inquired after a long moment of chewing her eggs.

He nodded, shamefully biting his lip. “Yes. I breached the contract that night. Broke off the deal.”

“And he let you live?” Sasha inquired, eyeing him with suspicion. “That is unlike him. If nothing else, he would have gotten someone else to do it.”

Garrett’s dim eyes narrowed. “Believe me, Summit is more than capable of carrying out his work on his own. He made sure to make me pay in other ways.”

She averted her eyes. Garrett did not need to tell her about her father’s plans. She knew very well what he was capable of. “With this Poppy girl you’re always going on about,” she finished for him, noting the way he tensed. He said nothing. “Was it not?”

Garrett took a deep breath, keeping his lips pressed tightly together. “Poppy is gone. That is all you need to know.”

“Gone? That’s not what you seem to think. You call me by her name. Constantly. Is that what someone who’s accepted a loss would say, Garrett?”

He looked away from her. “I know she’s gone. Better than anyone else. I just hoped—”

Sasha snorted. “Hope. No wonder you look so crushed. What good does it do to hope for impossible things?”

“Summit and whatever doctor he’s recruited now are capable of very impressive things,” Garrett snapped. “They made me the way I am, immortal, inhuman. Far be it from me to say it’s impossible for them to bring someone back from the dead.”

Manipulation came so easily.  “So, he killed her. Well, that isn’t something I would’ve expected.”

“Fine,” Garrett replied, “now you know. Poppy’s dead. And your father killed her. That’s all there is to it.”

“How long has she been gone?”

He replied without missing a beat. “Going on twenty-one years next fall.”

Sasha neglected to say that she would be turning twenty-one next fall. Not much younger than he appeared to be, despite his story that spanned decades. “Then why did you say her name when you saw me.”

Sasha felt Garrett’s eyes look her over for the millionth time and fought back a shudder. She grabbed at the grass beneath her, tearing it out. He did not look at her like she was accustomed to being looked at. It made her feel vulnerable, even near the point of retreat, which she refused to allow. “No one would recognize her better than me. Your hair is shorter, but it’s the same color. Your eyes…I can live forever and I’ll never forget exactly what they look like. I looked into them every day for a decade. You’re thinner, more athletic, and you’re missing the scar she had.” He pointed to her unblemished hairline. “Right there. You look too much like her. The exact, spitting image. There was no way you couldn’t have been her.”

“Was?” she circled him. “Has your mind changed in that regard?”

“You act nothing like my Poppy. You’re cruel, you’re angry, and you’re vicious. She wasn’t like that. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t her.”

“What theories have you come up with then?” she crossed her arms. Her urge to slap him back to reality was nearly insuppressible, but she did not. It would do no good, and it would only hurt her hand. “Did they hit me on the head? Brainwash me? If she is dead, I think it might do your feeble mind some good to realize she’s staying there.”

She recalled a childhood. It was miserable, but it was hers. Sasha’s. Her father was there, albeit only occasionally, and her mother…she had none. Not even a picture. Still, did that mean at all that she had lived a life as Poppy?

He shook his head. “I don’t know how they did it. I only know that there isn’t any possible way that someone can look so similar. And if anyone has the resources to make that happen, it would be Summit Freeman.”

Sasha leaned away, stone-faced and pondering his words. She had seen her father do terrible, ruthless things, and she was sure he had done more that he would never let her see. It must have been insanity that made her wonder. Could it be possible that she had lived another life? A life with this man? “If that were at all possible, do you think there’s a way to bring those memories back to the surface?”

“I could hit you.”

Sasha could not help the raucous laughter that erupted from her chest. “Hit me? Poor boy, I think if that would do it, our chameleon friend would have beat it into me by now!”

“You’re right,” Garrett submitted. “Other than that, all I can think is that you would need something to snap you back to attention. My story hasn’t jogged anything?”

“Not a whisper,” she said with a roll of her eyes. Obviously not.

“What if I kissed you?”

He sounded far too eager for her taste. “You already tried that. Remember?”

“Yes, but you were so focused on running, maybe it clouded anything else. It couldn’t hurt to give it one last try.”

She scoffed. Loudly. “And if it doesn’t work?”

He offered her a small, soothing smile. “And if it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else. I will never stop trying to get you back. To get you out of there.”

An alien tightness formed in Sasha’s chest, compressing her lungs. Sympathy? Did she really feel sorry for this poor, broken man before her? She squashed the emotion before it could be made visible on her person.

“If you’re so devoted to trying,” she stood, arms crossed. “I’ll submit to your experiment. But a kiss is all you’ll get. I won’t allow for any other manipulation. I am Sasha Freeman. That’s who I am, who I was, and who I will always be. Your insignificant presence in my life will never change that.”

Garrett’s expression dropped, but Sasha could still see the strange glint of hope in his eye. He reached for her, pushing himself up to his feet. His hands cupped her face, fingers intertwining with her hair. She slapped them away, taking an instinctive step back. “Stop.”

There was something. Not a memory. Not even a whisper of Poppy. It was more like an anxiety. Her stomach lurched, dreading his kiss.

He came closer. “What?”

There was something about him that was so pathetic she could not fight back the small bit of sadness stirring inside of her. He was like a kicked dog.

“It’s fine.” She looked over his face again, nearly hoping that it would spark some kind of long lost lover in her mind. Someone who insisted on loving her, despite the absolute torment she had put him through. But she saw nothing but an unstable, broken man.  A thing she could never love. Incapable of feelings, incapable of love, incapable of everything he asked of her, she shook her head. “This isn’t going to work.”

“Please,” he said, cupping her face in both of his hands. “Try.”

She leaned in . He shut his eyes. Sasha closed her own eyes, waiting for the feeling of his lips on hers to take over her mind. It was wet and unpleasant, just like the first time, when he had forced his affections on her. He opened her mouth with his tongue, and, this time, she let him, if only to say there was no point in trying again.

She broke them apart, opening her eyes to find his face had not moved, lips still pursed, eyes still closed, savoring the moment she knew he would never have again.

“Daniels—”

“No,” he interjected, eyes forever closed. “Just let me keep it for another few seconds.”

She waited in silence, watching him. Her chest hurt. She felt dirty, but she did not know why. She wiped at his drool on her mouth. It did not help. What had she done? To him? To herself? She wanted to spit venom in his face and demand that he stop looking at her like that. Stop thinking of her as that wonderful Poppy. That was not who Sasha was and she knew it. She was the cruel, angry, vicious thing, just as he said, that had maimed his body and broken his heart.

“Please, tell me you felt it,” he said.

She lowered her brows at him, “Did you feel it?”

His head bobbed up and down with a fervor that should have rattled his brain. The fact that he did not cry out was a miracle. “Yes! Yes, I did. Did you?”

She stood, withdrawing her hands from Garrett’s skin like it had burned her. She did not like this. Did not like how hopeful he was, did not like that he thought she was his dead wife, did not like that she kind of wished he was right. And, most of all, she did not like how upset the whole ordeal was making her.

“No,” she whispered, turning on her heel.

“Sasha,” he called, grabbing her by the shoulder. “Sasha!”

“Do not follow me.”

“Sasha, please,” he whimpered. The threat of tears loomed in his voice.

“I need to think.”

Sasha did not need to see him to know that he was crying. As she ducked into the trees, she chose not to believe that she was crying, too.

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