Fiction: The Art of Mutual Destruction Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Three

Adam headed to the den, turning over the conversation he’d had with Kat in his mind as he went. She’d been cryptic, mindful of Iman who’d been hovering nearby, but the underlying message had been clear; big trouble. Someone had done something and now Adam was being called upon to clean up their mess.

He met no one along the way. He’d initially assumed that Ali had called a full meeting and everyone was waiting but Kat had told him different. They were all gone. Apart from the men at the gate, the compound was deserted.

It was unnerving.

He found Ali in the corner of the dark room, just where Kat had said he would be. He had a laptop open in front of him and two empty coffee cups at his elbow.

A look of relief briefly flitted over his face at the sight of Adam before being replaced with a scowl. “You forget how to tell time?”

Adam ignored the jab. “What’s going on?”

Connor is dead. I received these,” Ali handed a folder over to Adam, “in the mail today.”

Adam glanced at the photos and grimaced. “Someone made a mess.” He couldn’t even make out exactly how Connor had died but it was clear that the man’s death had been painful.

He hadn’t liked Connor in the slightest. He’d been rude and condescending and the way he’d leered at both Kat and Adam’s mother had ensured they were never friends. But Adam felt a stab of pity for the dead man nonetheless. No one deserved to die so painfully.

I want you to find out who killed him.”

You think they’re planning to keep going?”

It might just be a simple dispute. It’s not the first time there’s been a killing over a double booked job.” Ali pinched the bridge of his nose. “It might even be something personal. Connor was… abrasive. I don’t know. But there’s no harm in finding out.”

Where am I going?”

Italy. You leave this evening.” Ali shut the laptop and got to his feet. “Your mother is furious with me.”

Is that why we’re here for breakfast?”

In part,” Ali allowed. “I may have hoped that another chance to interrogate your wife would put her in a better mood. We’ll see if it worked.”

Adam glanced around as they walked through the silent house. “Where is everyone?”

I was not in the best mood when I got the mail this morning.”

Translation – Ali had terrified everyone into disappearing so they weren’t at risk of irritating him into shooting them.

Any casualties?” he asked facetiously.

Just one. A trainee. He wasn’t much of a loss, all things considered.”

What?” Adam stopped dead. He couldn’t have heard right. Could he?

You killed a trainee?” This had to be a joke. A very unfunny, slightly worrisome joke. Adam knew all too well that his stepfather had a hideous temper. But murdering trainees? That was extreme.

Ali had the grace to look chagrined. “I choked a trainee,” he corrected. “He’s still alive. But, understandably, not particularly interested in staying around.”

Oh.” Adam could feel his heartbeat beginning to slow. “Poor guy.”

Ali waved a hand dismissively. “I’m sure he’ll get over it.”

Iman’s head was spinning and her throat was dry. She’d never talked so much in her life.

Iman, what did you say your parents did, dear?” Lina asked sweetly.

Iman hadn’t mentioned her parents at all.

She was saved from having to answer by the arrival of Adam and his stepfather and it was all she could do to not sigh in relief.

Lina was immediately distracted. “Oh, there you are!” She squeezed Adam around the neck then levelled him with a disapproving look. “How many times have I said: come and greet me before you disappear with your father! Well, never mind. At least you’re here now. And we have all day together before you leave!” She petted his cheeks.

All day? Iman prayed that wasn’t true. Fifteen minutes with the tiny woman had left her hoarse, she couldn’t even imagine what a whole day would be like.

Actually, Mom, we’re going to need to leave pretty soon.”

Lina looked scandalized. “What? But your flight isn’t until tonight!”

I need to drop Iman off at her grandfather’s.”

Iman tried to look like this wasn’t news to her.

Adam’s stepfather took that moment to intervene. He leaned down and whispered something into his wife’s ear and Lina’s frown immediately smoothed out. “Oh. Oh! Well, alright then.”

Iman glanced curiously at him, wondering what he’d said to cut his wife off so neatly. This was the man Adam had said would shoot at him? He seemed so friendly… She continued watching him as they ate, trying to make the conflicting images reconcile themselves. She was fairly certain Adam hadn’t been joking, but even still, she couldn’t see the charming, handsome man seated across from her holding a gun.

She’d just about decided that Adam had been joking and she’d just missed it – which was reasonable, she’d only known him for a little while – and then Ali Cassim looked at her.

Iman shivered involuntarily. She’d seen that look several times before. Her mother had worn it just as Aasia had raked her nails across Iman’s face. Her stomach churned.

Cassim smiled widely at her and Iman dropped her knife with a clatter.

Lina looked at her in concern. “Iman, is everything alright? You don’t look very good.”

She didn’t feel it either. “I- No,” she said unsteadily.

Vaguely, she noticed that Lina had gotten to her feet and was leaning over her. “Come on,” the other woman said gently. “Some fresh air might help.”

She was guided to her feet and a warm hand settled in the middle of her back, urging her forward. Moments later, she’d been settled on a porch swing.

If the swaying makes you nauseous, let me know and I’ll have Adam bring you out a chair. Do you know what made you feel sick?” Lina settled herself next to Iman, facing her.

Iman did know. Cold, dead eyes. But how was she meant to explain that to her mother in law?

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