Chapter Forty Four
How had everything gone so wrong so fast? His best friend, his stepfather, his colleagues… They were gone. Taken by surprise in place they’d thought they were safe. In a place that should have been safe. That wasn’t only because of him. Because he’d been stupid and trusting and had again cost other people their lives.
Her face flashed in his mind, mocking him with its feigned innocence. He’d been so enthralled by her that he’d refused to believe it at first. Had yelled at the two remaining men who’d been lucky enough to survive that they were wrong. He’d insisted that their had to be some kind of mistake. The Iman he knew was kind and sweet and didn’t even know the first thing about the world they lived in.
She’d only been to the compound once and she’d been asleep for most of the trip. She probably didn’t even remember how to get there. It must have been someone else. He’d been so blind that even when his own mother told him otherwise, he’d still believed in her.
Finally, thoroughly fed up with him, they’d pieced together the remnants of the security footage to show him a single face. It had been enough.
Iman’s new best friend. James Blackwell. Adam had seen his face often enough that even the grainy, salvaged images had been enough for him to recognize Blackwell.
And then, he couldn’t deny the truth any longer.
He’d been told that the first thing Ali had done was to secure his mother a way out to safety. That, despite everything, was enough for Adam to forgive Ali whatever else the man had done to him.
And Kat. The loss of his best friend Adam felt more keenly than any other. She’d never liked Iman and she tried to warn him but he’d brushed her off. He’d picked Iman over her and he knew, deep down, that that was what had led to her death. Kat should have been with him. She would have been with him if she’d been able to stand being in the same room as him.
Instead, he’d gone alone. It had cost his friend her life.
Mercifully, the footage had been too degraded for him to see just how they’d lost their lives. They hadn’t even been able to find bodies to bury – everything had gone up in flames.
Adam knew what he had to do now. There was no way for him to redeem himself this time. The people who were dead lay on his conscience and there was no way to bring them back.
But there was one thing he could do. He could – and would – repay them in kind.
Ali had made sure that his mother would be taken care of, in the event that something happened to him. She had enough money to live on for several lifetimes and a handful of aliases to choose from. She would be fine without him.
It was better this way. She could barely stand to look at him now. He would do this one, final thing and then disappear.
Iman’s hands were stained red with blood. She’d scrubbed them so hard she’d half thought that the skin was going to come off but the blood had refused to leave. She could still feel it, still see it flowing, spilling out from her grandfather’s chest onto her, tainting her.
She waited for nausea or tears but neither came. She was numb. It was as though someone had reached inside her and ripped out her soul, leaving her a broken doll unable to function as a person any longer.
“Iman?” James crouched down beside her.
Iman tried to lift her head. “What is it?” she whispered. A bolt of panic hit her and she jerked. “Is there news?”
“No, he’s still in surgery.”
“Oh.” She returned to her crouch, folding her arms across her knees.
She caught the concerned frown James gave her and felt the beginnings of guilt. She was being rude, she knew. He had to be exhausted as well and she wasn’t making any effort.
She couldn’t. She’d been drained.
“…go home and clean up? Iman? Did you hear me?”
“What?” Iman blinked her eyes blearily.
“Do you want to go home and clean up?” James repeated slowly.
Home. What home? She didn’t have a home, not any more. The apartment had been his.
She said as much and James winced. “I meant your grandfather’s,” he said gently. “You don’t look good.”
Iman’s stomach churned. “I’m never going back there,” she whispered. Images began to flit through her mind. The ruined floors, ugly pools of red staining them like some macabre design. Her grandfather, lying crumpled against a chair, his skin so white she’d been terrified to even look for a pulse. And him. Adam. Looking at her with such hatred that she felt it right down to her bones.
He hadn’t hurt her. He hadn’t had to. The accusations he’d hurled at her made no more sense now than they had God knew how many hours ago. All that Iman understood was that he’d done this to hurt her.
Now you get to see how it feels, he’d hissed, before shoving her out of his way.
Hands shook her roughly and Iman’s eyes cleared.
James let go of her. “Back with me?” he asked unnecessarily.
Iman nodded. “I – think so.” Her voice was raspy with disuse.
“I think we should have a doctor check you over,” he suggested, yet again.
“After I see my grandfather,” Iman repeated, as she had every other time.
James eyes brightened. “They won’t let you in like this.”
What? Why not?
“Honey, you’re covered in blood. You need to get cleaned up so you don’t bring any germs in with you when you see him.”
He was right. Iman got to her feet, a sudden energy filling her veins. “Let’s go,” she said simply. The sooner she left, the sooner she could come back.
“I’ll just go tell the nurses,” James straightened out of his crouch. “Wait here, I’ll be back soon.”
A thought occurred to Iman. “Won’t the house be sealed off? The police… I thought they’d…”
Jake nodded. “I’m taking you to a hotel,” he explained. “Wait here, okay?”
Iman nodded obediently, already beginning to feel that energy fade. She’s just sit down for a second. Just until he got back.
The next thing she knew, she was being laid on a bed.
Relief flooded through her. It had been a dream? An awful nightmare that her subconscious had come up with to torture her?
Iman wrenched her eyes open.
She was in an unfamiliar room and the man who’d set her down wasn’t Adam but James.
It had been real.
I know you are confused, everyone is confused. The point is to be confused. I promise it will get explained eventually.