“You know where she is? Is she okay? What’s he doing to her?” The questions came out rapid fire, each moving me closer to the man in the flashy suit. By the time I was done asking them, I was right up in his face and I had his lapels clasped in each hand. I pulled him up so that he was balanced on his tiptoes. His fingers wrapped around my wrists, the metal of his rings biting into my skin.
“All right genius, if you shake me to death, you aren’t going to get her back, so I need you to take a step in the other direction before you break me.” There was a thread of amusement in his tone, but I could also tell he understood that my panic and my fear were completely new to me, and I had no way to control them. Somewhere along the line, Benny Truman had found someone who forced him to think about things other than himself. He actually gave a shit, and that made a man a little bit unhinged. I assumed that was happening to me.
I let him go with more force than necessary and raked my hands through my hair in aggravation. “Sorry, but like I said, it’s been two fucking weeks. That’s a long time.”
Benny smoothed his wrinkled suit and straightened his tie. “I get it, but you can take a breath for the moment. The cop who picked her up tagged her with a Taser. It either knocked her out for a while or she was good at playing possum. Goddard paid some guys to get his stepdaughter’s location out of her, and when she came to, she told them that if she didn’t check in with Julia every two days, she had instructions to hit the road because it meant something was wrong. She told them that they had a special code, and if they touched her, she would use it and send Julia into the wind. Goddard wants the girl and the baby. He wants to bury the bodies and burn the evidence. He can’t do that if your girl won’t talk.” Benny chuckled a little and rocked back on his heels. “She’s smart. They’ve been playing it pretty easy with her, hoping to trace the calls, pressuring her to get the girl to slip up and drop her location, but she’s been playing them.”
I grunted and put my hands on my hips as I stared at the floor between my black motorcycle boots. “How do you know all this?”
Benny and Nassir exchanged a look and he ran a hand over his beard. “Goddard is losing patience and getting desperate. He’s looking for a pro to get her to talk. Someone who can torture her, hurt her, and get her to give him what he wants. He knows she’s from the streets so his usual threats won’t work. He needs more fire power. Typically, he would go through Gates to get his hands on a pro, but since he doesn’t like to do business with anyone who doesn’t bleed blue and has a pedigree that matches his, he put out a call for an outsider to get the job done.”
Nassir’s narrowed eyes glinted in irritation. “Luckily, no one goes in or out of the Point without my knowing about it. We got word a few days ago that a professional was making his way to the city and I had a welcome committee waiting for him. After we graciously put him up for the night, I retrieved our own professional. Someone Goddard wouldn’t question coming in to work the girl over. He thinks Benny is here to make her talk by any means necessary.”
Graciously put him up for the night more than likely meant Nassir’s guys had maimed and tortured the guy. Given him a taste of his own medicine. He didn’t like anyone who wasn’t vetted on his streets. He didn’t like anyone wandering around who might be as dangerous as he was. He had someone in his life he gave a shit about and he wouldn’t let an unknown get anywhere near her. “He didn’t even question who Benny was when he showed up at the country club.”
I blew out a breath and shifted my gaze between the two of them. “How did he not recognize you?” Like I said, I’d never met him but I knew exactly who he was. The streets used to be under his control.
“Guys like Goddard don’t know about guys like me unless they need something. When Novak was pulling the reins, he didn’t do white-collar crime. He never saw a use for it. He was much more the rape and pillage type . . . literally. Our paths never crossed and he’s watched enough bad cable TV that he’s convinced I’m some mobbed-up gangster from the East Coast. He has no idea what a life of crime really looks like . . . which works for us and works for your girl.”
I scanned his outfit and his shiny wingtips. “You do kind of look like an extra on the Sopranos, except for the beard.”
I knew from first-hand experience the guys who made their living breaking the law very rarely looked like the average person thought they did. Sure, there were guys who looked like they loved doing bad things . . . like Bax. But then there was Race, who looked like he owned a yacht and played golf every weekend at Goddard’s country club. Nine times out of ten, Race was into more illegal and dirty stuff than Bax, but at first glance, no one would ever know that. Then, there were guys like Nassir. He looked like a successful businessman most days, but there was something about him that screamed his business wasn’t anything you wanted to ask him about. His expensive suits never could hide the ruthlessness and raw edge that made him the devil incarnate.
Chuck barked out a laugh and slapped his leg. “Ben’s been lost in the woods for the last six months. He’s been stuck in flannel and had to learn how to chop wood. He forgot the power of a good suit is in its subtlety. The man used to know how to dress.”
Benny swore and Nassir’s lips twitched in silent amusement. I wished I could see the humor in the situation, but I felt like I was about to break into pieces. All that would be left of me was the skeleton made of leftover parts and shrapnel.
“So, he thinks you’re here to torture her, and if you don’t get the info, he’ll most likely have you both killed.”
I got dual nods from both dark-haired men and a serious look from Chuck. Nassir pulled out his phone when it quietly vibrated and swore softly under his breath. “Either that, or he’ll try and sell her. We’ve had some problems with the Eastern Europeans. Every time I think I’ve chased them all out of town, they pop back up. If she doesn’t talk, he might tell Benny to hand her over to them and they’ll move her into their goddamn sex trafficking network. Obviously, we won’t let that happen.”
“No shit, that isn’t going to happen.” I growled the words between my teeth. Nassir blinked in surprise at the obvious emotion behind each word but didn’t say anything.
His tone was careful when he told me, “We’re meeting tonight after midnight at the docks. Goddard has an empty shipping container registered to a shell company that he uses for all his wet work. We didn’t have a clue that’s where he’s been operating until Benny got the meetup info. You can bet the guys running the docks are going to hear from me when this is all over. They’re bringing her there so Benny can get the answers from her.”
“If she talks?” I knew the answer, but I had to hear someone say it out loud.
“She dies.” Nassir said flatly.
“If she doesn’t?”
“She dies.” Nassir gave me both answers equally with as little emotion as I usually showed.
“I’m going with you.” It was a bold declaration, one lacking any of my typical detachment.
Benny immediately shook his head as both Chuck and Nassir sighed. “You can’t. Goddard hired a guy who works alone with no questions asked. I can’t roll in there with someone else. Your girl will be dead before we step foot on the docks.”
“You’re too invested. You aren’t thinking clearly. Stark, you’ll do more harm than good if you involve yourself. You are the brains behind the operation, not the brawn.” Nassir’s tone left no room for argument and his words were true. I wasn’t much of a fighter unless I was pushed. And right now, I felt like I’d been pushed right to the edge and there was no going back. Fourteen long ass days of being suffocated by guilt and remorse. I was choking on it. I was also running scared from a myriad of other emotions I couldn’t clearly identify as they swirled under the emotions I did recognize. I hated things I didn’t understand. I didn’t have the patience or time to be confused and conflicted.
I wanted to fall back to the floor.
I wanted to scream at the ceiling.
I wanted to rip my shirt off and beat my chest like a wild animal.
I felt like I was being consumed by every ugly thing twisting up my insides. Dropping my head, I put my hand on the back of my neck and squeezed so hard that it hurt. Pain was the one feeling I was familiar with. It was an old friend, a comfort. It was the one emotion I knew how to deal with because it was the only one I allowed myself to feel day in and day out.
“Just get her back. I don’t care how. I don’t care who you have to go through to do it.” I closed my eyes and watched Jonathan Goddard’s downfall play like a movie behind my eyelids. Once I knew Noe was okay, once she was safe, I was going to take him down.
She wanted to make him pay. I was going to do her one better.
I was going to make him suffer . . . and then, I was going to make sure he could never hurt anyone ever again.
I was going to die.
There were a couple other times in my life when I was pretty sure the end was near, but they were nothing like this. This time, I could feel the end looming. I could feel the tiny window of hope slam shut. I could feel the weight of inevitability pressing down on me so hard that I could barely get a breath in. I’d been stalling, playing games, talking in circles, and lying my ass off. I’d done whatever I had to do to stay alive while I figured out a way to get free from the Mayor and his goons. None of my words or my schemes were working anymore. He wanted his stepdaughter and he was going to kill me if I didn’t tell him where to find her.