Elizabeth Clark

“Why are we here?”
“I don’t know why you’re here. I’m here to kill a government-sanctioned drug dealer.”
With that, the barely started conversation came to an abrupt close. Miles T. Sheridan, most acclaimed reporter in the former United States of America, was wary about following this man anywhere.
Auduro kept his eyes forward as they walked down the street, but he knew that the reporter was staring at him enough to bore holes through the back of his leather duster. He hadn’t given his name, even when Sheridan threatened to take a picture of him to the N.R.E., the New Roman Empire. Most people who even looked like him would have squirmed. After all, the government was not known for its mercy. Auduro smothered a sneer. He knew the reporter would think he wan an assassin. But assassins wouldn’t kidnap reporters to provide accurate accounts of the death of a drug lord. It wouldn’t make any sense. And he drew far too much attention to himself. He wore all-black leather, even on this hot summer day. Gloves covered his hands and army regulation boots protected his feet from god knows what. Yet . . . he was here to kill a drug dealer.
Miles looked at the man who had pulled him from his car several hours ago and his writer’s mind took over. “What’s your name?” he inquired. His companion was silent. “Do you work for the government?” Again, not a word in response. Miles sighed, then hissed: “Why did you grab me outta my car at six o’clock in the friggin’ morning?!”
Auduro looked back at the reporter. Miles was far shorter than he. Usually anyone under six’ five” didn’t dare take that tone with him. He gave a slow, almost imperceptible sigh. Perhaps he should cut the guy a break. He had kidnapped him on his way to work without so much as an explanation. Auduro sighed again.
“I took you away from a menial day of typing to give you a real story for your newspaper,” he stated in a quiet monotone.
Miles perked up at the idea of that. “You said you didn’t know why you brought me here.”
“I don’t. This wasn’t my idea.”
Miles retreated again into the depths of an uncomfortable silence. So this mysterious man . . . a killer? . . . was just following orders? Maybe he was an assassin. If he was, it was a wonder that he hadn’t been picked up. After all, the man dressed in gothic attire, had blond hair with a splash of red in the center of his bangs, and walked around in broad daylight like a blood-covered lion.
As they weaved their way down the New York City sidewalk, fighting past the midday crowd, Auduro began to notice that the reporter had become oddly quiet. A quick glance back at the man told him that he was thinking hard about something. Auduro tensed. Could he afford to give a man like Miles T. Sheridan time to think? He might be forming an escape plan. Auduro knew that if he had to chase the reporter down 133rd Street, one of them was going to have his legs broken, and it wasn’t going to be him. Still, if he talked to the reporter too much, he might accidentally reveal something that needed to be kept secret. Auduro looked at his watch. He still had five minutes before he was supposed to meet with the man who was manufacturing the drug. Five minutes might be too long . . .
“Do you have a family, Sheridan?” he asked, realizing that the words came out more sharply than he had intended.
Miles jumped. “N-No!” he replied quickly.
Auduro spared him another glance. “Hn. What an outright lie,” he stated.
Miles swallowed hard. How had the man seen it? He had kept his face blank! He had answered quickly. What was this man? “I . . . I have a daughter . . . Clary. Her mother . . . divorced me. If you lay a finger on my little girl, I swear to God I’ll―”
“I never hurt children.”
Miles was taken aback by the sincerity in the man’s voice. Puzzled, he took a few long strides to walk beside him.
Auduro kept his face blank. There was nothing the reporter needed to know in that comment. He shouldn’t have even said it.
“You have children?” Miles inquired.
Auduro gave a solid shake of his head. Well, he had wanted to keep Miles occupied. Now the reporter was occupied . . . with him.
“Nephews or nieces?”
Auduro tensed at the personal question. He hated when people asked him about his life or his family. The family that he knew nothing about. “No.” He forced the word past his lips. Saying “no” was faster and easier than explaining that he didn’t know. Miles stared at him for a long moment. Auduro glanced at the building beside him. “We’re here,” he murmured.
“We’re here,” he repeated coldly.
Miles blinked. He looked around as the larger man steered him into the run-down apartment complex and directed him to the basement. “Um . . . so . . . how exactly are you gonna get close enough to . . . kill . . . this guy?” he whispered.
Auduro closed his eyes. He had planned this for weeks. Getting close, pulling his knife, executing the man. Only this morning had his superiors deemed it a good time to mention that the man was a veteran. He had planned for some overweight, sweaty idiot or a skinny little man whom he could snap over his knee. Now he had to contend with a two hundred pound mass of muscle with military training and a lab full of weapons.
Miles squirmed beside him. “Did you hear me? What’s the plan?”
“No plan,” Auduro finally replied.
Miles froze. His hand clenched the metal railing of the stairs they were going down.
Auduro stopped to look back at the man. Miles’ eyes were wide with fear and he had paled considerably. Auduro blinked slowly. He knew that he should comfort the man. Normal people weren’t able to accept death as easily as he did. Closing his eyes for a long moment, Auduro trusted his mind to calculate quickly. As a plan began to form, a small smirk touched his lips. “All right. You want a plan; I’ll give you one.” Miles exhaled. His face betrayed the relief that he felt. Auduro would have smiled had he been capable of smiling. “The man thinks that I am here for a trial of his new drug. I will―”
“Trial . . . ?” Miles’ eyebrows knit together in bewilderment.
Auduro was mildly amused by the reporter’s lack of knowledge. After all, drug deals weren’t really very discreet since the government had made them legal. “You know, the government requires testing. Every drug manufacturer needs someone to test new products on. And when the drugs turn out wrong, then a drug dealer needs a new test subject,” he explained. Miles’ eyes went wider than seemed humanly possible. Auduro held up a hand to silence any comment before it came. “I will go in with you behind me. I’ll take whatever drug he has prepared.” Miles tried to speak once again only to me hushed by the larger man before him. “You’ll pose as my . . . designated driver, and I’ll attack him when he believes that I’m no longer a threat. Do not take anything he offers you. No matter what seems to happen to me, DO NOT take anything he gives you.” Auduro finally went silent to let the reporter get in a word.
“S-So . . . You’re going to willingly take a drug that might be poisonous?” Miles asked in a shaky voice.
The corner of Auduro’s mouth twitched up in a smirk, but he held the mild amusement at bay. “Glad to hear you are worried for me. Let’s go.” Auduro turned on his heel.
Miles shuddered before he followed the giant. How could he trust this man? For all he knew, this leather clad ”assassin” was taking him down into the bowels of this place to be the next test subject for a dangerous drug. Still, there was something to the man. The way that he set his jaw when Miles asked about his family. Or about the way that his fist curled when he talked about the drug dealer. Something made Miles want to trust him. So he walked behind this man, pretending to be the faithful comrade that he was supposed to be, as they emerged into a vast room at the end of the stairs.
Auduro wished that he had worn his sunglasses as the bright fluorescents assaulted his eyes. He was definitely made for the night. The room was vast. It seemed to take up the basement space of two buildings. Guns of all shape and size littered army camp tables. Against one wall was equipment that could only be for making drugs. Auduro glanced back at Miles to see how the reporter was handling the situation. The assassin in him had to give the man some credit. Miles canvassed the room as if he were preparing a full-on assault of the place. Were he less squeamish and more heavily muscled, Miles T. Sheridan would make an excellent assassin. Auduro turned his attention back to the room in front of him. A door opened from an enclosed office space several yards away. The man who emerged made Auduro wish that he had come into this mission with seventy-two hours of sleep, preparation, and weapon accumulation. The less-than-twenty-four hours that he had been given seemed hopelessly inadequate.
“You Dorian Blackrove?” the strange man asked roughly.
Auduro nodded. He could sense that Miles was making a note of the name and silently reminded himself to clarify the matter later on. Of course . . . what could the reporter knowing one of his many aliases hurt? Especially when he was certain that he would never use “Dorian” again. Stupid Souji. How could he have thought that Dorian Blackrove suited him?
“Well, come on over, kid. Got a special treat for ya.”
Auduro tensed. He had heard these words before. The sound of them made bile well up in his throat. How he wished this dirtbag was a wimp. Still, he would grind the man into the dust later. Slowly, Auduro followed the man. They moved over to a long metal table, which the drug dealer had Auduro sit on.
“Stay right there. I’ll get the product.”
Miles watched the goings-on with careful determination. He didn’t have much trouble keeping the look of a worried friend on his face. He didn’t want to get Auduro in any trouble. Especially not when the man was in such a precarious situation. If there was anything off, anything at all, Auduro could be in horrible danger. The drug dealer turned to Auduro, holding up a glass that seemed to be filled to the brim with blood. Miles fought down a gagging sensation. Could his companion really drink blood? Could he do it without gagging? If he showed even the slightest hesitation, the man before them could cause them great harm.
Auduro took the red filled glass from the man and chugged it. His throat began to close up at the taste, which made him want to gag. Blood. It really was blood. This man was sick. Almost instantly, Auduro felt his body rejecting the drug. He wanted to throw up, but knew that doing so would blow his cover. Auduro lay back on the table, his head spinning on the way down. He couldn’t feel his fingers. His throat tightened again. He was being strangled. Why? What was going on? He closed his eyes and tried to breathe deeply, but it was no use. How could he have thought that he could contend with the drug? He had never felt anything like this in his life.
Miles watched Auduro in rapt horror. His companion had seemed so sure of himself when they were entering the building. He had seemed to have no doubts. Now the large man was quivering as he fought the force of the drug that seemed  to be destroying him. The drug dealer laughed. He ran a hand back through graying blond hair as his delighted cackle resounded in the underground hell. He turned his steely gaze to Miles. The reporter knew in that instant that he was screwed. Auduro could not protect him now. The man was in too deep. The drug-induced haze prevented him from being of any help. Miles was all alone. Alone and trapped with a psychopath.
* * * * *
Cries reached Auduro’s ears. What was going on? That voice . . . it sounded so familiar. Auduro felt his throat straining as he opened his eyes. The scene above him was one that he remembered all too well. The man above him, some sort of government-official jerk, had his hands clenched tightly around Auduro’s throat, a sneer on his face. Auduro knew where the cries were coming from. They were from him. He remembered this place. From his childhood. A memory. From before he had changed his name to forget. Enslaved as a sex worker. Kidnapped from his home in Greece, he had been taken to Cairo to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. A man had come to take him away, to save him Auduro had thought. But the man had wanted to use him. The man, Elias Burton by name, took Auduro away only to sell him out every day as a pleasure slave. A sex slave.
Now, this man who was strangling him was getting what he’d paid for. He was getting his pleasure from taking Auduro’s life. Burton wouldn’t like this. He would lose a slave. The very thought of that gave Auduro the courage to cry out for help. He needed someone, anyone, who would help him.
Auduro felt the pressure on his windpipe finally let up. Yet somehow, the pain didn’t go away. He couldn’t breathe. He gasped for breath. He clawed at his throat as the man who had choked him rose to his feet.
“Hey. Somebody come clean up this mess,” the man ordered.
Auduro gave a whimpering gasp. Air. He needed air. His vision was swimming. The door to the room flew open and a boy rushed inside. He had to be about twelve, older than Auduro had been back then. The mop of black hair that covered his eyes flopped out of the way to display the flash of terrified green that stared at Auduro’s writhing form. The boy gave a startled gasp as he rushed to Auduro’s side.
“Apollysis! Oh my god. Try to breath slowly, Apollysis. Don’t gasp. You’ll get less air,” the boy ordered as he scrounged around in the bedside table for supplies. The man who stood getting dressed a few paces away looked as if he were about to protest, but a sharp look from the boy silenced him.
Auduro could feel the familiarity of the scene wash over him. He had lived through this. There was nothing to be afraid of. He had lived through this. Still, his heart was pounding. The boy withdrew a thin straw from the drawer. He frowned. It wasn’t medical equipment, but it was all that they had. Auduro felt the pain of something slicing through his throat. To this day, he didn’t know what his friend had used. The straw fed into his windpipe. The older boy held the wound shut so that Auduro could breathe again. The air flow wasn’t the best, but he could breathe.
* * * * *
“Hey, Wake up, partner!” Miles shouted. He hoped that he could rouse Auduro from his slumber as he darted around the room to keep away from the advancing drug dealer. The man was holding a syringe and Miles really hated needles. “Hey! Come on! You told me not to take anything from this guy. I need a little help here!” Miles backed into a table, knocking several knives to the floor in a clatter of metal and loud banging.
* * * * *
Auduro felt cold. The scene shifted. He was now in an entirely dark room. A door opened before him. Having a deep distaste for the dark, he rushed through it into the light. The sight that greeted him made him long for the darkness. There was blood everywhere. Bodies were strewn across the floor. Auduro hissed as he took a step and felt the crunch of what must have been a hand breaking under his foot. Yet no one cried out. He backed up quickly, his eyes falling on the face of the body attached to the hand. Auduro recognized the slave who had saved his life. He crouched beside the boy. He whispered “no” over and over. How had this happened? Why had a slave . . . a poor innocent child . . . why had he died? Auduro let out an anguished cry. Why?
* * * * *
“Ahhhhhh!!” Miles’ head jerked to the side as his companion gave a pained roar. Auduro was rising from the table, his body moving jerkily. Miles took a step toward the man, unsure of whether to move closer or run. Auduro didn’t seem to be the same calm man who had kidnapped him this morning. He . . . he had snapped. Miles gasped when a strong hand closed tightly around his arm. The drug dealer was smirking at him menacingly. “Damnit, partner,” Miles whispered as the last of his hope drained out of him.
On the other side of the room Auduro’s eyes focused on the two of them. Murderers! Monsters! It was they who must have killed the slaves! Auduro hissed. He rose from the table, his fists clenching the edge of it. They would pay. He whipped the table up and sent it flying through the air.
Miles heard the whistle as the giant table came speeding towards him. He tried to duck, but the other man’s grip on his wrist kept him up. Both of them were struck by the table. Miles felt pain resonating from his cheek and his ribcage. He was certain that a few of his ribs were broken. Beside him, the drug dealer was pushing his way out from under the table, pressing the leg of it even more sharply into Miles’ ribs. There was no way that Auduro could win. He was under the influence of that powerful drug, and such a thing must surely take away any fight that he had left.
Just as the thought of failure crossed Miles’ mind, Auduro leaped forward. The large man tackled the drug dealer, thrusting his torso down upon an upturned leg of the capsized table. The drug dealer’s mouth dropped open in a disbelieving gasp. He tried to grab Auduro, only succeeding in catching a fistful of the man’s shirt. Auduro’s shirt dipped low to reveal a part of his neck that had been covered.
Miles gawked at the long scar there. It looked as if someone had tried to decapitate the man. When the drug dealer finally lost his grasp on Auduro’s shirt, the black-clad assassin turned to face Miles. His eyes were clouded with dark rage. Miles shivered at the hateful stare. He was going to die. He closed his eyes.
Auduro froze when he saw the serene, accepting look come over Miles’ face. Who was this man? Auduro looked at the man he had just killed on the table leg. This was not the man who had killed his friend. This man was a drug dealer. He sold a deadly drug called Eternity. The other man . . . he was no murderer. He was . . . Miles. Miles T. Sheridan. Auduro pulled away with a hiss. Dizziness overwhelmed him, and he fell backward. No, no, no! He shook his head, trying to clear it.
Miles, realizing he hadn’t been killed, opened his eyes. He saw Auduro sitting in front of him with his head in his hands. Miles forced himself up, moving to the side of the man who had kidnapped, then saved him. He bit his lip.
“Are . . . are you all right?” He whispered. After a long moment, Auduro raised his head to fix Miles with a pair of tormented eyes. Miles felt a chill at what he knew must be a rare sight: horror in his hardened companion’s eyes. Unnerved, he moved over to Auduro’s side and took his arm to help him up.
“Come on, big guy,” he said.
Auduro stared at the reporter, who was sweating from the effort of pressing his broken ribs and looked like he would pass out in an instant. Auduro rose to his full height, taking Miles by the arm and helping him to straighten up. “Heh. I don’t think I’m the one that needs help,” he whispered.
Miles swallowed hard as the man’s eyes became dark pools of laughter. He had never seen someone look both menacing and happy, much less this out of his dazed companion.
Auduro gave his head a short, hard shake. He forced himself to snap out of the drug-induced stupor. Miles needed him. He reached into the smaller man’s jacket pocket, removing a cell phone.
Miles jumped, astonished at the unannounced contact. The corner of the assassin’s mouth twitched as if he might smile, but the action faded as he dialed 9-1-1. He motioned for Miles to be silent as the person on the other end picked up.
“What’s your emergency?” a calm voice asked.
Auduro prepared to adopt an Irish accent, briefly thinking of his associate. Michael Glenanne was a native Irishman. It was easy to fake the accent, since he had heard it so often. “Hello, lass. I’ve got a man here with a bit of a problem. He’s dead, ye’ see. There’s a reporter here injured pretty badly as well.” Auduro raised his normal bass timbre to a light, almost nonchalant tenor as he gave the address.
“Okay. I have an ambulance en route. Can you tell me what happened, sir?” The feminine voice replied.
Auduro grinned at Miles, a look that was more disturbing than comforting. Miles almost believed that Auduro was the heartless killer that he pretended to be.
“Well, I killed the man, of course. The reporter was just in the way.” Auduro whispered the words and closed the phone. He turned his gaze upon Miles and reverted back to his usual tone. “I need you to do something for me, Miles.”
The reporter noted that the assassin’s request should have been a surprise . . . but wasn’t.
“I need you to write about this. Everything. The government needs to know that I can get to them at any time. They can’t keep hurting people.”
Miles nodded. Save people. That sounded good. He always wanted to be a hero, right? Miles turned his head to look at the door. How soon would the men come? He turned back to Auduro.
“Do you think that the government will come after―” Miles trailed off as he found that Auduro had vanished. His eyes fell to something on the floor. It was a business card for a restaurant in the downtown area. On the back it said, ”Till next time, Sheridan.”