Author: C.J. Roberts

Caleb continued, momentarily resigned to his fate, “Have you no thought for me? Brother. All those years I spent as a whore? No one knows better than you, everything I suffered. Did you never think I might want to forget? All those years of being your shadow, learning how to kill, and training whores for the very men who would have used me, did you never think I might want to just walk away from it and be…I don’t know! Something more!” Caleb felt as though a floodgate had been opened in his soul.

“I was finally going to show her she was wrong about me…”

“You are something more, Caleb. I made you something more. I made you a man. I delivered you! I made others quake in fear of you. Who were you before me? Kéleb! That’s who you were! A dog.” Rafiq slammed his glass on the end table near his chair and kicked Nancy over for good measure. Nancy’s sobs quickly filled the room, but she held her hands over her mouth to stifle them.

Pure, uncut, rage thrummed in Caleb’s veins and he’d never wanted to strike Rafiq so much. Only his thoughts of Livvie staid his hand. Her life was in danger and it remained Caleb’s responsibility to keep her safe. “I know who I am, Rafiq. I know what I am. And I know I owe it all to you. You’ve spoken to me so much about loyalty, but only minutes ago you were willing to maim me to protect Jair, of all people. Where is the loyalty?”

“I told myself you couldn’t help yourself. I told myself something happened to you to make you this way, to make you as fucked up as me but you’re even more fucked up than I am. And in the strangest corners of my mind I thought…”

Caleb remembered Livvie’s fear, her despair. She’d been brutalized by several men, beaten and bloodied. She had thought Caleb was her savior. Caleb was no one’s savior. He looked at Rafiq and saw the worst parts of himself reflected in the other man.

“That you could fix me? What’s more, that I could fix you? Well, sorry, Pet, I don’t want to be fixed.”

Rafiq leaned forward, the devil in his eyes, “We’ve known one another for a long time, Caleb. You understand how important this is to me. I won’t tolerate anyone interfering with our plans – not even you.”

“You ran. I went to collect my property. End of story. In two years, maybe less, I’ll have what I want – revenge.”

For Rafiq and Caleb, it had always been about revenge. It had been the only thing that had ever mattered. Not friendship. Not loyalty. Not justice. It seemed so trivial now, so small when weighted against the price: Livvie. “I want to kill Vladek and I want it to be the end,” Caleb whispered.

Rafiq let out a derisive snort and sat back, “This is about the girl, isn’t it?”

Fear quickened Caleb’s pulse, “No! This is about us. It’s about our partnership and how much it has always been weighted in your favor.”

“We proceed with the plan, Caleb,” Rafiq said resolutely. “You’ve overstepped your boundaries and taken advantage of the love I have for you for the last time. You’re tired and not yourself, and so, I will try to forget the things you’ve said tonight, but I will not tolerate your disrespect again. Consider yourself warned.”

Caleb took a moment to regain his calm. He was tired and tonight could very well be the last time he and Rafiq talked as friends. Sadness crept in around the edges of his anger. “I’m sorry, Rafiq. I haven’t been fair. For twelve years you’ve looked after me when you didn’t have to and I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I was an angry and willful boy and it couldn’t have been easy to take me in. I would be dead if not for you…or worse. Forgive me.”

Rafiq seemed to soften. He sat back in his chair and thoughtfully eyed Caleb. “You’re forgiven, Khoya. Perhaps I wasn’t always kind or considerate of you, either. You’ve earned your keep and my respect.” Rafiq stood and poured himself another drink and tilted it toward Caleb, “Drink with me, to loyalty.”

Caleb raised his glass with some effort, “To loyalty.” The liquid burned his throat and sat heavy in his stomach where it met with his shame and conspired to make him retch.

“We leave the day after tomorrow. I’ve arranged for a pilot and a private plane to fly us home. It will be a longer journey, avoiding customs, but I don’t trust the girl. I’m not taking any chances. I’ll resume her training in the morning. I want to be sure she’s ready,” Rafiq said. He seemed in higher spirits.

Caleb’s heart sank, “Wouldn’t it make more sense for me to maintain control of her training until we land in Pakistan? She’s frightened of you and it might prompt her to behave rashly.”

Rafiq’s brows furrowed, “You’ve coddled her enough, Khoya. It’s time she understood her place.”

“Have you thought about what might happen to her after we’re done with her?” Caleb asked while trying to remain respectful.

Rafiq smiled, “Ah! You do want her then?”

“No, Rafiq. Not after Vladek has had his way with her. I’m only curious if you have any plans for the future.”

“I’ll leave it to you, Khoya. Consider her your reward for a job well done. When it’s done of course,” he said with a smile.

Caleb offered a smile of his own, though all he felt was anger and despair. Caleb stood slowly and embraced Rafiq as he said goodnight. In his heart, he knew it was also a farewell.

“Will you miss me Caleb?” Livvie put her arms around Caleb. He held her in place.

“Yes,” he said simply.

On his way back to his room, he ran into Felipe in the foyer.

“My, don’t you look serious tonight,” Felipe’s accented words brought Caleb to a halt. Felipe walked over to him and led him toward one of the temporary bars he had set up for the party the following evening. “I believe you could use a drink, my friend.”

Felipe walked behind the bar and poured them both a short glass of bourbon. He handed Caleb a glass, and then lifted his, saying, “To a long life filled with love.” He drank, and then set his glass down on the bar when Caleb didn’t reciprocate.

“I realize I owe you my gratitude, but I’m short on gratitude at the moment,” Caleb said.

Felipe smiled, “Yes, that was close.”

“Why would you help me?” Caleb asked, suspiciously.

Felipe shrugged, “I’m romantic. Also, I have no interest in having blood spilled in my home. Too messy.” Felipe’s expression turned quizzical, “What will you do, Caleb?”

Caleb didn’t trust Felipe. “Rafiq insists on taking over Kitten’s training. We leave the day after tomorrow. That should make you happy.”

“Hmm,” Felipe said and poured himself another glass of bourbon. “Rafiq insists on a lot of things, doesn’t he? He’s expecting a virgin.”

Caleb bristled, “What exactly is your relationship with Rafiq?”

“He says we’re friends, but I’m not sure I would put it quite that way. We’re in business together. I’m surprised you didn’t know, or at least asked me sooner.”

“What sort of business?” Caleb asked. His curiosity was piqued.

“This and that, it doesn’t really matter, Caleb. I was only surprised you never asked the question. I suspect Rafiq never cared for questions. Are you truly going to give him the girl?” Felipe lifted an inquiring brow.

Caleb narrowed his eyes, “I don’t have much a choice, do I?”

“There’s always a choice, Caleb.”

“What do you want, Felipe? You say you’re in business with Rafiq, why are you so interested in me and what I’m doing?”

“Can I trust you?” Felipe asked with a smile.

“I’m trusting you, to keep quiet about everything you’ve seen on your nasty little cameras. The most trustworthy relationships involve collateral.”

Felipe chuckled, “Well, I have enjoyed watching you. Why not take the girl and run?”

“What do you want?!”

“I want Rafiq out of my business,” he swallowed his bourbon, “permanently.”

“I could kill you for saying that,” said Caleb.

“You could. Then you’d never know the truth,” Felipe countered. He sighed, and waited for Caleb to reply, when he didn’t, Felipe said, “I’ve waited a long time for you to come forward to me with your past. I’d hoped we could be friends.”

Caleb stared across the bar at Felipe, stunned, “You know my past? Wait…no. You heard me on the camera.” He glared at Felipe with murderous intent.

“I know you were in Tehran. You never said that, on camera,” Felipe said.

Caleb’s vision was blurry and his heart was racing, “Rafiq could have told you. You could have overheard our conversations.”

Felipe became gravely serious, “Collateral, Caleb. Tell me a secret. One you’ve never told anyone and could cost you your life.”

“Why the fuck would I, Felipe? You’re not making any goddamn sense,” Caleb growled. The world shifted beneath his feet, or so he thought.

“What I could tell you would change everything you have ever believed and I need to know you can be trusted to do the right thing,” Felipe said ominously.

Caleb didn’t want to know. Whatever Felipe had to say, wasn’t going to be good, but he had to know. It was Eve and the apple all over again. Knowledge was the forbidden fruit and once tasted, it could damn ones soul, but it was in mankind’s nature to bite. “Felipe,” Caleb choked out, as anger came to the surface. His body shook and his skin burned.

“A secret, Caleb,” Felipe whispered and leaned forward.

There was nothing left to lose, except the girl, “I can’t.”

Felipe shook his head, “Then I can’t help you. Goodnight, Caleb.” He turned to walk away and Caleb grabbed his shoulder.

“Tell me,” he growled.

“You first,” Felipe gripped Caleb’s hand and flung it off his shoulder.

“I…assure me the girl will be safe,” Caleb said and it felt like yet another betrayal. The implications alone were a death sentence for him and Livvie. Of course, Felipe already knew what she meant to him.

“What would you do for the girl, Caleb? Would you die for her? Would you kill?” asked Felipe in a whisper. He looked around the room and Caleb did the same. They were alone.

Caleb’s heart thundered in his chest, “Yes.”

“Would you live? Could you live knowing your entire life has been a lie?”

Caleb was one second away from throttling Felipe and forcing him to talk. He still had his knife tucked into his pants and already, he was thinking of his plan of attack, “Tell me…now!”

Felipe sighed, “Follow me into the dungeon. I’ll tell you everything, but you won’t like it.”

“Where’s Kitten?”

“Upstairs and unharmed. If you care for her as much as I believe you do, I would suggest you keep your wits intact. If all goes as I hope it will, the both of you can leave this place together and never return.” Felipe said.

“Why? Why now? All this time and you’ve never dangled information in front of me,” Caleb said through gritted teeth. Felipe wanted Caleb to do something. It meant he couldn’t be trusted. Caleb’s mind was already churning with ideas on how to get rid of him. Still, Caleb wanted to hear what Felipe had to say. Perhaps he could use it to sway Rafiq.

“I’m a business man, Caleb. One does not achieve my level of success without first being able to spot an opportunity. Twenty years ago, I saw an opportunity to stop being a lieutenant and become a general. Rafiq was useful then. Six years ago I saw an opportunity to expand my business by eliminating my competition. I own half of Mexico now and do business around the world. Rafiq has become…less useful, and as I said, he insists on a lot – too much. You provide me an opportunity, Caleb. In exchange, I can give you the truth about whom you are and where you come from.”