Conspiracy Girl, p.22Sarah Alderson
‘Put them on,’ he tells me.
Shit. This is going to make things difficult. I cuff myself as loose as I can but he checks them and ratchets them tighter so they’re almost cutting off the circulation. Then he pulls me to my feet.
Pain shoots up my arm as the cuff slices through my skin but I hardly notice, because all I can think about is Nic and how the hell we’re getting out of this. I let Wise prod me towards the door. I could still cause him some damage but without my hands freed up the two of them would have me laid out in seconds, probably with a bullet in my skull. I’ve got no option but to go along with it.
Nic locks eyes with me as I’m hustled to the door and I hold her gaze like there’s only the two of us in the room. I need for her to hear me, to understand. ‘Remember what I said in the car,’ I tell her.
She frowns, a look of confusion passing across her face. She hasn’t understood and it’s too late to say anything else because Wise shoves me through the door and slams it behind us.
He said a million things in the car. What does he mean? But he’s gone, pushed out the door by Wise. When he’s out of sight I feel dread wash over me, a dread that turns quickly to utter, unrestrained panic when I turn back around and find the big, ugly guy staring at me with a dark glint in his eye.
I swallow, trying not to show fear because he probably feeds on it. Without Finn beside me, though, I feel myself crumbling. What did he say in the car? What did he mean? Then, with a lightning bright burst of clarity, I remember. Hope spirals through me. He told me he was never going to leave me. Not until this was over. Is that what he was trying to tell me? That he doesn’t plan on going with Wise? But how’s he going to get away? He was in handcuffs and even as I feel hope blaze a trail through me it’s quickly snuffed out when I hear the sound of a car engine being gunned and then tyres crunching down the track.
The sound fades away and I glance up at the man holding us hostage. His tongue is half poking out of his mouth, a fat, wet slab of meat between his lips, and his hands are resting on his belt buckle. Nausea bubbles in the pit of my stomach.
‘Are you working for them? For Vorster?’ Aiden asks, distracting the guy.
His eyes slide to Aiden.
‘I’m rich,’ Aiden says. ‘I’ve got money. I’ll pay you whatever you want.’
I hold my breath.
‘I can pay you more than they’re paying you,’ Aiden says. ‘I’ll pay you double, triple. Whatever it takes. Just let us go.’
The man pauses, his eyes narrowing as he calculates. I glance at the gun in his hand. Neither Aiden nor I dare breathe. Will it work? And if it doesn’t, what then? There’s no need for them to keep us alive. They have Finn to show them where the bookends are. They don’t need us.
I shuffle nervously closer to Aiden and that’s when I feel it – the knife I stuck down the inside of my boot. Just feeling it there, rubbing against my ankle is enough to give me that vital shot of courage I need to hold it together and not succumb to panic.
‘Five million,’ the man finally says, jerking his chin in Aiden’s direction.
‘Fine, fine,’ Aiden says, breathless, still holding his hands up as though they can deflect a bullet.
‘Each,’ the guy adds.
While his attention is fixed on Aiden I start to slide a hand down my leg towards the hilt of the knife.
‘OK,’ Aiden says in a weary voice. ‘Ten million. I can pay it by direct transfer. It will take a few hours to arrange. I need to call my banker.’
He’s lying. Even I know Aiden can’t arrange a transfer for ten million in the space of a few hours. And any call he makes to a bank will be flagged by the FBI.
‘You do that,’ the guy says and there’s something about his tone that makes my head snap up even as my fingers brush the handle of the knife.
I see the guy bring his gun to Aiden’s head and the world slams to a halt. My hand freezes where it is.
‘You think I’m an idiot?’ the man laughs. ‘You can’t transfer ten million over the phone. I think we’ll just continue on with plan A. You want to ask me what plan A is?’
My heart jams in my throat.
‘What’s plan A?’ Aiden stutters.
‘Plan A is where I kill you both.’
I see the muscle on the back of his tree-trunk neck flex. He cocks the gun and instantly it’s like a switch has been thrown. I burst into life, all the moves I’ve learned in the last two years coming automatically, without me even thinking them through. I am on my feet before I know it and I throw myself into him, knocking him backwards. The gun goes off and Aiden dives sideways, smashing into the coffee table and cracking his head on the stone fireplace.
I have to stagger to keep my balance, hopping backwards as the guy steadies himself against a chair and then, letting out a roar, grabs for me.
The gun swings in my direction but I bring the edge of my hand down sharply on the inside of the guy’s elbow and the gun clatters to the floor, spinning beneath the sofa. I follow through, ramming the heel of my hand hard up into the fleshy part beneath his chin. He crashes backwards, gasping, but then he jerks forwards and, although I manage to duck his first and second swing, I’m not fast enough to block the third. He lands a punch to my upper arm that reverberates through my whole body and sends me flying sideways.
He comes at me like a tank and I just manage to spin in a roundhouse kick and smash my heel into his ribs. When he bends double I make a run for it, leaping past him, clearing the edge of the coffee table, seeing Aiden only as a dark unmoving shape on the floor before I’m grabbed around the waist and flung over the sofa. He throws all his weight on top of me and pins me there.
Blinding, absolute terror overwhelms me. I kick and flail and try to heave him off but he’s too heavy and I’m struggling uselessly. I try to twist my head to bite his wrist but he moves it and places his hand on my head, pushing me into the sofa so I’m gagging and choking, struggling to breathe, pins and needles bursting in my head.
Tears leak from my eyes and the room starts to close in on me. I’m going to die. My hand dangles loosely beside my boot, my fingers reaching, stretching for the hilt of the knife, and not quite making it.
Oh God, I think to myself, please don’t let me die like this.
Wise shoves me into the back seat. He uncuffs one hand and then recuffs me to the handle above the door. Great. My priority is getting back to Nic, and every second in this car is an extra second she’s in danger. My stomach churns with anxiety, sweat beading my palms. I wait for Wise to start driving so the other guy inside the cabin doesn’t get suspicious at not hearing us pull away, but as soon as we’re one hundred metres down the track I make a move.
Stretching as far as I can, I lean forwards between the front seats. ‘Watch out!’ I yell, pointing with my free hand at a non-existent obstacle in the road. It has the desired effect. Wise stamps on the brakes just as I ping his seatbelt free. I throw myself on to my side, angle my leg, and smash and jab my heel into the side of Wise’s head. It cracks against the window like a bowling ball.
The car jerks sideways and we hit the tree so hard that it feels like my shoulder has been wrenched from its socket. For a few seconds I’m completely dazed but then I struggle to a sitting position. The car’s engine is hissing and making a tinking sound. The hood looks like a deflated accordion, the windshield completely shattered. Wise has been thrown forwards against the dash. Blood spatters the inside of the car. It takes me another second to realise that Wise is dead, partly because the sight of the tree branch poking through the windshield is so surreal that I don’t at first compute it’s spearing right through his eye socket.
I blink the image away. Straining against the cuff and breathing hard, I haul his body back into the seat. The branch makes a squelching noise as it pops free from his eyeball and my stomach heaves. Frantically I start rooting around inside Wise’s jacket pocket, swearing and shouting because I’m doing it al
Darting up the steps, I ease myself flat against the wall and peer through the window. What I see stops my heart. Nic is folded over the sofa and the guy is leaning over her, his hands locked around her throat. I bring the gun up, a cold, dark calm taking over me, and am about to fire when he suddenly jerks backwards. He sways and staggers. Nic turns, gasping for breath, her arms hanging limp by her sides.
I fire the gun through the window and the guy jolts. I fire again. And then again. And then one more time just for good measure. He is blown back against the wall and I watch as he goes sliding down it, leaving smears of blood on the wall.
Turning away, I kick open the door and run towards Nic, who is just staring at the guy in shock. I pull her into my arms and she stiffens for an instant but then she clutches at me, wildly, desperately, her fingers digging into my back.
‘Are you OK?’ I ask.
‘I stabbed him.’
I pull her away, keeping hold of her by the shoulders. What? Then I look over at him. She’s right. He has a knife sticking out of his gut.
I turn back to her. I want to pick her up and swing her around. She stuck a knife in his gut. If I wasn’t in love with her before, I am now.
‘He’s dead,’ she says, as though it hasn’t quite sunk in.
‘Yes,’ I say, staring at his bullet-riddled body. I wish I could bring him back to life so I could kill him all over again, is what I’m thinking.
But then Nic looks at me and I feel the adrenaline leaching away and relief flooding in. Tears roll down her cheeks. ‘I knew you’d come back.’
‘In twelve hours, maybe less, Vorster won’t know what hit them,’ Finn says, his foot to the floor of Aiden’s car.
‘Are you sure this is going to work?’ I ask, doubt suddenly assailing me. Though we’re no longer being followed by those two guys, it won’t be long before Vorster send more people after us.
Finn glances over at me, one eyebrow cocked. ‘When are you going to start trusting me?’ he asks.
I look away, unsure how to answer him. How can he not know how much I trust him by now? I realise with a jolt that he’s the only person in the world I do trust. That’s why I’m here and not with Aiden and his battalion of security guys. That’s why I’m with him, even though he rejected me earlier. I don’t seem to know how to prise myself away. The thought of having to leave him scares me even more than Vorster.
I killed a man. I still haven’t processed that. Technically, as Finn tried to tell me, the bullets killed him and not the knife, but I know that if Finn hadn’t shot him I would have finished the job. Whatever it would have taken. I wouldn’t have died in that room. And the knowledge of that is comforting because it proves to me I’m stronger than I thought I was. When it came down to it, I fought. I fought hard. The kick-boxing and self-defence classes were worth it.
Aiden’s security team are back at the cabin dealing with the bodies now. We all agreed calling the police into things was not a good idea, given we have no idea how deep the corruption goes. About five minutes after Aiden made a call to his team, a rugged-looking Canadian guy in his fifties who gave his name as Dan arrived and processed the entire scene without so much as a blink of the eye. I never knew people like him actually existed. I thought they were just in the movies.
Aiden is going into hiding until Finn gives him the all-clear. I could have stayed with him. He begged me to. But the fact is, I feel safer with Finn. And I’m nowhere near ready to forgive Aiden.
Finn’s phone rings just after nine. I’m pretending to be asleep, with my head pressed to the window. I hear him answer it and can tell straightaway that it’s Maggie on the other end.
‘It was Wise,’ is the first thing Finn says to her, keeping his voice low so as not to wake me.
I hear Maggie swearing down the other end of the phone. Finn explains that we’re heading back to New York and tells her he’ll call when we get there to update her on everything. The last thing he says is: ‘I’m going to come at Vorster the only way I know how.’
My eyes fly open. What does he mean exactly?
When he hangs up, I slide around in my seat so I’m facing Finn. ‘So, are you going to tell me exactly what you have planned that will keep Vorster off our backs forever?’ I ask him as he pockets his phone.
Finn glances across at me, surprised to see me awake. ‘I’d be making you an accessory to a crime,’ he says with a grin that is visible even in the gloom of the car.
‘I think I’m already that,’ I answer, thinking of the dead bodies back at the cabin.
‘Hey,’ he says, angrily, ‘no you’re not, you were the victim of a crime. You’re not the perpetrator here.’
‘I’m not a victim,’ I snap.
His eyes flash in the darkness. ‘No,’ he says, in a gentler voice, ‘you’re right. You’re not.’ He exhales loudly. ‘I never knew you were so kickass.’
‘I’ve been taking kick-boxing lessons three times a week for the last two years. I’m glad I did now.’
‘So am I,’ Finn says. ‘But remind me never to get on your bad side.’
‘Too late,’ I say, smiling at him before I can stop myself. Every time I try to push him away or put a barrier up between us he knocks it down as it if were made of paper. Our eyes lock, something passing between us that sends a jolt through my body. I look away, flustered. He made it crystal clear back at the house by the lake that he wasn’t interested in me – not only to Maggie but also to my face. I’m not planning on humiliating myself again any time soon.
‘So tell me what you’re going to do,’ I say, to distract myself from remembering it.
‘First, I’m going to launch an attack on Vorster’s website,’ Finn says. ‘Take it down. Nothing major, just a shot across the bows. Then I’m going to dig into the management and CEO’s emails and files and see what information I can find on all their dirty dealings.’
‘What kind of dirty dealings?’ I ask.
‘All kinds. For a start Vorster claim that their diamonds are all from non-conflict areas, but I highly doubt that. I’m sure the media will love a blood-diamond story about Vorster, especially with documentation to back it up. Then there’s the theory that they’re price-fixing, holding most of the world’s supply of diamonds in a vault somewhere so they can artificially inflate prices. Imagine if hackers and criminals the world over woke up tomorrow and had access to the vault’s location and the blueprints for how to break into it? Imagine if their financial details were exposed online – their share price would nosedive. Imagine if—’ He’s talking so fast I can barely keep up.
‘But isn’t this just kicking the hornet’s nest?’ I interrupt.
‘Maybe,’ Finn says, ‘but that’s why you build in a contingency plan.’
‘What do you mean?’
Finn looks over at me with a sly grin on his face. ‘This is when it helps to have friends in low places.’
Maggie’s left the key to my new front door under the mat. She’s also had a new alarm system installed and I input the code she gave me over the phone.
I wanted to keep this bit a secret but as soon as I open the door Goz pads over – or rather, hops over – as his right front leg is still lame and bandaged up. Nic lets out a cry when she sees him. She never asked me the whole time how he was and I figured it was because she was scared to know in case he was dead. And, for my part, I was glad to not have to tell her because it was touch and go there for a while. He’s bandaged all across his shoulder and abdomen, with shaved patches of fur all across his back and torso.
Nic is on her knees in the doorway, hugging the bea
‘Because I didn’t know how he was doing until I talked to Maggie in the car, and I figured it would be a nice surprise.’
She smiles at me then so wide my stomach contracts. I know it’s only girls that talk about butterflies and racing hearts . . . but, well . . . call me a girl. When Nic smiles up at me all I can think about doing is sweeping her up off the floor and carrying her over to my bed, which, I note only now is still ransacked and covered in feathers from the ripped comforter. But, as I scan the rest of the room, my thoughts quickly divert from the bed to revenge. The cube is a wreck. It’s as bad as I remember, even though Maggie has tried to clean up as best she could.
I shut the door behind us and leave Nic and Goz to their happy reunion. The beast is licking her. I actually feel a twinge of jealousy as she kisses his ugly, scrunched-up face.
I set down the silver ballet shoes we collected from Nic’s on the way (no police guard to get past this time) and inspect the cube up close, something I didn’t have much time to do before. The damage is pretty dire but still salvageable. I put in an order late last night to a buddy of mine who works at a computer store. I glance at my watch. It’s just gone four a.m. He should be here any moment with my order. I head to the fridge and grab two Snapples and hand one to Nic. Surprising me, she takes it.
Sitting on the floor, she stares around the loft, keeping one hand on Goz at all times. She doesn’t look at me and the tension ripples off her body like one of those invisible electric fences that keep pets from leaving the yard. Except this one is designed to keep me from coming near her.
Probably for the best, I remind myself.
The doorbell buzzes just as I’m replaying that scene from the bedroom. It’s my friend Travis, bearing gifts. We bump fists and he starts carrying the boxes into my loft. He glances at Nic in surprise and then winks at me. I shake my head. If only he knew the half of it.
Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson / Young Adult / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction / Romance & Love / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes