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Tormentor Mine(11)

By:Anna Zaires

Zip tie. The recollection comes to me with sudden clarity. There was a zip tie around my wrists.

“He waterboarded me. When I wouldn’t tell him where George was, he stuck a needle in my neck.”

I don’t realize I spoke out loud until I see the horror on the nurse’s face. Agent Ryson’s expression is more restrained, but I can tell I shocked him too.

“I’m so sorry about that.” His voice is tight. “We should’ve foreseen this, but he hadn’t gone after the families of the others, and you didn’t want to move away… Still, we should’ve known he wouldn’t stop at anything—”

“What others? Who is he?” My voice rises as more memories assault my mind. Knife at my throat, wet cloth over my face, needle in my neck, can’t breathe, can’t breathe…

“Karen, she’s having a panic attack! Do something.” Ryson’s voice is frantic as the monitors start to beep. I’m hyperventilating and shaking, yet I somehow find the strength to glance at those monitors. My blood pressure is spiking, and my pulse is dangerously fast, but seeing those numbers steadies me. I’m a doctor. This is my environment, my comfort zone.

I can do this. Suck in air. Let it out. I’m not weak. Suck in air. Let it out.

“That’s good, Sara. Just breathe.” Karen’s voice is soft and soothing as she strokes my arm. “You’re getting the hang of it. Just take another deep breath. There you go. Good job. Now another. And one more…”

I follow her gentle instructions as I watch the numbers on the monitors, and slowly, the suffocating sensation recedes and my vitals normalize. More dark memories are edging in, but I’m not ready to face them yet, so I shove them aside, slam a mental door on them as tightly as I can.

“Who is he?” I ask when I can speak again. “What do you mean by ‘the others?’ George wrote that article by himself. Why is the mafia after someone else?”

Agent Ryson exchanges looks with Karen, then turns to me. “Dr. Cobakis, I’m afraid we weren’t entirely truthful with you. We didn’t disclose the real situation to protect you, but clearly, we failed in that.” He takes a breath. “It wasn’t the local mafia who was after your husband. It was an international fugitive, a dangerous criminal your husband encountered on an assignment abroad.”

“What?” My head throbs painfully, the revelations almost too much to take in. George started off as a foreign correspondent, but in the last five years, he’d been taking on more and more domestic stories. I’d wondered about that, given his passion for foreign affairs, but when I asked, he told me he wanted to spend more time home with me, and I let it drop.

“This man, he has a list of people who have crossed him—or who he thinks have crossed him,” Ryson says. “I’m afraid George was on that list. The exact circumstances around that and the identity of the fugitive are classified, but given what happened, you deserve to know the truth—at least as much of it as I’m allowed to disclose.”

I stare at him. “It was one man? A fugitive?” A face pops into my mind, a harshly beautiful male face. It’s hazy, like an image from a dream, but somehow I know it’s him, the man who invaded my home and did those terrible things to me.

Ryson nods. “Yes. He’s highly trained and has vast resources, which is why he’s been able to stay ahead of us for so long. He has connections everywhere, from Eastern Europe to South America to the Middle East. When we learned that your husband’s name was on his list, we took George to the safe house, and we should’ve done the same with you. We just thought that—” He stops and shakes his head. “I suppose it doesn’t matter what we thought. We underestimated him, and now four men are dead.”

Dead. Four men are dead. It hits me then, the knowledge that George is gone. I hadn’t registered it before, not really. My eyes begin to burn, and my chest feels like it’s being squeezed in a vise. In a burst of clarity, the puzzle pieces click into place.

“It’s me, isn’t it?” I sit up, ignoring the wave of dizziness and pain. “I did this. I somehow gave away the safe house location.”

Ryson exchanges another look with the nurse, and my heart drops. They’re not answering my question, but their body language speaks volumes.

I’m responsible for George’s death. For all four deaths.

“It’s not your fault, Dr. Cobakis.” Karen touches my arm again, her brown eyes filled with sympathy. “The drug he gave you would’ve broken anyone. Are you familiar with sodium thiopental?”