He sat alone in the bedroom, roped to a chair beside the unmade bed, listening to voices on the other side of the door, trying to free himself. He couldn't contort his hands in the right positions. The movements only made the knot tighter.
As much as he wanted to be free, the choke out he'd experienced earlier, and the more recent blow to the head made him want to sleep. If they'd bested him this far, nothing said they couldn't finish the job.
"Careful with his hands!" Erica had said.
She hadn't minded messing with his cognitive function or his emotional wellbeing, but the hands… If she could show compassion to the appendages responsible for his livelihood, perhaps he could persuade her to let him go.
He tried to call for her, but the constricted, bruised throat barely made a sound.
Erica had been in on it all along. From the concert hall, the ransom notes, the rumors. But she looked so different, like something had aged her terribly. Like she'd been caught in something she couldn't escape.
"Why aren't you tying the other guy up?" She'd asked.
"He's not trying to escape."
"That's Demetri. He's harmless."
The knot wasn't budging.
Voices murmured in the other room, heightening at the occasional word but never enough for him to deduce his future.
His head throbbed. The rope irritated what were becoming angry burns on his wrists, but the activity kept his mind occupied.
"Demetri is harmless."
Demetri wasn't with Sophia, at least. She and Ajay and Kieron were still somewhere out there. He assumed they'd be together, but the chunk of time he'd lost giving Demetri something to chase, and not knowing how long he'd been unconscious after Erica hit him, they could have been anywhere.
Josh himself could be anywhere.
She knew who I was and she did this, Josh thought, fear and anger and defeat swelling in his chest.
The knot wouldn't loosen.
His arms numbed as the chair back dug into them.
Sophia's got to think I abandoned her.
The last thing he said to her was lost in the commotion of what had happened before and after; he might have come across as wanting to protect her or wanting to escape. He hadn't wanted to go anywhere, and wished to God he hadn't.
The rope budged, but his fingers were raw.
The door opened so softly, Josh didn't realize someone was in the room with him until it clicked shut again.
Demetri stood against the door, without the ax, his eyes wide and wild.
"Oh," Josh moaned. "Fuck."
Demetri took a swift step toward Josh and punched him in the face.
Josh's head struck the ground when the chair tipped over. Demetri kicked him in the stomach. The ropes kept him from protecting himself, so he screamed until the attack stopped. Lying still, he squeezed his eyes shut with his face pressed against the wooden floor.
Footsteps thumped in his ear.
Demetri knelt, bringing his face inches from Josh's.
Darkness closed in the sides of his vision.
"Sophia and I had something."
Josh swallowed, his throat reacquainting itself with the pain Demetri had dealt with the ax handle, with the scream that had just escaped.
"But it was all a lie," he continued, his breath sour and rotten.
"Did she know you were behind it?"
Demetri stood and kicked him again.
Waves of pain pulsed through Josh's body, throbbed in his head.
"They told me everything." Demetri gestured to the door. "About the kidnapping. About the museum. About your little social experiment. If you admitted it, instead of insulting my intelligence —"
"I didn't —" Josh gasped in ragged breaths.
Demetri flipped the chair so that Josh was lying on his back. All the pressure went to his hands. Josh closed his eyes, wanting to fabricate a story incriminating himself to satisfy Demetri, but his head throbbed so wildly the words vanished.
"Thirty years!" Demetri shouted, swinging a kick, but only hitting the chair. "How the hell do you even do that?"
He didn't realize he'd drifted until he got a slap to the face.
Demetri turned the chair over on its side again and shuffled around out of sight.
"Please," Josh sputtered, tasting blood. "I don't know what's going on."
"Did Sophia know?"
He cut the rope around Josh's waist and the ones tying his feet to the chair legs.
"Before you lured her in that subway car," he continued, "did she know who you really were?" He yanked the chair out from between Josh's still-bound arms and threw it across the room.
When Josh flailed his legs in an attempt to get to his feet, Demetri tripped him back down, face-first on the floor and sat on his legs to restrain him.
"Maybe you told Sophia you'd let her go if she let you fuck her?"
The knife indiscriminately cut the waistband of his trousers. Dropping the weapon, Demetri leaned forward, his erection pressing against Josh's thigh.
"Wouldn't you like the same deal?"
Josh bent quickly in half to the side, dislodging his attacker, and kicked Demetri away before getting to his feet. He ran toward the door while Demetri angrily scrambled after him, the knife again in his fist.
"Erica!" Josh screamed.
He'd have to back up against the door to turn the knob and escape, but Demetri was too fast for that.
He tackled Josh, slashing him in the face and chest.
When the door opened, it opened hard against Josh's head.
"Oh shit," someone said, and Josh blacked out.