October 27th, 2010
“…who?” He squinted his eyes, vision blurring in and out of focus, the man before him turning into two, three men. “Sorry if I’m… supposed ta’ recognize your name. My head’s…”
“Swirling, I imagine?” Antonio nodded, offering a reassuring smile. “Take your time. I’ll go slowly… anyone would be confused after that, I don’t blame you.”
“Throbbing, mostly. Ye’. Thanks…” He rubbed his eyes with his thumbs, letting his head drop against the soft pillow. After a short while, he laid it on his side, facing the man with the white suit. “Let’s start from the top…”
“Of course. Well, a few weeks ago, Veronica came under my employment. As an assassin, obviously.” Antonio placed his hands together on his knee as he talked.
“She did mention she was getting a lot of work, but she didn’t say from whom…”
“She spoke of you, pretty frequently. Told me that she was happy to be working alone, finally. Made more money, that way – I assume that you two used to split the money?”
“…I… yeah. Yeah, we…” He trailed off, processing Antonio’s words. Feeling his heart shake within its cage, blood pressure on the rise. “…we split the money…”
“Makes sense. It must have weighed her down, I guess?”
“She…” He swallowed as his surroundings blurred again, the world consisting of countless prisms in his eyes, forcing them to close. “Her mother came back into her life, but I didn’t think…”
“Woah, woah…” Antonio reached forward, laying a gentle hand on Axel’s shoulder. “Easy, now. No need to exert yourself – you’ve just woken up. It’s been days… I shouldn’t be telling you this so soon. I’m sorry.” Like a cloud, concern passed over his features.
“It’s fine. Just fine. But, it’s just… uh, why are you telling me all this? Way I see it… ya’ coulda’ left me for dead without a second thought. I ain’t nothin’ ta’ ya’.”
“Frankly? I didn’t find it fair. To walk into somebody’s home and leave them bleeding on the ground… it all struck me rather unfair. Veronica went over it a lot – about how she’d do it, and take out the only competition in her field. So, I had someone follow her to your place… but we got there too late.”
Axel felt something like a vine with thorns wrap around his heart as he spoke. ‘Competition’. ‘Field’. His teeth gritted against eachother, small mountains that made the earth shake. All this time…
“Not too late. But that’s not the only reason, is it? If you’re paying out of ya’ pocket, I can only assume ya’ want something when I’m on my feet… so, let’s hear it, ‘guardian angel’.” He looked up at Antonio with a pair of cold eyes that seemed to size him up.
Antonio paused, as if he had been undressed in a moment. Then, he shrugged and nodded once, twice. “You’re sharp. Can’t afford to do things out of the kindness of my heart. I’ve heard about you, Mr. Dillinger. As always, there’s a business offer…” He gave the man a pat on the shoulder, turning to walk out the door. “But for the time being, focus on getting better, yes?”
Axel didn’t respond, sinking his head into the pillow. Closing his eyes and letting the darkness swallow him once more, completely giving into it.
“And don’t worry… it’s all been paid for… my friend.”
November 5th, 2010
It was a rather swift recovery. But the days had blurred together still, and between bouts of unconsciousness, he was left alone to his thoughts. And his thoughts screamed and echoed inside his mind like a cacophony of hatred. ‘Competition’. ‘Field’. ‘Money’. These words burned into his brain, scars as permanent as the ones on his lower back. When he walked into Antonio’s hideout, he had very much a mask of his own.
A mask that fit on his smooth features like a glove, hiding the narrowed eyes and snarling mouth that came with anger. Guards moved to the side as he walked through the hallways. Even in his hazy state of mind, he made a mental map of the place, floating about the edges of his subconscious.
He came upon a door, no different than any he had seen throughout his life. Yet as he secured his fingers around the knob and stepped into the richly decorated office, he felt a sense of finality. Maybe it had always been to be this way.
Antonio sat at the other end of the room, elbows resting on his desk. As Axel walked in, he gestured him to come closer.
“I’m glad to see you’ve made a great recovery.” Extending a hand, he quickly put it away after Axel gave it a mechanical shake. “Please, have a seat. How do you feel?”
“Just fine.” Axel lowered himself onto the cushioned chair behind him, his back parallel with the chair. “Let’s get right ta’ it, if ya’ don’t mind?”
“Naturally. There’s not much to discuss. I’m sure you can imagine what I’m going to ask you, already.” The smile vanished from Antonio’s face, with eyes that seemed to pierce through Axel. “Veronica’s vanished, but I doubt she’s left the city. She knows too much about my business. I need…”
“Someone ta’ deal with her.” Axel rose to his feet, hands in his pockets. His expression never changed. Antonio likened it to looking at a corpse’s face. “Anything else?”
“No. Oh, and Axel…” The smile reappeared, growing across his face. “Have fun.”
“This isn’t right…” Veronica laid on the couch inside her apartment, looking at the lazy circles described by the overhead fan. She had seldom left the house in the days following her attack, only to buy groceries when they became necessary. “Mother… I haven’t seen her.”
She turned to her side, strands of hair like a waterfall falling down her face, peeking out between the gaps. “Did she get killed after all? Or did she leave my life, like she should have?” Brain and heart at odds, hoping against hope and knowing it was unlikely. “Either way, I’ve been played like a fool…”
Looking down at herself, she placed a hand on her belly, a frown disjointing her flawless features. “And Axel…” Her fingers lingered over it as something stirred inside of it. A deep feeling of guilt and shame, but there was more. Ever since that night, there had been a strange feeling emanating from the very core of her being. “I… this is really all my fault, isn’t it? To rush ahead like that…”
She knew exactly what it was, these strange cravings and morning sicknesses, and yet she denied with all her heart. “…what an ironic fate.” Veronica sentenced, getting onto her feet. “I… refuse to let this fate control me. I won’t be their toy anymore…”
Veronica steeled herself, taking a deep breath. She knew where Antonio’s hideout was. She knew the layout like the back of her hand. She knew ways to get in and out —
There was a knock at the door.
And as she opened it, her heart froze inside her chest.