Excerpt: DARK PASSAGES: TRISTAN & KAREN

DarkPassages_SaraReinke_400pxFrom the darkness, a muffled digital ring drew Tristan from the depths of sleep.

My phone, he thought dimly, as his mind made the groggy, reluctant transition from unconsciousness to alert. Beside him, Karen still slept, her body lying in warm, nearly perfect complement against his own. When he sat up, the sheet drooped away, leaving them both exposed from the waist up, and he blinked stupidly around the dark room, trying to find his cell phone.

I had it in my pocket, he remembered, stumbling out of bed and limping around blindly until he found his pants in a rumpled heap halfway across the room.

He heard Karen murmur softly, incoherently, then the mattress creaked, the covers rustling as she sat up, drawing them modestly to cover her breasts. Squatting, he fished in the pocket of his slacks until he found his phone. When he pulled it out, he saw Mason’s number flashing on the caller I.D.

“Shit,” he said, because it occurred to him that they’d they’d forgotten completely about Mason’s promise to join them once he’d finished talking to Michel on the phone. He glanced over his shoulder at the bedside clock and winced. It was well after midnight; more than three hours had passed since they’d parted company at the restaurant. And we’ve been sleeping this whole time. He’s probably been and left, beating on the door, wondering where the hell we are.

“Shit,” he said again, thumbing the keypad to answer the call. Raking his fingers through his hair to push it out of his eyes, he tried his best to sound dutifully repentant. “I’m really sorry, Mason,” he began.

From the other end of the line, there was nothing but silence. At first. Then, just as he was about to say his uncle’s name again, he heard strange sounds, a dull, flat whap like a side of beef hitting a concrete floor, followed by the distinctive sound of someone groaning; quiet, choked, pained.

“Mason?” Tristan whispered.

“I’m sorry, poppet,” a voice purred in his ear — a voice he recognized from earlier that night. “Mason’s a bit…tied up at the moment.”

Tristan’s brows furrowed, his free hand closing into a sudden, strained fist. All of the muscles bridging his shoulders and neck drew instantly taut. “Davenant,” he seethed. “You son of a bitch. Where is he? What have you done with him?”

Jean Luc Davenant chuckled gently into the phone. “I haven’t done anything with him,” he said, with feigned insult in his voice. “It’s what I’ve done to him that should worry you.”

He used to amuse himself by stringing cats upside down from the trees and partially eviscerating them to see how long they could survive, Mason had told Tristan of Jean Luc. And if they’d resort to eating their own guts to do it.

“Where is he?” Tristan snapped. For a moment, Jean Luc did nothing but laugh. Furious now, trembling with rage, Tristan screamed it into the phone: “Goddamn you, where’s Mason?”

“Look outside.”

Jean Luc’s reply came flat, cold from the other end. Tristan blinked in surprise, turning to the nearest floor-to-ceiling window.

“That’s right,” Jean Luc said. “Walk to the window, poppet. Let me see that pretty face of yours.”

Turning again, this time to Karen, Tristan cupped his hand over the phone, pinning her with his stare. Don’t move, he mouthed. Pointing to the windows to redirect her gaze momentarily, he then mouthed:He’s watching us.

Her hand darted to her mouth, her face drained of color, the sheet drooping lankly to expose her left breast as she turned it loose.

“Are you there, poppet?” Jean Luc asked.

“Yeah,” Tristan growled, stepping into his pants, pulling them up around his hips and buttoning the fly. He went to the window, standing bare-chested, vulnerable in front of the tempered glass, staring at his reflection as it floated, ghost-like, against the colorful backdrop of the Las Vegas cityscape below. Facing him was the second Trésor resort tower, an exact mirror image of the building in which he stood.

Tristan panned his gaze, struggling to find any hint or clue of Jean Luc’s position; a wink of light off the lens of a telescope from a window in the far tower, maybe. Balling his fist again, but leaving his middle finger stiffly extended, he raised his hand, shoving it against the window. “Can you see me, motherfucker?”

Jean Luc laughed. “I want you to listen to me carefully, poppet. You and I are going to play a little game.”

“I don’t like games.”

“That’s a shame, because I do. And I’m afraid you’re in no position to turn me down.”

Another pause, then Tristan heard the muffled whaps again, like someone punching a damp sand bag — only it wasnt a sand bag and he knew it. Mason was the one suffering what sounded like a brutal beating and he remained semi-lucid, enough in any case, to cry out softly, croaking in feeble protest.

“Stop it!” Tristan slapped his hand against the glass, feeling the thick, heavy panel shudder beneath his palm. “Leave him alone! I’ll kill you!”

When Jean Luc returned to the phone, he was chuckling again like a macabre sort of Mrs. Butterworth, filled with grim good humor.

“I’ll kill you,” Tristan promised. “Do you hear me, you sick bastard?”

“Are you ready to play?” Jean Luc asked, unfazed.

“Go fuck yourself.”

This time, there were no sounds of landing blows, but from the other end of the line, Mason began to shriek, his voice ripping up shrill, agonized octaves loud enough for Karen to hear, even from the bed. Tristan could see her reflected horror through the glass; heard the sharp, aghast intake of her breath.

“Stop,” Tristan cried. “Stop it, stop it, you son of a bitch! Mason!”

The screams cut abruptly short, and somehow that silence was even more terrifying to Tristan. He heard a soft rustle, then an audible click as Jean Luc picked up the phone.

“Did you catch all of that, poppet? I can do some more, if you need me to.”

“You touch him again, and I’ll rip your arms out of your goddamn sockets, cram them hand-first up your–”

“Are you ready to play?” Jean Luc interjected mildly.

Tristan blinked at Karen, then turned around again. “Yes,” he whispered, nodding once. “Whatever you want. Just leave Mason alone. Alright?” His voice grew strained, and he closed his eyes. “Please. Dont hurt him anymore.”

“Splendid,” Jean Luc purred, the tone of his voice lending itself to a malicious sort of smile. “Listen closely then, because I’ll only do this once. You get it right — you be a good little poppet and do exactly as you’re told, and your dear uncle walks out of here with little more than a limp to show for his trouble. Get it wrong — if you even think about fucking with me — then I will remove each of his vital organs forcibly and in turn, using only the crudest of surgical methods and foregoing any benefit of anesthesia. Do you understand?”

Through the glass, Tristan looked at Karen, frozen with fear on the bed. She may not have been privy to the entire conversation, but she’d gleaned enough — primarily from his own reactions — to get the gist of it.

“Yes,” he said, because the son of a bitch hadn’t mentioned her, and Tristan meant to keep it that way; keep Davenant distracted from her for however long it took to make sure she remained safe, out of harm’s way. “Tell me what to do.”

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