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The pain preceded consciousness. Blinking my eyelids sent ripples of hurt across my face, around to the back of my head, and radiating down my neck into my shoulders. I heard myself groan. Forcing my eyes open, I tried to focus them. My chin was resting on my chest and I was looking down at my wrinkled linen shirt. Slowly I was able to make out the fabric’s grain. The splotches of blood dripping from my nose drew my attention to the related itch of dried blood on my cheeks.
With a Herculean effort I lifted my head and tried to take in my surroundings. It appeared I was alone in a large, empty room with a high ceiling. There was a doorway in front of me, pockmarked with holes and the door slightly ajar. Moonlight streamed through the opening onto a dusty, uneven wooden floor. There were two windows on either side of the door, coated in dirt so thick I couldn’t see through them. I was sitting on a wooden chair with my wrists bound behind me.
I looked over my shoulder and saw the handcuffs on my wrists; looked down and saw that my ankles were also chained, to the chair legs. I took a deep breath and silently thanked Merl for all the times I’d woken up pinned to my bed. I gritted my teeth, prepping for the excruciating and awkward pain. I struggled not to cry out as I slammed my thumb against the chair.
My hands now free, I leaned over to inspect the chains that bound my ankles. These guys were either amateurs or had severely underestimated me. I stood up, my head spinning, and sat back down.
Reaching up, I found the source of the dizzy spell and all that blood on my shirt. There was a clotted mass of hair and an open wound at the base of my skull. When I touched it I nearly threw up. I took a minute and a few breaths before trying to stand again. The chains tinkled as I attempted to rise. They were wrapped around my ankles and in between the legs of the chair. All I had to do was pick up the chair and shake off the chains to be free. Granted, my ankles were still chained to each other, but at least I wasn’t stuck with the chair.
With my new freedom I walked over to the windows on the far wall. Peering through a broken pane, I noticed another building and an alley lined with tall grass and trash. Hearing a scrape behind me, I wheeled around.
Merl was standing there, leaning casually against the decrepit wall. Blue charged toward me, sat at my feet, and leaned against me. I crouched down and embraced him. Merl’s three dogs flanked him, their eyes reflecting green in the darkness. "One thing I guess we didn't go over was how to not fall into a trap," Merl said. "Obviously, you still have some things to learn."
I smiled at him. “I am really happy to see you.”
Merl pushed off the wall and crossed the room. He approached the window and peered through its grimy pane. "Did you really think I was going to let you get yourself killed?" he asked. He did not turn around to face me.
"I'm fine. But thank you for coming."
"You're not fine. You're holed up in an abandoned building, hunting mass murderers. Alone." He craned his neck to get a better look at my wound. “With a head wound.”
"Well, I didn't think you'd want to help."
He turned toward me. "I don't."
"Then what are you doing here?"
"You didn't leave me any choice."
I bit my lip. “Well, thank you. I appreciate it.”
Thunder, who had stayed by the entrance, gave a low growl of warning. Merl crossed the room without a sound and looked out into the night.
"The young one is getting something out of the SUV." I heard the thunk of a car door slamming. "He's headed back inside."
"What did he get out of the truck?" I asked.
"A chain saw."
"Jesus." Merl leaned against the wall and rested his hand on Thunders head. Clouds shifted and the pale light of the moon was blocked. A cool breeze blew through the open door, stirring up the smell of sawdust.
"Did you have a plan?" Merl asked. I smiled.
"Plans are God's favorite joke."
Merl smiled back at me. "Okay, well, what's the joke of the evening then?"
“Not sure. I just woke up and managed to free myself.”
“Not that free,” Merle said, looking down at my ankles.
“I don’t have a chain saw. Yet.”
"So what’s the deal, where are they?” I asked.
“There are three of them. They are holding Malina there.” He pointed through the crack in the door. I looked out across an expanse of cracked pavement and weeds onto a large building that appeared deserted, broken windows hanging and large patches of roof missing. A single light burned inside, bright in the dark desert.
“They took my gun,” I said. "I don't see how we can get close enough to these guys for hand-to-hand combat."
Merl smiled, showing off his big, gapped teeth. "I brought my throwing stars." He opened up his trench coat to reveal a vest lined with multi sided blades. "Quiet, accurate, deadly. More than I can say for your pistol." I realized my mouth was hanging open and snapped it shut.
"That is seriously awesome."
Merl nodded. "I know."
"Will you teach—"
He held up a hand to stop me. "Let's see how we do here. If we survive, I'll think about it."
"Right. If we survive."
“I did bring you a weapon, though.” Merl reached under his coat and pulled out a long knife. A strong wind blew across the desert and whipped around the buildings, pulling dust with it. The door banged on its hinges and Blue growled at the sudden movement. The bluster passed as quickly as it arrived and an eerie silence fell over the compound.
"Now or never," Merl said, handing me the blade. It felt heavy in my hand and I looked down at my bound ankles. “Just remember to take tiny steps.” I nodded.
He tapped his hip and headed out of the door. Merl’s three dogs lined up behind him and I followed, shuffling, trying to quiet the clinking. Blue stayed close behind me. Merl moved across the broken pavement of the parking lot, barely making a sound.
The whirl of a chain saw broke the silence, followed by a woman’s scream.
Merl sped up and hunkered down under one of the building's dirty windows. He motioned to me and I crouched by his side. Sliding up the side of the building, Merl looked through the window.
“I see two of them,” he said, just loud enough for me to hear over Malina’s terrified and muffled screams. Merl lowered himself back down. “Take a look.”
I rose up until I could see into the room. It was large and lit by florescent fixtures that stretched the length of the space. The one closest to the door flickered, casting a light of unreality onto the whole scene. Malina was tied to a chair. She had swelling around her mouth and her shirt was ripped open, exposing one of her breasts. Her hazel eyes were glued to the whirling blade of the chain saw, which Adolfo was holding in front of her. Adolfo’s back was to the door but I suspected he wore the same stony expression as he had at the cock fight.
Benito was pacing behind Malina’s chair. He was murmuring something I couldn’t hear. Not far out of Benito's reach was a small table covered in tools, and I spied my pistol. I scanned the rest of the room for Frito—unsuccessfully.
“Here is what we are going to do,” Merl said. I tore myself away from the horrific tableau inside and to concentrate on Merl’s plan. “What we’ve got is the element of surprise, you, me, and four dogs.”
Emily Kimelman is the author of the award winning Unleashed, an Amazon Kindle best seller. Death in the Dark continues the Sydney Rye series of mystery novels, which feature a strong female protagonist and her K9 best friend, some foul language, violence, and a dash of sex. Kimelman lives on a boat in the Hudson Valley with her husband and dog. She has a passion for traveling and spends as much time as possible in the pursuit of adventure. Follow her at @ejkimelman or www.emilykimelman.com