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Bella and Renee walked to the elevators, pressing the button for the lift. “This place wasn’t always so swanky,” Renee explained.
“What do you mean?”
“This place used to be a burnt-out apartment complex. Your father worked on that fire. When was it? I think it was when you and Angela were just babies. This place completely burned down. There was one fatality, I think. Most everyone else got out in time. Minor injuries, smoke inhalation and stuff like that.” She tapped her finger when the elevator opened. “There was one fatality, and there was a victim who was horrifically burned. About seventy percent of third-degrees over their body. There was little hope that the victim would survive, but he did.”
“Oh, wow,” Bella breathed. She knew that burn victims were susceptible to so many infections and painful recoveries. “Do you know where the guy went?”
“After he was released from the hospital, he disappeared. I don’t know,” Renee said. The elevator doors opened. “Mr. Volt’s condo is down this way.”
They found the condo, but there was a note on the door. The writing was sloppy, but it said that Mr. Volt had to step out and would be back in a few minutes. It was important for him to talk to Renee. The door was open. Renee pushed through the door and smiled. “Isn’t this gorgeous? Look at the view overlooking Puget Sound?”
“It’s very barren, Mom,” Bella snorted, looking around the empty condo as she hovered by the door.
“That’s why we have this, smart ass,” Renee snickered, putting the sample boards in what would be the kitchen. “Mr. Volt wanted to make sure that everything gelled together. So, Alice and I created a couple of options for him.” She looked at her daughter. “Come inside, Bella.”
“It feels weird walking into a condo that’s not mine,” Bella shuddered.
“Mr. Volt will be here in a few minutes. He gave us permission, baby,” Renee argued.
With a sigh, Bella stepped away from the door, but left it open. When she turned the corner to enter the kitchen, the door slammed shut making both women jump. Bella looked around before running back to the door. Fruitlessly, it wouldn’t budge.
“You’re not going anywhere,” said a raspy, damaged voice. “You walked into this trap … like a moth to a flame …”
Edward dialed Bella’s number for the hundredth time since they returned back to the fire investigation lab. It went straight to voicemail. He frowned, hanging up without leaving a message. He tried it again and again, each time going to voicemail. “Damn it. Chief?”
“What is it, Edward?” Charlie replied.
“Have you tried calling Bella or Renee?” he asked. “Have you called the cops?”
“I’ve called the cops and they’re sending someone to talk to me regarding the coffee shop fire,” Charlie answered. “Rose is still on the phone with the commissioner.”
“Try calling your wife, Chief. I’ve got this sinking feeling that something’s happened to Bella and Renee,” Edward choked out.
“Okay, Edward,” Charlie agreed, nodding as he took out his cell phone. He dialed Renee’s number and it also went to voicemail. “She’s not answering.”
“Not answering or going straight to voicemail,” Edward pressed.
“Voicemail,” Charlie snapped. “What’s the difference? They were going to a spa today. Their phones may be off.” Edward gave his boss an exasperated look. “You’re freaking out.”
“You should be doing the same,” Edward muttered. “Someone is targeting your family, Chief. Your wife, your daughter, my girlfriend … are a part of your family. Something’s not right.”
As Edward said that, a pair of detectives came walking into the lab. “Chief Swan?” asked the male detective. Charlie nodded. “I’m Detective Jacob Black and this is my partner, Detective Leah Clearwater. We’ve been assigned to the fire at La Marzocco.”
“Yes, thank you for coming by,” Charlie said, shaking their hands. “This is one of my best and brightest, Lieutenant Edward Cullen. He started the investigation at the coffee shop. My other lead investigator is in my office, on the phone with the fire commissioner, Lieutenant Rosalie Hale. Do you have news about the victim found in the fire?”
“We’re still waiting for the autopsy results,” Detective Clearwater said, reading from a small notepad. “The remains were horribly burnt. Dental records will probably be used to identify the victim. However, the only thing that the coroner said was that they were certain that the victim was male.”
“Did they die before or after the fire?” Edward asked.
“Before,” Detective Clearwater answered.
“So, obviously with that death, this is a criminal investigation,” Detective Black said. “And, on your call, you mentioned that you believe that a number of fires are connected. What do you think that connection is?”
“Chief Swan,” Edward replied, blinking to his boss. “Every fire has been connected to him. It started over five years ago with the fire near the Benaroya Center …”
“The fire where you lost your daughter?” Detective Black asked. Charlie nodded, his heart clenching. “I read about that in the newspaper. I’d gone to that concert before she’d died with my girlfriend at the time. She was a huge fan of your daughter, following her career since she’d started at the Seattle Symphony. It was over my head, to be honest, but I wanted to make my girlfriend happy. I’m so sorry for your loss, Chief Swan.”
“Um, yes,” Charlie said, his brows pulling together. “And, thank you for your condolences.”
“My partner has a case of lack of filter,” Detective Clearwater deadpanned. “Brilliant detective. Doesn’t think before he speaks.” She glowered at her partner, who rolled his eyes. “What other connections do you have?”
“After the apartment fire, there was a lag in time. The fires with the same signatures didn’t start popping up until about four or five months ago,” Edward explained, looking at his notes. “First, there was a fire at Ludwigs. Chief Swan’s wife contracts a lot of work through Ludwigs for her interior design business. Then, the next fire was at Rudy’s Barbershop, where the chief used to get his hair cut. This most recent fire, the one from last night, is a coffee shop that I frequent with my girlfriend, Dr. Isabella Swan.”
“So, the fires are all connected to your family,” Detective Clearwater said. “Anything else?”
“The signature is also similar,” Edward said. “The fires are designed to look like accidents, but they clearly aren’t. An accelerant was used in each fire …”
“The commissioner has an idea,” Rose blurted, running out to the lab. “Oh, wow. Sorry … I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“It’s okay,” Charlie said, waving his hand. “This is Detective Jacob Black and Detective Leah Clearwater. They’re in charge of the death investigation for the coffee shop. What did the commissioner say?”
“Does the name Aro Volturi mean anything to you?” Rose asked, reading from her notebook. Charlie pulled his brows together, but shook his head. “How about the name Marcus Volturi? The Stockyards?”
“The Stockyards is the location for that new condo complex,” Charlie said, snapping his fingers. “I think Renee was hired to do some work in a few of the units.”
“The commissioner received a letter from an attorney about ten years ago, speaking on behalf of Aro Volturi. He was suing the city due to the negligence of the Seattle Fire Department, and specifically, Chief Charles Swan. He’s emailing over the information as we speak.” From her desk, her tablet chimed. “There it is.”
Charlie sat down, his face drawn and pale. Confusion colored his expression as he tried to place the names that Rose had mentioned. Edward turned to look up the names on his computer.
“Okay, here we go,” Rose said, walking back to where they were all huddled with a stack of papers. “The lawsuit was filed about twelve years ago by Aro Volturi. According to the paperwork, he was horrifically burned in an apartment fire at the location now known as The Stockyards. Additionally, his younger brother, Marcus, died in the blaze from burns and smoke inhalation at the scene.”
“Why wasn’t I notified of this?” Charlie asked, scowling at Rose. “I was named in the suit.”
“According to the legal department, they tried to reach out to Mr. Volturi, but he fell off the face of the earth, it appeared. They tried to locate him through private investigators, but they stopped after a year of searching. With his injuries, the department assumed he’d passed away and the case was dropped,” Rose answered.
“Why does the commissioner think that it’s this Aro character?” Detective Black asked. “According to what you just read, they thought he died.”
Rose flipped through the file. “He nearly died. He spent the better part of five years in a rehabilitation facility in Italy. From the paperwork, it looked like he stayed there.”
“That still doesn’t explain why Aro was fixated on the chief,” Detective Clearwater reiterated.
“Because the fire was caused by an electrical short, exacerbated by chemicals in a cleaning closet,” Edward read from his computer. “In the file, it said that the building had passed inspection, just a week prior but faulty wiring caused the blaze. It spread quickly due to cleaning supplies and paper products in that closet. Just like all of the fires that have been linked to Charlie. He’s recreating the fire that caused his injuries with each subsequent fire he’s setting. But, why the delay in between the fire at Angela’s apartment until the Ludwig’s fire?”
“We can answer that,” Detective Clearwater said, reading from her tablet. “He was in jail. I just put his name into our database and Aro Volturi was arrested for driving under the influence about a month after that initial fire. It was his third arrest and he was put in jail for three years, then into a halfway house for another year.”
“Do you have an address for this guy?” Charlie growled. “I want to give him a piece of my mind. He’s …”
“Chief, you can’t. We have to step away from this. We’re all too involved,” Rose argued. “This is personal, especially for you and Edward.”
“We have an address. He’s staying with a great-aunt, Sulpulcia Volturi. She lives in an assisted living building in Tacoma,” Detective Clearwater replied, but frowned as she read further from the database. “But, his parole officer, after his last visit, said that the aunt died and left him an inheritance. There’s no updated address.” She blinked up and sighed. “Well, he doesn’t have a car, or a driver’s license. It was permanently revoked after his DUI conviction.”
“He may have a partner,” Detective Black suggested. “The damage to the La Marzocco cafe is extensive. There’s no way a man who has scars over most of his body has the dexterity to cause that much damage. From their preliminary report, it was a fast-burning blaze.”
“I agree with you, Detective Black,” Edward nodded. “Do we know what Volturi’s injuries were?”
“Um, most of his torso, arms, hands and down his legs. He had some damage to his face. The doctor noted that he lost vision in his left eye and he was completely deaf in his left ear and partially deaf in the other one. ‘The most extensive damage is to his right hand and arm. He only has two digits remaining and the burns went almost down to the bone; requiring extensive reconstruction. It’ll be lucky if he doesn’t lose his arm.’ That’s what his doctor said at Virginia Mason.”
“He had a prosthetic limb on his right hand when he was brought in five years ago,” Detective Clearwater said. “It would appear that he did lose his arm.”
“He must have a partner. But, who?” Detective Black mused.
“I don’t know, but I need to find out where my wife and daughter are,” Charlie muttered, the brevity of the situation hitting him like a ton of bricks.
“Now, this is all supposition,” Rose said. “We don’t know for certain that this is Aro Volturi, trying to enact his revenge on you.”
Charlie glowered at Rose as his cell phone chirped from his pocket. He tugged it out, reading the text that he’d received. “It’s from Renee.”
“What did she say?” Edward asked.
“‘Like a moth to a flame … they just can’t stay away’,” Charlie said, his eyes widening. “Oh, fuck. He’s got them. This guy, whoever is targeting my family, be it Aro fucking Volturi or whoever … he’s got Bella and Renee.”
“Give us your phone, Chief. We’ll put a trace on this number,” Detective Black said. “If the phone that sent you the text is still on, we can pinpoint where they’re located.”
Another text was sent through, but this time to Edward’s phone. He swiped his finger across, seeing Bella’s number and it was a picture. Edward paled, showing his boss and the detectives what had been sent to him. Bella was tied up, covered in bruises and scrapes. Her eyes were wide with terror and tears were spilling down her cheeks.
She won’t look as pretty when I’m done with her. She’s just drawn to the flames … Just like her sister. Will she scream as she burns in hell?
Renee grabbed Bella’s hand, pulling her close. The man before them was dressed in black pants which were covered in dirt and stains along with a black zip-up hoodie that was in the same condition. She could see only a tiny bit of his eyes, though his cheeks and nose were visible. What she saw was someone who had been burned, badly. The scarring was extensive and by the looks of it, he had not received any reconstructive surgeries, only the bare minimum to encourage healing.
Being the wife of a fireman, Renee felt compelled to help those whose lives were changed due to fires. She was a member of several organizations and foundations that funded outreach programs for individuals and families who were affected by fires, either by providing shelter or money for their recovery. Reconstructive surgeries were extremely expensive and many couldn’t afford them. That was where the organizations and foundations came in, to offset the overwhelming cost.
Aro couldn’t believe his plan had worked so well. He could finally make Charlie Swan pay for the death of his brother and neglecting to extinguish the fire, burning him so extensively, leaving him scarred and deformed. For years, he’d been in pain and that pain was the catalyst to bring Chief Charles Swan of the Seattle Fire Department to his knees.
Aro’s brother, Marcus was three years younger than him, yet they were extremely close. Their father had left them right after Marcus was born and their mother was an alcoholic. She was always drunk and never took care of them. So at the age of eight, he was cooking, cleaning, going to grocery stores, and taking care of Marcus. Aro was mother, father, brother, best friend and protector, wrapped up into one.
They lived in a tiny two-bedroom apartment. He and Marcus would wander up and down the streets and alleys looking for aluminum cans and glass bottles to recycle for cash. With this money, he was able to buy food for them. It wasn’t much, but it was better than going hungry, which he had done many times so Marcus could have something to eat.
Their mother received welfare and food stamps. Aro and Marcus were thankful each month the rent was taken out before she received the rest, which she used for alcohol. With her SNAP card, she’d stroll into the corner liquor store and buy the most potent booze she could afford, drinking until she passed out.
Right after Aro’s eighteen birthday, his mother became sick and was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Six months later, she was dead, leaving him and his brother. It was a blessing and a curse. They didn’t have to worry about their mother using their welfare money on booze, but it also meant that the boys were on their own.
Shortly after their mother’s death, Aro dropped out of high school, becoming his brother’s guardian, and found a job at a janitorial company. It meant that he had to work overnight, but it allowed him to be home during the day and early evening with Marcus. He was bound and determined that Marcus was going to graduate from high school and, hopefully, go to college.
Aro’s boss had been impressed with his hard work and dedication. So, he put him in charge of his own crew, which meant that he would keep the industrial cleaning supplies at their apartment. Thankfully, the building supervisor allowed him to store the large buckets of chemicals in a storage room at the end of the hall from where they lived.
For a couple of years, things were going well until he fell into the habit of going to the local bar on the weekends. Marcus had worked at McDonald’s for a few shifts a week and with the newfound freedom, Aro found that he enjoyed the taste of whiskey. He wasn’t a fall-down drunk like their mother. Though, he didn’t have to be to get a DUI. When his case was brought before the judge, he pleaded that he was the caretaker of his young brother and that he had learned his lesson. The judge took mercy on the young man and took his license away except for driving to and from work for six months.
Aro stayed away from alcohol and out of trouble with the cops for the next year. Marcus was about to graduate and had been accepted to Loyola University in Chicago. They were waiting on the notification of a grant that would make it possible for Marcus to go. Without it, there was no way that Aro could afford the $34,000 yearly tuition.
The deadline for commitment was fast approaching. Marcus was working and Aro was at home resting before he had to go in that night. Looking at the time, he knew that the mail had probably arrived. So, he went down and opened the small mailbox in the lobby. Inside, there was a letter from Loyola’s financial aid department. Quickly opening it, he read the horrible news. Marcus had been denied the grant.
Aro was crushed. This was the one way for his brother to get out of this hell hole. Rushing out the building, he jumped in his car and drove to the nearest bar, where he downed glass after glass to numb the pain that he was feeling and the anger at how unfair their decision was. He dreaded telling Marcus. His brother was so eager to attend university and like that, with a stroke of a pen, those dreams were crushed.
Hours later, Aro stumbled out of the bar and climbed into the driver’s seat of his car. He only made it to the end of the block when he heard the sirens behind him. The officers had been sitting across the street and saw him stumble into his car. After a field sobriety test, which Aro failed with flying colors, he was put into handcuffs and taken to jail. It broke his heart to have to call Marcus to come to bail him out.
They had just enough for the bail, yet not enough to pay the impound fee for the car. It would have to stay there until they could raise enough money to get it out. They took a taxi home, Aro couldn’t look at his brother, ashamed that he had failed his brother once again. He had so many big dreams for him. Now, they were all gone because he had turned to alcohol to dull the pain.
When they got home, Marcus turned and stood in front of his brother, betrayal swirling in his expression. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” Aro answered, as he stared at his feet.
“YOU DON’T KNOW! How long have you been an alcoholic?” Marcus raged. He had seen his mother drink herself to death and he vowed that he would never touch the stuff, ever. Aro had always been there for him, taking care of him, making sure he had something to eat.
“I’m not an alcoholic,” Aro replied, his voice full of emotion.
“Then, why do you have TWO DUIs? When did you get the first one?”
“A few years ago. I didn’t want to tell you because I was ashamed,” Aro said.
“So how often do you get drunk? Daily?” Marcus growled.
“NO! Today was the first time I had a drink since my last DUI,” Aro growled. He was feeling bad enough and to have Marcus question him made it worse.
“Why today?” Marcus snapped, wondering what caused his brother to turn to the bottle. Had he lost his job? Was he sick?
Aro shuffled his feet and rubbed his hands together. “The letter came today about the grant. You didn’t get it.”
“So, instead of telling me, you go to a bar and get plastered. Bro, I need you more than I need a fucking grant,” Marcus agonized as he was crumbled inside.
Shame engulfed him. “I’m sorry,” Aro muttered.
Marcus stepped towards him and wrapped Aro into a tight hug. “I love you, brother, and we’ll get through this together. Nothing can hold us down. We’ll figure it out.”
They sat down on the sofa and talked about everything except college and the DUI. Aro called his boss and told him that he was sick and couldn’t come in tonight. Caius, his boss, was at first shocked because this was the first time Aro had ever called in. He told him to get well and not to worry about the missed pay. Since Aro never took a day, he was still going to pay him. He didn’t want to lose a good worker.
After Marcus handed Aro four painkillers for his growing hangover, and a bottle of water, they headed off to bed. Aro settled in and felt better after he realized that his brother still loved him, even though he fucked up. Falling into a deep sleep, he didn’t move until he heard sirens outside.
“Damn, that’s fucking loud,” he groaned, his head splitting from all the alcohol. Stumbling out of bed, he headed towards his bedroom door, pulling it open only to be hit in the face with flames and smoke knocking him back into his room onto the floor. Shaking his head, he knew he had to get to Marcus.
Putting a t-shirt over his mouth he began to crawl out the door and towards his brother’s room. The flames were so close, they seemed to reach out for him, wanting to wrap him in their hot embrace.
Suddenly, there was a loud blast causing the floor to shake, then the wall beside him fell on top of his back and legs. His clothes caught fire and he was in agony as it began to burn his skin. In spite of the pain, he still had to get to his brother. Reaching out, he grabbed a beam and pulled with all his might. However, he couldn’t move, he was trapped. With the last bit of his strength, he called out. “MARCUS.” A moment later he passed out from the pain and smoke.
Aro awoke in a hospital room with bandages covering most of his body, even though he couldn’t really feel anything. He was hooked up to several monitors, with bags of clear liquids which hung from poles and he had an oxygen mask over his mouth.
What had happened and where was he?
Shutting his eyes, he tried to remember what he was doing last. Then, it hit him like a brick wall – the fire.
Where was Marcus?
He searched for someone to ask, though no one was around. He finally saw the call button, pushing it over and over again. He had to find his brother. The more he thought about his brother, the harder it was for him to breathe and soon the alarms of the monitors began to blare.
A nurse and a doctor came scurrying into the room. “Aro, you need to calm down,” said the nurse, pulling the call button from his hand.
Aro tried to speak, but his voice was muffled by the oxygen mask. “M-M-M-Marcus,” he choked out.
“You need to stop moving, Aro. You’ve been burned quite severely,” the doctor said sternly.
“He’s trying to say something,” the nurse said.
“My brother,” Aro hissed behind his mask, coughing deeply. He tried to move his hand to pull the mask away. The nurse stopped him, giving him a sympathetic look. She waited until his coughing stopped before she pulled the mask away. He stared at her, his eyes burning. “My brother, Marcus. Where is he?”
“Was your brother in the same apartment as you?” she asked, covering his face with the mask. Aro nodded. She blinked to the doctor, who had a sedative ready. “I’m sorry, Aro. The fire burned fast and deadly. Your brother was trapped in his room and he didn’t make it.”
“No! No! No!” Aro screamed behind his mask, sobbing at the loss of his brother, his best friend and his only family that he loved more than his own life. He thrashed in his bed and he didn’t notice as the doctor pushed the sedative into his IV.
While Aro recovered and recuperated as best he could, he found out the truth of what happened that night. The Seattle Fire Department was too slow in responding and the fire was caused by an electrical fire, exacerbated by chemicals that made it spread quickly. The man who’d found Aro and his now deceased brother, Chief Charlie Swan, didn’t do much to save him other than pull him out from underneath the beam that had fallen on Aro. The beam had blocked the chief’s way to Marcus’s bedroom, resulting in his death.
Aro was beyond angry and he was determined to make everyone pay for what had happened to him, the years of agony and the numerous surgeries he’d had to deal with the burns that covered a majority of his body.
The fire stole Marcus away from Aro. So, it seemed only fair that a fire would steal Charlie’s family from him. He’d succeeded with the death of one of his daughters. That violinist didn’t burn to death, but she still died.
One Swan down … three to go.
In the apartment, the door slammed open. Renee turned to see who was coming in, praying it was someone who could help.
“I picked up as much as I could, Aro,” came a male voice. “My credit card is maxed out, man.”
“With the chemicals, it won’t take much,” Aro said, his voice raspy as he met up with the man who came into the apartment. “I’m just eager to see these women burn to a crisp. Make Chief Swan feel the same pain that I felt when I found out my brother was dead.”
“If you really want him to pay, we could have more fun with them,” the man said as he stepped from behind a support beam.
“Peter?” Bella asked. She could barely see him. Aro had used her face as a punching bag and his prosthetic hand was hard.
“Yeah, bitch,” Peter snapped. “Your daddy dearest embarrassed the hell out of me and blacklisted me that night at the benefit. Rose was teasing me all night. I was only telling her what I wanted. Fucking asshole. Perhaps, you’ll be more than eager to oblige. I bet your pussy is nice and tight.”
“Enough,” Aro growled. “No fucking.”
“Just because you can’t have sex doesn’t mean that I should be denied my prize,” Peter purred, looking at Bella. She was sitting on the ground, next to her mother. “Cullen gets to fuck you any time he wants. I just want a taste.”
“Over my rotting corpse, Peter,” Bella sneered. “You will not touch me.”
Peter backhanded Bella, picking her up and slamming her against the wall. “I’m touching you now, you cunt.” His hand moved to just above her sex and Bella kneed him in the balls. He dropped her, cupping his family jewels. “You’ll pay for that.”
Aro watched the interaction, but in his mind he was having a conversation with his brother. “Brother, you may be mad about my death, but this is going too far. Mom’s drinking got worse after she was raped,” Marcus said. “Make him stop.”
“You’re right, Marcus,” Aro sneered. “Peter has fulfilled his usefulness.”
“Shoot him. Make it quick. Don’t let him suffer. Yes, he’s an asshole, but …” Marcus commanded, standing next to Peter, who was still hunched over. “In the head. And, perhaps the cock?”
Aro took out the gun and he cocked the hammer. “You leave me no choice, Peter. I said no fucking.” Without batting an eyelash, not that he had any, he shot Peter in the face. He collapsed onto the ground, blood spilling from the head wound. With another shot to his crotch, Aro looked at Bella and Renee. Both of their faces were pale, shocked at his callous disregard for life. “I may be a monster, but I do not condone rape.” He picked up some duct tape, tossing it to Bella. “Tie your mother up. Over there.”
There were two chairs in the center of the condo, overlooking Puget Sound. It was a beautiful view, but this was not the time to think about the view.
“Now! Isabella!” Aro sneered.
“Come on, Mom,” Bella said, helping her mother to her feet. Renee, thankfully, had been spared Aro’s ire. She’d been tossed against the wall, but Bella was the one who got the beating. They walked to the chair.
“Around her feet and arms,” Aro said. “Tight, not too loose.”
“Make sure you watch them, Aro. The younger one is a fighter,” Marcus whispered in Aro’s ear.
Aro walked to where Bella was taping her mother to the chair. Tears were streaming down her cheeks as her hands shakily handled the duct tape. “Tighter.”
“If it’s any tighter, she’ll lose feeling in her extremities,” Bella argued.
Using his good hand, Aro tugged Bella back by her hair and snarled in her ear. “I don’t fucking care. Make the tape tighter, bitch.”
He pushed her forward and she fell onto her hands. She crumbled as she heard a sickening crunch in her left wrist. She cried out, sitting on her ass and cradling her hand.
“Bella,” Renee sobbed. “Are you okay?”
She bit her lip, nodding and went back to taping her mother up on the chair. She struggled since she knew she broke her wrist. When she finished, she stood up and glowered at the disfigured man who huddled in the shadows.
“Sit down, bitch,” Aro snapped. Bella sat down in the chair behind her mother, trying to figure out a way to diffuse the situation. “Tie up your legs.”
Bella did the best she could with her throbbing hand. When she was done, Aro strapped her hands to the chair and clumsily tied her up. As he did that, she got a closer look at him. His skin was melted off. One eye was covered by a patch and the other was so damaged with cataracts. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” Bella whispered. “We can help you. I can help you. I’m a doctor.”
Like a viper strike, he used the gun to pistol whip her temple. “Shut. Up.”
Bella whimpered as the gun caused her skin to tear open and blood dripped down her cheek. She watched him as he paced, talking to himself.
“I’m going to make it right, Marcus. What should I do next?” he asked the apparition of his long-dead brother. “You were always the smarter one.”
“Make a call to Swan. You have their phones. You’ve already texted their loved ones,” Marcus said, shrugging. “In order for him to feel your pain, they need to watch them die. Watch as their flesh blisters and burns. Listen to their screams. I screamed for you, Aro. I tried to get to you that night. The door wouldn’t open, brother. I didn’t want to lose you. I didn’t want to die.”
“I know, Marcus. I failed you,” Aro said, pulling out one of the phones he’d taken from the two women. “I’m going to make it right. I have to.” He shook his head, stuffing it back into his pocket and grabbing the chemicals that Peter had picked up. He put the cans around the women, opening them up. With a scowl, he took out the phone and thrust it to Renee. “Dial your worthless husband.”
“I can’t. The bindings are too tight,” Renee answered shakily. “I can use my finger to open the phone and you can dial him.”
Aro grunted, using her thumb to open the phone and he found Charlie’s contact information. He took a photo of the women, sending it to the number before calling Charlie. Making sure that the phone was on speaker, he stared out the window.
“Swan,” Charlie answered gruffly.
“Check your text messages,” Aro hissed. “I have your wife and daughter.”
“What’s that shit around them?” Charlie snapped.
“Everything I need to make them burn to a crisp, like you did to my brother, Swan,” Aro yelled. “Your lazy ass didn’t save him and now, your lazy ass won’t save your wife and remaining child.”
“Aro, don’t hurt them. They’re innocent,” Charlie pleaded.
“So was Marcus,” Aro screamed. “He was the good brother. He was the one who had a way out until you killed him! He should have had a future. He didn’t deserve to fucking die. Now? Your wife, your children … they’re going to die and you’re going to live with the pain of being left behind.”
“Please, don’t,” Charlie cried. “What can I do to make this right?”
“Bring back my brother,” Aro rasped.
“You know that’s not possible, Aro. I’m gone. I’m still with you … but I can’t come back. Zombies aren’t really a thing,” Marcus quipped in his mind.
“You’re not funny, Marcus,” Aro grumbled.
“What did you say?” Charlie asked.
“Nothing. Come to The Stockyards with Isabella’s boyfriend,” Aro said, narrowing his remaining eye. “Alone. If you don’t come alone, your wife and daughter will meet their maker, dying the same way my brother did. You have a half hour before I warm my hands on their funeral pyre.” He didn’t wait for a response before hanging up.
He tossed the phone onto the floor and he began his ritual before starting the fires. He organized the cans according to their flammability around Renee and Bella. He checked and rechecked his lighter. As he fumbled around the apartment, he didn’t see as one of the cans fell onto the floor and its contents spilled onto the concrete, settling around Peter’s body.
“Aro, I know that you’re in pain. You’re struggling with reality. Fuck, you’re talking to a ghost,” Marcus said. “Is this what you really want to do?”
“I’ve killed, Marcus. First, Angela and then that little faggot at the coffee shop,” Aro said. “God, he wouldn’t shut up!”
“Don’t forget your partner,” Marcus said wryly, crouching over Peter. “You’ve avenged my death, brother.”
“No, I didn’t! Charlie Swan killed you. He ignored you,” Aro ranted.
“He fucking saved you, idiot!” Marcus argued. “If it weren’t for Charlie Swan, you’d be with me, six feet under.”
“I couldn’t even have a funeral for you, Marcus. I had no money and you were cremated … not that there was a lot left,” Aro said sadly. “I don’t have a way to remember you, brother. Instead, I see you in my dreams, in my nightmares.”
“In your reality,” Marcus said. “Aro, I will always love you. Despite what you did that night I died and what you’re doing now, I love you. You’re my brother, my best friend. You protected me when Mom didn’t give a shit. Stop this, brother.”
“NO!” Aro screamed, fumbling with his lighter and it fell onto the ground, igniting the chemicals around Peter’s corpse. Aro took a clumsy step back, away from the flames. Despite his actions, starting fires, he was terrified of the flames. He scurried toward the women, holding the gun. The condo quickly filled with smoke and the fire alarms went off.
“Brother, I forgive you, but I can’t stay here and watch this,” Marcus said, standing between the two women and the fire.
“I’m doing this for you, Marcus. I need you to stay,” Aro sneered, leveling the gun. “You will stay.”
The door was kicked open and a tall man with bronze hair and a turnout coat burst through. Charlie Swan came in afterward, dressed similarly. Aro’s plan was not fully in place. All the pieces were in play. “Like a moth to a flame …”
A/N: Dun … dun … dun …
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