I back up several steps and retrace the line.
I have to do this 3 times before I realize they must’ve taken him inside. There’s an old steel structure with an older rusted door that looks like it’s never been opened. It looks like it hasn’t been used in years. I don’t see any other options.
I wiggle the handle. It’s locked.
I shift my entire weight into breaking it open, slamming it open, but I’ve only managed to bruise my body. I could shoot it down like I’ve seen Adam do, but I’m not certain of my aim nor my skill with this gun, and I’m not sure I can afford the noise. I can’t make my presence known.
There has to be another way into this building.
There is no other way into this building.
My frustration is escalating. My desperation is crippling. My hysteria is threatening to break me and I want to scream until my lungs collapse. Adam is in this building. He has to be in this building.
I’m standing right outside this building and I can’t get inside.
This can’t be happening.
I clench my fists, try to beat back the maddening futility enveloping me in its embrace but I feel crazed. Wild. Insane. The adrenaline is slipping away, my focus is slipping away, the sun is setting on the horizon and I remember James and Kenji and Adam Adam Adam and Warner’s hands on my body and his lips on my mouth and his tongue tasting my neck and all the blood
and I do something stupid.
I punch the door.
In one instant my mind catches up to my muscle and I brace myself for the impact of steel on skin, ready to feel the agony of shattering every bone in my right arm. But my fist flies through 12 inches of steel like it’s made of butter. I’m stunned. I harness the same volatile energy and kick my foot through the door. I use my hands to rip the steel to shreds, clawing my way through the metal like a wild animal.
It’s incredible. Exhilarating. Completely feral.
This must be how I broke through the concrete in Warner’s torture chamber. Which means I still have no idea how I broke through the concrete in Warner’s torture chamber.
I climb through the hole I’ve created and slip into the shadows. It’s not hard. The entire place is cloaked in darkness. There are no lights, no sounds of machines or electricity. Just another abandoned warehouse left to the elements.
I check the floors but there’s no sign of blood. My heart soars and plummets at the same time. I need him to be okay. I need him to be alive. Adam is not dead. He can’t be.
Adam promised James he’d come back for him.
He’d never break that promise.
I move slowly at first, wary, worried that there might be soldiers around, but it doesn’t take long for me to realize there’s no sound of life in this building. I decide to run.
I tuck caution in my pocket and hope I can reach for it if I need to. I’m flying through doors, spinning around turns, drinking in every detail. This building wasn’t just a warehouse. It was a factory.
Old machines clutter the walls, conveyor belts are frozen in place, thousands of boxes of inventory stacked precariously in tall heaps. I hear a small breath, a stifled cough.
I’m bolting through a set of swinging double doors, searching out the feeble sound, fighting to focus on the tiniest details. I strain my ears and hear it again.
Heavy, labored breathing.
The closer I get, the more clearly I can hear him. It has to be him. My gun is up and aimed to fire, my eyes careful now, anticipating attackers. My legs move swiftly, easily, silently. I nearly shoot a shadow the boxes have cast on the floor. I take a steadying breath. Round another corner.
And nearly collapse.
Adam is hanging from bound wrists, shirtless, bloodied and bruised everywhere. His head is bent, his neck limp, his left leg drenched in blood despite the tourniquet wrapped around his thigh. I don’t know how long the weight of his entire body has been hanging from his wrists. I’m surprised he hasn’t dislocated his shoulders. He must still be fighting to hold on.
The rope wrapped around his wrists is attached to some kind of metal rod running across the ceiling. I look more closely and realize the rod is a part of a conveyor belt. That Adam is on a conveyor belt.
That this isn’t just a factory.
It’s a slaughterhouse.
I’m too poor to afford the luxury of hysteria right now.
I need to find a way to get him down, but I’m afraid to approach. My eyes search the space, certain that there are guards around here somewhere, soldiers prepared for this kind of ambush. But then it occurs to me that perhaps I was never really considered a threat. Not if Warner managed to drag me away.
No one would expect to find me here.
I climb onto the conveyor belt and Adam tries to lift his head. I have to be careful not to look too closely at his wounds, not to let my imagination cripple me. Not here. Not now.
“Adam . . . ?”
His head snaps up with a sudden burst of energy. His eyes find me. His face is almost unscathed; there are only minor cuts and bruises to account for. Focusing on the familiar gives me a modicum of calm.
“I need to cut you down—”
“Jesus, Juliette—how did you find me?” He coughs. Wheezes. Takes a tight breath.
“Later.” I reach up to touch his face. “I’ll tell you everything later. First, I need to find a knife.”
“In”—he swallows—“in my pants—”
I reach for his pocket and he shakes his head. I look up. “Where—”
“There’s an inside pocket in my pants—”
I practically rip his clothes off. There’s a small pocket sewn into the lining of his cargo pants. I slip my hand inside and retrieve a compact pocketknife. A butterfly knife. I’ve seen these before.
I start stacking boxes on the conveyor belt. Climb my way up and hope to God I know what I’m doing. The knife is extremely sharp, and it works quickly to undo the bindings. I realize a little belatedly that the rope holding him together is the same cord we used to escape.
Adam is cut free. I’m climbing down, refolding the knife and tucking it into my pocket. I don’t know how I’m going to get Adam out of here. His wrists are rubbed raw, bleeding, his body pounded into one piece of pain, his leg bloodied through with a bullet.
He nearly falls over.
I try to hold on as tenderly as possible, try to hold him close as best I can without hurting him. He doesn’t say a word about the pain, tries so hard to hide the fact that he’s having trouble breathing. He’s wincing against the torture of it all, but doesn’t whisper a word of complaint. “I can’t believe you found me,” is all he says.
And I know I shouldn’t. I know now isn’t the time. I know it’s impractical. But I kiss him anyway.
“You are not going to die,” I tell him. “We are going to get out of here. We are going to steal a car. We are going to find James and Kenji. And then we’re going to get safe.”
He stares at me. “Kiss me again,” he says.
And I do.
It takes a lifetime to make it back to the door. Adam had been buried deep in the recesses of this building, and finding our way to the front is even more difficult than I expected. Adam is trying so hard, moving as fast as he can, but he still isn’t fast at all. “They said Warner wanted to kill me himself,” he explains. “That he shot me in the leg on purpose, just to disable me. It gave him a chance to drag you away and come back for me later. Apparently his plan was to torture me to death.” He winces. “He said he wanted to enjoy it. Didn’t want to rush through killing me.” A hard laugh. A short cough.
His hands on my body his hands on my body his hands on my body
“So they just tied you up and abandoned you here?”
“They said no one would ever find me. They said the building is made entirely of concrete and reinforced steel and no one can break in. Warner was supposed to come back for me when he was ready.” He stops. Looks at me. “God, I’m so happy you’re okay.”
I offer him a smile. Try to keep my organs from falling out. Hope the holes in my head aren’t showing.
He pauses when we reach the door. The metal is a mangled mess. It looks like a wild animal attacked it and lost. “How did you—”
“I don’t know,” I admit. Try to shrug, be indifferent. “I just punched it.”
“You just punched it.”
“And kicked it a little.”
He’s smiling and I want to sob into his arms. I have to focus on his face. I can’t let my eyes digest the travesty of his body.
“Come on,” I tell him. “Let’s go do something illegal.”
I leave Adam in the shadows and dart up to the edge of the main road, searching for abandoned vehicles. We have to travel up 3 different side streets until we finally find one.
“How are you holding up?” I ask him, afraid to hear the answer.
He presses his lips together. Does something that looks like a nod. “Okay.”
That’s not good.
It’s pitch-black, not a single street lamp in sight. This is good. Also bad. It gives me an extra edge, but makes me extra vulnerable to attack. I have to be careful. I tiptoe up to the car.
I’m fully prepared to smash the glass open, but check the handle first. Just in case.
The door is unlocked.
The keys are in the ignition.
There’s a bag of groceries in the backseat.
Someone must’ve panicked at the sound of the alarm and unexpected curfew. They must’ve dropped everything and run for cover. Unbelievable. This would be absolutely perfect if I had any idea how to drive.
I run back for Adam and help him hobble into the passenger side. As soon as he sits down I can tell just how much pain he’s in. Bending his body in any way at all. Putting pressure on his ribs. Straining his muscles. “It’s okay,” he tells me, he lies to me. “I can’t stand on my feet for much longer.”
I reach into the back and rummage through the grocery bags. There’s real food inside. Not just strange bouillon cubes designed to go into Automats, but fruit and vegetables. Even Warner never gave us bananas.
I hand the yellow fruit to Adam. “Eat this.”
“I don’t think I can eat—” He pauses. Stares at the form in his hands. “Is this what I think it is?”
“I think so.”
We don’t have time to process the impossibility. I peel it open for him. Encourage him to take a small bite. I hope it’s a good thing. I heard bananas have potassium. I hope he can keep it down.
I try to focus on the machine under my feet.
“How long do you think we’ll have until Warner finds us?” Adam asks.
I take a few bites of oxygen. “I don’t know.”
A pause. “How did you get away from him . . . ?”
I’m staring straight out the windshield when I answer. “I shot him.”
“No.” Surprise. Awe. Amazement.
I show him Warner’s gun. It has a special engraving in the hilt.