Content Warning: Light violence
Henley really wasn't looking forward to starting the day. She didn't know the status of her personal relationship with Nick and was in serious doubt that they had much of a professional one at this point. Regardless, she wanted to know if he had heard anything from Lela, and it was getting later and later into the morning.
Unsurprisingly, Nick was already up when Henley emerged from the bedroom. He was sitting at the small table squeezed in the kitchen space, but wasn't really doing anything. He left his computer in the Texas house because C.O.D.E. could track it, and Henley thought he looked slightly lost without it.
"Any word from Lela?" Henley asked anxiously, not bothering to attempt any small talk.
Nick got up before Henley could finish her question. "Yeah, actually, she called me early this morning. I was just waiting for you to get up."
"What did she say?"
"Honestly, she sounded really shaken up," Nick said. "She didn't want to tell me anything over the phone. She's here. In New Orleans."
"She's in New Orleans?" Henley questioned in disbelief. "From San Francisco? That's seems fast."
"Yeah, well, she must have found something important, or else she wouldn't have bothered. And she wouldn't have sounded so nervous, she's really not one to scare easily. I'm meeting her in the city in half an hour."
Henley's heart sank. "You're meeting her?" she confirmed flatly. "So what, I'm back to being locked in a house for hours on end?"
"It's the safest place for you."
"Is it?" Henley demanded. "The safest place for me is a place that's run by the people who are trying to kidnap me?"
"Henley, please," Nick pleaded with her. "It's too risky for you to go around the city. I know for a fact that C.O.D.E. can get access to every security camera in existence, so someone is almost definitely scanning for your face."
"And they won't be for yours?"
"You're their target Henley, not me. It's not that I'm not a risk, but I'm less of a risk than you are."
Henley glared at him, mutinous. At Nick's desperate expression, however, her mind went back to the conversation they had last night. He hadn't been wrong about how to keep her safe yet, and there was no reason to think this time would be any different.
She relented. "Fine. But you better not leave me alone for several hours again."
Nick grabbed his jacket. "I'll be as fast as I can," he promised. "And hopefully when I get back, I'll have a little bit more of a plan as to what to do next. Remember the locks." And with that, he was gone.
Remember the locks. Like Henley would forget them. She huffed impatiently as she set the electronic security system before heading back to her room to change out of her pajamas into a pair of shorts and her hoodie.
She had no desire to read, and there wasn't a television in the apartment, so Henley was left to lie on her bed and stare at the ceiling. She couldn't focus on one thing in particular, and instead her thought bounced around from C.O.D.E. to her family to her friends in Berkeley to Nick. That last topic came up far too often.
Less than an hour later, Henley heard the electronic locks clicking open. Eager to know what he found out, she immediately got up from her bed and went into the other room.
"Honestly, that was faster that I thought," Henley said, walking into the room. "I figured you'd be another hour at lea—"
Henley's words were sucks out of her. The man coming in through the door was familiar to her, but that familiarity made her want to throw up. The man coming through to door was not Nick Rowland. It was Eric Henshaw.
Henley froze where she stood. Then she ran. Bolting back into the bedroom, Henley slammed the door shut behind her, although she knew it would do little good. Fortunately, she had through to put the lockbox in her room last night, which is what she was grasping for now.
Henley threw the box on her bed and opened it, and her fingers were just brushing the gun as Henshaw kicked the door opened and grabbed Henley from behind. She struggled, but then felt a sharp pinch of a needle injecting something into her neck. Immediately, Henley began to lose the ability to fight against him. She couldn't even scream.
Henshaw laughed in her ear, and while Henley couldn't move, his breath on her skin made her insides squirm in disgust. "You don't actually think we would give you the opportunity to fight back? We've learned that lesson. I'll see you soon."
Everything went black.
Henley's head pounded and her mouth felt bone dry. Every part of her body felt weighed down. When Henley tried to move her arms, she found that she couldn't. The same was true for her legs. Her stomach was churning; she had no idea how long it had been since she had eaten something. She had no idea how long it had been since Henshaw appeared in the New Orleans apartment.
Very slowly, Henley opened her eyes, which were as heavy as all the other parts of her body. Her head was bent down, chin on chest, and as Henley tried to lift it, her neck screamed in protest and the throbbing in her head increased exponentially.
The lighting in the room was dim, but still assaulted Henley's eyes to the point where she could only stand to have her eyes half open. As they slowly adjusted, she realized why she could not move her arms; they were buckled down with leather straps to the arms of a chair. She tried to move them once again and could only wiggle the unbound parts of her forearm. The restraints held her wrists firm.
As Henley slowly brought her head up and looked around the room, she coughed slightly. Her throat felt like sandpaper.
"Ah, you're awake."
Henley looked around for the source of the voice. It sounded vaguely familiar. She heard footsteps, and a shadow appeared in front of her. Her eyes attempted to focus, but her vision was still fuzzy.
"Hmm, I guess the dosage was too large. You've been out for a long time. Shame."
Henley finally identified the owner of the voice: Harrison Tayson. Having that piece of information to focus on, Henley was able to pull her brain from the swamp, and finally could focus her eyes on the man in front of her.
"Oh good, you're coming back to us."
"Eat a dick." Henley didn't know why she said it, but it was the only retort she could think of, even if it wasn't particularly clever.
She heard Tayson chuckle.
Henley's head jerked to the side with the force of Tayson's hand. The ringing in her head, which had just begun to abate slightly, came back in full force. She tasted metal.
Slowly, Henley brought her gaze back to Tayson. He had taken a seat across from her and was watching her expectantly.
"I can't imagine this is coming as too much of a surprise to you." Tayson didn't look too concerned.
"That you're an evil asshole? No, I had figured that part out myself."
Tayson sighed. "Are you planning on being this difficult for our entire conversation?"
"That's not the right answer."
Henley stayed silent.
Tayson seemed to take that as a sign of compliance. "But despite not being surprised in my involvement in all of this, I imagine you still have some questions." He paused, clearly waiting for an answer.
"Yeah, I do." Henley had to bite her lip from saying something else that would get her slapped again.
"Well, so do I." Tayson moved his chair closer to her so their knees were almost touching. "And you're going to answer them. Do we have an understanding?"
Henley mutinously kept her mouth firmly shut.
"I asked you, do we have an understanding?"
Henley gave him nothing.
Tayson let out an exasperated breath and stood up. He turned around and walked to the door.
With his back toward her and her head clearing up a bit, Henley was able to briefly take inventory of the room. The only source of light was artificial, so Henley had no way of telling what time of day it was or even get an inkling of how long she had been unconscious. Her chair was in the center of the room and bolted to the floor. Along the wall next to her, her cellphone and wallet were sitting on a table.
Tayson opened the door and Henley recoiled as much as she could as Henshaw and Randall walked into the room. Henshaw gave her a nasty grin as he did so.
Tayson turned back toward her. "I can question you, or they can. The choice is yours, but I think you're smart enough to know what would be better for you."
Henley's silence continued, but she also knew what would be better for her.
Tayson sat back down in his chair. "Now, let's try this again. I have questions, you'll give me answers. Understood?"
Gritting her teeth, Henley gave a jerky nod.
"Excellent." Tayson clapped his hands together. "But, I do think these fine gentlemen will stick around, just to ensure that our understanding doesn't go away."
Henshaw stayed by the door, but Randall walked over and stood just behind Henley's shoulder. She could see his knife collection out of the corner of her eyes. Swallowing hard, she returned her full attention back to the older man in front of her and tried to put Randall's blade collection out of her mind.
"Now, let's start with—"
He was cut off by a buzzing sound. It was Henley's phone.
Henley knew there was only one person who could be calling her on that number.
"That thing has been going off incessantly," Tayson complained. "Mr. Henshaw, would you please do the honors?"
Henley prayed that 'the honors' was smashing it into a million pieces and not answering it. She was disappointed.
Henshaw flipped it open and quickly put it on speaker. Despite the hopelessness of her situation, Henley felt a surge of hope when she heard Nick's voice.
"Henley?" Nick's voice was a mixture of terror and relief. "Jesus Christ, you scared the hell out of me. Where the hell are you? Why haven't you picked up the phone? I'm—"
Henley never found out what Nick was. Henshaw decided that was the best moment to interrupt.
"Your girlfriend can't come to the phone right now."
There was a second of silence.
"Put her on. Now." The panicked concern of a second ago had given way to cold fury.
Henley opened her mouth to yell something out, but Randall slapped his hand over her mouth.
Henshaw laughed at Nick's demand. "Well," he said, pretending to think about it, "maybe we can let you two have a short word with each other."
Henley had been so focused on Henshaw that she hadn't noticed Tayson giving Randall a short, curt nod.
Randall's hand disappeared from Henley's mouth, but before she could say anything, she let out a scream of pain and shock. Randall had taken out one of his knives and slashed the upper part of one of her exposed thighs.
Henley could just barely register Nick start to yell out her name when Henshaw slammed the phone shut, dropped it on the ground, and smashed it to pieces with his foot.
Despite the pain in her leg and increasing pool of blood, Henley's focus was on the spot on the floor where her now destroyed phone lay. Within its ruins lay what was probably the last time she would ever hear Nick's voice.
"Hmm." Henley turned her attention back to Tayson at the sound of his voice. He was staring at her bleeding leg, but didn't look overly concerned. "Doesn't look very serious, I'm sure you'll live. Go get something to clean her up, would you?" he asked Henshaw, who smirked and left the room.
He was back just a moment later with a towel and some bandages. Henley tried to squirm backward in her chair as he got close to her, but had nowhere to go. Her skin crawled as he mopped up some of the blood and then wrapped the bandage tightly around her leg. She hated the way his hands brushed against her bare skin.
Henley forced back tears. She refused to let these men see her cry.
"Well, now that that's over with, let's get on to the important business." If Tayson seemed upset, it was only at the fact that his interrogation had been delayed. "How long has Agent Rowland suspect that I was involved in the attempt to abduct you to blackmail your father?"
His straightforwardness shocked Henley. "Not until he went to the Houston office." Henley didn't want to tell the other man anything, but she was also very aware of Randall's extensive knife collection. She had no desire for another encounter.
"If he didn't suspect me, then why was he using my computer?"
"The lead you had about chemical transports. He noticed it wasn't on the shared server. He thought it was a mistake and was checking your personal account to see if you had input it and just forgotten to upload. That's when he saw the email account with the money transfers and agreements with these terrorists." Henley spat the last word out.
"Ah, my fatal mistake," Tayson said, not sounding particularly sorry at all. "I got called into another office on an urgent request. Computers really aren't my strong suit. Who else did he tell besides you?"
Henley ground her teeth together. "No one," she snarled quietly.
"And why was that?"
"He didn't know who else was in on it, if D.C. was in on it. He figured it would buy us a little time if you didn't know what he knew."
"Well, he was right. He bought you a little time. But not any amount in any significance."
"I have a question." Henley interjected boldly, but wanted to avoid giving any more information.
"Oh, I'm sure you do. But what the hell? Why not? What's your question?" The condescending nature of the reply made Henley want to puke.
"Why the charade?" Henley had been wondering about this ever since Nick had told her of C.O.D.E.'s involvement. "They had me. You rescued me. Why put me with Nick after that?"
Tayson's face developed an icy smile. "Yes, we had you," he said softly. "Unfortunately, D.C. got wind of it and ordered us to rescue you. That would not have been an ideal time to blow my cover, so I did as they asked. I followed protocol, which was putting you under the protection of an agent."
"But why Nick? Why not one of your own?"
"Well, that's the true genius of the whole thing. In a few hours, I'll call D.C. and tell them that I haven't been able to get into contact with Agent Rowland and that I think he's been a mole this whole time. And tomorrow, your family will get your hostage tape. Me and my team are in the clear."
They were framing him. "And because he doesn't trust D.C. right now, you're banking on him not having called them first."
"It really is a perfect storm in my favor."
"Why?" That was the other burning question on Henley's mind. "Why do you want to kill millions with a biochemical weapon?"
Henley wasn't really expecting a response. But Tayson's arrogance impeded his intelligence.
"Kill millions?" he repeated. He got up from his chair and started to walk back and forth across the room. "I don't want to kill anyone. I want power."
Henley stared at him in disgust.
"What do you think a government would do to stop me from dropping an artificially made plague on their population? Or a chemical agent that blinds everyone who comes into contact? Or something that does both? Of course, a demonstration will be necessary, but it won't kill millions. I think that's being a tad dramatic."
"Your father has the knowledge to rule the world, but absolutely no ambition. I'm providing that ambition for him."
Henley was sure of one thing. This guy was a psychopath. A murderous psychopath.
"How did you get to me in the safe house?" Henley decided she didn't want to hear anymore of Tayson's sick fantasies of ruling the world through fear.
He tutted. "Now, now, no need to be hasty. I'm sure the rest of your questions will come clear to you soon enough."
"Then what happens now?"
"Well, you know what will happen. I told you in San Francisco almost a month ago."
"So you're going to what? Film a video of me crying and shaking and pleading my father to build you a weapon so you won't, what? Kill me? Torture me?"
"How you appear on screen is up to you. You're welcome to cry if you'd like, but it won't be necessary. We'll make it clear to your father what will happen to you if he doesn't comply."
"And what is that, exactly?" Henley let the question slip out before she could stop it.
"I don't think you should worry about that right now," was the cold response.
Tayson walked over to Henley's chair and grabbed her chin, turning her head to inspect her face. "Hmm, that'll bruise." He was more pensive than sympathetic. He dropped his hand. "No worry, though. That can be covered up."
"You want me looking perfect for my movie deal?" Henley asked sarcastically.
"Precisely." Tayson looked over his shoulder and jerked his head at Henshaw. "You and Mr. Randall, take her upstairs. She can be fixed up there. Make sure her leg gets stitched up as well."
Henshaw came forward and unfastened Henley's wrists and then her ankles. Randall, still standing behind her, grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her up.
Henley's legs screamed in protest, a mix between lack of use for who knows how many hours, the drugs, and the knife wound. Henshaw grabbed her other arm and the two men practically dragged her from the room as she willed her legs to work and support her weight.
The stairs were another challenge. Henley could just barely move her legs over the flat surface but getting them to go up was almost impossible. Once again, Henshaw and Randall took little notice and simply dragged her along.
The top floor comprised a long hallway and four doors. Henshaw and Randall directed her into the first door on the left.
It was a bedroom, and a woman was already there. Henley's stomach dropped at the sight of familiar blue highlights in short, spiky hair.
It was Lela.