Love and hate
How much more are we supposed to tolerate
Can't you see there's more to me than my mistakes
Sometimes I get this feeling - makes me hesitate
-Love & Hate
Night air screamed through the holes and cracks of the old barn deep in the field off the side of the motorway and made the heavily rusted iron tools hanging from various fixtures creak and clang together like the ghosts of an overworked chain gang. Every fresh gust of wind stirred the stale scent of damp, rotten wood and hay and fermented cow dung around.
Ava frowned as she moved further in, clutching a bottle of vodka, prompted by Aiden and the groaning man slung over his good shoulder. She covered her nose and mouth with her other hand, holding her breath for good measure to lessen the taste of decay from settling on the back of her tongue.
“Do we have to do this here?” she grunted behind tightly squeeze fingers, “It reeks.”
Aiden dropped Junie on the ground in the centre of the barn floor, ignoring his howls. She flinched. “Stop complaining.” He turned in a slow circle and surveyed his surroundings; high beams, stacks of hay undoubtedly scattered around the floor by the rodents that hid within them, meat hooks stained with dried blood, iron chains, pitch forks, buckets with the bottoms missing, and… “Hand me that rope.” He grabbed a thick iron chain with a hook hanging from it from off the wall and looked up at the central beam above Junie’s body. “Perfect,” he smiled with steely eyes.
Ava shifted her footing, “Are you going to hang him?” she frowned.
His steely eyes snapped to her with a tone to match, “Get the rope, Ava-Marie.”
She stepped away from him and hugged the vodka bottle to her chest, “Okay.” She trudged through the rotten hay and skipped over thick clumps of animal faeces, stirring up families of blue bottle flies into erratic buzzing tornadoes that she swatted at and ran away from. Like everything else in the neglected vicinity that was able to collect any moisture, the rope was damp and rotten, covered with more of those disgusting flies, wound around a thick nail that had bowed so much over the years that she was sure it was glad to be rid of the weight. She grimaced when it made contact with her skin and heaved when the concentrated smell of decay flowed directly into her already abused nostrils. She glared at Aiden’s back.
He was busy flinging the chained hook behind him and launching it into the air over and over until it sailed up and over the top of the wooden beam. He furrowed his brow and tugged on it. When the beam didn’t collapse and take the rest of the barn with it he made a satisfied sound. He held his hand out behind him and tugged some more just to be sure, “Rope.”
She trudged back to him through the cloud of flies and cursed when her trainers sunk into a pile of dung she’d successfully avoided the first time around. “I hate this fucking barn.”
Aiden peered over his shoulder at her, “Complain again and your little boyfriend won’t be the only one tied up in this fucking barn.” His dark, steely eyes held her glare until she looked away. She shrugged the rope off of her shoulder into his palm in silence. “Good girl.”
She stilled, his infrequent coveted praise giving her a soft flutter of that warm feeling in her chest -for a moment -then scowled at him harder than before.
He smirked to himself and dropped the rope next to Junie, then pulled Ash’s mora knife blades out of their sheaths strapped to his ankles and calves and laid them carefully on the ground in order of size. He ran his finger tips across them, the way one would across piano keys, exhaled and smiled.
“What if he doesn’t talk?”
“Everyone talks to me. Open the vodka.” He sat Junie upright, holding onto his shoulder so he wouldn’t topple over and stretched out his leg. Junie groaned. “Pour it onto his knee. Not too much, we’ll need quite a bit of that for later.”
Ava edged closer and dribbled a small amount over Junie’s gunshot wound.
“AAAAAAHHHHH!” he howled, fully conscious, his eyes wide and staring at Ava, “FUCKING BITCH!”
Aiden grabbed his face and turned it to face him, making Junie suddenly remember that he was there and that Vince’s daughter pouring alcohol into his open wound was the least of his worries. He whimpered.
“Do it again,” he nodded at the bottle.
Ava was quicker to pour this time. Junie screamed. “Fucking bitch!” she spat.
“Apologise,” Aiden repeated, fighting the smile that played around the corners of his mouth. She was developing a mean streak. He could work with a mean streak.
“Good.” He crouched down to his level, “Now that we have your full attention, I have a few questions for you.”
“You think I’m telling you shit?”
“Oh, I know you will.” He picked up the smallest of the four blades and pressed the tip of it against Junie’s cheek. Junie tried to pull back, but Aiden kept his head firmly in place. He dragged the blade lightly from the corner of his mouth to the base of his earlobe, “Because all of those stories that you’ve heard about me,” he circled the blade to the back of his ear, “They’re all true.”
“AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH! FUCK! MY FUCKING EAR! YOU CUT OFF MY FUCKING EAR!”
“Yes, I did.” He laid the ear on the ground in front of the knives. Ava’s mouth fell open. The cut was so clean that it looked like it came off of a morbid Mr Potatohead toy. Aiden wiped the blood on the blade off on Junie’s shirt, “So that means that you have to listen extra carefully.”
“You’re fucking crazy!”
Aiden ignored him; “Grab his arms.”
Ava was still staring at the lone ear on the ground. She looked at Junie and her heart sank for him. This was just the beginning and it was already worse than either of them could have imagined.
“Why are you doing what he says? He kidnapped you and killed your dad. He’s a fucking psychopath.”
“He is,” she frowned at him, “But he’s never planned to rape me then take me back to someone who wants me dead.” She moved behind him and grabbed his arms, “Better the devil you know.”
“I was never gonna rape you_”
“I heard you!” She yanked them backwards, “You even had the audacity to laugh about it. So yes, I will help the psychopath. Whatever he does to you, you deserve it.”
Junie cackled and shook his head, “He’s got your head all messed up, girly. Yeah, I heard you moaning on top of the boot. He’s got you playing his little whore and you’re loving it, aren’t you?” he grinned, old blood and saliva sitting in the spaces between his teeth. Ava tightened her grip on his wrists. “You’ll do whatever he says, as long as he keeps sticking his cock in you. Stupid girl! You’re gonna end up just like that red headed bitch_”
Fresh blood exploded through the gaps of Ava’s open palm and down the side of Junie’s face, as a deep throbbing ringing sound sang between his temples. Slapping the earless side of his head seemed like a good idea up until she’d done it. It was all warm, wet, red stickiness and pieces of carved gristle and tender flesh that had come into contact with her bare skin. It was gross. It was worth it.
“AAAAAAHHHHH! FUCKING BITCH!”
“I will never be her,” she hissed. She pulled his arms back behind him and narrowed her eyes at Aiden, silently relaying the same message.
Aiden nodded. He was never trying to make her into Ashleigh anyway.
Ava was never going to let him.
He grabbed the rope, wrapped it around Junie’s waist and made a thick loop in the back then hoisted him to his feet. Junie screamed. “Calm down. It’ll all be over soon.” He lifted the loop behind Junie’s back onto the hook then took the end of the iron chain and gave it a huge yank and secured it around a vertical beam. Junie’s writhing figure levitated a foot off the ground. The barn creaked. “Let’s get started shall we,” Aiden smiled his most psychotic smile, playing into Junie’s description of him with glee. He stalked back over to the blades laid out on the ground, but this time he picked up the largest one. “Pay attention, Ava-Marie. You might learn something.” His eyes darkened.
The barn door swung open and slapped against the frame as Ava burst through it, running at full speed with both hands clamped over her mouth and water prickling her eyes. A loud scream followed behind her, then instantly muffled when the door swung back shut. She kept going until it was as faint enough not to make out where one scream ended and another one begun. She keeled over, beads of sweat rolled down her face and her hands braced on top of her shaky knees as she wretched greying clumps of chips and bile onto the grass. There was no way she was going back in there. She didn’t want to learn how to do any of that.
Another tortured cacophony of Junie’s screams floated out between the cracks in the building, long, loud and raw. She clamped her hands over her ears and squeezed her eyes shut, but when she did all she could see was Aiden’s glossy monochromatic red hands, armed with his beloved blades of his beloved, skilfully slicing away another small piece of Junie’s flesh. Junie had gone from not being as handsome, to being completely indistinguishable. Along with only having one ear, he had several finger nails missing, the tip of his nose was a flat, jagged surface with a beacon of white bone peeking through the highest point of the cut, no nipples and one eyelid torn away so that one eyeball was constantly staring right at her, trying to see past the thick stream of blood as he begged them to stop.
It was her job to splash vodka in his wounds whenever he seemed like he would pass out from he pain. She wished death on him as a kindness. She shouldn’t feel bad for him, not after what he’d revealed, but no one should be put through what Aiden was putting him through. There was no way Junie would last the hour, let alone the night.
Ten minutes later it was finally silent. The barn door squeaked, and Aiden soon appeared behind her, wiping his sticky hands on a grubby flannel.
She kept her eyes forward, “Is he dead?”
“Not yet.” He scraped darkened drying blood from underneath his nails with the smallest blade.
“You got all the information you need?”
“Yes. You should have stayed to hear it for yourself.”
“I know. You still should have.”
She imagined the bleeding eye looking at her again and shook her head to get rid of it. “What else did he say?”
Aiden was silent for a moment. He wiped the blade on the bottom of his shirt and tucked it back into the sheath by his ankle. “In the glove compartment there are a pack of matches. Bring them.”
She looked at him. His face was unreadable, his eyes empty, but his jaw was tight. “Aiden, what did he say?”
“Do as you’re told, Ava-Marie.”
She opened her mouth, tempted to press, but after what she’d witnessed him do without flinching or breaking a sweat, the urge shrunk back. She returned with the matches and held them out to him. He didn’t take them from her, and instead, turned to face the barn.
“As you’re aware, these were your Godfather’s men sent to capture you and take you back to him. In the event of your death, everything your father left to you goes to Chris. He was hoping you’d sign it over to him, but if you didn’t…” his jaw tightened.
“He was going to have me killed,” she finished for him.
“And pin it on me. The only person trying to keep you alive.”
She frowned and wondered if it would ever not hurt to hear it. That if after maybe ten more times it would sink in and the sting of the only family she thought she had left wanting her dead would reduce itself to a dull ache, or if she could just numb herself to it completely.
“Now for the stuff you missed,” his voice became heavier and he gripped the sticky rag, his mask of indifference falling away.
She stood with her feet together, her back ramrod straight and her chin jutting out, as if steeling her body could protect her mind. “How bad is it?”
Aiden shook his head and chuckled. A lick of ice slipped down her spine. It wasn’t an amusing sound. “It was all him. Everything.” His knuckles cracked as his grip tightened around the rag, “Junie says this whole fucking mess we’re in is because of Chris.”
She shifted footing, “What do you mean?”
“My brudda never stole from your Dad!” his voice grew louder, all elocution disappearing from his dialect like it never existed, “It was that dick’ead Chris from the jump. He pinned it Keegz knowing that your dad would react that way. The Mafia ain’t on his level, init. We’re ghetto trash to him. Couple of thugs from the block. That’s why he never sat down with me. He didn’t respect me,” He threw the rag to the ground, “He wanted to make an example of us instead. Keep the blacks in line.”
Ava put her hand on her hip, “I highly doubt that was it, Aiden.”
He kissed his teeth, “Of course it was.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m half black. My mum, his wife, was a black woman. My dad wasn’t racist.”
Aiden rolled his eyes like he wanted to say more but didn’t have the time. “I’m not gonna debate it with you, I’m just telling you what I know, init, and what I know is how some of them man move with man that look like me. I’m a fuckin’ serious guy, Chris knew that, and he knew your dad wouldn’t sit down with me because I don’t look like him. That’s where he fucked up, ‘cause I ain’t one of these hype yout’s doing road. I’m a proper fuckin’ business man,” he slapped his chest. “Part of being successful in this business, you’ve got to know how to find your competition’s weakness and exploit it. It’s no secret that I’m good at that. Chris knew I’d find Vince’s weakness,” he looked at Ava, “His weakness was you.” A lump formed in Ava’s throat. “He knew if anyone fucked with you, Vince would lose his shit. That’s why my brother is dead. My brother, your father, Sophia, Ashleigh, Yang, my…” Aiden took a breath. “Chris orchestrated all of this to take control of The Syndicate. He’s the reason we lost everyone we…everyone we…” his voice grew too thick to finish the sentence. He cleared his throat and pressed his hands into the prayer position, “None of this had to happen.”
She felt the way he said this. It was all too much, all so underserving and unfair for one greedy man to burn down a house just so he could stake his claim on the land. There were rooms in that house, filled with a lot of love and memories, and he’d selfishly taken it away from both of them. “He really planned all of this?”
“That’s what Junie told me. You’re the last person in his way, Ava-Marie,” he stepped closer to her, “He’s not gonna stop till you’re gone.”
That only left her with one option.
She looked at the barn, “Tell me what to do.”
Aiden looked down at Ava; her jaw was set, her small fists curled around the packet of matches so tightly that it folded in on itself and her nails etched pale half-moons into her palms, and a line of hot unmoving liquid coated her lash line. There was a fire in her that he hadn’t seen before; it made her eyes glow like embers and heat pulse out of her skin bringing colour to her cheeks. Like a moth he was drawn to her flame, ready and willing to be burnt. He took her hands into his and smoothed them out. “Stay with me,” he whispered, “I’ll take care of you.”
She looked down at their hands, hers soft and small, his large and rough, dried blood marking out the map of his skin. “I don’t want you to take care of me,” she pulled away and frowned at him, then to his surprise, she took his hands and showed them to him, “But I’ll stay if you show me how to do this.”
He cocked his brow, “To torture people?”
“Everything.” She pressed his palms together and lowered them, so nothing obscured her determined eyes from showing him how much she meant what she said. “Teach me how to do what you do so that I can take care of myself. All of it.”
“Ava-Marie,” his voice slipped back into his controlled version, “This is not the life for you.”
“Well I’m in it, Aiden, whether I like it or not.”
“I know but being it in and living it are two different things. What I do…what you want to learn…Ava-Marie, you’re too_”
He touched her cheek, “Yes.”
“I don’t want to be good,” she stepped away breaking their contact, “I want control of my life. Uncle Chris…Chris is trying to take the only thing I have left.”
“Ava-Marie, it’s just money.”
“It’s not just money! It’s what my father built. It’s what he left to me. It’s respect. It’s mine,” she yelled. “After everything that has happened I have no choice but to accept that this piece of shit world is my life now, so if I’ve got no way out I need to know how to do more than survive, Aiden. You should understand that more than anyone.”
He blinked at her, “You’re serious?”
“Yes.” She took his hand, and softened her tone, “If you promise you’ll help me, I’ll stay with you. That’s the deal. Okay?”
“Okay,” he nodded. “Your first lesson,” he turned her to face the barn then lifted her hand with the crushed packet of matches, “No loose ends.” She looked back at him and the once assured tension in her back flowed down and out of her as she melted into a puddle of nerves. Aiden didn’t make eye contact, “It’s okay if you can’t.”
She wanted to tell him she couldn’t. That all the rage she’d felt had dissipated the moment the weight of the task ahead hit her. Carjacking was bad, but it wasn’t this bad. It wasn’t burning an already brutally tortured man alive. It wasn’t murder.
“No, he won’t,” he pulled her towards the barn, “I cut his tongue out.”
He held the door open for her and she was met by the aftermath of Aiden’s torture session. “Oh my god.” She covered her mouth and looked away as bile swirled in her stomach.
“Look at him,” he ordered, “This is what you wanna learn, right?”
She peeked and instantly closed her eyes again. The scene before her was grotesque; a human being hacked apart and hanging from a rope, bleeding out with his missing body parts lined up in a neat row before him.
“I really don’t think you’re cut out for this.”
“Give me a minute,” she snapped. She inhaled deeply followed by deep regret; the salty metal scent of blood mixed with the damp and decay of the barn, rotting animal faeces, plus what she was sure was fresh faeces emanating from Junie, made what she hadn’t already thrown up of her half plate of chips, rise up into her throat. “I think I’m gonna throw up.”
“You should go.”
“No!” she bent over and put her head between her legs to halt the sensation, “Tell me how to block it out.”
“The smell? Afraid I can’t help you with that,” he laughed.
“Are you really trying to be funny right now?”
“Guess not.” He moved next to her, “Stand up and keep your eyes closed.” She followed his instructions, trying her best to ignore the resumption of the sensation. “The trick to getting through shit like this is not to think so much about what you’re doing, but why you’re doing it. Remember your why, and you can do anything.” He put his hands on her shoulders, “Tell me your why.”
“He was helping Chris. They’ve ruined my life and now they’re trying to kill me.”
“Good. How did they ruin your life?”
“They made me lose everything.”
“What have you lost?”
“My Dad. Max. My friends. My home. Everything.” Her chest tightened with ever factor mentioned.
“Okay. What will happen if you don’t kill him?”
“He’ll bleed out?” she shrugged.
“Or someone could help him, and he could survive.”
“Seriously? It’s highly unlikely_”
“But it’s not impossible. What will happen if you don’t kill him?”
She chewed on the inside of her cheek as the possibilities raced around her head. “He could go back to Chris, say he found me. Tell him what we know.”
“And what will that mean for you?”
Her eyes snapped open, “They’ll have a better chance of killing me.”
“So how are you gonna make sure that doesn’t happen?”
She opened her eyes with her why at the forefront of her mind, picked up the vodka from the floor and walked towards Junie. She opened the bottle and poured the remaining contents on his clothes and the hay beneath him, “Get rid of all the evidence.”
Ava-Marie Lockewood lit a match.
Thanks for reading, fancy faces! I've been focusing on developing Ava's character and I wanna know how you guys are finding her so far. Please let me know in the comments below ^-^
Love Scotty x