AT THE BEGINNING OF the end.
Drip, drip . . .
Splat, splat . . .
Rattle, rattle . . .
Clank, clank . . .
Whoosh, whoosh . . .
Thud, thud . . .
“FUCK . . .”
Groan . . .
I tried to lift my head up after the second time the metal pipe smashed into the back of it, but it was too much. My ears were ringing, and blood dripped down over every inch of my face and splattered on the cold cement floor across my booted feet. I didn’t want to think about how deep that puddle was or how wide it was spreading. That was a lot of blood. Too much blood. All of it mine. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, so I couldn’t see the scattering of men around me as they took turns with fists and whatever else they could find to work me over where I was chained up to the exposed pipe above my head. I rattled the handcuffs—handcuffs that I used every day to try and keep this city in line—against the pipe, but knew I wasn’t getting free anytime soon.
The sound of a metal pipe dragging on the floor as one of my assailants moved closer to me had the last little bit of air that survived the last blow whooshing out of my lungs. The simple act of breathing made me feel like I was going to turn my insides out, so I squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as I could to keep these brutal bastards from seeing just how effectively they were breaking me with fists and metal. My body was slowly crumbling under the torturous onslaught, but my will, my drive to never let a guy like him win, would never break. I would die in this shithole at the hands of these murderers and miscreants, and no matter how much they threw at me, how much they tried to destroy the vessel it was housed in, my bravery, my calling to keep the world safe from people like this, would never be extinguished. I would never cave, never bow down, and never let a guy like Connor Roark win.
I spit out a mouthful of blood, the copper tang filling and coating every raw surface of the inside of my mouth. I managed to crank my neck up just enough to see impenetrable black eyes looking at me. There was no joy in that dark gaze, no victory that he had me exactly where he wanted me. There was no satisfaction. There was nothing but emptiness, a complete void in the place where any kind of humanity should live. I had seen that expression before. My little brother’s father had worn it every day for years while he turned this city into a rotting cesspool of lawlessness, debauchery, and mayhem. It was the worst city anyone could choose to try and serve and protect, yet that’s what I did with every single breath I took. It was a crumbling ghetto ruled by dangerous men and hard women, but it was my beat and its citizens were my dangerous men and hard women to protect. Many of them were my family and my heart. It wasn’t just my job—it was my calling. It was who I was. The Point had no room for heroes, but I was as close as this place was ever going to get to having one. Not that I felt very heroic currently chained up and beaten down, knowing this was the end for me.
I squinted at him through the blood covering my face, twisted my swollen lips into something that had to resemble a gruesome grin, and told him flatly, “Fuck you. You’ll kill me before I break.”
My harshly spoken words trembled out on the last little bit of air that was wheezing in and out from my obviously injured lung and then I didn’t think anymore because another round of beating started, and now someone had found a baseball bat and the way it connected with the outside of my knee made me groan and collapse, so that the only thing keeping me upright while the thugs tore me apart was my swollen and bruised wrists where they were clamped in the cuffs that were strung up over my head.
In a bloody and misty haze I thought I saw Roark shake his head, and when he spoke, the faint Irish lilt that colored his tone scraped across my broken and bleeding skin like a million shards of glass. He was a murderer, a liar, a criminal tsunami of zero regret and no remorse. He shouldn’t have a voice that sounded like rolling green hills and jaunty folk songs. He should come with a tail and horns and his words should smell like smoke and brimstone with every sound he uttered. Connor Roark was as close to the devil incarnate as I had ever come and that was saying a lot considering that I made a living chasing down demons and all other sorts of fallen beings that called my city, my streets, and my own personal version of hell home. I had taken on more than my fair share of villainous masterminds in my role as a homicide detective in one of the most dangerous, corrupt cities in the world. It was a place that was so bad, so dark, so lost in crime and violence it didn’t have a name . . . we simply called it the Point. It was the ending point, the breaking point, the point of no return . . . it was simply a place where only the strong survived and anyone else was bound to die trying.
The metal pipe cracked painfully along my already fucked-up ribs and everything went black on the outside of my wavy vision.
I groaned even though I was fighting to keep every reaction they were eliciting from me to a minimum.
“All of this over a girl, over a city that will never repay your blood and sacrifice. Really, Detective King, I thought you would prove to be much more of a challenge. She made you soft. She made you weak. All of the men in this city got distracted by their dicks twitching and forgot there was a war going on. No girl is worth dying for.”
I coughed and spit up another mouthful of blood and let my head fall forward as I gasped out a wheezing laugh.
“You can kill me. You can burn this fucking city to the ground. You can do your worst to anyone and everyone that dares to call this place home, but even after you lay waste you still won’t have what you want . . . a girl that is worth dying for. She’ll kill you first.”