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TORTURE ME_ The Bandits MC

By:Leah Wilde & Ada Stone

Chapter One

The city’s horizon was alight with a bloody sunrise. Gage couldn’t take his eyes off it, no matter how hard he tried to focus on the stack of papers on his desk. He usually wasn’t in the office this early, but he couldn’t sleep the night before. He kept waking up from nightmares and immediately forgetting what they were about. The darkness of his own bedroom and the loneliness of his empty house were too creepy for him. At least here, in the shared office space where he pimped himself out as a private investigator, he could hear his downstairs neighbors, a dental office, begin to turn on their buzzing equipment and loud televisions. It simultaneously annoyed him and somehow made him feel a little less alone.

Ding. The bell above his door jingled, jolting him out of his gloomy thoughts. An older couple, with greying hair and immaculately dry-cleaned clothes, stepped through his door, their eyes darting anxiously around Gage’s office. “Can I help you?” Gage asked, straightening up a little in his chair. He usually didn’t get business this early in the day. These people must have been desperate.

“Um, yes, hello,” the older man said, removing his hat from his head and holding it to his chest. He fidgeted with the brim of his hat awkwardly, staring at Gage rather than saying anything coherent.

“Uh, why don’t you go ahead and have a seat?” Gage said, gesturing to the two chairs in front his desk. The couple looked at each other, and Gage had a feeling they were silently debating whether to stay or go, but after a few seconds, the woman stepped forward and sat down, gripping her purse so tightly in her hands that her knuckles shone white through her skin.

They were quiet a minute, both staring down at their laps rather than meeting Gage’s eyes. An experienced investigator might have thought they were behaving strangely, like some aliens that couldn’t speak the language or something like that. But Gage had been around enough tragedy during his time on the job that he able to tell when someone was carrying a heavy weight around in their heart. Something was wrong. Very wrong. These people needed help.

“Who do I need to find for you?” Gage asked, cutting through the bullshit niceties to get right to the point.

His bluntness obviously surprised the man, who finally looked up and met Gage’s gaze directly. The older man had heavy-lidded, sad eyes—eyes that had clearly seen too much for one lifetime. Gage had a way with people. He could sense things like this. You sort of had to if you were going to be in this line of work. The most important questions never get answered verbally. That’s what Gage always used to say to his ex-girlfriend, Fiona, anyway. People don’t ever just say what you need them to say, Gage thought. You have to read them. The most crucial answers come during moments of silence. And this silence spoke volumes. Gage could practically smell the grief wafting off of their bodies.

The woman slowly began to unzip her purse, the sound of it loud and harsh in the solemn quiet of the office. A second later, she pulled out a long, thin photograph, something that had probably just been taken out of its frame for this purpose. The woman stared down at it for a second, the shadow of a smile playing across her lips before falling away. A moment later, she handed the photograph across the desk to Gage, who took it between his fingertips, handling it with care.

The photograph depicted a happy, smiling teenage girl with bright green eyes and a birthmark the size of a quarter right in the middle of her left cheek. In the picture, she was on a swing, her hair caught in the wind, her legs stuck out in front of her, ready to swing back at any moment.

Every time Gage took a case like this, it was like another tiny little shard of glass was shoved carefully into his heart, strategically placed where it would cause the most pain without stopping the flow of blood. At least, that’s what it felt like. But it didn’t matter. He knew he was taking this case. He knew where it was going already, even if it was important for the parents to explain it, to have their voices heard.

“It’s our daughter,” the man said in a low, small voice. Gage could tell he was trying to keep his tone steady, to stay calm for his wife, who trembled in the seat next to him despite the heat of the office.

“What’s her name?” Gage asked, staring into the eyes of the girl in the photograph, trying to commit her image to memory.

“Victoria Greenwood,” the mother said, staring down at her own wrinkled hands. “But she goes by Tori nowadays.”

“When did you last see her?” Gage asked, placing the photograph down on the desk so that Tori’s mother could take it back if she needed to. Instead, the picture sat in the middle of the desk, untouched. Gage would put it in his files later, if the parents left it with him.