“Are you sure he’s here?”
“I do this for a living. Of course, I’m sure. Plus, it’s not like he’s not hiding. He has no idea we’re looking for him.”
I cock my head to the side and point.
“I think that’s the douchebag right there.”
Karma’s foster brother Justin, also known as the rapist, is loading shelves at a big box hardware store, and her biological brother, Lev and I are here to have a long overdue conversation with him.
It’s been a year since Karma walked into my life and settled into it like she was always a part of it and of me and this rapist, asshole is about to find out that you can’t touch or hurt what’s mine and think there won’t be repercussions, even if it’s years later. I don’t give a shit. Justice will be served, one way or another.
Lev takes the lead and I allow it because he probably feels worse about Karma’s rape than I do (as if that’s humanly possible). He had no idea what happened to her when she was sixteen, since by that time his crazy ass father had already taken him to Europe to become a part of The Consortium crime organization. But as her only living blood relative, he feels responsible, and he wants to hold Justin accountable just as much as I do. We just disagree on how to best accomplish that.
Now if this were a few years ago, Lev might have slit Justin’s throat without a moment’s hesitation, but Lev has been trying to get out from under the chokehold of The Consortium for years and doesn’t want to leave any more bodies in his wake. Evidently, murders in his world are almost like calling cards, and they trained Lev to quietly and efficiently take people out with a quick slice of the throat with a knife. The Consortium could track him quickly (and straight to Karma) if he murdered Justin like they have trained him to do.
“Why can’t we shoot him instead?” I remember asking him after he offered his explanation of why this would be an information seeking mission only versus a “kill” one. The fact that this man never paid for his crimes against a woman I would die for doesn’t sit well with me.
It never will.
“Remember when I asked you to be better than your dad?” he said. “I was telling you that because I allowed my father to shape and mold me into who I became, a cold-blooded killer. I wasn’t making my own choices or following my own conscience. In my work, I realize there are times when ending a life may be necessary, but then there are times that you can choose to be better. I want us both to be better.” I sucked my teeth in protest to choosing the high road when it comes to Karma’s rapist until he said, “For Karma.”
How could I go against that?
She wouldn’t want me to kill the asshole. She doesn’t even know that I remember his name.
“Are you Justin?” Lev asks in his heavily accented but perfect English.
Justin finishes placing a boxed lamp on the shelf and turns completely around, facing both of us with a tinge of fear etched in his forehead.
I shift restlessly between both feet because I really want to sucker punch this guy right here and right now but Lev continues talking.
“I’m Karma’s brother.”
My throat aches from the tension coursing through my body, constricting every blood vessel. He doesn’t even remember her?
“Your foster sister.”
“I had a lot of foster sisters,” he says without much effect.
“Yeah, but this one you raped,” I say through gritted teeth.
The two of us stare at him while he blinks his eyes between the two of us clearly trying to recall who the hell we’re talking about.
“You really don’t remember, do you?” I ask incredulously. “How many fucking girls did you violate?”
“I never raped no one,” he protests. “Some of those girls that came to live with us were hot in the drawers, so of course they’d make some shit like that up. Girls are always regretting acting like whores.”
I clench my fists and pinpoint the place right on his chin where I plan on punching this fucker, but Lev holds my arm back.
“There are hospital records,” Lev interjects. “And a police report with your name on it.”
“I never had no charges made against me.”
“That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” I say.
He exhales deeply as if we’re keeping him from something.
“What do you two want from me? I’m working. I can’t have y’all starting trouble at my job.”
“Is that right?” I step closer towards the loser.
Lev places his hand on my shoulder to quiet me down.
“This is what’s going to happen,” Lev says to Justin. “You are going to write a statement about what you did to my sister when she was sixteen and submit it to the police when you turn yourself in.”
“I’m going to do what?”
“Turn yourself in.”
“I told you–”
Suddenly, with an open palm, Lev slaps Justin across the face and the loud crack rumbles down the empty chandelier aisle, causing passerbyers heads to turn.
“You raped Karma Moore nine years ago and you’re going to pay for it one way or another. Now, I’m a changed man and trying to turn over a new leaf, which is why I’m not going to gut you like I would a salmon in shallow waters. Instead, I’m going to give you a chance at, as they say, redemption. And the only way of redemption for a predator like you is jail.”
A small smile spreads across my face.
I’m starting to understand Lev a bit more.
Between the two of us, we have the connections to make sure that everyone in whatever prison Justin is sent to knows why he is there. Men that rape little girls are not well-liked in jail, and it is inside prison walls that he’ll find out how it feels to be the hunted instead of the hunter. That may be a form of justice I can live with.
Still holding the side of his red face, the asshole suddenly has a moment of clarity.
“Ah, you remember now?”
His head hangs low.
“Da, now we’re getting somewhere,” Lev says. “So listen, this is your last day of work. Leave the apron with your manager and come with us. You have a confession to write and then my friend here will drop you off at Precinct 15 where you’ll turn yourself in.”
Lev wants no part of being seen at a police precinct. The Consortium has connects everywhere, especially in law enforcement.
As we walk a solemn Justin toward my truck, Lev asks me, “Does this plan work for you?”
I’m surprised that he’s even asking for my opinion. The two of us are very strong-willed and opinionated about what’s best for our girl, but I’m appreciating the effort. We have a long way to go before we’re braiding each other’s hair but I can see that he’s paying me the respect worthy of a man who loves his sister, so I should probably try to do the same.
“I rather put him six feet in the ground but I’m starting to understand the method to your madness. You want him to suffer.”
“Suffering is good.”
“It is good and to make it happen I need you to lean on your family connections. I can’t use any of mine.”
All I can think about is how scared my girl must have been when this neanderthal touched her. She was just a frightened kid in yet another foster home surrounded by people who didn’t give a shit about her. It’s a good thing that I’ve put my life as a bounty hunter on pause and am now working with my brothers in the family business because if it’s one thing that professional fixers have, it’s connections.
“Da,” I say in response with a smile. “I can definitely handle that.”
Lev and I may have a complicated past but we have one thing in common. We both love the same woman and want to keep her safe. That means closing certain chapters on the past including his. The Consortium will never stop looking for him. Once you’re sworn in the organization, it is a lifelong commitment. There is no escape.
“Once you stop running,” he told me. “The Consortium will eventually catch up.”
We both agree that while Karma may not like it, it isn’t safe for Lev to stick around no matter how much he wants to be there for Karma, and truth be told, I don’t want to see his ugly face all the time either. It’s time I close that chapter on my life as well.
“When will you leave?”
“After the wedding.”
“That could be a long time.”
“Find a way to push it up. Why make my sister wait?”
“Your sister has her own ideas about how things should go. She’s focused on the bakery. She wants the perfect dress. Etcetera, etcetera.”
“Make her see differently.”
I sigh heavily as I shove Justin in the backseat of my car.
I’m having a déjà vu moment.
Didn’t I just do this to another man who hurt my girl?
I hate to admit it but Lev just may be right. If Karma wants the fairytale wedding, I’m going to give it to her, but she’s going to get it by the end of this month so her brother can be there. I’ve just got a figure out a way to convince her sexy ass that it’s the best decision.
Normally, I’d squeeze the yes out of her in the middle of an orgasm, but the magnitude of this assignment requires a little more influence from another Masterson whom Karma’s grown to love.
“Hello?” The voice on the other line answers in more of a pleasant tone than he’s used with me in a while.
“Seven,” I greet my twin.
“I need you.”
He chuckles lightly.
“Don’t you always, brother.”