His ribs were killing him. Sitting on the cold stone floor, bare feet braced against the wall, Savan wrapped his arms around the metal chain lodged into the wall and pulled with all his strength. Fighting through the pain coursing through his chest, he closed his eyes, his teeth gritted and pulled harder. Jerking the chain, trying to force it out of the wall. The exercise was futile yet, he kept trying.
He lay back on the floor, his muscles aching. Staring at ceiling of his ten by six foot prison, he wondered what his captors wanted with him. He’d been here for approximately over a day. He had a window high up in his cell, and he could see that the night was going away now. It had to be around six or seven in the morning. They didn’t have Liang. He’d found that out the hard way. Fighting against the three guards who had brought him to this cell had gained him a few bruises on his jaw, his eye, as well as sore ribs. When he’d demanded to talk to Liang, those same guards roughly told him he wasn’t in-house.
That worried him.
With each passing hour, the possibility that it wasn’t Jiro Nang holding him was becoming apparent. Jiro was a coward who preferred to escape confrontation. His men always did their best to chase them away, as opposed to capturing him.
Savan thought about Cole. Closing his eyes, he allowed the memories of their short vacation to Cole’s home to fill his thoughts.
He remembered Cole’s ecstatic expression when he and Liang arrived at his family home on Thursday mid-morning. Cole had spent a few minutes introducing them to his brothers’ wives. Mika had even hugged Savan with a wide smile, inviting him to her home. It had felt so surreal, almost as though the Mika at work was non-existent, instead she was the pleasant doting mother at home.
Lunch that first day was fun, with Cole’s family teasing him mercilessly. It had been nice to be part of that. After lunch, Cole had dragged him away for a swim in the pool.
Savan remembered the feel of Cole lying under him on the wide lounge chair as they dried off in the sun. Cole’s fingers combing through his hair lazily, lulling him into a doze; he’d felt so relaxed.
Letting go of the chain attached to the cuff on his left hand, Savan wished that he could go back to that moment. That moment by the pool, dozing on Cole’s chest like there was no tomorrow.
Lifting his hand, the chain rattled on the floor and he winced at the reminder that he might never get such a moment again. Sitting up, he gave up on the chain, and instead brought his attention back to the cuff on his wrist. If he could get the cuff off, he might be able to break through the windows.
He was busy poking at the cuffs with a short metal rod he’d gotten from the springs on the bed when the metallic door swung open. Jumping to his bare feet, he stuck the rod up his left sleeve and glared at the two men who walked in carrying a tray and a chair.
“I want to see your boss,” Savan demanded. “You can’t keep ignoring me. I demand to speak to your boss.”
“I’m right here. There is no need to get all riled up,” a new voice said into the room.
Savan frowned at the older man standing at the entrance. The man sounded so much like his father. He stared at the scarred face that was looking at him with a sneer.
Hardly his father, Savan thought, a strange cold fear filling him.
The man was dressed in an impeccable black suit with shoes that seemed spit-shined. His hair cut close to his head, his left jaw scarred with a jagged line that disappeared into his hairline. Dark cruel eyes moved over him, and he felt sick at the sight. This man was not here to talk about the weather that much was obvious.
“Who are you?”
“That’s a good question,” the man answered, walking in and taking the seat the two guards had brought in. He nodded to the tray they’d placed on the table and smiled. “Have breakfast. You must be hungry by now.”
“I’d rather drink toilet water,” Savan replied. “Where am I? Why did you bring me here?”
“So many questions, you are a handful, just like they said. Sit down. You look like you could fall from exhaustion. I hope you haven’t been trying to escape. That window won’t get you anywhere. They sealed it on the outside, and the drop to the ground would kill you. The cuffs were your own doing, you fought my guards.”
“Excuse me for fighting back. You’re holding me against my will. Who are you and what do you want? Where is Jiro Nang?”
“Jiro is sorting out his own issues at the moment. I’ve been trying to meet you for so long, SarEr Nan.”
The man indicated the bed and raised a brow.
“Have a seat, I hate looking up while I’m talking and this will be a long chat.”
Savan glanced at the guards at the door and sighed when they gave him sharp looks. It was either he sat on his own, or they would make him. His ribs were too sore for their rough treatment, so he shuffled to the bed. Sitting on it carefully, he pulled at the sleeves of his jersey hiding his hands.
Looking at the man seated calmly on a chair before him he wondered why he seemed so familiar.
“What are we going to talk about?”
“You and the choice you have to make in thirty minutes.” The man glanced at his watch and his lips twitched slightly. “Minus fifteen minutes give or take, are you going to be good and listen?”
“I don’t think I have a choice,” Savan replied.
“Your friend, Liang is being held in a Ginza police station as we speak. Your father has arrived in Tokyo and is hell bent on charging him for kidnapping you. Since you’re missing, his chances of getting away from such a charge are very unlikely. Your father is powerful, and bitter, he wants blood for your missing years.”
“No,” Savan said shaking his head.
How could they, damn it, Liang should have been able to get a way. If Jiro found out, they were holding him—his eyes widened and the man across him nodded.
“Seems you’ve realized the other dilemma your friend faces. Jiro Nang won't let him live. Liang is going to implicate Jiro for your disappearance, as well as the murder of that woman.”
“What are you saying to me?” Savan asked.
“I’m giving you a chance to help your friend. If you agree to cooperate with me, I will help him. If not, then you should make your peace with your friend’s death. Jiro has already arranged for someone to kill Zun Lee.”
Savan lowered his head, his fingers clenched. He hoped Liang remembered he fail safe he had made in case Liang ever met Choi Yang without him.
“I have no guarantee that you’ll do as you say. For all I know, Liang is already dead.”
Waving to the two men at the door, Savan watched as one of them pulled out a cell phone and brought it to him. The guard pressed a button and there was Liang seated on a hard metal chair, his elbows cuffed to a generic metal table. Liang was talking to a bald headed man earnestly.
“That is a live feed, I’m sure you can see that. In fourteen minutes, someone is going to bring your friend water to drink, that water will be laced with poison.”
“Save him,” Savan said abruptly. “I’ll do what you want.”
“Just like that,” the man said raising his brow.
“I don’t have another option, do I?” Savan asked, glancing up anger brewing so deep inside him he could barely sit still. “I have nothing to offer. You obviously planned the outcome of this situation, and I have no other choice but to accept your help.”
“You’re right. You don’t have a choice.”
“So, why are you even asking?” Savan asked.
“Because I need your cooperation, SarEr. I can’t have you fighting me every step of the way. We have a few hours to go together, and a compliant prisoner is better than a fighting one. You look terrible already.”
“Thanks to your guards. They roughed me up because I asked a simple question.”
“From what I hear, they are just as roughed up.”
Savan glared at the bastard and shook his head.
“What do you want to do with me? And who are you anyway? How do you know my name and Jiro?”
“Now, you are asking the right questions.”
The man lifted the cover over the plate on the tray. He shrugged when he revealed a plate full of bacon, eggs and bananas.
“Are you sure you don’t want to eat this? It looks very good.”
Savan looked away from the food and closed his eyes. His stomach was empty, and as if to mock him, it growled at that moment, making the man laugh. He wished he could eat the darned food. The longer he starved, the weaker he would be. But, being drugged would mean his death, and he wasn't about to lose any chance he might get to escape.
“You’re so stubborn,” the man said. “The food is not drugged.”
The man picked up a piece of bacon, and chewed on it.
“Quite good, I have an English chef working for me, he’s very talented.”
Savan sighed and shook his head. Well, that changed things a bit, he could either play the fool, continue to starve or eat and keep up his strength. Hating the need for it, he held out his hand for the plate and started on the eggs hungrily.
“My name is Dao Ming Nang. I’m Jiro’s father. In another lifetime, your father was my half-brother.”
Savan almost chocked on the eggs. Coughing, he dropped the spoon and his hand slapped over his mouth, as he stared at the man claiming to be his uncle with disbelieving eyes. Swallowing his food, he put his plate aside on the bed before he dropped it.
These ridiculous situations in his life were endless. How was this supposed to be valid? His father had never mentioned any family, and once his mother died, no one had come to visit them other than their friends.
“Your grandfather had two wives: one legitimate, the other illegitimate. Obviously, your father was the son of the legitimate wife, while I was the one that was born on the other side of the tracks. It wasn't a secret, although father tried to keep us separate if he could. However, Choi Yang and I ended up in the same schools and we had to deal with each other. It was a delicate balance loving your father. He was a good brother through our youthful years, and we were friends. But, that changed when Ariel Lin came into the picture.”
“My mother,” Savan frowned. Why hadn't his father told him about this?
“I loved her very much, your mother. She was so beautiful.”
“How did you know my mother?”
“We grew up in the same neighborhood. We were neighbors, then friends, then more. I always thought she would end up with me until your father came along.”
“Are you telling me you’re holding me here because you were scorned?” Savan laughed at the thought. “That’s really childish.”
“Oh, laugh away, you don’t understand what it felt like to watch her walk down the aisle toward him with a blinding smile. I wanted to murder them both that day, but I restrained myself. In the end, they chose each other and I made my peace with it.”
Dao Ming looked at him with an unreadable expression.
“You have her face, more masculine, but really hers. It pains me to look at you.”
“Is that why you have me locked up in a room like an animal?” Savan asked, picking up his plate.
“No, that has to do with your father, and my revenge against him. You see, this scar I wear now, he caused that, and the death of Jiro’s mother. He refused to fund a deal we had made together. The consequences of his refusal led to a brutal accident that led to my new wife’s death. I survived the accident, but your mother fell victim to my pain. I made it a point to make sure that your father felt my despair.”
Savan’s plate fell on the floor, breaking into pieces. He stood up, fingers clenched. This bastard had caused his mother's death. His mother, who'd been innocent, all she'd ever done was love him.
“Did you have my mother killed?”
“It was a mistake,” Dao Ming said, his tone remorseful. “She wouldn’t listen to me.”
All reason evaporated and Savan was on top of Dao Ming in the blink of an eye. Punching him on the jaw, he sent him sprawling to the ground. Savan went after him, locked his arm around Dao Ming’s neck, he held him in a chokehold that he wasn’t going to release until the man was dead.
The two guards pulled at his arms, Dao Ming was gasping for air, Savan held on in a death grip like a feral animal.
This bastard had killed his mother.
If his mother had lived, he would still be in Hong Kong, a happy man, living a quiet life. This bastard had stolen that from him. Pain burst behind his eyes and he groaned, looking up, he saw one of the guards holding the chair up. He tightened his hold on Dao Ming’s neck as the chair came down again on top of his head and he dropped to the ground unconscious.
The next time Savan woke up, his head felt like it was splitting open. He was in the back of a van, sprawled on the floor, his hands and legs tied together, and tape over his mouth. Two men sat on the benches on either side of the van holding guns. He sighed and closed his eyes. He didn’t know where they were going. But he was going to murder that bastard Dao Ming the first chance he got. If he was to die, he was taking his mother’s murderer with him.
Cole sat in his kitchen staring at the note that Savan and Liang had left a day ago. Picking up his cell phone, he went through his call log again. He had dialed Savan’s number all day with no answer. It was almost five in the evening and still Savan hadn't called back, not even a text message. Going through his contacts, he dialed Liang’s number.
“Who is this?” a foreign voice answered.
Frowning, he looked at his phone for a moment before he returned it to his ear.
“Cole,” Liang’s voice filled his ear and he sighed.
“Where the hell is Savan? Why isn’t he answering his phone?”
“Now’s not a good time to talk,” Liang said.
He sounded incredibly tired, strained. Cole’s frown deepened.
“You guys left. Is there something I should know?”
“Everything’s fine, Cole. I promise I will call when I can.”
“I’m coming over.”
“No need, I’m not at the loft,” Liang said, a bit too quickly Cole noted, his suspicions growing.
There was something wrong, and they didn’t want him to know.
“Liang, if you needed my help, either of you, you know you can call me, right?”
“I’m well aware, Cole. Nothing is wrong. I’ll call you when I get to the loft.”
The line went dead and Cole felt a wave of uneasiness sweep through him. Getting off the stool, he grabbed his car keys from the kitchen counter and hurried out. He had waited too long to check. He should have gone over this morning when he’d first called Savan and gotten no answer.
On the drive to Harajuku, his thoughts returned to their last day at his family estate. He hadn’t wanted to leave his bedroom that morning. Savan had been so agreeable, so relaxed, that they ended up having breakfast in bed. They lay next to each other, simply talking, and then making love. It had felt like they were in a world of their own.
Now he missed holding Savan. Cole hoped Savan was feeling the same, which would mean that there was no way Savan would refuse to answer his calls.
Pulling into the Bovian Image parking lot, Cole found the salon closed. Ignoring the front door, he went to the side door. He ignored the elevator and went up the stairs to the loft. He stopped cold when he saw the double doors that were always closed half open.
Savan and Liang never left the door open, ever.
Cautiously approaching the doors, Cole peeped in and was stunned to find the loft trashed. He walked in slowly.
Books from the shelves on the wall littered the floor, paintings off the wall, some torn, others the glass broken, couches in disarray, he gaped when he saw blood on the floor in the middle of the living room. Panic had him reaching for his phone ready to call the police.
“How can I help you?”
He looked up to find Ahmon standing in the dining room holding magazines.
“Ahmon, what the hell happened here?” he asked in surprise. “Where is Savan? What’s with all the blood? Is he in the hospital? Why didn’t you call me?”
“Ah, Lucianne, you’re not supposed to be here.” Ahmon gave him a hard look then turned back to the dining table, placing the magazines on it. “I completely forgot about you. Will you close the door in case someone else decides to come in?”
“Where is Savan?” Cole demanded ignoring the order and rushing to Savan’s room.
The uneasy feeling inside him grew when he found Savan’s room equally trashed and all Savan’s belongings on the floor. Fear that something had happened to Savan had him rushing back to the living room where Ahmon was systematically going through the magazines he’d been holding on the dining table.
“Am I missing something?”
“More like we’re missing Savan,” Ahmon said dropping the magazines into a box at his feet. “Liang is at the police station, and you should return back to your life and wait for us to sort this out.”
“Hell no,” Cole said. “I want to know what’s happened to Savan. What do you mean he’s missing? Why would Liang not call me?”
“Lucianne, I’m warning you right now, walk away.” Ahmon kicked the magazines in frustration and looked around the dining room. “Liang is depending on me and I can’t help him if you’re distracting me.”
Cole frowned. Savan was missing. He should have checked yesterday, why hadn’t he? That stupid note on his kitchen counter hadn’t felt right. He should have come straight here, but he’d needed to show up at work since he’d woken up so late. Shaking his head, he watched Ahmon go through more documents on the dining table.
“What do you need? I’ve been staying here too. I can help look for it.”
If he could prove useful, they would have no choice but to include him. If he hadn’t come here, they would have ignored him, and he would never have known.
“What do you need, Ahmon?”
“I need you to leave,” Ahmon said in irritation.
There was no way he was leaving. Cole left the dining room, and paused in the corridor. All the doors were open, even the common bathroom, Liang’s room, Savan’s, but they seemed to have missed one. Leaving Ahmon rummaging in the dining room, he headed for the study he’d seen Savan come out of that first day he’d been in here.
Someone had pushed a flowerpot to hide the door, moving it aside, he turned the lock and it opened freely.
Cole entered the room. The desk had a few papers and a book, other than that it was clear. Walking around the desk, he sat in the chair and shuffled through the papers. They were shipping orders for hair products in the salon. Pushing them away, he looked through the book. It was one of those notebooks with dates like a diary. The notations were in Chinese, he didn’t know how to read it, so he put it on the left.
Why would Savan be missing?
Cole tried to open the drawers and found two of them locked except the bottom one. There wasn't much, just a bunch of pens.
“You are useful,” Ahmon said from the doorway. “We missed this room in the search. How did you know it was here?”
“It’s Savan’s study,” Cole said, holding up the notebook. He stood up, meeting Ahmon’s gaze. “I’m in this, Ahmon. I don’t care what you say; you can’t keep me out of it.”
“You don’t know what you’re saying. This isn’t—”
“I love him,” Cole said, shocked by the declaration himself.
He hadn't meant to say it, but now that it was out, he was certain. He did love Savan. He couldn't lose him.
“I don’t care what you say. I’m in this to the end. None of you, not Liang or you, Ahmon, is going to keep me from helping to find him.”
“Well, that is—”
“I suppose you’ll fit right in then. Come on, let’s see the notebook.”
“You won’t leave me out of this?” Cole asked, holding on to the book.
“Apparently not, I’ll even take you to see Liang. You might be the one that persuades him to talk.”
“Why are the police holding him? Is it the blood in the living room? Is—Is it Savan’s?”
“No, it’s not. Give me the book first, Cole.”
Cole handed over the book, although he moved to stand next to Ahmon looking at Savan’s notes. Ahmon seemed to be reading them without a problem.
“This is good stuff. Savan has marked dates here, places to make payments. I don’t know for what. It could be for the business.”
“You can read Chinese? Why is Savan writing in Chinese?” Cole frowned.
“That’s something I’ll leave for Liang to explain. I wouldn’t know where to start.”
Ahmon walked around the desk, keeping a death grip on the notebook. He pushed the chair away and gave the floor an intense look. The drawers didn’t interest him.
Cole watched in fascination as Ahmon stepped on the wood on the floor, testing it with his weight. He stopped when there was a squeak from the wood and dropped down to his knees. Ahmon pulled out a knife from his boot, one of those daggers that reminded him of army knives.
Cole suddenly realized that he didn’t really know much about these people. Savan had refused to talk about his family. He had only said that his parents were dead, and he’d grown up an orphan. Thinking about that dinner they had with Liang the week before, Savan had acted strange at the mention of his family.
Ahmon undid the wooden planks on the floor to reveal a large metal box with a padlock. The sight of it had Cole gasping in shock, and Ahmon smiling as if he had hit the jackpot. Things got scarier when Ahmon pulled out a gun from his waistband and ordered.
“Cover your ears.”
Too surprised to obey the man, Cole jumped in shock when Ahmon shot off the lock with precision. The sound so loud, it echoed through the room, his ears ringing, he went deaf. He could only stare as Ahmon opened the box. The cover on the box was wide, and removable. Putting it on the side, Ahmon sat back on his haunches and Cole moved closer to see what had Ahmon so happy.
Savan was definitely holding out on him, Cole thought in shock. His gaze fixed on the weapons in the box and the money in rolls, plus travel documents. Savan was either a gang banger or a criminal in hiding. The man he claimed to love was keeping secrets that required he hide guns in his floors.
“Cole,” Ahmon called waving his hand at him.
Ahmon’s voice sounded so far away, his ears were ringing again, and Cole shook his head and focused.
“There is no turning back now,” Ahmon was saying. “You’re in.”