Lucas Reznik waited for the taxi door to open. The driver scurried around to the trunk to fetch his matched luggage. The cabbie had been angling for a generous tip from the moment he’d punched the address into the GPS. Lucas thought about the last remaining bill in his wallet as the car pulled away from the airport. The gratuity wouldn’t be lavish by any means, merely fair.
The Reznik’s palatial home lay on the other side of a tall wrought-iron gate. Lucas punched in the code to open a pedestrian door off to one side, dragging his suitcases behind as the taxi left. He’d considered skipping the academy’s start-of-school trip to Greece this year. He wasn’t really in the mood. It was better than staying home and having to navigate through the dark cloud that seemed to have descended on his family.
He strolled down the stone-lined driveway and wondered absentmindedly if his parents were home. The only vehicle parked there was the older four-wheel-drive they took to the house in the hill country. Maybe they’re out, he thought almost hopefully, an idea that was banished as soon as he stepped into the grand foyer.
Donovan and Elizabeth Reznik’s raised voices echoed off the polished floors from elsewhere in the house. Lucas sighed and closed the door quietly behind him. Sounds like the same argument they were having when I left. Ever since Nice… He knew that whatever business his father was attending to in France had gone sideways. Nothing had been the same since. They always ceased their fighting when they knew their son was within earshot, but he wasn’t naïve. Two of his credit cards had stopped working on the trip, an almost socially fatal event among his privileged classmates. He made up a quick story about his mother’s purse being stolen. That seemed to appease them.
He lugged his suitcases gingerly up the stairs, hoping to get to his bedroom unseen and unheard. Maybe if they thought he hadn’t arrived yet, his parents would leave for dinner and he could have a few more hours of peace before having to deal with them. The door closed and locked behind him, but Lucas could still hear them arguing. Their angry voices drifted in through the open window overlooking the city below. Must be out on their balcony. He overheard bits and pieces of the conversation, money and responsibility, even his own name several times. Lucas began unpacking, conflicted over whether or not he really wanted to know what they were saying. He was just about to stow the now-empty luggage in his closet when he heard something unusual – his mother’s voice louder than his father’s. It had become shrill and accusing. He walked back toward the window, not quite far enough to be seen. By the time he crossed the room, his father was speaking again, his voice low but menacing. The balcony door closed with a heavy thunk as his parents apparently moved their dispute inside. Either they’ve finished, or it’s getting worse. Lucas shook his head, glad at least to be shielded from the grating noise.
Their bedroom was adjacent to his, but the thick concrete walls prevented any sound from travelling through. When they had moved into this house a couple of years ago, his father had insisted on nearly demolishing the entire structure. Workers reinforced the floors and walls, added a draconian security system, installed redundant hookups to power and water sources, and built a vault-like panic room. Lucas could barely fathom how much the renovation cost on top of the price of the house itself. If we could only have some of that money back now…
He thought about his parents in the next room and quickly curiosity allowed curiosity to get the best of him. Lucas powered on the enormous flatscreen hanging on the wall. He called up the television’s network interface and punched in the IP address of the security system’s video recorder, glancing up to the corner of his room. Cameras in every room, Dad? Honestly… He tapped in the access code into the remote and a grid of video feeds leapt onto the screen. If you didn’t want me watching, you shouldn’t have used my birthday as the password, Lucas thought, smirking bitterly to himself. He singled out the camera in their bedroom, the image filling the screen as the audio connected.
The elder Rezniks paced around the room, trading mostly-benign barbs as Lucas settled back into his room. Half an hour went by as he unpacked, checked email and updated his status. The voices emanating from the television screen eventually became background noise, impersonal and unconnected. It was almost as if he was idly watching one of the boring American television shows his mother liked. The scene became suddenly real again when his father let out an uncharacteristic grunt and slouched into a sofa, staring at the ceiling instead of his wife.
“I don’t know what you want me to do, Elizabeth. It’s gone, all of it.”
“Of course it’s gone,” she replied sharply. “They took my Jag this morning, came right in the gate like they owned the place.”
“Another month and they will own it,” he sighed. “I haven’t paid the mortgage since Nice.”
“Oh, Donovan…” she began to sob. She dabbed at her eyes as she got off the bed. She walked to him, crossing her arms. “How could you do this to us? You know I’ve never approved of your… business. I’ve turned a blind eye because you’ve always provided, but now… you can’t even do that.” She’d stopped crying, the shrill edge returning to her voice.
“How dare you…” he hissed, “after what I’ve given up for this family?”
“What you’ve given up?” she asked incredulously. “For family? How dare you!”
Donovan bolted up and stood in front of her, leaning forward as the scowl on his face creased his skin. Lucas had unconsciously stood as well, his hands beginning to clench as he moved closer to the screen.
“We agreed not to speak of that again. Things in the past can’t be changed. It is useless to discuss it.”
“Useless?” said Elizabeth, now teetering between anger and tears. “I gave up what was left of my family for you and your wicked ambition. And what did it get us? A worthless plastic trinket.”
“That trinket would have paid for this house ten times over,” he said after a deep breath, “if they hadn’t gotten involved.”
“You stole it,” she said abruptly, “of course they were going to get involved. Don’t try and blame this on anyone but yourself, Donovan. If you—”
“Do not bring them into this,” he interrupted. “Our problems started when I joined them. They have as much a part in this drama as I do.”
“You could have stayed there,” she said, “made a comfortable life for us. A legitimate life.”
“Legitimate is simply a matter of perspective. Besides, I’m not satisfied with comfortable. There is more to life than comfortable.” Donovan crossed his arms and stared at her. “Power, influence, respect… These are the things that are truly important. You used to understand that.”
“Respect?” she said scornfully. “Who do you want respect from? Certainly not your family.”
He pursed his lips, holding back the wrath that shone behind his eyes. “I’ve built this for us,” he said deliberately, gesturing around the room, “for our family.”
“For our family? We’ll be out on the street in a month. Where will we go then?” She stared at the floor in silence for an uncomfortable moment, shaking her head.
Lucas exhaled and realized he was now only inches away from the television, the pixels representing his parents improbably still. He watched intently as his mother finally spoke.
“I would trade this house and everything in it to have my sister back,” said Elizabeth. “She didn’t like the idea of taking you as a partner, but I insisted. I should have seen it…” She glared at him, contempt entwined in her words. “I suppose that mistake is on me, but no more.” She blinked a few times and stood up straight, shoulders forward and chin up. “It’s time to salvage what I have left.” She raised an eyebrow and strode to a nearby armoire, throwing the doors open and grabbing armfuls of clothing.
“What are you doing?” said Donovan suspiciously as she piled her things on the bed, “Where do you think you are going?”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said coldly. “Away from here, from you. I’ll fetch Lucas from school and we’ll stay at the house in the mountains. Perhaps you can take some time to decide what’s important to you.”
His mouth curved upward into a sneer. “And what will you live on? How will you fill the Rover with petrol? We’re on the same sinking ship, my dear. Surely you must realize that.”
“You’re right, my love,” she answered, her disdain amplifying his. “I’ve been on this ship for too long. I think it’s time I called for a rescue.” She spun around and darted into the closet, returning with a suitcase in one hand, her mobile phone in the other. “I still have family, if only by law.” She began scrolling through the phone’s contact list, the purposely inconspicuous entry for z-Laundromat at the very bottom.
“Elizabeth… wait,” he said, palms raised and voice softening, “can we talk about this? You can’t make that call. They’ll trace the location of your mobile in a heartbeat and be here in two.” He stared at her, hoping the feigned desperation would convince her to be reasonable.
“I’m counting on it,” she answered, stuffing clothing into a suitcase. “You should know better than anyone, Donovan. There is always a way out.”
“Put down the phone,” he said, quickly dropping all pretenses of weakness. “The moment you hit send, our life as we know it is over.”
“I’m done with this life,” she said haughtily. “Perhaps it’s time you finally took some responsibility for your actions. Maybe if you go willingly, they’ll be lenient.”
Donovan Reznik grabbed his wife’s shoulder and jerked her away from the bed, her other hand still clutching the phone. “You know I’m not going to do that. I have worked too hard and too long for this. I will not ask you again,” he said, raising his voice, “put down the phone.”
She spun around and backed away from him. “Worked?” she said cynically. “You haven’t worked an honest day in years. Is that what you want to teach your son? How to go through life, satisfying your own selfish desires at the expense of others… You are a coward!” she yelled, “And I want nothing to do with you!”
Lucas inhaled sharply, frozen as he stared at the television. His mother continued to back away, never breaking eye contact with her husband. She held the phone between them as if it was a weapon. Her thumb moved toward the Send button as he riased his hand raised into the air. He lunged, swinging his arm toward her. Every muscle in Lucas’s body tensed as the blow landed, the phone falling to the floor as she reeled sideways.
“No!” he screamed, the pent-up energy channeling out of him all at once. The adrenaline began to flow as he watched his mother stumble and finally lose her balance. She fell backwards, striking the back of her head against the sharp corner of the open armoire door. Her body went limp as gravity carried her downward, her prone form collapsing onto the hard floor.
The rational part of Lucas’s brain asserted itself, trying to decide what to do. He glanced at the image of his father, arm still crossing his chest after taking the brutal swing. Lucas fumbled with the television remote, using it to zoom in on his mother as she lay on the floor. She faced the camera with her eyes open, wide and blank. He squinted futilely, trying to discern if her chest was rising and falling as it should. Her body was perfectly still, unblinking, mouth hanging open awkwardly.
Lucas sprinted into the hallway, knowing that this was a turning point. Half of him wanted to run, to get out and never look back. The other part had to help her, to do something, anything. He rounded the corner and threw open his parents’ bedroom door, the scene he’d been watching becoming infinitely more real. His father’s arm was slowly returning to his side as he glanced up and realized he wasn’t alone.
“Lucas!” he yelled, fiery rage still pulsing through his voice and flashing in his eyes. “What are you…”
“What have you done?” Lucas asked quietly, his face going slack. “Why aren’t you helping her?” They broke their gaze and looked down at the body lying motionless between them. Time seemed to slow as they stared, a small rivulet of blood streaming out her nose. It delicately coursed down the fine line between her cheek and mouth. Before a drop had even hit the floor, the flow stopped. They came to the dark, horrible realization at the same moment. She was dead.
They locked eyes again, each waiting for the other to react. A cold, twisting pit formed in Lucas’s stomach as the certainty of the situation washed over him. His body shivered involuntarily as thoughts flooded his brain, possible futures and unanswerable questions. What am I supposed to do now? Call an ambulance? CPR? As the adrenaline began to course through his veins again, an overriding thought dominated his consciousness.
Maybe it was the deepening scowl on his father’s face, maybe it was the cold, calculating stare that he’d become all too used to. Whatever the reason, he was quickly elevating to fight or flight. Even the small shred of logic his mind held on to was warning him, you’re not safe. One last rational though managed to squeeze through before his body took over. The panic room.
Lucas whipped around and made for the door. He heard his father shouting behind him, but his words didn’t register. Accelerating footfalls echoed as he tore down the hallway. He slammed the door to his bedroom without bothering to lock it. He glanced at the gruesome sight on the television as he sprinted toward the closet, a small, childlike part of him expecting to see his mother standing up, probably upset about all the commotion in her house.
He went straight for the back of the dark walk-in, parting a large group of hanging suit bags that concealed the doorway. He palmed the hidden panel and pushed, the wall itself following and swinging inward. He stumbled under the closet rod and into the room beyond, forcing the heavy door closed behind him. Doors on other walls led to his parent’s closet, his father’s office and a small storage room off the front entryway. He exhaled in relief. None of them were open. Dashing to a circular console in the center of the room, Lucas smashed a large illuminated red button. Loud clangs sounded simultaneously around him, heavy steel bars sliding through the hidden doors and into the reinforced cement surrounding them. Warning sirens throughout the house blared immediately, the noise barely penetrating the concrete cocoon of the panic room.
Lucas forced himself to focus on the computer terminal in front of him. His father had made him and his mother perform drills in the panic room every few months. He’d give them various scenarios and make them work through the proper steps, repeating the exercises until he was satisfied. Donovan Reznik was nothing if not prepared. He didn’t prepare us for this, Lucas thought bitterly as he called up the surveillance system. Once you activate the panic button, there’s absolutely no way into that room, his father had told him. He hoped desperately that it was true.
Donovan stared directly at the camera from the bedroom just outside, standing still and for all appearances, disturbingly calm as Lucas activated the inter comm. The wailing of the alarms outside played through the speakers for a moment before he found the menu to deactivate them.
“Lucas?” he said dispassionately. “We need to talk. Come out here.”
“What?” Lucas croaked, sounding far less menacing that he’d intended. He felt the blood rising into his cheeks, the prickly fear rapidly replaced with hot anger. He’s not trying to help her, he thought, knowing that it would be useless.
“There’s been an accident,” said Donovan with a forced calm, “your mother…”
“You liar!” Lucas yelled, substance returning to his voice. “I watched the whole thing. On camera. What you did… to her.” He trailed off, willing the shaking in his chest to stop.
“So now the question becomes,” came his father’s voice through the speaker, “what are we going to do about this?” He continued to stare at the camera.
“All the feeds are recorded,” Lucas blurted out, glancing at the grid of camera views, each of them with a small red dot in the corner of the window. “I could send the file to the police right now, have you arrested.”
“The police?” he snorted. “I own the police in this city.”
“What are you going to pay them off with?” said Lucas, “We’re broke. Remember?”
“Money isn’t the only currency, my son,” he retorted, the corners of his mouth turning upward, “you know that. In fact, why don’t you go ahead and call the police. They’ll help me deal with the body.” Donovan knew he had to overplay his hand in this situation, this was a negotiation like any other. There would certainly be unpleasant questions if the authorities got involved, but nothing he couldn’t deal with.
Lucas slammed his fist down on the mute button and screamed, a guttural, animal roar. He gritted his teeth as the tears welled in his eyes. He took a few deep breaths and singled out the camera’s view in his parent’s bedroom. Staring at the image, he knew that his family was destroyed. Finished. His mother, the purity that kept his father’s malevolence in check, was gone. He stared at her as the tears began again, the last few moments of her life playing back in his mind. He jerked upright, remembering something she said: I still have family, if only by law.
He shoved a hand in his pants pocket, hoping anxiously that he hadn’t left his mobile phone in the bedroom. He pulled the slim device out and called up the contact list, hands shaking. Scrolling to the bottom, he found the entry for z-Laundromat. If you ever get in trouble, she had told him when she’d given him his first phone, trouble so bad you can’t find a way out… you call this number.
He tapped the number and the call connected. It rang several times before a deep voice answered, obviously surprised. They talked for a moment without pleasantries.
“Is he gone?” asked the voice. “Can you get away safely?”
“No,” said Lucas as he glanced back to the other monitor, “he’s still here. And not happy.” His father had moved closer to the camera and was waving his hands, speaking noiselessly.
“Tell him you’ve called us,” said the voice. “He won’t risk getting captured.”
Lucas set the mobile phone down and toggled the mute button on the intercom, his father’s voice blaring through the speaker again.
“Are you even listening to me?” he said angrily. “We have a job to do here. It’s time for you to grow up, my son.”
“I made the call,” said Lucas. “I suggest you leave.”
“The police?” Donovan sighed. He didn’t want to deal with this, not today. He’d hoped his son would have made the right choice. He’s still young though. It can be forgiven. It would be at least an hour before they arrived, more than enough time. “Lucas, I told you that’s not a threat. Merely a formality, if anything.”
“Not that call…” Lucas interrupted, his voice deeper and colder than he’d ever remembered. His father heard it too, shrinking away from the camera. Just then, Lucas saw a curious glimmer in his father’s eyes, something completely unexpected but instantly recognizable. Fear.
“Lucas,” he said timidly through the intercom, “I know you haven’t thought this through. All these problems we’ve had are because of them. Certainly you must have realized, your little friends in Nice… they were simply using you. They’re agents, just like the rest of them.”
Lucas’s mouth hung open, his chin beginning to shake. He could have sworn he saw Mathew on the beach that night as he stood on the deck of the yacht, the grisly scene playing out in front of them. It was dark though and he couldn’t be sure. His brain had allowed him to disconnect the amazing week with Mathew and Elise from the trouble his father had brought on himself. Not since that night had the two thoughts linked. Those few days were the most enjoyable time he’d had, well… ever. Could they really have played him that easily? An angry lump began to form in his throat.
“I don’t care!” he yelled, a different set of emotions bubbling to the surface. “They’re good people, I know it. If they were… with them, they were just doing their job.”
“Good, bad…” said Donovan, glancing at his watch, “it’s all manufactured nonsense. The only thing that matters to anyone is power. How much can you get and how can you keep it… Right and wrong are only a matter of perspective.”
“Tell that to Mother!” screamed Lucas into the microphone, tears beginning to stream again as he stared at the screen.
Donovan glanced at the camera one last time and shook his head. Without another word, he spun on a heel and walked briskly out of the room. He didn’t even look at her, Lucas thought, a queasy fear covering him as he watched the monitor. His father made his way to the front of the house, detouring to the room off the entryway. He stepped back into the frame carrying a small black satchel before strolling out through the front entry. Lucas watched the screen as his father got into the old Rover and tore up the driveway. The SUV accelerated out into the road, quickly leaving the camera’s field of view. Lucas picked up the mobile phone and spoke.
“Okay, he’s gone,” said Lucas with a sniff. “What do I do now?”
“I’ll send a car for you. It should be there in about twenty minutes. Do you have a camera on the front door?” Lucas mumbled in the affirmative. “Good. The driver will exit the vehicle and hold a piece of paper up to the camera with your mother’s maiden name written on it. Do not, under any circumstances, leave the panic room until you see that sign.”
“Okay,” Lucas sighed and relaxed his grip on the phone. “Are you going after him? I mean… What’s going to happen to him, Uncle Stan?”