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Hidden Truths: Chapter 8


I leave my room, or better said, cell. Mimi follows me as I head downstairs to see if there’s something to eat in the kitchen.
After six days in Sergei’s house, and two more failed escape attempts, I conclude that I will have to wait until I’m outside to try again. With alarms and remote locks on every window and door, and Mimi following me around nonstop, I have deemed the place escape-proof. Felix must have guessed my line of thinking because he told me yesterday morning that I’m allowed to walk around the house by myself. Probably because Cerberus is constantly at my heels.
Sergei hasn’t been around much. From what I gleaned when he was talking on the phone, the Bratva had some problems with the Italians, and he needed to fill in for men who were hurt in some warehouse fire. I couldn’t grasp all of the details. Regardless, I kind of miss seeing him. Could I be developing Stockholm syndrome?
Downstairs, I turn toward the kitchen, with Mimi trotting behind me, but a sound from the living room makes me stop and turn my head. All lights except the lamp near the front door are off, so it takes me a few seconds before I notice Sergei. He’s standing by the sofa with his back turned to me, looking at something on the wall opposite him.
“Hey, jailer,” I say and head toward him.
He doesn’t reply, just keeps staring ahead and lifts his right arm. A second later I hear a thump. I follow his gaze, and it takes me a few moments to focus on a narrow wooden board with a horizontal white stripe. It’s similar to the one mounted on the wall in the room where I’m sleeping. The light is dim, but I make out several knives lodged in the board in a perfectly straight line along the stripe. Sergei lifts his arm again, holding another small knife, and sends it flying. It hits the board right next to its predecessors, extending the formation.
My eyes widen. “Wow. That’s . . . impressive.”
“Thank you,” Sergei says in a detached voice that makes me look up at him.
He is standing completely still. Too still. Just like he was the night he was worried about his friend who got shot. I can’t see his eyes in the low light, but if I could, I’m fairly certain they would be unfocused like then, too.
“Sergei? Are you okay?”
He doesn’t sound okay.
I should use this opportunity to bolt. Mimi followed me downstairs, but when she saw Sergei, she disappeared. Felix isn’t here. And in Sergei’s current state, it’s possible he wouldn’t follow me if I try to leave. It’s now or never.
I take a step back, turn and head toward the door. He doesn’t follow. Only ten or so steps separate me from possible freedom. I’m wearing pajamas and my feet are bare, but I can’t risk going back upstairs for shoes. Six steps. Five. He’s okay, he’ll snap out of his funk on his own. Three steps. I need to think about myself. I won’t have an opportunity like this again. One step. I stop in front of the door and throw a look over my shoulder. Sergei is still standing in the same spot. I grab the knob.
“Fuck,” I mumble, turn on my heel and head back.
Carefully I reach out and place my hand on Sergei’s forearm.
“Hey,” I say and squeeze him lightly. “Can you look at me?”
Exhaling, he bends his head and looks down, but I still can’t see his eyes that well.
“Um . . . can you put away those?” I nod toward his left hand where he’s still holding two blades.
He opens his fingers and the knives fall to the floor. Good. What do I do now? He still seems zoned out.
“What do you think about my pajamas? I didn’t peg you for a baby panda lover.”
My idiotic question is what finally gets his attention. He lowers his gaze to scan down my body, then lifts his eyes back up. “They’re awful.”
“You bought them.” I smirk.
“Store attendant picked them out. She has bad taste.”
“I think they’re nice.”
“Believe me, they’re not.”
I expect him to smile after that declaration, but he just keeps standing there. I don’t like how still he is. Lifting my hand, I place my fingertip at the bridge of his nose and slowly trace a line along it, feeling a few ridges under the skin. It’s the only imperfection on his impossibly handsome face. “How many times did you break your nose?”
“You like bar brawls?”
“No. It happened during my training.”
“What kind of training?”
“I can’t talk about it.”
It’s strange how he can keep the conversation going while not being fully present. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what’s happening. It seems like he’s here, but at the same time, he isn’t.
I reach out and place my hand on his chest. “Thank you for buying clothes for me. Feeding me. Washing my hair.” I let my palm slide upward until it reaches his face, which is still set in hard lines. “Thank you for saving my life, Sergei.”
He shakes his head and looks into my eyes. “Varya bathed you. Roman’s housekeeper. I didn’t think it would be appropriate for me to see you naked,” he says, his voice sounding almost normal. “I just carried you to the bathroom, and then out when she was done.”
“That was considerate of you.” I take his right hand in mine. “I’m hungry. How about we go make me a sandwich?”
“Sure.” Sergei blinks once, but it’s as if his eyelids are moving in slow-motion. Then, his shoulders lower ever-so-slightly.
He’s back. I let out a breath and turn toward the kitchen but stop. Felix is standing at the front door, watching us. The light from the lamp on his left illuminates him, revealing an expression of utter confusion mixed with surprise. I feel Sergei’s body go rigid behind me. It lasts only for a second. He then lunges toward Felix, wraps his right hand around the old man’s neck, and presses him against the door. I gasp and stare at Sergei in shock. Felix doesn’t move a muscle, doesn’t try to free himself. He remains utterly still with his back pressed to the door, and Sergei’s huge hand wrapped around his neck, as if this has happened before.
I take a step forward, but then Felix slightly raises his hand, signaling me to stay back.
“Sergei?” I say quietly.
Nothing. He tilts his head to the side and stares at Felix as if he’s deciding how to end him. A low whimper comes from my right. Without taking my eyes off Sergei, I take two steps to the side and grab Mimi by the collar so she won’t interfere.
“Sergei?” I call again, louder this time, and sigh with relief when he turns his head.
Now that there is more light, I can see his eyes are still slightly unfocused. I was wrong before. He is not fully here. I steal a quick look at Felix. Our eyes meet, and he gives me a barely noticeable nod.
“Come on, big guy. You promised me a sandwich. I still need to put on at least ten pounds to look like a human being again.” I smile a little and extend my hand toward Sergei. “I don’t know where you keep the bread. Please?”
Slowly, Sergei unwraps his fingers from Felix’s neck and turns around.
“You’re missing way more than ten pounds,” he says. Approaching me, he grabs my hand and drags me into the kitchen, with Mimi following us.
“Ham or cheese?” He opens the fridge and starts taking out the food, his voice and behavior completely normal.
“Both. And lots of ketchup.”
“That’s disgusting,” he says and looks over at Felix, who is now standing by the dining table. “Do we have ketchup?”
“No clue.” Felix shrugs, goes to the cupboard, and starts taking out plates as if nothing strange happened a minute ago. “Maybe in the pantry?”
“I’ll have a look.”
Sergei leaves the kitchen, and as soon as he’s gone, I turn to Felix. “Are you okay?”
“Yup. Why?”
Why? Is he serious? “Because Sergei almost choked you.”
“He wasn’t choking me. If he wanted to kill me, he would have snapped my neck.” He turns to look at me. “I think he was keeping me away from you.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Was he having an episode when you found him?”
“An episode? You mean was he zoned out?”
“I think so, yeah. He wasn’t responsive at first, but then he snapped out of it.”
“How much time passed?”
“I don’t know. A few minutes. I asked him to put down the knives—he was throwing them at the wall when I came in—and then, I asked some nonsense about my pajamas. I talked some more, and he came back shortly after that.”
Felix stares at me unblinking. “He let you take his knives?”
“Well, he dropped them on the floor.”
Steps approach, and I look up to see Sergei coming with a can of tomato sauce.
“I only found this,” he says, then turns to Felix. “We’re running low on potatoes.”
“I’ll order a delivery from the store tomorrow,” Felix says as he places the plates on the table. “Text me if you two need anything else. I’m off to bed.”
I follow Felix with my gaze as he walks toward the front door, but before leaving, he throws a quick look over his shoulder in my direction. It’s rather strange, that look. Serious and calculating, and so very different from his usual casual demeanor. And, I realize that I’m not the only one under this roof who’s been hiding stuff.


The moment I’m out of the house, I take out my phone and call Roman Petrov. He answers on the first ring.
“What happened?”
“You need to talk to the Sandoval girl,” I say.
“About what?”
“We need her to come clean on why she’s here. If she’s a spy who somehow ended up with us, we need to know. And, she needs to be sent as far away as possible from Sergei.”
“And if she isn’t?”
I glance at the house behind me. “If she isn’t, you need to convince her to stay.”
“Stay where?”
“Here. With Sergei. At least for some time.”
“How the hell should I convince her to stay? Why would she want to stay with Sergei? Are they fucking?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“What the hell is going on, Felix?”
I stop in front of the garage and look up at the dark sky. “Your brother is not doing good.” I take a deep breath. “He’s been losing it more often in the last few months, and is barely sleeping. It started getting worse a couple of weeks ago.”
“And you’re only telling me this now?”
“You’ve had enough on your plate.”
“We had a deal, Felix. You should have told me the moment he started getting worse. I sent him into the field for God’s sake!”
“I thought it might help!” I snap.
“It obviously didn’t! Did he tell you he offed Shevchenko on Monday?”
“What? No.”
“How bad is he now?”
“Up until last week, it was really bad. But it seems as if he’s getting better since the Sandoval girl came.”
“She stumbled upon him while he was in a middle of an episode. Twice.”
“Jesus fuck. Did he hurt her?”
“Nope. Somehow, she managed to bring him back both times.”
“I have no idea. She said she talked about her pajamas.”
“She talked about pajamas?”
Roman laughs. “Well, they must have been a hell of a set of pajamas.”
“They were covered in pandas, Roman. Regardless, you need to talk to her. If she can help Sergei, we need to keep her here.”
“Have you been spending time with Maxim recently?”
“No. Why?”
“Because he’s usually the one with crazy ideas.” There are a few seconds of silence before he continues, “Okay. I’ll call Sergei tomorrow and tell him to bring his cartel princess over to the mansion. And she better not be a spy.”
“What do you plan to do with her if she is?”
“Kill her on the spot, Felix.”


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