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Running of the bulls

Christopher Smith



New York City

Bebe Cole was an apparition that moved forward without sound, an enigma in the center of the dim foyer, where she turned on unsteady feet, unbuttoned her full-length cashmere coat, and let it fall to the gleaming marble floor.

She was naked, bloody, bruised.

“They’ve killed us,” she said.

Still stunned from the beating, Edward Cole stared at his wife from the doorway of their Fifth Avenue apartment, unable to answer her, unable to speak.

The bandage they’d wrapped around his chest was too tight for him to breathe with any comfort; the drugs they’d pumped him full of were too much of a chemical blow for his body to handle. He brought a hand to his ruined face and felt its altered shapes and swollen cheeks. He smoothed his fingertips along the uneven curve of his broken nose and wondered how he’d ever explain this to a public who would want to know.

“You said they’d show restraint.”

Her voice sounded as though it came from the far end of a winding tunnel, and Cole had to concentrate to hear it. He tried to focus on the petite figure that was his wife, but she was disappearing, vanishing, becoming one with the darkness rapidly unraveling along the edges of his vision.

“You promised we would be safe.”

He shook his head at her in frustration, took a step toward her and was not aware that he’d fallen until he lifted his head from the cool marble floor and tasted the fresh surge of blood rushing into his mouth.

Again, he tried to speak, but words wouldn’t come. And so he lay there, listening to the shallowness of his own breath, watching with fading eyesight as Bebe’s shoes turned toward the dark library, stopped, and then backed up quickly as shoes that weren’t hers raced forward. Too weak to comprehend or to even care, Cole slipped into unconsciousness.

When he woke, he saw his wife first.

Strapped to a Queen Anne chair in the center of the foyer, her carefully dyed blonde hair tousled and hanging in her face, Bebe was surrounded by four tripods, each holding a digital video camera trained on her. She was naked, shivering, gagged. There was a scrape on her forehead, cuts and bruises on her breasts. She locked eyes with him and moaned.

Cole forced himself to focus, pushed himself into a sitting position.

Bebe shook her head at him, tried to spit out the gag, but couldn’t. She struggled to release herself from the rope that bound her hands and legs to the antique chair, but it was impossible. She turned her head to the left.

Cole followed her look.

There, sitting in the shadows beneath van Gogh’s White Roses was a man Cole had never seen before. He was handsome, athletic, wore black pants and a fitted black turtleneck. In his hand was a gun.

The man rose from his seat, nodded at Edward and stepped beside Bebe, who followed his every move with her terror-filled eyes. “It’s about time you woke up,” he said to Cole in a relaxed voice. “We’ve been waiting hours for you.” He kissed the top of Bebe’s head. “Haven’t we, dear?”

She jerked away from him and looked to Cole for help.

But Cole couldn’t move-fear had rooted him to the floor. Powerless, he watched the man remove the gag from Bebe’s lipstick-smeared mouth, press the gun against her temple and cock the trigger.

Bebe started. Her shoulders drew in and she looked imploringly at her husband, whose own lips had parted in shock. The gun, Edward saw, had a silencer. The four video cameras surrounding Bebe hummed.

“Your wife needs you and yet you sit there,” the man said with disappointment. “After everything she’s done for you, after the way you’ve used and humiliated her in this marriage, couldn’t you at the very least do something to help her?”

Edward rocked to his knees, pushed himself to his feet. He stumbled and leaned against a wall. His entire body ached. He was aware of his coat falling open, exposing his fat nakedness, the bandages at his chest, but he didn’t care. The man was running the barrel of a gun along the bloated curves of his wife’s bruised face.

“I want you to think of all your sins,” the man said evenly, turning one of the cameras on Cole. “I want you to think about every one of them. Right now. Think.”

“Who are you?” Cole asked.

“I want you to think about betraying your friends,” the man said with anger. “I want you to think about selling out to the SEC, taking that witness stand and sending one of your best friends to prison when you yourself should have been rotting there in his place.” The man cocked an eyebrow at him. “Mr. Cole, I want you to think about all of it.”

Bebe moved her head slowly, carefully away from the gun. In a quiet, barely restrained voice, she said to her husband: “It’s Wolfhagen.”

The man kissed her on the cheek. “The canary sings.”

“He’s hired this man to kill us.”

“So he has,” the man said, and fired a bullet into her brain.

Edward’s whole body went tense with disbelief. Bebe’s unseeing left eye was blinking, her upper lip quivering, mouth working, foot twitching, yet she was dead, had to be dead. Part of her head was on the floor.

A hand gripped his arm.

Cole turned and saw the woman just as she jammed the gun into the small of his back and urged him forward, toward his bleeding wife, the man in black, the humming cameras. “Fight me,” she said, “and I swear to God you won’t die as quickly as your wife.”

She came around and pulled him across the foyer with a hand far steadier than his own. The man had dragged Bebe off to one side and now was placing a matching chair where she had sat. Cole was led to the middle of Bebe’s spilled blood. Now, the cameras surrounded him.

“Are you thinking about those sins, Mr. Cole?”

They’d murdered his wife. They’d do the same to him. If he broke now, it would be over for him. He forced himself to think, to somehow remain calm.

“Are you thinking about taking that witness stand? Do you remember the look on Wolfhagen’s face when you burned him?”

He ignored the man, looked at the woman. Tall and attractive, thick brown hair framing an oval face of cool intelligence, her eyes the color of chestnuts and just as hard. She wore black leggings and a black shirt, no jewelry.

The man moved behind her, his face partly concealed behind the video camera now poised in front of him. “Get rid of his coat,” he said to the woman.

She got rid of it.

“Now the bandages.”

She ripped them from Cole, who stared into the camera’s opaque lens and saw his own ruined face floating up at him from the dark, rounded glass. And he knew-Wolfhagen would be viewing these tapes.

The woman took a step back, looked with revulsion at Cole’s bloody chest, then turned that look on him. “So, it’s starting again?” she said. “You were there last night? You let them do this to you?” She shook her head at him in disgust. “How could you let them do this to you?”

“Because he asked for it to get off on it,” the man said. “Isn’t that how it works, Mr. Cole? You and your wife asked for it, but this time, it got a little out of hand.”

Cole held their gaze and said nothing. He willed himself to believe that he could get through this. It wasn’t too late for him. Everyone had a price, everyone could be bought. Hadn’t Wolfhagen taught him that much?

“I have money,” he said to them. “Millions. I’ll triple whatever Wolfhagen’s paying you. Both of you can walk out of here right now and never have to do this again. You’ll be set for life. Just let me live.”

The woman’s lips, rouged red, broke into a half-smile. “Did you really think he’d let you get away with it forever?”

Cole shook his head as if he didn’t understand, but he understood. He knew this day would come. Still, his belief in the power and the influence of money galvanized him. They would not kill him if he offered enough. “Millions,” he said.

She lifted the gun.

Pamplona, Spain

Six Months Later

Ever since he was a child, Mark Andrews had longed to run with the bulls.

As a boy in Boston, he would sit on his grandfather’s lap and listen to the old man’s stories of his days in Spain, when he was still young and single, and traveling the world on the trust fund his father gave him upon graduating from Yale.

Mark would marvel at the man’s retelling of La Fiesta de San Fermin, the week-long orgy of bull worship that honored Pamplona’s patron saint San Fermin, who was martyred when bulls dragged his body through the city’s narrow, dusty streets.

Mark’s grandfather had run with the bulls. He had stood among the thousands of men in white shirts and red sashes impatiently waiting for the first rocket to signal their release.

Even then, some thirty years ago in his parents’ home, Mark could hear the thunderous clacking of hooves as the twelve beasts came crashing down Calle Santo Domingo, through Plaza Consistorial and Calle Mercaderes, their horns sharp and deadly, their murderous rage focused on those foolish young men running blindly before them.

Now, at thirty-nine, Mark Andrews himself stood among fools in white shirts and red sashes, the early morning sun beating down on his face, the delicious

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