Nico took in a slow draw of air through his nostrils. It was something I’d seen him do many times before—it was his sign that he was angry, angry almost beyond reason.
“Go home, Alexandros. Go to your apartment and wait for my call.”
That was it. He turned to Johnny, glancing at me one more time before the two of them went down the hall, stepping inside one of the offices.
Johnny had a look for me too as they disappeared into the room, one that seemed to say, “you’redone.”
Maybe I was.
I took one more glance at the door, knowing the kid was on the other side. I wanted to help him in the way I knew how, to patch him up.
As I stood there, trying to figure out what the hell to do, I considered that maybe therewasa way I could help him. Not only that, but a way I could be done with the criminal side of my life.
I left the backrooms, taking one more look at the scenes of debauchery, keeping in mind just how much evil took place back there, evil that I’d turned a blind eye to over the years. I stepped out onto the main floor, knowing how many criminal men were there, all of them responsible for untold misery. I looked at the girls on stage, understanding that they were trapped slaves to the worst men imaginable just for a chance at a better life.
Minutes later, I was outside. It was nearly dawn, a deep orange rising through the towers to the east.
I was in a bad, bad situation. Although it’d been surprisingly easy to say no to Nico, I knew there would be consequences to looking the boss in the eye and refusing his command.
I was going to save that kid, and I was going to do what I should’ve done a long, long time ago. I took out my phone, looking up the address for NYPD headquarters, 1 Police Plaza, down in lower Manhattan.
Next, I called an Uber. I spent the drive thinking about what was happening, what I was going to do. Before I knew it, I was in front of the massive concrete building, officers streaming in and out of the place. Inside, I’d tell whoever I needed to what I knew, give them whatever I had to in order to make Nico pay for his crimes.
My life was about to change forever. Good thing I’d never been someone scared to do what needed to be done.
One month later…
Only the dean calling my name from the podium was enough to snap me out of my thoughts.
Didn’t matter that it was finally the day of my graduation, the day I’d be officially getting my Masters. All I could think about was the evening ahead, when I’d be telling my parents the biggest news of my life.
Applause boomed through the auditorium. I rose from my seat, plastering a big smile on my face as I made my way across the stage. After two years of nothing but studying and writing, mostly in seclusion, it was strange as hell to be on a stage like that, with thousands of eyes on me.
I glanced toward the stands, spotting Mom and Dad and my best friend Haley with them, the whole trio on their feet and cheering so loudly that I could make them out through the din of applause from the rest of the audience. I had a hell of a lot on my mind, but the sight of the three of them there supporting me, happiness all over their faces as they celebrated my success and hard work, went a long way.
Mary West, the dean of the classics department at University of Colorado, Denver, awaited me with a warm smile on her face. It was a heck of a thing to see—Professor West rarely cracked a smile. Tall and trim with a fan of wrinkles around her dark eyes and a head of immaculately coiffed silver hair, she was the picture of academia.
“You’ve earned this.” Her voice was low as she leaned in to speak the words into my ear. “You’ve got a bright future ahead of you, Georgia. Oh, and congrats on the book.”
I stood there stunned for a long moment as she performed the hooding ceremony. Professor West had, for the last two years of my master’s program, been nothing but a stern-faced ball-buster who never seemed to give me a moment’s rest from the seemingly endless workload she piled onto me.
She leaned in once more. “Got a little bit of a line waiting, Georgia. Get out there and celebrate.”
“Huh?” I came back into the moment, realizing that I was still on stage, that Mary’s words had totally stunned me. I forced a smile onto my face, one that almost certainly looked on the dopey side, sputtered out a quick “thank you so much,” then hurried off the stage.
I had a hell of an evening ahead of me. As I made my way offstage and back to my seat, however, I gave myself a moment to savor what I’d accomplished.
Whether or not I had a bright future ahead of me was yet to be determined. Professor West, smart as she was, didn’t know the secret I’d been keeping for the last month since my trip to Greece. And it was a secret that might derail the life I’d been so carefully building over these last few years.
The ceremony ended an hour later. The sun had begun to set, and big beams of glowing, orange light filled the auditorium. I hurried out of my seat and made my way through the crowd, weaving my way through the knots of friends and family congratulating their relatives as I tried to spot Mom and Dad and Haley.
Haley was easy to find, tall and black-haired, her face lighting up the moment she laid eyes on me. She let out a shriek of happiness, running over and gathering me up in her slender arms and pulling me into a tight hug.