The Broker - Chapter Three


            Ren lay in bed listening to the sounds around her. She had found another of his shirts in the closet of the room he’d given her so she changed into it since the one she’d been wearing was ruined. Then she brushed her teeth with the new toothbrush she’d found in the bathroom. When she finally crawled under the covers she was dead tired and thought she’d fall asleep instantly. Instead, she’d lain awake listening. She didn’t know how long she laid awake but she finally heard him moving down the hallway. She guessed he was cleaning up and closing things down. He finally headed back toward the room he’d said was his bedroom. She heard him stop outside her door but he didn’t come into the room. His footsteps simply stopped outside her room for a few minutes then finally moved away. She eventually fell asleep sometime after she heard the door to his room click shut.
            When Ren awoke the next morning she was surprised to find she was well rested. She sat up and drew in a deep breath. Her stomach rumbled when she recognized the smells of eggs, bacon and sausage. She climbed from the bed and headed into the bathroom for a quick shower. She slipped the shirt back on when she climbed from the shower then toweled her hair dry.

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   When she opened the bedroom door the smells of breakfast assaulted her, making her hurry toward the dining room. She slid to a stop when she saw several covered trays sitting along a buffet and a lone plate on the table. Michael was nowhere in sight.
            She was surprised at the hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach when she realized he wouldn’t be joining her for breakfast. She picked up the plate and dished food onto it. Suddenly, she wasn’t so hungry anymore. Sitting down at the table she realized she hadn’t gotten anything to drink. She got up and headed for the kitchen. Even though there was a pot of coffee sitting on the buffet she wanted something cold. Perhaps there would be juice in the refrigerator. She found a glass and some orange juice then returned to her lonely meal. Eating in silence she quickly finished her meal, gathered her dishes and carried them to the kitchen. She was rinsing them when Michael found her.
            “Good morning. Did you sleep well?” he asked as he put a coffee cup into the dishwasher.

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            “Yes, actually. ”
            “Good. ”
            “Michael,” she called to him when he turned to leave. He stopped and turned back to her. “I’m sorry about last night. I was nasty and then I over reacted. I’m sorry. ”
            He tilted his head to the side as he stared at her.
            “I think we both were tired and over reacted. I apologize. Perhaps today will be better. ” He turned and started through the door again then stopped and said over his shoulder, “I’ve asked Amy to bring up some clothes for you. ”
            “Thank you,” she whispered.
            He disappeared before she could say anything else.
            She wandered through the suite and ended up in the living room.

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   Glancing through the CDs stacked neatly next to the stereo she chose one and inserted it. Music softly filtered through the speakers as she again wandered around the room. She stopped in front of a large bookcase and stared at the titles. The range surprised her. He had everything from the classics to contemporary mysteries. There were also several biographies and autobiographies and what looked like educational, true-account type books.
            “Feel free to read any you’d like,” he said.
            She jumped at the sound of his voice. She hadn’t heard his approach and didn’t know he was in the room. Slowly, she turned to face him.
            “Thank you. ” She felt emboldened by his smile. “Are you finished working or just taking a break?”
            “Actually, Amy’s on her way up. I came out to meet her. ”

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   Should I…?” she motioned toward the hallway awkwardly.
            “No. You don’t need to hide. ” He smiled again. “She’s bringing clothes for you. I’ll meet with her after that. ”
            “Oh. ” She turned back to the bookshelves to hide her embarrassment from him.
            She flinched when she heard a soft knock at the door. Michael opened it and invited a woman in. Ren recognized the voice from the previous day. She was the young woman who’d tried to comfort her then, when that didn’t work, had brought Michael into the room where they had chained Ren to the wall.
            She turned when she realized Michael was talking to her.
            “I’m sorry?”
            “Do you want to put these away?” Michael asked, motioning to a large box sitting in the floor between him and Amy.

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            He nodded and picked up the box. He carried it down the hall and put it in the room she was using then headed for his office, followed closely by Amy. Ren went into the bedroom to sort through the clothes while Michael met with his assistant.
            “Is there anything going on that I need to be aware of?” Michael asked as he closed the door to the office.
            He retreated to the chair behind the desk while Amy took her normal seat in front of the desk.
            “No, you’re up to date on everything. ” She handed a bright yellow folder across the desk to him. “Burke asked me to bring this up to you. He said you asked him to do some checking. ”
            Michael took the folder and flipped it open, staring at it anxiously.
            “Thanks,” he mumbled.
            Amy waited in silence as he flipped through the file.
            “Damn it! Carl’s an idiot!” He closed the file and slammed it down on the desktop, glaring across at Amy. “He’s never to do background on anyone again – ever. Understand?”
            “Yes, sir.

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            Michael got to his feet and started to pace around the office. He stuffed his hands in his pants pockets and paced for a few minutes then removed his hands and let them fall to his sides. He continued pacing. Finally, he returned to the desk and sank into the chair.
            “She was raped,” he said quietly.
            Michael nodded.
            “Oh my God,” Amy whispered.
            “Not even a month ago. And that idiot missed it.
            “But that means she’s…”
            Michael nodded, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against his chair. “Damaged goods,” he said softly.
            “I’m sorry, Michael,” Amy whispered.
            “It’s not your problem. ”
            Amy watched him silently for several minutes before working up her nerve.
            “You knew, didn’t you?” she finally asked.

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            He nodded slowly. “I’d guessed as much but I had to be certain. I had no idea how recent though. I knew it couldn’t have been long from her reactions but still…. Damn it. ”
            He slammed his fist down onto the desk and leaned forward. He looked up at her through his lashes.
            “Tell Burke to take care of Carl. I can’t have these kinds of stupid mistakes. Anyone doing background should know better. ”
            “Yes, sir,” she replied. Then asked hesitantly, “What – what about Ren?”
            “She’s my problem. ”
            Long after Amy left the suite Michael sat staring at the walls of his office. This was the part of his job he hated most, making this type of decision. What had happened to Ren only weeks ago wasn’t her fault.

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   The fact that his agents had seen her when they were scouting for new acquisitions, had found her so soon after…None of it was her fault and the end result would still be the same. He squeezed his eyes shut and pounded his fist on the desk.
            “Damn it!”
            He got to his feet and stalked around the room. Searching his memory he tried in vain to remember the last time this had happened. He couldn’t remember ever having been in this situation before. Even though he had contingency plans for it he had never really thought he’d have to put one of those plans into play. A timid knock at the door startled him out of his reverie. He stopped pacing and turned a malevolent stare on the closed door. The soft knock finally sounded again. He strode across the office and jerked the door open.
            “I – I’m sorry if I – interrupted something,” Ren stammered softly, avoiding his angry glare.
            “No, no it’s okay. ” Michael finally replied, gentling his stern look. “What do you need?”
            “I made dinner. I – I thought you might be hungry.

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            He stared at her in surprise. She had changed into some of the clothes Amy had brought, he noticed. She wore a pair of snug jeans and a bright blue tank top. His light blue shirt still hung from her shoulders over the tank top, buttoned part way up, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. A pair of canvas tennis shoes covered her feet.
            “Sure,” he replied with a nod. He motioned her down the hall as he stepped out of the office, pulling the door closed behind him.
            “I’m not the cook you are. ” She offered him a shy, nervous smile over her shoulder. “But I found some soup and stuff in the kitchen so I thought…”
            “Thank you. ”
            He felt stupid for forgetting to fix a meal. When he was busy working he often didn’t get hungry and would forget to eat until late. He wasn’t used to having guests. At least she’d been brave enough to help herself to the kitchen, he thought ruefully as he took a seat at the table.
            “I hope you don’t mind…”
            “No, I’m glad you took the initiative.

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  ” He smiled at her, laying a napkin over his lap and picking up a spoon. “I apologize for being a poor host. ”
            He sipped at the tomato soup she had fixed then lifted a grilled cheese sandwich from the plate next to his bowl and took a bite of it. She watched him as they ate in silence, hoping he wasn’t offended by her meager offering.
            “It’s very good,” he finally said, noticing her watching him.
            “Thank you,” she whispered with a small smile.
            God, this is going to be hard, he thought as he swallowed another bite, forcing it down past a lump in his throat.
            “You don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it,” she said softly, breaking through his thoughts.
            “What?” He blinked, looking at her in confusion.
            “The soup and sandwiches, you don’t have to eat it. I know it’s not what you’re used to. ”
            “No, it’s very good. I’m just a little distracted this afternoon. I’m sorry. I’m being rude.


            He smiled and she felt her heart skip a beat. How did he do it? This man who’d had her kidnapped and stripped naked? How could he make her feel this way? Even though she’d been terrified of him last night he seemed so gentle most of the time. And now, he seemed so…sad.
            “It’s okay. I shouldn’t have interrupted you when you were working. I just thought you might be hungry. ”
            She dropped her eyes to her half-empty bowl and reached for another sandwich. She jumped when she felt his hand on her wrist. Her eyes slid up to meet his.
            “Thank you for taking the time to cook for me. I appreciate the effort. ”
            “We both need to eat,” she said simply, shrugging her shoulders and pulling her hand away from his touch.
            They finished their meal in silence. Michael helped her clear away the dishes then they both headed back toward the living room.
            “Ren, we need to talk,” Michael said softly.

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            Ren sat down on the sofa and looked up at him. He saw the fear in her eyes as he sat down across from her.
            “Does this mean you’ve finally decided what to do with me?” she asked.

                He gave her a small, wan smile. “Not exactly. ”
                “I know you can’t just let me go because I know too much and I’ve seen faces. But I also know you’re running a business here. I could be a secretary or something. ”
                “Ren –”
                “All businesses need secretaries, right?”
                He dropped his head to stare at the floor. When the silence grew too strained she covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a sob.
                “Michael, I don’t want to die,” she whispered.
                He jerked his head up and stared at her with his hazel eyes. They seemed so sad to her.
                “Ren, I promised you I wouldn’t hurt you and I won’t. ”
                She stared at him in confusion, trying to fight back tears.

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                “I need to ask you about something very personal, something I know you don’t want to discuss.
                “Oh, no,” she whispered so softly he could barely hear her.
                “I need you to tell me about the rape,” he said quietly, with such tenderness she could feel it.
                She shook her head from side to side as she started to withdraw, pulling her feet up on the sofa, drawing her arms around her knees. She laid her forehead against her knees and started to shake.
                “Ren –”
                “No!” Her chest heaved with the effort to hold back the wall of terror. “You’re going to let them do it again, aren’t you?” she finally sobbed.
                “No, Ren. ” His voice was so soft and gentle it broke through her fear and drew her eyes up to look at him. She saw the sad regret in face, in his eyes.
                “Then what? Kill me?”
                “No. ” He broke his stare and glanced away from her for a moment. “None of this is your fault. I can’t hold the mistakes of my people against you. ”
                “So, what?”
                “I haven’t figured that out yet,” he replied softly, honestly.

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                They were silent for several minutes. Finally, Ren shifted her position and laid her head atop her knees, staring at Michael.
                “Can I ask you something?” she inquired.
                “Sure. ”
                “When you had me brought here, to your suite, what were you plans?”
                He was silent for a long time before he finally answered her.
                “I thought I’d come in and calm you down then take you back downstairs. Or, if my suspicions were correct, I’d have you killed. ”
                “You knew?”
                He shook his head. “I suspected. ”
                “So why haven’t you killed me yet?”
                “I can’t,” he replied with a shrug.
                “This…situation isn’t your fault. You didn’t ask to be here, especially after what happened to you. ”
                “But you can kill. ” It was a statement, not a question.
                “Yes, I can and have.

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      ” He nodded. “The man who did the background check on you didn’t do his job. He fucked up. He knew better but he got lazy. I can’t have those kinds of problems in this business so he’s been eliminated. ”
                “Eliminated,” she repeated. “Is that what you call it?”
                He shrugged. “It’s a word, like any other. ”
                “God, you’re a cold bastard. ”
                “In my world, I have to be. ”
                “So what about me?”
                “Yes, what about you?”
                “I can’t ever leave can I?”
                He slowly shook his head from side to side. “I’m afraid not, Ren. Like it or not, we’re inexorably linked now. ”
                He stood and strode across to the wet bar. He mixed a drink for himself and turned expectantly to her.

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       She shook her head at him. He picked up his dringk and returned to his seat.
                “So what do I do with you now? I can’t sell you, I can’t give you as a gift and I can’t just let you go. ” He took a sip of his drink. “What do I do?”
                They sat in silence for an interminable several minutes. Finally, Ren broke the tense, quiet.
                “I’ve always worked to pay my own way. I can work for you,” she said softly. When he didn’t answer, she added, “I could be a secretary or something. Or maybe I could clean your apartment for you? I’ve taught English before, maybe I could do something like that?”
                He narrowed his eyes as he stared at her.
    “What languages other than Russian and Chinese do you speak?” he asked softly.
    “How – Never mind. ” She shook head, lowering her eyes to stare at the floor. “Japanese and Spanish. I was trying to learn Arabic but it’s really hard for me for some reason.

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    “Why so many languages?”
    “I love words and sounds. The different sounds of different languages intrigue me. ”
    “Would you be interested in doing some interpretation work and perhaps teaching others how to speak the languages you know?”
    Her eyes flew up to stare at his face. She studied him in silence trying to discern whether or not he was serious.
    “I-I could try,” she finally stammered.
    “If you’re still interested in learning Arabic, I’ll see if I can find a tutor to work with you. ”
    She nodded, unable to speak.
    “I’m sorry,” he continued. “But, for now, you’ll still be confined to this suite. When I know I can trust you not to cause trouble, I’ll give you access to a few areas of the rest of the building. ”
    She frowned but nodded her understanding.
    “Michael, I won’t cause you any trouble. I promise I’ll cooperate,” she said softly, staring at him.
    He returned her stare as he replied. “I know you’ll try.

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       But I also know it’s human nature to fight against restraints of any kind. ”

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