By: Elise Noble

Come on, open the door. I willed the guard to make the right decision. Well, the right one for me. He knew as well as I did Dr. Kurkov would take at least ten minutes to arrive, and that was a long time to go without a heartbeat. I knew what was going through his mind—he was weighing up the general’s wrath against the harmless-looking woman before him. Sure, he’d heard the stories about me, legends, if you like, but in the three years I’d been in this room, neither he nor any of the other guards had seen for themselves why General Zacharov insisted they follow his security procedures to the letter around me.

Patience? It was one of the few things I had left, and I knew how to use it to my advantage. Zacharov had taught me well in that respect.

The rules were strict. When I came back from a job, I was drugged, stripped naked, and searched. Everywhere. Before I woke up, they threw me back into my cell, and only once the door was securely locked did they fetch Tabby and put her into the small room next door. Then the door between the rooms opened, and she came through to join me. Eleven times over the past two and a half years I’d woken from a groggy sleep, aching from work I was no longer fit enough to do, violated by the guards’ rough fingers, to find my daughter curled up against my side.

And every time I saw the fear etched into her face, my resolve to kill each and every one of those fuckers intensified a little more.

But how? When I went out on a job, the procedure was reversed. I wasn’t allowed to leave my cell with Tabby, ever, and everything that came in had to be approved by the general and checked by three separate guards, just in case I’d managed to corrupt a couple of them. I wasn’t even allowed a fucking pencil, and my cutlery was the cheap plastic kind that snapped if I tried to eat anything of substance.

Guards sat in an ante-room twenty-four-seven, with checks done at irregular intervals just to keep me on my toes, and even left to my own devices, there wasn’t much I could do with a foam mattress and a beanbag chair.

My new best friends became patience and revenge.

I didn’t cause trouble, I didn’t talk back, and apart from the occasions I was alone with the general, I never challenged an instruction.

Tick tock, tick tock. The second hand on my overpriced watch swept around tirelessly.

Today’s guard was young, new. Yevgeny. Yevgeny liked football, ran three miles every morning, and had a weakness for his mama’s chicken pie. But I didn’t care about any of that. All I cared about was how much pressure it would take before his neck snapped like a dry twig.

Yevgeny chewed his bottom lip as he considered his options.

I thought back to the man I’d lost, Tabby’s father, and the events that led me to this hellhole, and let out a quiet sob. “She’s going to die,” I whispered.

Mind made up, Yevgeny eyed me warily as he reached for the lever that opened my door.

“You stay seated.”

His hand touched the pistol on his hip in an unconscious gesture. Nervous, and so he should be.

“Please, just hurry.”

The door slid to the side with a muffled thunk, and Yevgeny scurried across the room and knelt next to me. Tabby twitched as his shadow loomed over her, and I willed her not to move. We were so damn close.

“I’ll do the chest compressions,” Yevgeny said.

My daughter’s beautiful face was the last thing he ever saw. He may have been bigger than me, but I’d discovered many years ago that it didn’t take much more effort to break a big man’s neck than a small man’s. It was all about the angle.

However, it did take more effort to drag him over to our bed and squash him under the blankets.

Tabby opened her eyes as I stood back to admire my handiwork. Yes, anyone taking a quick glance would assume we were asleep. They didn’t get paid enough to check properly.

I’d liberated Yevgeny’s pistol before I tucked him into bed, and now I stuck it into my waistband. Its cool bulk comforted me, although all hell would break loose if I fired it.

“You did well, sweetie,” I whispered to Tabby, and her eyes flicked to the lump on the bed.

Damn the fucking general for putting me into this position. No child should have to witness their mother kill a man.

The sound of a shampoo commercial drifted over from the ancient television as I hefted Tabby onto my left hip, leaving my right hand free for my weapon. The two hours I spent working out every day meant I’d kept some of my strength, even if my operational effectiveness was somewhat rusty.

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