Chapter 1: Tony

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I open my eyes and slam them shut again

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I open my eyes and slam them shut again.

The excruciating pain radiates in my skull with every heartbeat. My blood is thumping through me about to burst from my veins.

My fingers wrap around a rusted metal pipe that drips sickly brown water as I grasp for anything nearby. The smell hits me first, rotting flesh. The scent that you walk in on after a long trip with leftovers on the counter. Meat infested with maggots—the smell of death.

It was a smell I had grown used to after spending my young adult life with my father, a detective. He never took me on cases, but he always brought his work home with him even if that wasn't his intent. The smell of death would linger on his clothing like a smoker trying to hide his cigarettes.

As I sit up, I can see the rest of the room for the first time. I'm not entirely sure how I arrived here. The place looks like a medical torture chamber. Molded linoleum floors with stains from years of blood pouring into it. I brace myself on the butcher table next to me, careful not to pull too hard for fear that something sharp may topple over onto me. There are a dozen or so knives and axes on the table, and the last thing I need is for one to slice off part of my cheek on the way to the ground.

The pain subsides, but the nausea lingers. My stomach does flips as I taste bile in my mouth, and even my own saliva makes me want to vomit. I notice my hands are covered in a slippery red liquid, blood. Shit. Am I bleeding?

That panic sensation grows at the back of my neck and down my spine like an electric jolt urging me to run. Fight or flight is no joke. I suffered from panic attacks quite a bit when I was younger and haven't been able to shake the adrenaline rush when something makes me feel deaths embrace.

I glance at my chest and notice that blood covers my white dress shirt. I rip the buttons off and shove my sticky hands inside, feeling around my torso but find no wounds. The blood must not be mine.

The adrenaline stops pumping into my veins, but the feeling of dread keeps its icy tendrils creeping up my neck. I can't stop myself from shaking despite years of training to do so. It's different when it's real when it's you facing the endless void of death. I lean against the metal pipe I've been gripping for stability and try to calm down. In for four seconds and then out for four seconds. Combat breathing. I learned it from my therapist of all people, not during the academy training. I never thought it was useful until now, but it helps to calm my urge to get outside and run as far away as I can. I can feel my heart rate slowing. The pain in my chest subsiding.

Nothing hurts more than my head. The constant thumping isn't going away, no matter how much I breathe. Despite scars and bruises on my skin, I don't have any significant injuries that I can find. There is a nagging feeling in my head like I've forgotten something, and then it hits me. I have no idea where I am or how I got here. I've never seen this building before, not on a case or in my leisure time. As though hanging out in a torture chamber could be considered a weekend activity. I pull myself to my feet and rest my head in my hands, pushing through the thump, thump, thump of my heartbeat. It's keeping me alive, but it's making living hell.

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