Chapter 196

                Adam wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cross himself when he saw where the address led. Of all the places he’d expected Nick Campbell to call this sort of meeting; a church wasn’t one of them. Let alone one as historic as this chapel, it had been built around the time the town was founded. If he remembered correctly, the spot was even a protected historic landmark. Maybe Nick wanted to make sure if they started anything people wouldn’t be able to ignore it? No, trying to puzzle out that man’s thought process was a waste of time. Nick had his reasons, and so long as they didn’t end with Adam injured or dead then they weren’t a concern he had to deal with. And this probably wasn’t a murder setup… unless there was a cemetery out back with a freshly dug grave.

                Circling the building once, Adam didn’t see any mobs of goons tucked away in the shadows or telltale mounds of fresh dirt in the back, so he finally went back to the front and shoved open the large wooden doors. They opened to show an interior lit by dozens of candles casting their flickering light on empty pews. Mostly empty, anyway. From the entrance Adam could just make out a head of sandy-brown hair in the very front row.

                “Lock the door behind you.” Nick’s voice echoed all over the room, no surprise given the acoustics and high ceilings. Adam did as he was told; pushing an old lever on the door into place so that no one else could enter.

                “Are we alone?” Adam asked.

                “I rented the place out. If anyone asks, you were here for an all-night prayer group and lock-in.” Nick’s reply explained the empty chapel, although Adam noticed that he’d never actually said whether it was just the two of them in here or not. Adam’s eyes lifted to the shadowy rafters of the high ceilings. With only candle-light it was impossible to see through all the nooks and crannies up there, and knowing Nick there was zero chance that was accidental.

                “So… you know, huh?” There was no point in beating around the bush. They both knew what they were there for, the sooner everything was out in the open the better Adam would understand his chances of surviving the evening.

                “Well, I thought I did. Truth be told I put one of those cards on the pillow of every suspect I had, assuming the guilty party would be the one to show up.” Nick stood from his seat in the front row, turning to face Adam for the first time.

                “No, you didn’t.”

                “No, I didn’t,” Nick agreed. “It was just you. Not that it was easy by any means. Whoever doctored your paperwork did an incredible job. And please understand, I have extremely high standards for forgery, so I mean that with sincere regard for their skill. When this is all over, I may want to get their card or something from you in case I need work done.”

                Slowly, all-too-aware that his movements were being watched for aggressive intent, Adam began making his way toward Nick. “When this is all over, I don’t think any of my people will be in a position to do much. Mind if I ask what gave me away, or is that a trade-secret?”

                “A lot of research and critical thinking combined with a little luck. And maybe a dab of personal insight. I’ve played the same game as you: stay good enough to make the cut but never standout too much. Only you are much better at it than I was. No matter how the class grows and changes you stay right around the middle of the pack. Safe from cuts while never having much attention paid to you.”

                “There are plenty of people in the middle,” Adam replied.

                “But they’ve all moved about more than you, their ranks are more volatile. Not you, not Adam Riley. Good old dependable, ignorable, forgettable Adam Riley. We never even see your face during real fights; you’re always wearing someone else’s. Even knowing that though, I still wasn’t sure about you, that’s how good a job you’ve done blending in.” Nick pulled a coin from his pocket and tossed it in the air once, catching it with a blur of motion before it fell past his chest. “Funnily enough, it’s thanks to Globe’s little push that I had enough luck to be sure you were my mole.”

                Adam had crossed the majority of the aisle; he and Nick were only a few pews away now. “That doesn’t necessarily seem like information you should be telling an enemy.”

                “Maybe that’s because I don’t see why we need to be enemies,” Nick said. “I know you work for Globe, but I also know that people might have the wrong idea about him. And let’s be honest here: aside from one kidnapping he’s never done anything against me and my friends. In fact, he or his people have helped us a few times. So I called you here to have a talk, Adam. A talk about what you’re after, and what I’m after, to see if maybe you and I can’t be of some help to one another.”

                It was hard not to wonder if this was how Faust felt as Adam stared at that candlelit smirk on Nick’s face. But that was a silly analogy anyway; he had no soul left to trade. That had been spent years ago on the promise of revenge. What wasn’t lost immediately had been stripped away day after day, lie after lie. “You want to know what I’m after? It’s not complicated, and I’m sure a man like you will understand. I want revenge, pure and simple. The man who killed my family is going to die, at my hands, when my work is done.”

                “You seem pretty sure of that.” Nick was watching him carefully, as were his hidden allies no doubt.

                “Because that’s the deal we made. I do my job to help them bring everything to light, and when it’s all done I get to take his head. Even if I didn’t trust the man who made the deal, I trust the others to make sure it gets honored. There’s your answer, Nick. I want vengeance. If your goals in anyway keep me from that then you should kill me now, because I’m not going to let you get in my way. If, on the other hand, that works with what you want, then we can talk. I know the value in making strange alliances when the occasion demands it.”

                The coin was moving between Nick’s fingers, tumbling effortlessly from one digit to the next so smoothly Adam wasn’t even sure Nick noticed he was doing it. “I’ve got nothing against settling scores, but the ‘who’ in this equation is important. It didn’t sound like you were after Globe, so who is it you want dead? If it’s someone I owe friendship or favor too, we might have a problem.”

                “No, it’s not Globe.” Adam felt pretty sure his next words wouldn’t be the end of the conversation, but he readied himself to roll behind a pew just in case. “The man I want to kill is the Hero who took my family away from me: Relentless Steel. Or as we knew him in class, Coach George.”