The Flesh Cartel #12: Paradise Island
Mat and Douglas’s time as Nikolai’s wards is finally drawing to a close. Though torn apart by Nikolai’s machinations, their fates are still inextricably entwined: they’ve been sold to the same cruel master, and are united in their desire to go home. But “home” means two different things to the brothers: for Mat, their little bungalow in Nevada, and for Douglas, a swift return to Nikolai and Roger, the only people he believes still love him.
But first they must survive their new master. Smythe Hall is a twisted island paradise where Americans affect British accents and slaveboys dress up as slave girls, all at the whims of the rich and megalomaniacal Allen Smythe-Kennedy.
Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Nate Johnson can’t let the case of the missing brothers lie. He knows it’s a waste of resources to chase ghosts down a cold trail, but after admiring Mathias “Stonewall” Carmichael ringside and at countless afterparties where he was too shy to say hello, he’s determined to solve the mystery and bring Mat and his little brother home.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
Click on a label to see its related details. Click here to toggle all details.
The guards hadn’t been kidding when they’d said it was a long drive from Nikolai’s to Allen’s. In fact, they weren’t kidding around about anything. They were professionals, and Mat knew better than to let the fact that they were all women—or that they’d exchanged the cruel arm binder for a pair of handcuffs—fool him.
Dougie had settled comfortably on the couch—unbound, and basically outside the guards’ attention—with his nose buried in a book one of the women had offered him. He seemed happy, looking occasionally out the tinted windows or offering the guards a smile (genuine ones, Mat was pretty sure). He even mentioned at one point that he was up for giving backrubs if they got tired, or cooking if they got hungry. Or more, even—all of which the guards politely declined. And no wonder; Mat would’ve bet his freedom that Allen had sent them under strict orders not to leave sticky fingerprints all over his new goods. Orders he obviously didn’t think men were capable of obeying.
Dougie never looked at Mat once, not the whole fucking time. Which was just as well, he supposed, because he was having an awfully hard time looking at Dougie without his blood pressure spiking. How could the kid seem so at home here? So comfortable and placid about wearing whorish women’s lingerie and makeup, being sold off as chattel? And to a fucking monster, no less.
Sadly, the guards watched Mat much more closely than they watched Dougie. They clearly knew he was dangerous. And they were clearly professionals, just like the men who’d originally brought him and Dougie to Nikolai’s from Madame’s. At least the women were hands off—no touching, no hurting. But they kept him cuffed to the RV the entire time. When he’d grown weary of staring out the window—which shocked him; after so long cooped up indoors, he’d never thought it’d be possible to grow weary of the sight of the outside world again—and asked if he could lie down, one guard moved him while the other two stood back, outside of grabbing range, their Tasers trained on him, until he’d been cuffed down to the new piece of furniture.
And then they left him again. But they never gave him any chances to leave them. No way to escape. No way to crash the RV. They kept him away from pointy things and fire and even heavy loose objects. They gagged him before every stop for gas. They ate and pissed in shifts in the otherwise ever-moving vehicle. They didn’t sleep. Sometimes he heard Dougie talking to them, but they never came close enough to Mat to talk to him. But then, Dougie was domesticated, and by the way they’d treated Roger, they were obviously comfortable around domesticated slaves.
They finally drew to a stop sometime well into the night. Not a gas station this time. Mat hadn’t allowed himself to sleep, but he realized—with more than a little guilt and anger—that at some point he’d stopped being so focused on getting away. He perked up now, though. Things were happening. This might be his chance.
He peered out the windows and saw . . . was that water? It was dark out, the kind of dark you never got in cities, and the tinted windows weren’t helping, but regular rows of lights were definitely reflecting off something. Now that he was paying attention, he realized he could smell the ocean. Those lights must be dock lights.
Oh God. Were they taking them out to sea? They’d never get home. There’d be no escaping, not with water on all sides.
He realized he’d started to hyperventilate a little. His chest heaved. His nostrils flared. Ice cold fear hit him right in the guts, and he didn’t know how to get back up from it, not this time . . .
“Easy, big guy.” One of the women was standing by the bed, watching him. “Gotta get you ready for your master now. No use fighting it, okay? Don’t make us knock you out; you’re too damn heavy to carry.” She held up the bit gag, showing it to him like a collar to a fucking stray dog. “I’m going to put this on you. Bite me, and I’ll taze your balls until your pubes smoke.”
She smiled then, and that was all it took.
“Let us go,” he begged. “Please. Please, look. We’re here against our will. I’m Mat. My brother’s Dougie. They kidnapped us. If you don’t let us go now, we’re never going to get out of here. And that Allen guy? He’s going to kill me. Please, if you have any compassion—no, screw compassion. How much is he paying you? I fight with the UFC—or I did. I could get you money.”
The woman snorted and shoved the gag between his teeth. He didn’t fight her; he couldn’t afford to be unconscious when they moved him. “He’s paying me plenty, tiger. And if you do run away? He’ll pay me plenty more to track you down and send you back to Nikolai for some”—God, her smirk was nasty; so much for compassion—“re-education. And trust me when I say you don’t want that. Or me on your ass.”
Yeah, no, he didn’t need her to tell him that. If he never saw Nikolai again, it’d be too soon. She turned him until his back was to her, uncuffed him from the bed (backup guards with Tasers at the ready), and strapped his arms tight into the leather sleeve. Six straps, he felt her buckling them. From the top of his biceps right down to his wrists, and then his hands stuffed into a tight little pocket. Totally immobilized. Flexible as he was, his shoulders and chest strained enough that they hurt almost instantly.
“Sorry,” she said, and she kind of sounded like she meant it, for all the tough talk from a moment ago.
“You shouldn’t be, miss,” Dougie said. He was standing just behind her, unbound, waiting patiently. He met Mat’s eyes with a hard stare and added, “He’s trouble.”
“Is he now,” she replied as Mat’s heart shattered into a thousand new sharp-edged pieces, slicing at his chest and making his blood boil. His fists clenched inside their little leather pouch, though whether from anger or despair, he couldn’t say. Both, probably. It was always both, now. “Well, you’d know best, wouldn’t you, kiddo?”
“Sadly, yes.” He frowned deeply. “Can I go to the bathroom and do my lipstick, please?” And just like that, Mat stopped existing again.
“Sure.” She waved him off. “Damn, Allen’s posh little trophy wife is gonna love you, prettyboy.”
Mat caught Dougie’s shy little smile before he skittered off. The guard who’d bound him gave him a once-over, then grabbed a coat off a hook and draped it over his shoulders, buttoning the top button so he couldn’t shrug it off. For the security cameras on the dock, probably. Someone might notice if they saw a guy walking bound and naked and flanked by security. Then again, maybe not. Maybe Allen had the marina guys on his payroll. Maybe it was just cold out.
“Hey, Lauren,” the woman called, never taking her eyes off Mat. “Come help me get this one in the boat while Pretty back there puts his face on.”
Lauren materialized almost instantly, Taser at the ready. “Yes, ma’am,” she said. “Tammy’s already out there prepping.”
Which left one guard in the RV for Dougie, who’d probably find the damn boat on his own if they tried to leave him behind.
Lauren went out first, and a wall of moist heat hit Mat the moment the door opened. Middle of a winter night and it was this hot? God, where had they taken them, and where were they going? Texas, maybe, or Louisiana, or Florida. “Ma’am” led him down the stairs with a firm hand on his shoulder and another on his bound wrists. He briefly entertained the idea of striking her and throwing himself down the stairs onto Lauren, but Ma’am was standing just too far away to headbutt, she’d probably break his arms if he kicked her, and he didn’t like his chances of hitting Lauren before she could pull that trigger, especially since she, too, was standing just far enough away to be out of easy reach. Definitely professionals. He wouldn’t have been surprised to learn they’d once fought on the same circuit he had. Or served in the military, maybe. Mercenaries.
He went without fighting. Half of winning was being patient and picking the right moment to strike. Now wasn’t it.
They moved him quickly, but didn’t stop him from looking around. The lights here were dim, bulbs out in two of the three nearby dock lights. Probably on purpose. They were at the far end of the marina, the last berth by the look of things. Lots of big boats here, luxury crafts worth more than his house. A couple of boats down a ways had lights on, but he didn’t hear any voices carrying. So, occupied, but probably only crew awake this time of night . . . whatever time it was. Late.
The boat they were leading him to, though, was downright modest. Bigger than a speedboat but not by much—maybe twelve, fifteen feet from stem to stern. He didn’t think it was big enough to have a cabin belowdecks. Which meant they couldn’t be taking them too far, thank God.
Not leaving the country, then. Relief hit him so hard he stumbled, and would’ve fallen on his face if not for Ma’am’s grip on his arm.
Who must’ve thought he was trying to pull some trick, because she asked, “You gonna make me hurt you?” perfectly conversational, even as her hand tightened so cruelly he had to swallow a yelp.
Just tripped, Mat tried to say around the gag. Gave up and shook his head instead.
They got him onto the boat, and then down into the hold he went. He was right; it wasn’t big enough for a cabin—more like a coffin. He couldn’t even sit up. In fact, Ma’am used her boot to push him onto his back—Christ, the pressure on his arms and shoulders was awful. And then along came Dougie, with a polite protest of, “But my makeup . . .” and an answering reassurance of, “It’ll be fine, better than getting your hair all blown out up on deck, trust me.” So in Dougie climbed, right on top of him because this hold had clearly only been built for one, chest-to-chest and—ugh, God, no—junk-to-junk. Mat squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to think of the last time he’d been this close to his brother. Funny how once upon a time this position would have brought memories of long hugs, of lying together in bed on stormy nights, his arms around his innocent little brother, hugging him, protecting him.
So much for that. He was never getting that back. Never.
Luckily, he didn’t have to keep his eyes shut for long, because once they were both horizontal, someone shut the door on them, cloaking them in blackness. For a while, all Mat could hear was Dougie’s breathing and his own, and the distant sound of water lapping the hull of the boat. Then the motor started up and drowned out everything else.