Leila didn’t know how she felt about any of this. She was really only here because of her friend, Rika, who had begged her to attend. It wasn’t that she wasn’t really a fan of Julian’s work but at the same time she wasn’t sure she wanted to get anywhere near where this man actually was. He terrified her but attracted her. A dangerous combination which she’d already learned about herself thanks to the man she used to be married to. Also, considering her occupation as an FBI agent this was a weird breech of ethics. Almost. She’d been surprised that he’d even allowed it. The party was private, secret invite only and very strict and specific rules. Including having to wear some sort of weird metal collar with her name on it upon entry. The collar was locked into place, and she was assured that it would be removed by the end of the event. She couldn’t stop putting her hand over it as she nervously sipped her wine and looked around at the other guests there.
“You need to chill out, it’s no that serious. Turn your FBI agent brain off for one night and have fun.” Rika said, pulling her around from area to area to look at each different exhibit. Leila glared at her and took another sip of wine.
“Rika, this guy is…dangerous.”
“Says who? The FBI?” She asked, “And what evidence did they have of that again? Because last I checked it was none.”
“That doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous. All it means is he’s smart and dangerous.” Leila said, “People like him…I mean…you know how long it took them to catch Mark.”
“Them? Yeah, you? You knew before anyone.”
“I was married to the guy.” Leila said, “He also told me. Had he not, I’d have had no idea.”
“You get my point.”
“No, I actually don’t.”
“The point is you need to calm down. There aren’t that many people here anyway, what like 50? Just have some more wine, look at the art, and buy something.” Rika laughed looking at the statue in front of them. It was of a naked woman impaled on a stake. An actual dead body of an actual human being. Well embalmed and preserved in that state for all eternity. Art…Sacrilege, she really didn’t know how to think of it. She wished she could say this was the worst thing she’d ever seen but as an agent who worked in sex crimes, this was pretty tame. At least it wasn’t a corpse that gave off a smell.
“Where is Julian?” Leila asked.
“Somewhere…” Rika looked around for a moment then pointed to one of the various cameras in the area. “There.”
“He’s a camera?”
“Now you are being stupid on purpose.” Rika teased and punched her in the arm playfully. Leila snickered and finished her wine, looking right into the camera as she did. There was no reason to really feel something was wrong but she was sure that something was. The air seemed thick and the collar was irritating the skin around her neck. It was a bit painful, felt like it was closing slowly. That at any point it threatened to snap shut entirely and crush her trachea.
“Attention all guests.” Julian’s voice came over some speaker system to talk to them. It caused Leila to jump a bit and had she not just finished her glass of wine she’d have probably spilled it everywhere. “We are now going to play a game.”
“A game?” Rika asked and drank down her wine, “Told you tonight would be fun.”
“I don’t think any game he wants to play will be fun for the participants.” Leila muttered, clutching her wine glass just tight enough that it was a fraction of a bit of force away from breaking. The other guests around them had paused what they were doing to look around and try to figure out what the hell was going on too. Some of them seemed amused, or even into the idea, others were worried as much as she seemed to be.
“Right now there are 50 of you in this prison. In 2 hours I want half of your dead.” His voice was calm and calculated, enough that Leila knew he was serious and the glass in her hand slipped instead of being crushed, crashing to the floor. A good majority of the guests laughed, some of them went pale. One woman started screaming and freaking out, running for the door.
“This isn’t a joke.” Julian continued, “If there are not 25 corpses on the floor of my prison within the next two hours I will kill 40 of you.”
“How the FUCK is he gonna do that?” Some guy yelled, he was hard to be heard above the woman who was freaking out. This only lasted for a moment louder. Then there was an ear popping BANG as her head seemingly exploded. This of course caused a round of screaming, and some vomiting, from the people near enough to witness it. Leila had only been 100 yards back. The woman had made it to the door but, now she was headless. She wasn’t going anywhere. Leila’s mouth went dry and Rika turned to look at her.
“Think of it as a social experiment. An exercise in human behavior. The clock is ticking.” He said and there was a bit of a dark chuckle before static and then silence.
“He’s…serious.” Rika muttered to her.
“I…I would say that…” Leila whispered. She quickly pulled Rika back into a side room as all hell broke lose and people started screaming and arguing. It wouldn’t do well for her to be in there when she needed to think and there was no way she was going to let her friend be around a bunch of panicking idiots. Most of the prison was open to them, the guests, because most of the prison had the art exhibits laid out.
“Where are we going?” Rika whispered.
“Somewhere that’s not near them. We have to…plan.”
“Plan what? Killing people? You cannot be serious here.” Rika snapped at her but she kept her voice low so no one would be drawn to the fact that they were attempting to leave there and find a quiet place. Either to hide, plan, or just generally keep out of the way of anyone who did go insane.
“I’m serious in the way that we can’t just do nothing. He’s going to get his way, no matter what he wants. We don’t know how he’s going to choose who he kills at the two hour mark. It could be me, you…basically there’s a near 50/50 chance that we have two hours to live if we don’t do what he wants.” She said. “I…I mean I don’t know what to tell you.”
“I’ve never killed anyone….you have.”
“Rika you damn well know that was in self defense and for my job, with a gun. Do you see any guns around here?” Leila asked.
“No but…you’ve done it.” She insisted, “And like you said, self defense. This is all self defense, Leila. That’s what it comes down to.” Rika did have a point. Even if it wasn’t self defense from the other literal people in the prison it would be self defense from Julian. Yet, she was going to have to figure out his method. The motive was chaos and he was probably doing this for the sake of art or some bullshit but there must be a method. Why that woman? Why had she died first? Was it because she had panicked in such a manner or was it because he was prioritizing? Did he have a list? Were they all chosen to be there for a specific reason or was this randomized. For all she knew he had some dice or a number generator up there and that’s how he was doing it. That was unlikely. Julian was a meticulous man. He would have had to be to cover his tracks and also keep all of this legal. Or at least looking legal. Other than killing people the only two options they had were finding out how to remove the collars without him seeing them do it, or find out where in the prison he was hiding and get to that room. If he could detonate the collars remotely then chances were if they attempted to remove them he’d just do that. Which really only left them with one option and there was no way that wherever he was, wasn’t secure.
“For now, we aren’t killing anyone who doesn’t come after us first.” She whispered. Then she cleared her throat, “We need to find where he is hiding out and see if we can get in there. We also need to find reasonably dangerous weapons.” The second half of what she said was in Japanese. She didn’t know much about Julian but she highly doubted he spoke Japanese. She’d be surprised if he did. All the FBI intel they had on him indicated he only spoke English.
“Alright.” Rika said, switching her language to Japanese as well. Leila figured she’d pick up on that. Even if Julian could understand them, which she doubted, the other people around them had even less of a chance of understanding it. Maybe a few a the party, possibly, but not nearly all of them. It would work in their favor. Almost a secret code.
“If he was planning this all along there must be something he left. Weapons or…something.” Leila said, of course continuing in Japanese. Rika nodded.. Then suddenly she grabbed Leila’s arm and pulled her into one of the cells with an art display. Leila yelped, not expecting that but what she saw in there was a man’s body with dagger’s stuck through him in strategic areas. With nearly no hesitation Rika went to one and pulled at the handle. The dagger came out very easily. It wasn’t attached to the piece or for show. It was almost as if the body was a sheath to hold the weapons.
“Yeah, like that…” Leila said. This was really the only body on display here with obvious weapons like this, which of course didn’t make it obvious at all. At least not to the game that Julian had been planning. His art had always been morbid and violent anyway. There would have been nothing initially weird about a stabbing victim on display. With a hard swallow she grabbed a second handle and pulled the knife from the body. Both blades were about a foot long. They’d do the trick though. There were three blades left. Not nearly enough for the 50…well 49 people left at the party. He really did intend for there to only be a few victims after two hours. Maybe exactly five by the end of the night.
“Take another one.” Rika said.
“Do you want an advantage or not?” Rika asked, pulling a second blade. She did have a point and Leila wished she was thinking as intelligently as her friend, who really was only a CEO of a major corporation. She didn’t have training in law enforcement. Her combat was decent, she kept up with her martial arts but mostly for fitness reasons. Someone making her salary barely had to tie her own shoes if they didn’t want. She had no reason to ever worry about her security being threatened when she could hire someone to worry about it for her.
“Do you think he knows about me?” She asked.
“I don’t know.” Rika said, “Every secret invite came with a guest pass and mine went to you. They only asked for a first name so they could make the collars I suppose. He knows you are Leila not…anything past that.”
“Wild card…” She muttered, “That potentially means 25 of us are wild cards but it also means you were chosen. Why?”
“Don’t fucking ask me.” Rika said, “I’m not fucking important. I mean…I run DTI but why the fuck would he care about that?”
“Maybe because DTI is a computer company and clearly he has a huge internet presence.” Leila replied.
“Yeah and he’s also rich. What could I ever do for him he couldn’t do himself and if this is about…competition well how the fuck? We make medical technology not art.”
“I own the company you moron I know that.” Leila rolled her eyes.
“Then stop asking stupid questions you--” Leila jammed her hand over Rika’s mouth quickly and pushed her to a darker corner of the room. Even if they were speaking in Japanese it didn’t mean they couldn’t be heard. What Leila heard in that moment was someone coming down the hall. Perhaps they had also remembered the body with the swords in it. She didn’t want to be in there or at very least visible when another person entered. As she pushed back into the darkness they ran into an alternate exit. The door opened and they slipped into the hallway just in enough time to avoid whoever was coming in there.
“We have to be quiet and we have to be careful.” She whispered. Rika nodded and moved so her back was against Leila’s and they had a view from either angle coming up and down the hall. “Which way do we go? You want to walk forward or backward?”
“Forward.” Rika whispered and started to move. Leila kept her back pressed into Rika’s, at least as much as she could. The woman was tiny even if she was a firecracker when she was cornered. For now this seemed like a decent plan but, two hours was not a long time to ensure 25 random victims. Especially when she highly doubted the vast majority of the people invited there were cold blooded killers. They needed to find Julian before it was too late.
Inch by inch they headed down the hall in that manner. After about a foot they both slipped off their shoes as they both had been wearing heels, they could move far more quick and quiet without the shoes on. They got to a corner and switched positions so Leila could look down there first. There didn’t seem to be anything so they headed that way. Then a sudden scream cut then dead in their tracks. It wasn’t far, and being an FBI agent, Leila had the instinct to take of running.
“Better her than you.” Rika whispered still speaking in Japanese.
“You know it’s true. This isn’t a game Leila-”
“You get my point. One wrong move and we are both dead.” She snapped. Leila sighed. She worked in sex crimes in the FBI. The scream from any sort of victim of any sort of crime set her on edge. She was far more equipped to protect herself and others than she was betting most of these people here were. The only person she couldn’t really protect them from was Julian. Especially if he chose to randomly detonate her collar as well.
“Yes but he only needs 25 of us dead. Would you rather that woman die or the dangerous person who is hurting her because it’s time to start making choices.” Leila replied after a moment. There was another loud scream, this one very audibly asking for help. Rika muttered something under her breath, even with as close at Leila was she didn’t catch what she said.
“Fine.” Rika said. “Your bleeding heart will get us killed.”
“We don’t know that yet, do we?” She asked and took off running in the direction of the sound with Rika very close behind her. They slid around a corner to a large room where a woman was chained to a wall and another man was making small cuts on her body. Leila looked at the woman and immediately put her hand up to stop Rika. Then she shoved her back around the corner before the man even seemed to notice them.
“What now? Are we doing this or not?” Rika asked.
“I uh…I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what?” Rika whispered.
“That woman is…basically one of my mortal enemies.” She replied.
“Well I’m not so sure she doesn’t deserve to be hurt.” Leila muttered and she certainly wasn’t proud of having to say it but if she had to be honest it was kind of the truth. Rika moved around Leila quietly and poked her head around the corner. Leila let her do it for a moment before pulling her back before she could be seen. “Get it now?”
“That’s Meg Jenkins.” Rika said. “She’s a fucking sociopath if I ever met one. The way she went after you in the news after Mark died.”
“Okay whatever…the point is…I might agree with you on this one.” Rika said softly. When her husband Mark had vanished, Kim had started digging around in places she shouldn’t have. Then, when she couldn’t find the dirt she wanted she invented it. On the news. Leila had never experienced such public backlash. At first it had all been okay. People felt bad for her and more or less left her alone as they pitied that she’d been unknowingly married to a serial killer. Not a month later Kim came along and started to make baseless claims without any sort of evidence or merit that not only had she known her husband was a killer, but she was helping him. Leila was aware of who he was, and she may have helped him on occasion but Kim had no actual proof of this other than conspiracy theories read on the internet. Mark had covered his tracks so expertly (And hers as well) that when it came down to a formal investigation, Leila couldn’t be held accountable or even knowledgeable of the events. Kim had tried to drag all that stuff back up and get her tried again. Even if she ever did get real evidence, it didn’t matter. Double jeopardy applied. Which meant that Kim took to the internet and media to trash her. It didn’t matter that Kim was ultimately right, it mattered that she had no proof. Since she was making the accusations she had to back it up. She never did.
“She still writes about me from time to time you know.”
“Why would he invite her here?”
“I think the better question is why would she show up?” Rika had a good point asking that. Not only had Kim gone after her, but she’d also broken the story about Julian being a murderer, once again, with no proof. She was being sued left and right and always settling out of court but it didn’t seem she minded. She was making a lot of money anyway and it seemed worth it to her to take the lawsuits just to keep her name relevant. Leila took in a slow breath, if she really was what Kim said, even with lack of proof…then Kim must have been right about Julian as well? It was no more obvious than this current little murder party he was throwing. Who else did he have here? Who were friends? Who were enemies? Was this a joke? Revenge? Maybe some sort of reality TV prank?
“We need to go find the first victim.”
“The girl who’s head exploded. I want to make sure it’s authentic and not a trick.” Leila said.
“What? I’m sorry Leila but that girl was pretty fucking dead.”
“Or did it just seem that way?” Leila asked. “Are you coming with me or not?”
“Fine. But I want it on the record that I think this is stupid.”
“Noted.” Leila said. They started to move back down the hall again from where they first came. She was trying to figure out, still, why Rika was on the list. Did everyone have a guest invitation? Seemed likely. He must have invited 25 people on purpose and then allowed for 25 wild cards. Which meant she was the wild card and Rika was the choice. Rika was a very powerful and influential woman. She was the head CEO of Dawson Technology Institute. The company that Leila legally owned by didn’t run since she already had a job and preferred to stay out of the spotlight. It had been willed to her when her parents died (as she was the only child they had) but even before that point she’d never had any intent of running it. It’s why she became an FBI agent.