Juliana waited in her cell, now constantly guarded by a man outside the red door. She heard the order twenty minutes ago. They would be landing soon. She paced in her stuffy quarters. Handlebar Mustache's words buzzed around in her head. Gerard Black, the man possibly behind the disappearance of her parents, wanted to talk with her? Sure. He could have sent a letter, but instead he sent two goons and an entire zeppelin crew to abduct her.
The weight of the aircraft shifted and Juliana had to move her feet to stay upright. A few bumps later and she knew the zeppelin was docked. They had arrived somewhere in New Scotland; she would soon be face-to-face with the famous Gerard Black.
Clean Shaven entered the room holding the iron handcuffs. “Time to disembark, Ms. Russo.”
She crossed her arms, not eager to have those heavy chains on her wrists. The man opened the cell and held out the handcuffs. “Will you put them on or shall I?”
She was done trying to act brave. The fear squeezed the life out of her heart. She shook her head. “Please,” she whispered, keeping her tears at bay. Clean Shaven put the handcuffs down. He held out a hand. “Then you walk beside me, no fuss. Any tricks and the irons go on.”
Every word out of his mouth made Juliana hate him even more, but at least this way her wrists would be free. She nodded and let him take her arm at the elbow. They went down to the gangplank where Handlebar Mustache waited. He took note of her free wrists but gave no retort.
She walked with her captors inside a large, gray building. Over the main doors hung a banner with the Black Industries emblem. She stared at it as she walked under and inside the building. Everything was sleek and shinny. Every employee wore silk suits and a few wore top hats. Sophistication. No one in New San Gimignano dressed this way unless a special occasion.
They went up some stairs to a large office. A desk with a silver tray holding crystal glasses of whiskey sat in the middle of the room. The large window taking up the entire back wall looked out over the city skyline. It gave the appearance of power. Whoever stood at that window owned the world. Narcissist. That word summed up the owner of the office.
A large sketch of the very first Anichanical prototype hung on the wall to Juliana's left. She kept her eyes on it for as long as she could. The seconds ticked by, feeling like hours, and then the office door opened and a male voice reached her ears. “Juliana Russo.”
She closed her eyes, hoping the man would leave, taking his deep voice with him. She counted to three before turning around. But there he stood. He wore round wire spectacles and three silver pocket watches hung over his dark vest. Mousey brown whiskers garnishing his distinguished lips.
He walked inside to his desk and poured himself a glass of whiskey. Turning to Juliana, he asked, “Would you care for some?”
She shook her head, feeling like his dark eyes burned her flesh the longer he stared. They resembled coals, sparking with heat at the edges. One touch would singe a perfect circle into someones skin. He shrugged one shoulder and slowly drank his. When he finished he licked his lips and smiled at Juliana. “It's good to finally meet you, Juliana Russo.”
“Gerard Black, I presume?”
He bowed at the waist. “Indeed.”
“Well, you got me here. What do you want?”
He chuckled. “My, aren't you brave.”
She wasn't really. In fact she was far from it. She stood in front of this powerful man a scared, book smart girl. Nothing more. He moved behind his desk and sat down. He gestured to the chair across from him. “Do be seated.”
Juliana clenched her hands together to control their trembling and sat down. Gerard Black leaned back in his chair. “I'm going to cut to the chase, Juliana Russo,” he said. “I want the code.”
The code? He thought she knew the code? She swallowed and tried to play dumb. “What code?”
Gerard Black removed his spectacles and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Juliana Russo... don't take me for a fool.” He moved his eyes to her's. Again she felt her flesh sizzle. He said, “I know who you are. I know what you know, I just don't know what you know. So... tell me what you know.”
Her head spun. “I... I don't...” She had no words.
Gerard Black reached in a drawer and took out a stack of papers. Afterward, he revealed his gun. The sight of it made Juliana whimper involuntarily. Her reaction caused a smile to touch Gerard Black's lips. “I won't use this on you, Juliana Russo.”
“I don't know any code. Please take me back home.”
He clicked his tongue. “I don't believe you.” He set one of the papers on his desk, turning it upright for Juliana, and slid it towards her. She leaned forward and saw it was a photograph. A gasp escaped her and she covered her mouth before she could scream. The photo showed her father tied to a chair, blood dripping down from his left temple.
Gerard Black poured himself some more whiskey. “That was taken yesterday evening,” he informed nonchalantly. “A tough man, Pietro Russo.” He downed his drink, exhaling with a grimace as it burned going down. “But... I knew one day I would break him.”
Juliana wanted to run from the room, but her legs were like jelly. Her eyes were fixed on her father. They were torturing him. For years —her entire adult life— they'd held him. “Why?” she heard herself ask.
Gerard Black rubbed his chin. “He knows the code. I know he does. But he won't give it to me. However...” He stood up, straightening the bottom of his vest. “He finally fumbled and mentioned a personal detail.” He touched the side of his nose and winked. “He has a daughter.”
Juliana stared straight ahead out the window as the man walked around the desk, around her chair to stand behind her. A shiver ran up her spin. His long fingers rubbed her ear. His hot, whiskey breath tickled her neck. “If you won't give me the code then maybe Pietro will; if it will protect his daughter.”
She stood lightning fast and whirled around. Her hip hit the corner of his desk hard and she yelped. Gerard Black removed his spectacles and rubbed one lens on his sleeve. “You are afraid.”
“Well spotted,” she said softly.
He put the spectacles back on his face. “There is no need. So long as I get what I want.”
“But I swear, I don't know the code.” She was begging now. All she wanted was to be free of this man. “Where is my father? Please, I haven't seen him in seventeen years.”
Gerard Black ignored her. “The code, Juliana Russo.”
“Is my mother with him as well?”
“I don't know it!”
The office fell silent as the grave. Gerard Black sighed deeply and knocked on the door. It opened and entered Handlebar Mustache and Clean Shaven. “Remove this woman and take her to level 12.”
The two men moved straight to Juliana and took hold of her arms. She fought back but to no avail. As they pulled her passed Gerard Black, she pleaded, “Please let us go! We don't know anything! Please!”
The men stopped and turned her to face Gerard Black. The man had a fresh glass of whiskey to his lips. He inhaled the smell of it. “Why must you Russo's lie to me? You must know something.” He sipped his drink and added, “I've researched you, Juliana Russo. I know you're smart. Be smart now. Tell me the code.”
“I'm just a librarian,” she said, feeling more defeated than ever. Her words didn't please him. With a flick of his wrist the two men resumed taking her away. She struggled. “I'm a librarian! I'm a librarian!” Still, no matter what she said or how loudly she screamed, Gerard Black no longer listened.
The men took her to a glass elevator and pressed the golden 12 button. The doors shut and the elevator climbed. Juliana stared at her faded reflection in the glass. She had never seen such fear —such exhaustion— in her eyes before.
The elevator reached the twelfth floor. They went down to the very end of the hallway and entered a room. It was dark and had only one window which had a black blanket over it to block the outside light. Juliana stumbled as she was moved inside. She threw her hands out in front of her to catch her fall. They slapped the hard floor. A sharp sting ran up her fingers to her wrists.
The two men left, locking the door. She heard one set of footsteps leave down the hallway. The other must have stayed to guard her. Fine. She wasn't going to be able to escape anytime soon anyway. She sat down and rubbed her hands together. Something sticky covered her palms. She sniffed them. It smelled odd. Metallic? Some type of grease? She couldn't put her finger on it. What had she touched?
Someone moaned and she went stiff. Her head whipped to the right. “Is someone in here?” she called with a shaky voice. A chair scooted across the floor adjacent to her right. She slowly stood, reaching out so not to bump into anything. She walked and felt a table and a chair. On the table she felt a tall metal object. Feeling up the long, skinny bit, she felt a switch. It was a lamp.
She flipped the switched and blinked her eyes a few times to adjust them to the light. The first thing she saw were bloody hand prints smeared on the lamp. Her hands began to shake with apprehension. She lifted her hands and saw the blood. That's what she'd smelled. The floor had splatters of blood —in some places puddles— and she'd landed right in some.
She cringed with a whimper and rubbed her hands along the edge of the table, trying her best to get as much off as possible. A sob escaped her. Why was this happening? They'd dumped her in a room of blood. All for a code. To destroy the possibility of living animals. Juliana squeezed her eyes shut until she saw white spots. Gerard Black had once filled her with hope. He'd given her Anichanicals. Now, she hated him. Anichanicals, greenhouses, none of it mattered. He was a greedy monster and Juliana detested such people.
The moan sounded and she inhaled sharply as she remembered. Her eyes searched each corner. At the back beside an empty bookshelf, she saw a pair of legs. The ankles were shackled. The rest of the body scooted into view. Juliana screamed and ran around the table. She fell on her knees. Removing the gag from the man's mouth, she threw her arms around his neck and cried. “Dad.”
She kissed his scruffy cheek. His face was bruised and he still had blood along the side of his face as she'd seen in the picture, only now it was a dry, dark brown. Her father examined his daughter with wide, unbelieving eyes. “Juliana?”
“Yes, Dad.” She noticed his wrists were handcuffed. They too had dry blood with a couple fresh patches. She wished she could unlock them for him. However, the shock of seeing her took his mind off the bonds. He raised his hands to her face. “You're a woman.”
She kissed his forehead. He was so weak he seemed like a child. “I'm grown,” she affirmed, not knowing what else to say. She took his hands in hers. “You've been here? This entire time?”
He nodded and lowered his eyes. “I'm so sorry, my daughter. I've tried to get home to you so many times.”
They sat together in stunned silence for a few minutes. Juliana leaned against his chest, allowing herself to become that ten-year-old child again. At long last, she was with her father. She cried and kissed his hands. He wiped away her tears.
She sat up with a sniff. “What about mom? She never came home either.”
Before he could answer her the door opened and in stepped Gerard Black and Handlebar Mustache. Juliana sat beside her father, holding his hand tighter. She felt him squeeze it back.
Handlebar Mustache pulled one of the chairs to one end of the room and then the other to the opposite side. He gestured to one. “Ms. Russo. Take your seat.”
“I'm not moving,” she declared.
Gerard Black checked the time on one of his pocket watches. That gesture brought a worried look to Handlebar Mustache's face. His mustache twitched and he moved quickly over to Juliana. He grabbed her by the collar and dragged her to the chair. She screamed and swatted at his hands. Her father shouted, ordering him to let her go. Handlebar Mustache slammed her down into the chair and then shouted, “Get in your seat, Mr. Russo!”
Pietro slowly got to his feet, standing on shaky legs. He waddled to the other chair and sat down. Handlebar Mustache cracked his neck. “That's better.” He gave a nod to his boss. “The floor is yours, sir.”
Gerard Black moved to stand between the two family members. He rubbed his chin. “I demonstrated my resolve, Pietro Russo,” he said. “You know what I will do to get what I want.”
Juliana heard a click next to her ear. Handlebar Mustache had his gun pointed a her temple. Her breath left her lungs. It felt like someone had knocked the wind out of her. Pietro held out his handcuffed hands. Uncharacteristic tears fell from his eyes. Juliana had never seen her father cry so openly before. “Not my daughter,” he blubbered. “Not Juliana.”
“Then you will finally disclose the code to me,” Gerard Black said, as if confirming it.
Pietro shook his head. “I have told you for years now... I. Don't. Know it!” He rattled his chairs and shook back and forth wildly. Juliana turned her face away. She hated seeing her once strong father in such a state.
Gerard Black gave Handlebar Mustache a look and the man pressed the business end of the gun to Juliana's head. She yelped at the feeling of the cold metal on her skin. The man wrapped his finger around the trigger. One more look from his boss and Juliana would certainly die.
“Last chance, Pietro Russo,” said Gerard Black. “I'm sure I can find others to use against you.”
“We don't know any code!” Juliana shouted. Gerard Black hadn't expected her outburst. He turned slowly and gave her one of his burning stares. Juliana wasn't the type of person to give away a person's secrets, but her life and her father's life lay in the balance. She had to do something. “Carlo Costa. He has your code. He's the man you want.”
Gerard Black smiled followed by joyous laughter. He was sincerely happy. This reaction cued Handlebar Mustache to stand down. He removed his weapon from her head. Gerard Black held his hand over his stomach. “Wow!” he said with a wide smile. He looked at Pietro. “Your daughter broke way easier than you did.” He rubbed his hands together. “Carlo Costa,” he repeated. “Thank you, Juliana Russo.” He bowed to her and she detested the clear mockery behind it.
Handlebar Mustache waited for his boss to make the first move. Gerard Black checked one of his watches. He took his sweet time before he finally left the room. His minion followed and locked the door. No doubt he stood outside like a good guard dog.
Juliana rushed to her father. He shook his head. She knew he was disappointed in her. All his time in captivity, keeping Carlo a secret, and she spilled it. She wiped her brown eyes. “I had too. I'm sorry, Dad.”
Pietro rubbed his wet nose. “No, my daughter. You did what was right.” He choked on his words and coughed into his hands. Juliana rubbed his back. He stiffened under her touch.
The sound of a zeppelin reached Juliana's ears. It sounded close. Too close. She tried to pinpoint the direction it came from. Only Black Industries were allowed to dock at the zeppelin port outside. The racket of the nearing craft perplexed her. Black Industries zeppelins had a distinct sound due to their massive size and expensive boilers and propellers. They flew almost completely mute. This sounded nothing like those.
And then... contact.
End of Part 4