An hour had passed since Keung Xu left Vivian at the crime scene. He couldn’t believe he was looking at the exterior of Pankrác Prison in southeast Prague. It was inconceivable that he needed someone who was locked away inside. The man in question should have been the last person he ever wanted to see again, let alone seek out for help.
Keung would be within every right to strangle him on sight for what he’d done to his family. How times have changed. Keung went through the process of checking in, passing through security, and filling out forms. He second-guessed his actions every step of the way, even as he signed his name on the consent forms. There was no guarantee that this prisoner would agree to receive his visitation.
Perhaps he would dismiss Keung outright. Mr. Xu had been in contact with this inmate several months prior. He delayed their initial visit twice because he wasn’t sure he could handle it.
Part of him needed to face down this man who had taken so much from him. Yet, today, he was seeking out his help like a beggar pleading for scraps. In the end, Keung was called forward and led down a series of winding corridors. Keung was still reeling from the idea of the Žižkov Fiend targeting his daughter.
He knew Vivian wouldn’t stop until she came face to face with the killer. He dreaded the idea of that confrontation. He couldn’t do much to stop her, but maybe he could get a step ahead of her and end this nightmare prematurely.
He would find the Žižkov Fiend himself, but only if this inmate agreed to share his expertise.
Keung spotted him in the visitation room. The sight of the prisoner turned his stomach, although there wasn’t anything abnormal about his physical appearance. Keung remembered the man’s eyes well: devious, ruthless, devouring, and exuding arrogance. For a man who once took exceptional pride in his appearance, a grizzled beard had overrun his jaws.
His hollow eyes lacked the flames of youth that once seemed so rampant in his veins. The corner of his mouth pulled into a tight grimace. That was as much emotion as he was willing to sacrifice around his fellow inmates. The rest of his body seemed frozen in limbo.
Keung settled into the chair across from him.
Nikolai Koslov, the homicide detective who extorted his daughter five years ago, stared back at him. They didn’t utter a word to each other at first. It was hard to determine where to begin.
The last time they saw each other, Keung was thrashing on the floor of his living room with a bullet in his spine, and Nikolai was stepping over him in pursuit of Vivian.
“Remember me?” Keung snarled.
“I remember your daughter a bit more.”
Keung nearly lunged across the table. It was precisely the type of reaction that Nikolai hoped for.
“You probably wish there weren’t security guards outside this very room. It’s a pity. But don’t lose too much sleep over this missed opportunity. The inmates have had it in for me from day one. It’s just a matter of time until they catch me with my guard down.”
Keung exhaled sharply.
“Do you have any idea what I’m doing here?”
“No. As a matter of fact, curiosity is the only reason I agreed to permit you on my visitation list. That and I have a penchant for self-inflicted punishment. I’m sure you wouldn’t believe me, but I feel the slightest twinge of remorse whenever I think of Vivian.”
“You think about my daughter?”
Nikolai sighed and gazed up at the ceiling. He sank into a comfortable silence before speaking again.
“I remember the moment when my world stopped. It was that fragment of time when the transport bus growled to a halt in the sun-bleached gravel. I sat... frozen, staring straight ahead at a sprawling prison facility. Men condemned by my own hand would be waiting for me inside. The world I’d known for the thirty-six years of my life vanished over my shoulder. It was the most gut-wrenching type of rebirth. I reached a new threshold of madness and despair that I’d not known since… not since Emily…”
His expression grew more vacant by the second. Keung had no idea what Nikolai was talking about or the Emily he was referencing. Part of him didn’t give a damn.
“I look upon these walls each day and sometimes I think I imagine her there, sitting in the corner… Staring me down in judgment. Your daughter. How can I ever forget her? If only I hadn’t crossed paths with Vivian and tried to save her from the alleys.”
“If only you hadn’t extorted my daughter and tried to kill her when you panicked.”
Nikolai chuckled and clasped his hands.
“I think of you, too, sometimes. I’m glad to see you weren’t paralyzed for life. I heard about your time in the hospital. Had the bullet shifted a little to the left, you wouldn’t be sitting before me now. You wouldn’t be alive at all and where exactly would that leave me?”
“I suppose I’d still be behind these bars. I did kill a few others to hide my dirty secrets.”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“Oh yes, I’m savoring our reunion. I haven’t had the pleasure of an acquaintance in quite some time. But what are you after, Mr. Xu? That is what truly puzzles me. You shouldn’t be here.”