“You don’t want to see what’s on that computer,” I say.

“You admit it, then,” she says nervously. “Something happened. You found out while I was in the shower.”

I’m standing up now. She still hasn’t shot me. She’s not going to unless I try to go after her. Though I’m not so impressed anymore. If I was her, I would have put a bullet in my skull by now.

I nod my answer. I’m only mildly surprised that she figured that much out. I should never have asked about her mother. She’s a smart girl, this one, though still far too sympathetic and human to get out of this by herself alive.

Leaving the gun in her right hand and keeping her eyes on me, she takes three and a half steps backward and reaches for the iPad, glancing between it and me, one second each, long enough to type in the password. After one full minute of frustration, unable to find anything, the girl points the gun at the iPad and steps away from the table closer to the wall.

“You pull it up,” she demands. “Whatever it is.”

Her hands, both gripping the gun handle now, are shaking.

“I will tell you one last time, you don’t want to see it.”

“Just show me!”

She’s crying now. Tears roll down her cheeks. I notice her lip quiver on the right side. She’s probably sick to her stomach, her nerves frayed to nothing. I glimpse the ropes I tied her up with lying on the floor. They haven’t been cut. She has small hands, small wrists. Quite the escape artist to have worked herself free from those knots. I glimpse the clock between the beds. But it took her far too long to pull it off, I see.

“Hurry!”

Her eyes are red and glistening with moisture.

I turn the iPad around on the table to face me. Using my finger, I open my private email account and then the folder where I filed away the attachment message I received last night from my liaison:

“What have you done?” Fleischer inquired the night before through the live video feed. “The girl was not part of the deal.” His German accent always bleeding heavily through his English.

“Guzmán’s daughter was there,” I said. “I saw her on the compound before I entered the house.” I looked once toward the restroom where the girl was still showering after fifteen minutes. “Javier Ruiz has an impressive operation.”

“Are you certain you saw the same girl?”

I was offended by Fleischer’s lack of confidence in me, that after years of working together and never being wrong in my assessments that he would still second-guess my findings.

“It was the same girl,” I confirmed evenly. “I took half of the money Javier agreed to and left, as I was ordered to do.”

“And then how did you end up with the other girl?”

“She escaped the compound and hid in my car.”

“And you did not know she was there?” He appeared surprised.

“Yes, I knew,” I confirmed.

“Then explain why—”

“Remember, Fleischer, that you are not my employer. It would be wise not to speak to me as if you were.”

Fleischer swallowed his pride and raised his chin to appear more confident in his moment beneath me.

“What did Javier offer to have Guzmán killed?”

“Not a fraction of what Guzmán offered to kill Javier and Izel and for the safe return of his daughter.”

I added, “I could have fulfilled the contract while I was there.”

“Yes,” Fleischer said. “But that was not part of the plan, the same as keeping the runaway with you.”

“The girl will be useful.”

“So far, she has proven anything but,” Fleischer said, regaining the confidence I stripped from him before. “Everything has changed. The plan. The contract. Your orders.”

“What are my new orders?” I asked.

“Vonnegut has given no new orders yet,” he said. “He awaits my contact. Your new orders will depend on the information I get from you now.”

Fleischer and I locked eyes in this moment, both of us sharing the same thoughts: You are my brother and I will do nothing to betray you, no matter our profession or the orders that either of us are ever given.

No one but the two of us know that we share the same father. But over the years since our recruit by the Order when we were young boys, we have grown apart. It is often easy to forget that we share the same blood, especially by Fleischer, first name Niklas, who has lived in my shadow in the Order for so many years.

I simply nodded, knowing that Niklas would relay to our employer, Vonnegut, whatever I needed him to.

To retain the relationship between my brother and me, I offered him information he never asked for:

“The girl will be useful, Niklas,” I repeated, calling him by his first name to offer a truce. “It seems that she is more to Javier than Javier would like us to know.”

Niklas nodded in response, understanding my intent.

“You mean to use the girl to trade for Guzmán’s daughter,” he stated.

“If it comes down to that, yes,” I said. “Tell Vonnegut that I have it under control, but that I will await whatever orders he chooses.”

“I will tell him,” Niklas agreed.

I clicked on the ‘play’ button then to watch the video Javier sent to Vonnegut, in which Fleischer, as my liaison, was then ordered to pass along to me.

It’s just as I thought: Javier has the girl’s friend, Lydia, in a compromising position. He wants the girl to see it, to know that if she doesn’t give herself up or convince me to take her back to him, Lydia will die. I knew then as I watched the scene unfold on the video before me that this Mexican drug lord was far more brutal than the Order knew.

I heard the shower shut off and I ran my finger over the screen to turn off the video, shutting the iPad down afterwards.

The girl will be devastated. If she finds out about this, it will make her unstable.

But I can use this also to my advantage.

With the recorded video now playing on the screen, I twist the iPad around on the table to face the girl’s direction. She glances down at it for only seconds, the gun shaking in her grasp, and then back at me again, fearful that I might make a move. But when she sees her friend, Lydia, she turns her attention solely on the video, abandoning her upper-hand. I don’t take advantage of it. I slide my hands into my pants pockets and stand here watching the girl’s eyes widen with trepidation as the video plays.

Javier circles Lydia who sits bound to a chair, a red bandanna is stuffed in her mouth. Tears and sweat soak her face. Her left eye is swollen and bruised. A trickle of blood beads from one nostril.

“For you, Sarai,” Javier says into the camera as Izel stands next to Lydia, her hair wrenched in Izel’s fist. “I want you back here in thirty-six hours.” The girl clasps her free hand over her trembling lips; the gun hasn’t been pointed directly at me for the past several long seconds. “Or she’ll die and it’ll be your fault.”

Izel pulls back her fist and buries it in Lydia’s already bruised and beaten face. Lydia’s bound body lurches backward and more tears spring from her eyes. Blood erupts from her bottom lip.

The girl drops the gun on the floor and reaches for the iPad, shoving it clean off the table and then she falls to the floor onto her knees, sobbing into her hands.

I sit down on the end of the bed, leaving the gun on the floor and the girl alone in her moment of despair.

CHAPTER NINE

Sarai

I can’t see straight. Through the burning tears, through the blur in front of my eyes, through the anger and hatred and hurt shorting out my nervous system. My body has somehow found its way onto the floor. I lay with my face pressed against the carpet.

Not Lydia…anyone but her. She’s innocent and frail. She’ll never be able to endure it. Not like me….

It takes me far too long to come to the realization that I’m no longer the one holding the gun, that I’m no longer the one in control. One moment of weakness, traumatized by the suffering of my friend, has stripped that privilege from me. And I deserve it. I deserve whatever punishment fate deems fit to serve because I got away and Lydia didn’t. I should have used the phone not five feet from me on the nightstand between the beds, to call the police. I should have called them before I forced him awake, but I was too insistent on knowing what information Victor knew that I didn’t. I had still hoped that maybe he would help me, at least by telling me the location of the compound so I’d have something to tell the authorities.

I should have shot him when I had the chance.

From the corner of my eye, I see Victor’s black dress socks planted unmoving on the floor. Tilting my head back just a little, my eyes trail from the bottom of his pants up to his waist. His forearms are resting along the length of the tops of his legs, the palms of his hands gently cupping his knees. He sits with his back fairly straight, his gaze fixated out ahead.

Finally, his head moves as he averts his eyes to me.

“I am sorry,” he says with absolutely no emotion in his words, yet somehow I detect the faintest hint of emotion hidden behind his eyes.

“You have to take me back,” I say, rising into a stand. “You can’t let her die.” My voice trembles.

Victor takes a seat at the table again and begins to sift through his duffle bag. I don’t care to know what he’s doing or what he plans to do from here on out. Mostly what I think about is Lydia and what I saw on that video; that image will be seared into my mind forever. A part of me wants to blame Victor for all of this, simply because he is what he is and that he could’ve become human just long enough to help me get her out of there. But I’m back to blaming myself because, in truth, I never once asked Victor to help me free her. He refused to help me even so I knew he wouldn’t go back there for her.

It’s all my fault. I could have done things differently, planned my escape differently. I could have forced Lydia out that window with me that night.

Seems there are a lot of things I could have and should have done. I never imagined I’d be the dumb girl in the horror movie running into the scary house or tripping over my own feet as I stumbled through the dark woods. I guess by default we’re all the ones shaking our heads at the stupidity of others until we’re forced into traumatic experiences ourselves.

The early morning sunlight slowly begins to flood the room. The only movement I made all night was to turn onto my other side on the floor to keep Victor in my sights. I’m not afraid of him. Not anymore. But I couldn’t help but know where he was, nonetheless.

My back hurts and my face itches from the imprint the scruffy carpet left on my skin.

Victor sits in the chair next to the table now with his shoes on as if he’s been quietly waiting for the day to come.

I lift my aching body from the floor and push myself into a stand.

“I don’t care anymore what you do with me,” I say. “Just please take me back to Javier. I don’t have much time.”

Victor’s face reveals curiosity. “You’ll not be going back to the compound.”


Tags: J.A. Redmerski In the Company of Killers Book Series
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