I blink back the stun of his words. “What? No…,” I shake my head in protest. “No, you have to take me back! You saw the video! They will kill her!”
He stands from the chair and straightens the sleeves of his white dress shirt now tucked neatly into his pants and buttoned back around his strong wrists.
“The plan has changed,” he says calmly.
I practically throw myself toward him, stopping just inches from his body, my eyes wide and feral and unbelieving. “No, Victor!” He flinches. “I have to go back! Don’t you understand?! We—I have to help her! I want Izel dead! I want Javier dead for what he’s done!”
“He will be,” Victor says.
He turns to the side and zips the duffle bag closed.
I push myself the last few inches through the space between us and then shove him with both hands. “I’m going back with or without you!” He catches me by the wrists, securing them firmly within his grasp. “Please….” The word comes out with every ounce of desperation in me.
He scans my face, so close I can feel the warm breath emitting from his nostrils. “Just be patient,” he says, stunning me into stillness.
He lets go of my wrists when he senses me beginning to step backward and away from him.
“Patient?” I can’t believe what he’s saying to me. “There’s no time to be patient! How can you say that?”
He bends over and fixes his hands underneath the mattress of the bed nearest the window and lifts it onto its side revealing a hollow space underneath surrounded by the wood frame that holds the bed up. He grabs the duffle bags, hiding them inside and then the suitcase, setting the mattress back down afterwards.
“I’m awaiting word,” he says.
“Word from who?”
He sighs, annoyed with my questions. “From Javier.”
I don’t know what to say, or what to believe, all I do know is that my mind is spinning with everything going on and I can’t keep up.
Victor walks to the door and looks back at me.
“Come on,” he says, nodding with the backward tilt of his head for me to follow.
“What, you’re not going to tie my hands together, or drag me down the hallway by my wrist? What if I run away?”
“You don’t think so?” I counter.
He shakes his head once. “No, you won’t because I’m the only one of us who knows the way back to Javier.”
I just stand here.
Victor places his hand on the silver lever and opens the door. “Are you coming, or are you staying here?”
I stare across the room at him blankly.
Maybe he’s going to help me after all. Maybe after seeing what Izel and Javier are doing to Lydia, Victor has remembered how it feels to be remorseful, if he’s ever known what that feels like at all.
“Where are we going?” I ask, knowing that it can’t be far if he’s leaving his bags here.
More than two hours have passed and there has been no word. Nothing from Niklas or Vonnegut. Nothing from Javier or Guzmán. The girl is beyond the point of restless. I bought her breakfast in the hotel, but she hardly ate a bite, just picked at her omelet with her fork. It may be a result of her concern for her friend, but I find her sudden inability to ask continuous questions or try to converse with me, refreshing.
I do wonder why she has yet to try contacting family members. I find it difficult to believe that, despite the grave situation with her dear friend, she would not also show interest in calling a sister, grandmother or an aunt. That she did not use the one opportunity she had last night while I was sleeping.
This leaves me with two theories: she cares more about the life of her friend, or she has no family left. Perhaps it’s both. I’m fairly certain that it is.
I feel my cell phone vibrating against my leg and I stand up from the table in the lobby and reach inside to retrieve it.
The girl is instantly attentive to me.
My brother’s code name reads on the screen.
“Who is it?” the girl asks, standing up with me.
I run my finger over the answer bar, but hold the phone, face-down against my chest. Gesturing for the girl to sit back down, I say, “I want you to stay here. I’m going right outside to take this call. I trust that you’ll be here when I get back.” I know she’s not going anywhere.
Clearly wanting nothing more than to follow me out and hang on my every word, she takes a deep, heavy breath, crosses her arms and takes her seat again.
“OK.” She grits her teeth behind her softly pressed lips.
I walk out the front doors and put the phone to my ear.
“I am going to put Javier on this call,” Niklas says. “Are you prepared?”
“Yes,” I answer and wait while Niklas makes the transfer.
Javier’s voice seethes with barely controlled anger when he is patched through:
“You’ll die for what you’ve done,” he says in English. “Sarai should’ve been brought back to me the second you found her!”
“What’s done is done,” I say. “Get to the reason for your contact.”
I hear him breathe heavily on the three-way call. Niklas sits listening quietly.
Finally, Javier contains himself.
“I still want the hit on Guzmán carried out for the price we agreed on, but I will give you another one million American to also kill Sarai.”
Kill her? I did not expect my communication with Javier would cause me surprise. This is very interesting, indeed.
“Why would you want her dead?” I ask.
“That doesn’t matter,” he says. “The reasons never matter in this business. You should know that.”
I do know that, and this is the first time I’ve ever asked why a client wanted a mark killed.
“I have a better offer for you,” I announce. “You bring the girl’s friend, Lydia and one other girl at your compound—a photo will be sent to you immediately following this call—to Green Valley, Arizona in twenty-four hours. I trade you this girl for those two and then afterwards I will kill Guzmán and then give you the girls back once I have been paid in full.”
I don’t have to hear Niklas comment to know that he is in complete disagreement with this, but he remains quiet.
“You mean Guzmán’s daughter,” Javier probes, knowing. “Am I right?”
“Yes,” I say. “If it isn’t already obvious, Guzmán paid to have her returned to him.”
Javier laughs. “And all this time I thought he was trying to have me killed!” He pulls himself from his humorous revelation. “You are good,” he says. “I give you that. Knock out two contracts at once. Show Guzmán his daughter, take the money for bringing her to him then turn around and kill him and take the money I paid to have him killed.” He laughs again.
I remain calm and unemotional.
“Is it a deal, or not?”
“So then you’re passing on the contract to kill Sarai?” he asks.
“Right now,” I begin, “she is my only leverage. Once I do what you paid me to do and I give her back to you, do what you want with her. It is not of my concern.”
Niklas ends the call after we have come to another agreement. He calls me back once he knows that Javier’s line has been disconnected.
“Victor, you cannot do this,” Niklas argues. “You are making deals without—”
“What are Vonnegut’s new orders?” I ask.
I glance through the window to see the girl still sitting anxiously in the hotel lobby.
“He has not given them yet,” Niklas says. “You are not permitted to agree to such deals, only to enforce them.”
“Then tell Vonnegut I was only attempting to maintain the upper-hand,” I explain. “The moment that Javier realizes that I have no authority to offer and agree to such terms is the moment he believes he can get away with demanding more. I mean no disrespect, but Vonnegut must trust me on this. He has always trusted my decisions before. He has been given no reason to stop now.”
Niklas remains quiet. I believe he holds this fact against me, that the Order trusts me, yet they have never given him the same luxury.
“Very well,” Niklas agrees. “I will tell Vonnegut. But Victor, you’re becoming ungoverned.” He pauses as if to decide whether or not he should go on. “Since the mission in Budapest last year. I have noticed the difference in you. The Order I believe has not, but it is only a matter of time.”
“Niklas,” I say to him carefully as my brother and not my liaison, “I thank you for your discretion. Now, will you do something for me?”
“When have I ever refused?”
I leave Niklas, tucking the phone back in my pocket and I head inside to find the girl.
She had been pacing the floor and when she notices me, she stops and her arms come uncrossed and fall to her sides, a look of question heavy on her face.
“Come with me,” I say, taking her by the elbow.
“Where are we going?” She follows alongside me without question or argument.
“To Green Valley.”
“But why, Victor? What’s going on?”
I glance over at her momentarily and tug on her arm as we round the corner at the top of the stairs.
“I will tell you soon,” I say, “but first, there are some things that you need to tell me.”
We make our way down the hallway and stand in front of the door at our room as I fish around inside my pocket for the card key.
The girl looks bewildered.
“You need to tell me why Javier Ruiz would want you dead.”
Her expression falls under a veil of shock.
Victor walks quickly, but casually over to get the mattress and box springs lifted. With one arm holding them up, he reaches in and grabs each bag, one by one and sets them aside.
“I don’t understand,” I say, crossing my arms and rubbing them with the opposite hands, up and down as if there’s a chill in the air. “Did he say he was going to kill me?”
Victor unzips the duffle bag on the tabletop and sifts through the contents.
“No, he offered me one million to kill you for him.”
I blink back the stun and just stand here in disbelief, more goose bumps breaking out all over my body.
Victor comes up in front of me and places both hands on my shoulders. He pushes me gently down on the edge of the bed where I sit willingly. Then he takes a seat in one of the chairs underneath the table, turning it around fully so that he can face me.
“Why would Javier want you dead enough to pay that much to have you killed?”
Absently, I raise my eyes to look up at him, still a bit lost in my thoughts.
“I-I don’t know,” I stutter.
“Yes you do,” he insists. “Perhaps not directly, but something tells me that deep down a part of you has some idea—think.”
I look away from his eyes, trying to recall my time at the compound, searching for what could be the answer. When many long seconds pass and I’ve found nothing, Victor lifts his bottom from the chair long enough to scoot it closer to me. That gets my attention again.