Javier raises his gun at me, that last bullet I know now why he didn’t use it on her.

I stand frozen, one hand still on the wall behind me, the other somehow made its way to my stomach as if it could keep the vomit down by being there. I stumble on more debris and then press my back against the wall to let it hold me up. Because my body is still betraying me, my legs weak and unstable, threatening to give way beneath me any second.

I stare across the small space separating Javier and I. I stare into his cold, bottomless dark eyes, not the barrel of his gun pointed directly at me, but his eyes. I hear a click, just a click, and we look blankly into each other’s faces, both of us confused by what just happened. Then a shot rings out and my head falls against the wall with my back. I feel my body sliding down until I’m sitting on the floor just like Samantha. Limp and spent, just like Samantha. The room spins around in my vision like a thick haze of gray.

And I close my eyes and let the darkness take me.

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Victor

I’m forty thousand feet above the Texas landscape when I get the call.

“Victor,” Niklas says into the phone, “Javier is not in Tucson. He was reported to have used a known credit card with an old alias, just outside of La Grange, Texas.”

I raise my back stiffly from the seat.

“That’s less than a two hour drive to Houston,” I point out, more to myself. “At what time did the card process?”

“At three-twelve this afternoon.”

My body becomes rigid.

Hanging up the phone, I crush it in my fist down at my side as I make my way to the cockpit.

“Turn the plane around,” I demand.

Less than an hour later I’m driving through traffic heedlessly, I know drawing unneeded attention to me. But I speed on through, running a number of stoplights, not knowing how I managed to drive all the way back to Samantha’s house without having to lose a cop or two in a high-speed chase on my way there.

There’s a car parked out front on the street between Samantha’s house and the one next door. I don’t remember seeing that one before I left. With my gun in my hand, I stay low as I get out and rush up the driveway, using Samantha’s car as a shield just in case. There are no lights on inside the house. It’s unusually quiet. Samantha’s dog would normally be tangled up in the window blind by now, trying to see out after hearing a vehicle pull up.

I hear another, larger dog, barking in the backyard of the opposite neighbor and I stay crouched low, making my way underneath the carport and next to the older car parked there.

One figure emerges from the side of the house just after I move silently across the space and make it to the brick wall underneath the carport. I grab him by the throat too fast for him to react and throw him to the ground. His gun hits the concrete and in that same moment, I put a bullet through his temple before he has a chance to seize it.

Another man calls out a name, looking for the man I just killed. I don’t wait for him to come around the side. I step right out in front of him, raise my gun to his face and get my shot off before he sees me fully. His body hits the grass.

I wait only seconds in case there are anymore and then I rush inside the house through the side door underneath the carport.

The house has been destroyed; Samantha’s dog, shot to death on the kitchen floor. I smell gun smoke, blood, freshly brewed coffee and unfamiliar cologne.

The first body I see is Samantha’s. The second, Javier’s.

“Sarai?” I say when I see her sitting against the wall to my left, partially hidden by the darkness. I take off my black gloves and shove them inside my jacket pocket and go over to her. “Sarai?”

She doesn’t look up at me, so I crouch in front of her.

The gun I left underneath her mattress lies next to her foot. I slip it into the back of my pants. Both of her knees are drawn upward against her chest, her hands lay palm-up beside her on the floor.

“He’s dead,” she says, her words distant as if she’s still trying to process the truth. She raises her eyes to me; pain and confusion and disorientation reside within them. “I killed him, Victor.”

I reach out and lift her into my arms.

“I’m going to get you out of here.”

Holding her close to my chest, I carry her through the death and debris and out of the house. She doesn’t speak, but she holds onto me as if she’s terrified I’ll drop her. Or, perhaps, terrified I’ll intentionally let her go.

I set her carefully in the passenger’s seat.

Three police cars fly past toward Samantha’s house one block over as we leave the scene, doing the speed limit this time around.

Sarai is quiet and motionless, emotionless, all the way back to the private airport where the jet awaits us.

There’s only one place to take her now. Home. To my home on the New England coast.

~~~

My driver picks us up from the airport hours later. Sarai rode all the way to my cliff-side beach house with her head pressed against the backseat window. She never moved. It’s the first time since I found her in my car in Mexico that I would welcome her chatty one-sided conversation and annoying questions. But I get nothing from her. And I find myself silently yearning for it.

The first kill is always the hardest, the one you never forget. But the first kill is also what drops the chances of living a normal life by half.

Sarai is no longer in the fifty-fifty zone.

I shouldn’t have left her there….

Carrying her across the cobblestone driveway and into the house, I take her inside and lie her down on my sofa. It’s been a month since I’ve been here and it still smells as clean as the day I left and set out on a job to kill a man in Columbia. It is because of jobs like that one that I can afford such luxuries. But it’s a shame that because of what has happened with Sarai that I will have to leave here soon, too. I thought perhaps I’d get to stay in one place for at least a year this time, but such is the life I lead, a dark and lonely path lined only with the solitude of death.

Sarai lays on her side, her head propped against a couch pillow.

I remove my suit jacket and drape it over the back of the chair next to me and then start to go into the kitchen to get her some water, but her voice stops me cold.

“The gun jammed.”

Standing in the arched kitchen entrance, I turn to look at her across the expanse of marble tile and expensive furniture. I walk toward her again, slowly, breaking apart the button of my shirt cuff.

I wait patiently for her to go on. She still doesn’t look at me; she stares out ahead of her seeing only the scene as she relives it.

“I’d be dead if it weren’t for that.”

I walk closer, still keeping my distance as though some part of me doesn’t want to disrupt her thoughts with my presence. I break apart the button on the left cuff and roll up my sleeves.

“I froze,” she says, remembering it. “I thought I was dead. I just stood there waiting to die.” She moves her head backward just enough to finally see me. “I don’t know how I reacted so fast, but when his gun jammed…that look on his face…next thing I know the gun in the back of my pants is in my hand and Javier is on the floor. I didn’t hesitate. It was like someone else was inside my head at that moment. She was the one who grabbed the gun. She was the one who pulled the trigger. Because I didn’t realize what had happened until it was over.” She looks away again. “I killed him,” she adds distantly.

“He deserved it,” I say calmly.

Her head snaps back to see me again, making me think that when she looked at me moments ago, she wasn’t really seeing me at all. It’s as if my voice just woke her.

She raises up from the couch.

I watch her curiously in a vague, sidelong glance. I glimpse her hands shaking and the corners of her mouth trembling. She curls her fingers towards her palms until her hands are balled into fists. And then she lunges at me.

“You left! You bastard! You left!” She cries out, beating her fists against my chest as hard as she can.

I let her. I stand motionless and let her until she can’t do it anymore and her body starts to fall exhaustively at my feet. But I catch her before she hits the floor, wrapping my arms around her small frame. She sobs into my chest, choking on her tears, grasping the seams of my suit vest with her trembling fingers. “You left…,” she repeats over and over again until the words fade into a whisper on her lips. “You left….”

I hold her tight. Awkwardly. Because I’ve never done this before. I’ve never experienced this type of sorrow and pain and have been the one to be expected to help mend it. My mother was the only one who had ever held me like this when I was a boy and I can’t remember the way it felt.

I feel like I want to press my lips against the top of her hair. But I don’t. I have the urge to squeeze her a little tighter and take her completely into me. But I can’t. I just can’t bring myself to do it.

“Sarai,” I say, gently pulling her away so that I can see her eyes. “I need you to tell me what happened. Tell me everything. Did Samantha make any phone calls? Did she receive any strange calls that she made mention of?”

Sarai’s expression distorts offensively.

“You think she had something to do with this?” She pushes herself away from me. “She died protecting me! How could you think she had anything to do with it?!”

I sigh deeply. “No, I can’t believe that she did. Samantha was trustworthy. But she and Niklas are the only two people besides you and me who knew where you were.” I step forward and place my hands on her upper-arms in an attempt to make her understand and when she doesn’t push me away I’m relieved. “It had to have been one of them and I’m only trying to get the facts.”

“Then it was Niklas,” she spats angrily at the thought of him. Her eyes are wild and narrowed. “He hates me, Victor. He hates it that you’ve been helping me. He all but said so when I was in the SUV with him. I know it was him!”

I step away from her, my hands falling away from her arms and I cross one arm over my stomach, propping the other on it. Rubbing my hand over the short scruff of my face, I contemplate the situation. Sarai is right. Niklas is the obvious answer and although often the obvious turns out not to be the answer after all, this time it must be. Because it’s the only thing that makes sense.

My brother betrayed me.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Sarai

“What are you doing?” I ask as Victor starts for his jacket on the chair.

He reaches inside the pocket and pulls out a cell phone I’ve never seen him use before and punches in a number.

“I’m going to bring Niklas here.”

Stunned, at first I just look at him. But then I start to panic inside.

I rush toward him, grabbing him by the elbow.

“No, you can’t let him know where we are,” I say breathily. “Why bring him here? What are you going to do?”

My mind is frantic with scenarios, none of which I can envision ending happily.

I zip my lips when he holds up his hand to hush me as Niklas answers on the other end of the phone.


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