Victor takes me out to buy a new dress with that four thousand dollars he conned from the manager. We go back to our hotel long enough to change clothes. I gape at him when I see him fully dressed. He wears a slim-fitting gray V-neck cardigan over a long-sleeved white button-up shirt. Very casual, untucked from his dark blue jeans. A pair of black leather lace-up shoes adorn his feet. I’ve only ever seen him wear expensive suits and dress shoes, so it’s a bit of a shock to see him in anything else. Though he still manages to pull off sophistication and wealth, flawlessly.
I wear a silk sun dress and another pair of expensive flat sandals, glad to be out of those painful heels.
We do end up meeting up with Fredrik, after all, though it’s entirely innocent. The three of us go out to a cocktail party on the rooftop of another luxury hotel and although I have to stay in character as Izabel Seyfried the entire time, I get the feeling that Fredrik knows I’m not really the bitch I portray myself to be. I find him refreshing and the longer Victor and I are with him throughout the night, the more I enjoy his company.
It almost feels…normal, like I’ve found some small way to enjoy the things around me like everybody else and to fit in with society. In the back of my mind I know that it won’t last, but at least I’m experiencing it without having to constantly look over my shoulder.
We part ways with Fredrik just after midnight when Victor feels it’s best we get back to our hotel and get some rest. Tomorrow night is going to be very different from this night and it should have me worried. But I’m already playing the game. I’m in too deep, too involved with my alter ego who has had more fun in one night than Sarai has had in a lifetime. I’m anxious and excited for tomorrow to get here, not afraid and having doubts like I think Victor secretly wants me to be.
No, this underground world he’s opening me up to slowly isn’t having the effect on me he had planned.
It’s only making me want it more.
“Fredrik tells me you had a girl with you,” Niklas says on the phone. “Izabel, was it?”
“Yes,” I answer. “Obviously it was necessary.”
He knows. I’ve never been so divided before. Niklas or Sarai? I feel this dire need to be selective about anything I tell him from here on out. But I can’t lie to him about Izabel and Sarai being one in the same because there are too many ways for Niklas to find out the truth. He likely already has the proof he needs. If I lie to him he’ll know I don’t trust him with her and that could put Sarai in even more danger.
“I gave Sarai a choice of where she’d like to live and she chose California. That is the only reason I brought her along.”
I hear Niklas take a concentrated breath.
“But you brought her along for a mission? Why?”
“Because for now, she is convenient,” I say. “Considering the short amount of time I was given to carry this hit out, there wasn’t time to fill anyone else in.”
I know this is not the greatest of explanations. There are several women in Los Angeles who work for the Order like Fredrik and one of them could have easily taken Sarai’s part and played it as flawlessly as Fredrik played his. But hopefully Niklas will take my word for it. He doesn’t play the field like I do. He isn’t as intimate with the process of carrying out an actual hit as I am. He has killed people just as I have, but not on the same level and he doesn’t have my experience.
“She will only get herself killed,” Niklas says.
“Yes, you’re right.” I stop and contemplate my words and then decide a different approach. “It’s the reason I brought her, if you want to know the truth.”
I can tell right away that his concerns have changed, that I’ve finally offered him an explanation he can be content with accepting.
“I can’t bring myself to kill her,” I go on as if finally admitting this to him. “I will if I have to, but you’re right, Niklas, to believe that I’ve been affected by her in some way. Only you noticed it before I did, or rather, you noticed it before I let myself believe it. The girl has to be removed entirely from the picture.”
“I could kill her for you,” Niklas says with sincerity and not out of spite or hatred for a change. He is empathizing with me and my plan is working. “Regardless of your nature, Victor, you are human. I understand. I can help you. Let me kill her for you.”
I sigh lightly into the phone. “No. She is my problem and I will deal with it. She wants to be what we are.” Niklas scoffs at hearing that. “There’s no better way to make her understand that it’s entirely unfeasible than to give her what she wants by throwing her into a mission head first. I’ll let the mission kill her.”
“And what if it doesn’t?”
“Then I will do it,” I say. “No matter what happens, Sarai will die in California tomorrow night.”
“I am sorry, Brother,” he says with real sympathy. “To have relations with women other than sex, it never works, you know this. We don’t do it for a reason and this situation you’ve gotten yourself into with her is only proving the validity of that reason.”
“I am aware, Niklas,” I say and change the subject quickly. “Give me the details of the mansion.”
After a brief pause and I sense his acceptance of my lies, Niklas begins, “There are ten bedrooms and a master suite which is Arthur Hamburg’s room located on the fourth floor. Six bathrooms. A Jacuzzi room on the ground floor, east side. A game room with five pool tables. A theatre room is located on the back north end of the mansion. There is a hidden exit behind the projector screen that leads underneath the house and outside near the back gates. There is another hidden door on the third floor, south end near the hallway with the black marble flooring. That one we’re not sure about where it leads, but the maid said that it, like the secret room in Hamburg’s suite, is locked by a keypad. She doesn’t have the access code. You won’t have time or the opportunity to break the access code of either door so you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way.”
“What about cameras?” I ask.
“There is one in every room except Hamburg’s suite.”
“I suppose there wouldn’t be,” I say. “Can’t imagine one like him foolish enough to record the evidence needed to put him away for life. This works in my favor.”
“Yes,” Niklas agrees. “Whatever you do in that room only those inside will know it.”
“And the maid?”
I mentally jot down all of the information he is giving me.
“The one you should look for is a woman named Manuela. She wears a nametag like all of the staff. Meet her near the Jacuzzi room at precisely eight o’clock. But do not speak to her. She will be working near the towel shelf where the envelope has been hidden. When you make eye contact with her, simply nod once to acknowledge her and she will place a stack of three towels on top of the towels where the envelope can be found. But this cannot be carried out until eight o’clock, so if Hamburg invites the two of you to his room before that, you’ll need to stall him.”
“And nothing that we discussed last night has changed?” I ask.
“No. Everything is to be carried out as planned. Hamburg’s gun is located in the nightstand on the side of the bed nearest the window. There is another gun in an unlocked briefcase on the floor of the closet.”
I let the scene run through my mind for a moment. “This is a first for me,” I say. “And I thought I have seen everything.”
“I agree,” Niklas says. “But it is what it is and it’s no different from any other hit from our perspective.”
He is right about that. Despite the unique circumstances, I have no problem carrying out this job. Sarai, on the other hand, I doubt will be able to stomach it.
“Contact me as soon as the job is complete,” Niklas says. “I would like to get the information back to Vonnegut as soon as possible. Hopefully it will make up for the delays and problems you encountered and created on the mission with Javier and Guzmán.” I hear the faint accusation in his words, but it’s to be expected and I let it go.
“I will do that,” I say.
Before I end the call, Niklas says, “Victor, you know it has to be done. For your sake and even for hers.”
I won’t kill Sarai and I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that no one else in the mansion does, either, but deep down I know that what my brother said is true. I should kill her for my sake and hers. But I can’t. And I won’t.
It’s the night of the mission and my adrenaline is already pumping so hard through me that I can’t sit still. After a shower I get dressed after Victor chooses which dress I should wear and once again I’m back to being bra-less.
“I feel nak*d,” I say looking down at the thin, practically see-through silk dress.
Instinctively, I try to tug the ends of the dress down to cover more skin, disappointed that the effort doesn’t magically make the fabric expand. If I were to bend over just halfway, anyone standing behind me would be able to see everything. Thankfully I’m wearing panties, at least.
Victor stands there, looking at me seemingly lost in his own mind. He appears kind of worried, sad even.
“I’m not backing out of this,” I tell him, getting the feeling that’s what his expression is all about. “I want to do this. Whatever happens to me, it won’t be your fault.”
Maybe it’s a little presumptuous to think he even cares and to insinuate it out loud, but I really think he does in his own small way. And I don’t care much anymore about letting him know how I feel. About everything that has happened between us. About my feelings, although I’m still not sure what they are myself. About his feelings, even though his have always been more guarded than mine.
I step up to him and curl my fingers around the lapel of his suit jacket on each side. Then I push up on my toes and kiss him softly on the lips.
“I can do this,” I say. “Maybe I’m being reckless and I don’t know what I’m getting myself into. No, I take that back. I am being reckless and I know exactly what I’m getting myself into. I’m crazy to go along with it, to want to be a part of it. But you know as well I do that I’m not like everybody else. And even if I had a shot at it, even if I could walk away right now and try to be like everyone else, I don’t want to. I am afraid to die. I can’t say that I’m not. And I don’t want to die, but I’m prepared to.”
For a moment it seems as if Victor is going to say something to me, maybe he’s going to try one more time to change my mind, but instead he turns away from me and grabs his car keys from the nightstand.
“We need to go,” he says and walks to the door of our hotel suite.
I feel disappointed, even a little hurt. I had wanted him to say something to me, anything that would verify in my mind and in my heart that he truly doesn’t want me to go through with this. Maybe deep down I know that I’m going to be killed and that last desperate part of me wants to know before I die that someone cares. That Victor cares. Because he really is the only person in the world that I have.