“I don’t think—”
She turns her head, her dark eyes catching mine. “If you kill either one of them, I’ll never forgive you for it. This one is mine, Victor! Give me that much!”
“Sarai, you can’t kill them.” I walk toward her. “The only person who will end up dead is you. You’re not capable—”
“I don’t give a shit!” Her objective is unshakable. She walks back toward me. “You either help me pull this off, or I figure it out myself. They die by my hands, not yours, or Fredrik’s, or anyone else’s. Only mine. Teach me. Show me what to do. Whatever the best approach is for someone like me. Help me or I die trying to do it myself. I don’t care either way.”
“I won’t…you can’t,” I shake my head.
Sarai gives up and starts to push her way past me intent on leaving. But I can’t let her go anywhere. I can’t because I know that she meant every word of what she said.
I grab her by the wrist, stopping her in her angry march toward the glass door. Fredrik steps out of the way, watching the scene unfold with an odd glint in his eyes that I can only make out as fascination.
“Let go of me!”
“You’re not leaving.” I hold her wrist tight and grab the other one as she begins to struggle against me.
She wants to take all of her anger out on me, to scream into my face, to curse me with words she desperately wants only to say to Hamburg and Stephens before she kills them, but she can’t do any of it. The anger, as always, gets the best of her and she bursts into tears.
She told me once that she always cries when she’s angry.
The tears roll down her cheeks in rivulets. She tries once more to break free from me, but I hold on tight and put painful pressure on her wrists, hoping to allay her.
“Victor please! Just f**king teach me, goddammit! Even if it’s only to kill the two of them! That’s all I ask! I’ll never ask you to help me again! PLEASE!”
She finally stops struggling and collapses against my chest. I wrap my arms around her small form, cradling the back of her head in my hands and I press the side of my face against the top of her hair. The cries roll through her chest violently, her body trembling in my embrace. These are not cries of sadness and pain, they’re cries of guilt and anger and the dire need to avenge the deaths of people—even Lydia—who might still be alive if it were not for her.
Fredrik looks over at me and I know what that calm look on his face reads. He thinks I should give Sarai what she wants.
But it’s not Fredrik’s opinion that ultimately makes up my mind, it’s my need to protect Sarai that decides, even if by doing so she still might end up dead.
I choose the safer of the two ill-fated paths.
“I will help you.”
I raise my face from his shirt, sniffling back the damned tears that once again have betrayed me in a weak moment.
“You’ll help me kill them?”
He nods. “Yes.”
“Thank you,” I say softly.
I push up on my toes and kiss him lightly on the mouth.
The housekeeper speaks up behind us in a small voice, standing at the sliding glass door, “Breakfast is ready.”
She looks at us through dark and beady curious eyes, surely having heard the commotion while she was inside.
“Marta makes the best scrambled eggs,” Fredrik says with a gleaming smile, as though nothing had happened. “Cooks them in bacon grease.” He puts all of his fingers against the center of his lips and kisses them. “I love American food.”
He follows behind Marta. “Though I understand scrambled eggs cooked in bacon grease is a southern thing?” he asks looking back at us as we follow in behind him.
“Well, Marta isn’t exactly from Alabama,” he goes on as we all enter the kitchen, “but she can cook like she is.”
Fredrik and Victor ramble on about food, I know probably trying to take my mind off what happened. But I don’t care about anything right now other than Dahlia and Eric’s faces in my memory. I know I’m being punished. By Life. By Fate. I don’t know by who or what, all I know is that I’d do anything to give them back their lives.
The three of us sit down at Fredrik’s glass-top kitchen table and eat. And I find it almost funny how Fredrik makes Marta taste the food before serving it to us as if he had taken the paranoid technique right out of the Victor Faust Handbook.
During breakfast, which we all take in very slowly due to conversation, Fredrik eventually relieves Marta of duty for the day. It was just after he and Victor began speaking to one another in Swedish. I hate that I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it become clear to me that it had to do with Marta and not me.
Marta grabs her purse and tells us all goodbye, thanking Fredrik for paying her for a full day even though she didn’t work it.
“What was that all about?” I ask just after she closes the front door behind her.
I set my fork down on my plate, finished with my breakfast.
“There’s a lot to talk about,” Fredrik says and takes a drink of orange juice. “And she shouldn’t be in earshot of the conversation.” He points at me and smiles. “And Marta, though it might not seem like it, listens to everything that goes on around here.”
“Then why didn’t you just continue in Swedish?” I ask.
“Do you speak Swedish?” Victor asks me casually.
“Well, you’re a part of this,” he says, setting his glass of water on the table.
I smile. It’s in this moment that I feel like a part of them for the very first time. Both of them. The three of us sitting around the table, minutes later cleared of plates and glasses, replaced by files and photographs of contract hits. In a sense it’s surreal to me, discussing the details of interrogation and murder as casually as if we were discussing the day’s weather. But also for the first time in my life, I feel that I belong somewhere. I’m not pushing my way through a dark tunnel with my hands out in front of me searching for the door anymore. The door is right there in plain view and I’ve already walked through it. I’m finally where I belong in my life. And I’m with Victor, which means more to me than anything.
I’m finally with Victor.
Victor and I leave Fredrik’s house in the hills of Los Angeles late afternoon and drive eleven hours to Albuquerque, New Mexico. On the way, I have him stop at a mall where I pretty much spend a couple thousand dollars on new clothes, shoes, accessories and makeup for myself, seeing as how everything I owned is in Arizona or was left in the Los Angeles hotel. I stuffed the backseat with shopping bags and shoe boxes, but by the ninth hour on the road I wished I had bought less. All I wanted to do was crawl into the backseat and sleep, but I got stuck with being cramped in the front, curled up awkwardly on the bucket seat of his black Cadillac CTS with my head pressed against the window. Since Victor left the Order he no longer has the convenience of flying on private jets to get around. He can still certainly afford them if he wanted to spend his own money, but being a man who the Order wants dead, means staying under the radar and giving up some luxuries that might lead Niklas right to him.
Apparently, giving up such luxuries also includes the extravagant multi-million dollar homes he has always chosen to live in. His house in Albuquerque is far from matching the one he lived in on the East Coast that overlooked the ocean. As we come up the dirt driveway, I see a house of moderate size made of straight, high tan stucco walls with a boxy shape that reminds me of the houses I used to build with Legos when I was a kid. But judging by the elaborate landscape that hugs the smooth white sidewalk leading up to the door and surrounds the east side of the house, it’s obvious that Victor hasn’t completely given up all luxuries. Even more obvious when we step inside as the interior is as beautiful as Fredrik’s house had been, though with more of a southwestern style than a modern luxury bachelor pad. Rust reds and browns and yellows are dominant throughout the space, with tall ceilings held up by dark wooden beams and rafters which make the house appear much larger on the inside than it appears on the outside. A cozy stone fireplace is set in the wall in the spacious living room with two metal ornate mirrors mounted above it. The walls are painted yellow, which complement the terra cotta tile flooring that appears to spread throughout the whole house.
“You always manage to get the best housekeepers, that’s for sure,” I say, setting several of my bags down on the floor in the living room.
“Not this time,” he says behind me. He sets the other bags from the car down next to the tawny-brown leather couch. “It’s just me.”
“Really? But it’s so clean in here. I guess you haven’t been here long then?”
“About four months.” He looks over at me. “Do you like it? I hope so since it is your new home.”
A smile breaks in my face.
He breaks apart the buttons of his dress shirt and takes it off, laying it over the back of a brown leather chair. Secretly, I take note of his physique as he walks toward a long, brightly-lit hallway with an arched entrance.
I follow him.
“Of course you know we won’t be here forever.” We enter a large bedroom. “But it’s home for now, at least.”
He steps out of his pants and I’m trying really hard not to watch him too intensely, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult.
“Come here,” he says, standing before me in nothing but his tight black boxer briefs which are doing very little to hide the hard bulge growing behind the fabric.
I swallow nervously, though why I’m nervous all of a sudden, I have no idea, and I walk toward him. A twinge spasms between my legs, and I’m not sure why of that, either. It’s as if my subconscious mind is more aware of what’s about to happen than my conscious one. Either that, or my mind is just running away from me with thoughts of what I only wish would happen.
I look at him curiously, tilting my head gently to one side.
“I’m not sure what this is between us,” he says carefully, “but I am sure that I don’t want it to stop. Whatever it is.”
“I feel the same way.”
A little confused about where this is heading, I tilt my head to the other side and ask, “Is something wrong?”
He shakes his head subtly. “No, nothing’s wrong.”
“Well…if you’re worried I’m going to fall in love with you and cling on to your every move, you don’t have to worry.”
“You’re not in love with me?” he asks and it seems like nothing more than a simple inquiry.
“No, I don’t love you, Victor.”
He nods, completely accepting it. “Good. Because I’m not in love with you, either.”
I don’t think either of us truly knows what the word means in this kind of situation. We both display the same accepting, yet somehow confused expressions.
“But…I uh…,” I clasp my fingers together behind my back and look down at the tile floor, moving my foot about as if I were shuffling my toes nervously in sand. I stop and look him in the eyes. “But I uh would maybe…appreciate it if you didn’t sleep with anyone else. I…well, I don’t think I’d like that much.”