One day I will kill Vonnegut and take the rest of the Order down with him for what they have done to me and my family. A family which they have destroyed. Sarai is my family now, and hopefully Fredrik will prove his loyalty in his final test. They are my family and I will not allow the Order to destroy them, too.
But for now, Sarai is my focus and she will be as long as necessary. She must be trained. She must absorb as much as she can as quickly as she can. It is impossible for her to ever be on my level. She will never be able to live the life of an assassin as I do because that would take half a lifetime to learn. It is why the Order recruits at such young ages. It is why Niklas and I were taken when we were just boys.
Sarai will never be like me.
But she has other skills. She has abilities that even after all of the years of training I have gone through, I could never match. Sarai’s life in the compound in Mexico gave her a priceless set of skills that cannot be taught in a class or read from a book. She is the perfect liar and manipulator. She can become someone else in two seconds flat and deceive an entire room of people who are not likely to be deceived by anyone. She can make a man believe anything she wants with very little effort. And she doesn’t fear death. But she’s better than an actress. Because one never knows that it’s an act until it’s too late. Javier Ruiz was Sarai’s true teacher. He taught her things that I would never be able to. He was her real trainer in learning the deadly skills that are now beginning to define her as a killer. And like all evil teachers, Javier Ruiz was also his favorite student’s first victim.
Like the abilities she already possesses, to learn to fight she must live it, breathe it, to fully understand it. My forcing her to train with Spencer and Jacquelyn is necessary to her survival because she must learn as much as she can as often as she can. But the skills she already has are what will make her a soldier in her own right.
They are what will make us the perfect pair.
But first, Sarai has to understand fully what she is capable of. And she must pass the tests. All of them, even the ones that may cause her to despise me.
I am confident that she will. Pass the tests, anyway. To despise me is still debatable.
We arrive in Phoenix just after dark and are greeted at the door of the tiny white house by Amelia McKinney, Fredrik’s liaison. She is a beautiful woman of voluptuous curves and long, blonde hair, though her more unattractive feature are her large plastic br**sts that must surely give her back pain. And she dresses rather whorish for a woman with a PhD and who has taught a fourth grade class the past five years.
“Hello Victor Faust,” she says with a hint of seduction, holding the front door open for Sarai and me. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“A lot? Interesting.”
Holding the screen door open with one hand she steps aside and ushers us in, a mass of gold bracelets hang from her wrist with dangling gold pendants. Several large rings adorn her fingers. And she smells of soap and toothpaste.
I place my hand on the small of Sarai’s back and let her go in before me.
“Fredrik has told me about you,” Amelia says, closing the door behind us. “Though I guess ‘a lot’ is an overstatement in your case, seeing as how he doesn’t seem to know much about you himself.” She twirls her hand at the wrist out beside her and adds, “But I suppose the fact I know so little about you is what makes you all the more intriguing.”
“Don’t even think about it,” Sarai says, halting our little single-file line and turning back to look at her.
Discipline, Sarai. Discipline. I sigh quietly to myself, but I admit, it makes me hard to see her so overprotective of what belongs to her.
Amelia puts up both hands, thankfully in a surrendering fashion rather than a challenging one. “No problem, honey. No problem at all.”
Sarai accepts her white flag and we continue into the house where we find Dina Gregory in the kitchen cooking what appears to be a Thanksgiving meal for about fifteen.
Sarai runs into Dina’s open arms and the smiles and heartfelt words of relief and excitement commences. I ignore it all for the moment, turning my attention to the more imperative issues: my surroundings, and this woman I’ve never met.
I trust no one.
Amelia, like many of the women acquainted with Fredrik Gustavsson, knows nothing of the Order or mine or Fredrik’s involvement with any such private organization. She is not like Samantha from Safe House Twelve in Texas was to me. No, Amelia and Fredrik’s relationship, though it can no longer technically be called that, is much more…complicated.
I begin to search the house for cameras and weapons, sweeping my fingers along bookshelves and plants and knickknacks and furniture, planting my own concealed surveillance paraphernalia along the way.
“Fredrik said that you might do that,” Amelia speaks up behind me, though I’m quite sure she didn’t see the tiny device I just stuck to the underside of the television stand. She laughs lightly. “I made sure to clean the house really good before you came. Where are the white rubber gloves?” she jokes.
I never turn around to look at her, or stop what I’m doing.
“Have you had any unfamiliar visitors here since Mrs. Gregory was brought to stay with you?” I ask, leaning over an end table beside a recliner and inspecting a lampshade.
“Wow, you and Fredrik really are the most paranoid men I’ve ever met. No. Not that I recall. Well, a satellite salesman came once last week wanting me to switch from cable. Other than that, no.”
She moves up behind me and lowers her voice, “How long is this woman supposed to stay in my house?” I notice from my peripheral vision she glances toward the kitchen entrance to make certain no one but I can hear. “She’s a nice lady and all, but…,” she sighs guiltily, “…Look, I’m thirty-years old. I haven’t lived with my parents since I was sixteen. She’s crampin’ my style. I had a man over last week and he thought she was my mother. It was awkward. I haven’t been laid since she got here.”
I turn around to face her fully. “And how long have you known the man that you brought here?”
“The man? How long have you and he been sleeping together?”
Her thinly-groomed brows bunch together in the low center of her forehead. “What is that any of your business? Going to ask me how many positions he’s f**ked me in, too?”
“I met him at a bar last Saturday.”
“Well, that constitutes as an unfamiliar visitor.”
She wants to argue the point, but she doesn’t.
“Fine. Whatever. The satellite man and the almost-lay from the bar. That’s it.”
“Before I leave I’ll need his name and anything else you can give me on him, including an accurate description.”
She shakes her head and laughs with displeasure. “I don’t know why I put up with Fredrik’s bullshit.” Then she pulls open a tiny drawer underneath the end table and retrieves a notepad and an ink pen.
“Because you can’t help yourself,” I point out, though not trying to be unpleasant, just simply stating a fact. Something else I need to work on: keeping my mouth shut when women say certain things that are not up for comment.
Her bright blue eyes widen with offense. She scribbles something on the paper, tears it from the notepad and shoves it in my hand. “What’s that supposed to mean?” But before she gives me a chance to dig myself further into the hole, she changes her tone and leans in toward me and whispers suggestively, “Hey…just how alike are the two of you, anyway?”
I know precisely what she’s asking—she wonders, probably hopes, that my sexual aptitude is as dark as Fredrik’s is—but she’s treading very dangerous territory with Sarai being in the other room.
“Not very,” I reply, tucking the paper with the man’s name and description into my pocket. I go back to my investigation of her house.
“That’s too bad,” she says. “What is it with him, anyway? Does he talk about me to you at all?”
Please make it stop….
I sigh deeply and stop at the mouth of the hallway, looking right at her. “If you have questions for or about Fredrik, please do me a favor and direct them at him.”
Amelia tosses her hair back in a pride-filled fashion and with the rolling of her eyes. “Whatever. Just find out from Fredrik how long I’m supposed to babysit, will ya’?”
She pushes her way past me and into the kitchen with Sarai and Mrs. Gregory while I use the opportunity to inspect the rest of the house.
Speaking of Fredrik, I get a call from him just as I’m heading toward the spare bedroom.
“I have information on the New Orleans job,” he says on the other end of the phone. I hear traffic in the background. “The contact believes the target is back in town.”
“What makes her believe that?”
“She thought she saw him outside a bar near Bourbon Street. Of course, she could be seeing things, too, but I think we should look into it. Just in case. If we wait and he goes back to Brazil, or wherever it is he’s been hiding, it might be another month or two before we get another shot at him.”
“I agree.” I close myself off inside the spare bedroom. “I’m with Sarai at Amelia’s right now, but I’ll wrap this up sooner than I planned. Go on to New Orleans ahead of me and I’ll meet you there by early evening tomorrow. But don’t do anything.”
“Don’t do anything?” he asks suspiciously. “If I find him, I can at least detain him and start the interrogation.”
“No, wait for us,” I say. “I want Sarai to do this one.”
Silence ensues on the phone.
“You can’t be serious, Victor. She isn’t ready. She could ruin the whole mission. Or get herself killed.”
“She won’t do either,” I say calmly with every bit of confidence. “And don’t worry, you can still do the interrogation. I only want her to do the detaining.”
I know there’s a dark smile on his face without having to see it or hear his voice. Giving Fredrik the interrogation job is very much like giving a her**n addict a fix.
“I’ll see you in New Orleans then,” he says.
I hang up and slide the phone in the back pocket of my black pants and then finish the sweep of the house before joining the women all sitting in the living room with plates of food on their laps.
“You really should get a plate,” I say to Victor as he emerges from the hallway. “Dina is the best cook. Even better than Marta. But don’t tell Marta I said that.” I shovel a big spoonful of green bean casserole into my mouth.
Dina, sitting beside me on the couch, points to Victor. “She’s biased. But if you’re hungry you better eat while it’s there.”
“We need to talk,” Victor announces standing in the center of the room, now blocking our view of the television.
I don’t like the vibe he’s putting off.
“OK,” I say and lean away from the back of the couch, setting my plate on the coffee table. “What about?”