“They don’t know the danger they’re in being involved with you and Fredrik? And how do you get them to do whatever you want? What do they do exactly, besides driving Dina around to some random location on a whim?”
“You are full of questions.” Victor smiles over at me. A semi rushes past in the opposite direction, nearly blinding us with its headlights. “They’re aware of the dangers to an extent. They know they’re working for a private organization and that they are forbidden to speak of it, but none of our recruits are strangers to secrecy and discipline. Some are ex-military, and each of them are hand-picked by me. After I’ve done extensive background checks on them, of course.” He pauses and adds, “And they do whatever we ask them to do, but to keep their noses clean and our outfit protected, we usually only pay them to do simple things. Surveillance. Purchasing real estate, vehicles. And driving Mrs. Gregory around to random places on a whim.” He smiles over at me again. “How do we get them to do whatever we ask? Money is a formidable means of influence. They are paid well.”
I rest my head against the seat and try to stretch my legs out onto the floorboard, already dreading the long drive.
“One of our men was at Hamburg’s restaurant the night I found you.”
Just as quickly as I had laid my head down, I raise it back up again and look over, needing him to elaborate.
“Mrs. Gregory didn’t call me until after you had left for Los Angeles,” he begins to explain. “I was in Brazil on a job, still searching for my target after two weeks. I left the second I got the call from Mrs. Gregory, but I knew I likely wouldn’t find you in time so I got in touch with two of our contacts who were in Los Angeles, gave them your description and alerted them about watching the restaurant and Hamburg’s mansion. I knew you’d go to one or the other.”
I recall the man behind the restaurant after I killed the guard. The man who mysteriously let me go.
“I saw him,” I say glancing over once. “I ran out the back exit and he was there. I thought he was one of Hamburg’s men.”
“He is,” Victor says.
I blink back the stun.
“He and the other man were two of my first recruits,” he goes on. “Los Angeles was my priority when all of this began.”
“You knew I’d go there,” I say, and although I don’t want to jump to conclusions and make myself look like a delusional girl, I know it to be true. My heart begins to beat like a warm fist inside my chest. Knowing the truth, knowing that I was on Victor’s mind all that time more than I ever could have imagined, it makes me feel both content and guilty. Guilty because I accused him of abandoning me.
“I had hoped that you would leave it alone,” he says, “but deep down I knew you’d go back there.”
Silence ensues for a moment.
“Is he OK?” I ask about the man behind the restaurant.
Victor nods. “He’s fine. He had been employed by Hamburg for months. He knew the layout of the restaurant and knew that the only other way out of Hamburg’s room on the top floor was the back exit.” He adds suddenly, “By the way, he wanted me to relay an apology.”
“What on Earth for?” I say. “He helped me get away.”
“The order I gave him was to make sure you never made it up to that room in the first place. It was the white wig. He knew you to have long auburn hair, not short platinum-blonde. By the time he realized it was you, you were already being escorted into the room by Stephens. He couldn’t get inside because the room was being guarded, so he went around to the back of the restaurant, hoping that by some chance he could get in from there, but there were two other men stationed in the back. They stalled him with conversation until he finally got them to leave the post duty up to him. Shortly after, you came out the back door.”
I inhale a deep breath and rest against the seat again. “Well, you tell him there’s no need for an apology. But why didn’t he just tell me who he was? Or take me to you?”
“He had to hold Stephens off to let you get away, and it helps that he’s still on the inside. He doesn’t know what Hamburg and Stephens have planned, or anything about their operations. He’s just a guard, nothing more. But he’s still on the inside and that’s valuable to us.”
I break apart my seatbelt buckle and climb between the front seats, very unladylike I admit, with my butt in the air, and crawl into the back. I catch Victor checking out the view as I squeeze my way past and it makes me blush.
“I just have one more question to add to that list,” I say.
“And what might that be?” he asks with a playful edge in his voice.
“How long will we be forced to travel like this?” I stretch my legs across the seat and lay down. “I really do miss the private jets. These long car rides are going to be the death of me.”
Victor laughs. I find it incredibly sexy.
“You’re sleeping with an assassin, running for your life every single day from men who want to kill you and you’re convinced you’re going to die of discomfort.” He laughs again and it makes me smile.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I say, feeling only a little bit ridiculous. I can’t deny the truth, after all, no matter how nonsensical it may be.
“Not too much longer,” he answers. “We have to lay low until I’m completely free of Vonnegut. He has his hands in many things, and easy, covert, expensive forms of travel are at the top of his list of priorities for obvious reasons. I’d be more off the radar taking an Amtrak than boarding a private jet.”
Satisfied with his answer, I don’t say anything else about it and I stare up at the dark roof of the car.
“For the record,” I change the subject, “I’m not just sleeping with an assassin. I’ve grown very attached to one.”
“Is that so?” he says cleverly and I know that he’s grinning.
“Yes, I’m afraid it’s true,” I jest as if it were an unfortunate thing. “And it’s a very unhealthy attachment.”
“Really? Why do you think that is?”
I sigh dramatically. “Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps because he’ll never be able to get rid of me.”
“Clingy. Like Amelia,” he says, trying to get a rise out of me.
And he gets it. I raise up halfway and gently smack him on the shoulder. He recoils subtly, feigning pain all the while with a grin on his face. “Hardly,” I say and lay back down. “He’s got no chance in hell that I’d do whatever he wanted, like Amelia.”
He laughs gently. “Well, I suppose he’s stuck with you forever then.”
“Yes, and forever is a very long time.”
He pauses and then says, “Well, for the record, something tells me he wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I fall asleep in the backseat a long time later, with a smile on my face that seemed to stick there the rest of the night.
The streets of New Orleans are packed with people when we arrive the next day. Thousands of participants are dressed in white clothes and donning bright red scarves and bandannas and hats and belts, partaking in the annual San Fermin en Nueva Orleans, otherwise known as the Running of the Bulls. We weave our way through the farther side of town where the streets haven’t been closed to traffic, detouring many of the distinctive balconies festooned with intricate European ironwork and courtyards in search of the warehouse where Fredrik awaits us, far away from the festivities.
Sarai had been asleep for the past three hours, in the front seat this time with her head pressed against the passenger’s side window. She now sits wide awake, taking in her surroundings and massaging the back of her neck with her fingers.
I told her some about why we were heading to New Orleans last night on the drive, but other things I left out as I’m waiting to meet with Fredrik first to see what information he has gathered on our target, Andre Costa, also known as Turtle, a half American, half Brazilian whipping boy to a notorious gang leader out of Venezuela. I’ve been looking for Costa for weeks, mostly in Rio de Janeiro, where he was last spotted. But he moves too fast from place to place, despite his nickname, and for the first time in a long time I’ve had my work cut out for me trying to keep up.
We pull onto the grounds of the abandoned warehouse and slowly around to the side where Fredrik is waiting. When the car comes into view, a tall metal bay door raises and I drive beneath it, parking the car in the semi-darkness of the dusty building. It must have been an old garage of sorts, judging by the inspection pit in the concrete floor and the car lift and other heavy pieces of automobile equipment that had been left behind. One entire wall is stacked to the tall ceiling by shelves where a few old tires sit abandoned. Large windows are set along the top of the wall on the back side of the building, covered by a thick layer of dust, but allowing enough sunlight to spill into the area making it appear overcast.
The car doors echo through the wide, empty space when Sarai and I close them behind us.
“Geez, what’s with the doom and gloom?” Sarai asks, craning her neck, looking up at the ceiling.
“It’s good to see you, too,” Fredrik says stepping up. He’s dressed in his usual Armani suit and shiny black dress shoes, very unfitting of this place.
Sarai smirks and continues to look around, crossing her arms over her stomach and drawing her shoulders up around her neck as if the place is giving her the heebie-jeebies.
Fredrik flips a switch inside a breaker box and surprisingly a very small section of fluorescent lights hum to life near the back wall where it is darkest, I’m sure resuscitated by a generator somewhere. Fredrik has used this warehouse before. Two months ago during another interrogation. And I’m fairly certain he has also taken advantage of it for personal use as well.
“What is this place?” Sarai asks.
The light reveals an old dentist chair situated in the far corner with added touches such as arm and leg restraints, and thick leather straps to hold down a person’s head and torso.
“It’s my interrogation room,” Fredrik says with the slight wave of his hand as if he were showcasing it. “Well, for now it is.”
He bends over behind the dentist chair and retrieves a flat black suitcase, sets it down on the nearby metal table stained with paint and then flips open the silver latches on both ends simultaneously.
“I’m almost afraid to ask what you do during an interrogation,” Sarai says, unfolding her arms and looking around the place until finally her eyes fall back on the suitcase.
Fredrik glances at me. “You sure she can handle this job, Faust?”
“Hey,” Sarai cuts in, “I said almost afraid to ask. I can handle it.” The intensity in her face speaks volumes.
Fredrik smiles and pulls a wheeled stainless steel utility tray over next to the chair and begins unloading various tools into a neat row on top of it. Three different sized knives. A pair of pliers. Syringes filled with drugs. And then he retrieves six small vials of liquid and places them next to the tools.