“She worries me a little,” Fredrik says, glancing at me once.

He goes back to setting up his tools, a smile subtle in his face.

“Not as much as you worry me,” Sarai says in a half-teasing manner. Her eyes sweep the tools. “Sadistic much?”

Fredrik looks at me. “You haven’t told her yet, have you?”

“It is not my place to tell.”

“Tell me what?” She looks back and forth between us.

Fredrik places the last syringe on the table and moves toward her. She stands her ground despite the darkly seductive look in his eyes as he approaches her. It makes me uncomfortable when Fredrik reaches out and slides his index finger through the length of her loose auburn hair.

But this is also a test—to see if she can handle the truth about Fredrik—and I’m confident that she’ll pass.

Sarai

Fredrik’s magnetic blue eyes send a perplexing chill through me. His finger falls away from my hair and he gently cocks his head to one side, his gaze passing over every inch of my face as if he’s contemplating which part he wants to savor first. I swallow hard and take a step back. Not because he frightens me, but because it frightens me that I’m not as afraid of him as my gut tells me I should be.

I glance over at Victor, moving only my eyes. His expression is calm and blank. Surely I have nothing to worry about if Victor doesn’t seem worried. But what if he’s testing me? What if he’s looking for that misplaced trust I’ve always had in Victor, that trust he told me a long time ago not to have because in the end I should only ever trust myself?

No…that’s not it. It’s something else he’s looking for and I can’t quite place it.

I c*ck my head to one side and chew on the inside of my mouth, narrowing my eyes at Fredrik.

“Why don’t you just tell me and skip the dramatics,” I say to him.

An incredibly sexy grin appears and Fredrik casually steps away from me. The flooding light near the dentist chair casts a strangely fitting aura around his body making him look like a madman in the Devil’s suit, standing against a grisly backdrop.

“We’re all killers here,” Fredrik says casually with that ever-present Swedish accent. He gestures, palm-up toward Victor. “The assassin,” he indicates. “And you, of course. I think you’ve successfully joined the club, though you kill for vengeance, unlike Faust here who kills for money.”

With a nervous knot sitting heavily in the pit of my stomach, I look over at Victor once more, but his solid expression is unchanging.

“And you?” I ask, turning to Fredrik. “Why do you kill?”

Fredrik laughs lightly and I feel that the dark atmosphere in the room has suddenly brightened. He doesn’t seem so intimidating anymore. I look between Fredrik and Victor again, searching their faces for some kind of quiet communication and sure enough I find it. Fredrik was only messing with my head.

I’m thoroughly confused.

“I kill, but only when I have to,” Fredrik says and I’m surprised by it. “I’m what Faust here calls a Specialist. Interrogation and torture are my areas of expertise.” He waves a hand at the equipment behind him. “That was already obvious I suppose. And occasionally I’ve been given the opportunity to play Dr. Kevorkian.”

I laugh it off and say, “I thought you were going to tell me you were a serial killer or something.”

Victor and Fredrik’s eyes meet again, though only briefly. I detect the clandestine nature of the mood they share immediately.

“No doll,” Fredrik says and turns his back to me, pretending to be straightening his gruesome interrogation tools again. “I do not get pleasure from killing….”

Silence embraces the room.

Fredrik looks uncomfortable now, using the tools on the table as a distraction, his long fingers brushing over the polished metal with a careful grace. I want to be wary of Fredrik, to find his enigmatic personality annoying and his résumé repulsive, but for some reason that I cannot understand, I suddenly feel…sorry for him.

“We should get prepared,” Victor says, cutting the awkward silence in the room.

Fredrik, as if his emotions are dictated by a light switch, smacks his hands together with a bright and eerily sadistic smile. “Absolutely!” he says. “Quite frankly, I’m tired of waiting on this piece of shit. Not that it is in any way your fault, Faust.”

“Perhaps it is somewhat my fault,” Victor admits and I get the feeling that he being to blame has something to do with me. “But some things are more important.”

I look downward at the filthy concrete floor, hiding the faint blush in my face.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Victor asks.

“Ready is an understatement,” Fredrik replies and then begins filling us in on the specifics.

“Andre Costa is in town for two more days,” he says. “He’s staying with a woman, an aunt I believe, across the river somewhere in Algiers. My contact overheard him talking in Lafitte’s last night. Unless Costa was just lying to the women for conversation’s sake, apparently he knows this city inside and out and it’s like a second home. If we don’t get him tonight, I’m sure we’ll have another shot at him soon.”

Fredrik’s eyes skirt me.

“I’ll get him,” I say, only slightly offended by his lack of confidence in me, but at the same time I know I’d probably be just as concerned about the outcome if I were him.

He goes on, “Costa has been at this bar, Lafitte’s, every night he’s been here, so I’m confident he’ll be there tonight as well.”

Victor reaches around to his back pocket and pulls out a small envelope, putting it into my hand. I take out the photo inside and look down into the smiling face of Andre Costa, a rather young-looking guy with smooth, light caramel-colored skin and no evidence of ever having had to shave. A little mole sits just above the right side of his mouth. His hair is short and black with wispy curls around his forehead and down around the outline of his ears, almost giving him the appearance of a young Roman Caesar, minus the laurel wreath. He’s wearing a black t-shirt with some kind of white writing on it and he appears to be sitting in a bar with his back turned against the bar-top, a mixed drink in a glass in his left hand. He has the stereotypical look of the party-goer with a huge, pearly-white smile lit by a whiskey buzz and a glossy film over his eyes, only partly due to the flash from the camera.

“He’s…skinny,” I point out.

“One hundred fifty-five pounds,” Victor says. “Five-foot-nine. Twenty-four years old. But don’t underestimate him. If he gets you alone and knows you’re onto him—”

“I can handle it,” I say. “Why is he the target?”

Victor starts to shake his head and I know it is to refuse me the information, but I stop him again. “You’re not part of the Order anymore,” I say. “You don’t have to play by their rules. Just tell me what he’s done.”

Victor sighs and I watch as his shoulders relax. He gives in and says, “First of all, he’s not the target and I’ve no intention in killing him. We need Costa to find the target, Edgar Velazco, a Venezuelan gang leader responsible for the murders of sixteen American, British and Canadian citizens in the last year. They were abducted in Rio de Janeiro and several other major tourist cities in South America. He has a three-million-dollar price tag on his head, but he’s nearly impossible to find.”

“Would be easy to find,” Fredrik chimes in, “if he ever left the slums of Venezuela. Reminds me of Bin Laden when he was hiding out in the mountains with a large group of terrorists and a family of goats for company. People like us, clearly not natives of the country, are too easy to spot.”

“Velazco is in some ways like Javier Ruiz was,” Victor adds.

I look up from the photo of Andre Costa upon hearing Javier’s name. I hadn’t realized I was even looking at the photo all that time.

“Sounds like Velazco is a step higher on the criminal scale than Javier ever was,” I say.

“Yes, he is,” Victor confirms. “Javier’s operations were small compared to Velazco. His are spread out over six countries and he’s responsible for the murders of one hundred sixty-nine tourists to-date, including women and children.”

“And that’s just the number recorded,” Fredrik says. “There’s no telling how high that number really goes.”

“So who’s the client?” I ask, though I really don’t expect either of them to give up that kind of information so easily.

“Anderson Winehardt, a wealthy man out of Boston,” Victor says. “His son was one of those murdered tourists.”

Still struck by shock that he gave up the name of the client so freely, it takes me a moment to get my questions back in order.

I hop up and sit down on a nearby wooden crate, letting my legs dangle over the side.

“Why did you tell me his name?” I ask.

“If you’re in this with us,” Victor says, “you’re in it all the way.”

“Thanks,” I say, still unsure about it. I’m wondering if at any moment he’s going to say that he was just messing with my head like Fredrik had done earlier.

But then I think of the Order and how old and intricate it is and I find myself with more questions than answers.

“I don’t understand,” I say. “How can you do hits at all anymore, especially ones like this, when you’ve got the Order looking for you? Wouldn’t Vonnegut, hell even Niklas, know about a hit on someone bigger than Javier was?”

“It’s possible they know about it,” Victor says. “But that doesn’t point me out as being the one commissioned to carry it out. There are twenty-two private organizations like the Order in the United States alone, in addition to the unknown number of private contractors like me. Neither Vonnegut nor Niklas would ever suspect I’d continue to work like this after leaving the Order and knowing there’s a bounty on my head.”

“You’re hiding in plain sight,” I say.

“I suppose you can say that,” Victor says.

“But how do you get clients?” I ask. “I mean…didn’t Vonnegut take care of all that when you worked for the Order?”

“He did,” Victor says with a nod. “But I have been doing this all my life. I know people. I’ve met clients that not even Vonnegut has ever met face-to-face, the upside to being the one in the field. I have just as many, if not more connections than Vonnegut himself has.”

I let out a troubled breath and shake my head. “Well, I think having so many connections, all made through the Order in some way, can be an equally dangerous thing. Aren’t you worried someone might tip Vonnegut or Niklas off?”

“I think about that every day,” he answers. “It is why I must choose my clients wisely, why I must be very careful, testing anyone and everyone who crosses my path. Sarai, you never know who might betray you until it’s too late.”


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