With his free hand, Fredrik brings the needle down to the tip of Andre’s pinky finger and holds the sharp point against the skin.
I’m starting to feel lightheaded. I’ve no clue as to how I could stomach the pulling of Andre’s teeth, but the thought of Fredrik pushing needles underneath his fingernails is just too much to bear.
Victor glances over at me, and I realize I’m not hiding my uneasiness as much as I’d like.
“I’ll ask you once more,” Fredrik says. “Where is Edgar Velazco?”
Andre’s body begins to shake, his nostrils flare, and the whites of his eyes are more visible than they were just moments ago. His jaw is clamped, his cheeks moving as if he’s biting down on the insides of his mouth, hoping to filter some of the pain to other parts of his body. But he still doesn’t answer. I wish that he would. I just want him to give in to save himself. I couldn’t care less what happens to him, but I can’t stomach the torture. I’d rather Fredrik just put him out of his misery.
A bloodcurdling scream of agony rolls out of Andre’s lungs as Fredrik pushes the needle underneath his fingernail. Finally, my hands come up quickly over my ears and I clench my eyes shut tight, arching my back. I feel a hand on my shoulder and I turn, using the opportunity to look in any direction other than at Andre.
“Why don’t you go wait in the office,” Victor suggests, carefully fitting his hand around my elbow, ready to walk me there.
“He’s my father!” I hear Andre scream out. “Don’t ask me to sell out my father! Please!”
Victor and I turn around at the same time.
“Take her out of here,” Fredrik says to Victor and I’ve never seen him look so brooding and persistent. Before, he appeared to be enjoying what he was doing, he appeared to enjoy letting me glimpse this dark side of him. But now, he is all business. And he no longer wants an audience.
Having no argument, I follow Victor back into the office. The moment the door closes, Andre’s cries begin to fill the warehouse again and I may not be watching anymore, but the visual is still there as vividly as if I was. I can’t erase the pictures from my head and with every scream they etch themselves deeper into my memory just like the needles being pushed underneath Andre’s fingernails.
In under five minutes, after Andre has endured all that he can endure, I hear him sell his father out. He spills everything. A location in Venezuela so precise that not only does he freely give Fredrik key details of the surrounding area and how to get there, but he gives him an address. He also sells out his brother, David, and provides Fredrik with David’s New Orleans locations and all of his contacts.
Thirty minutes pass and I’m still in the office. Fredrik came in here once and spoke with Victor about them checking out the validity of David’s locations in New Orleans.
“What now?” I had asked just before Fredrik left the office.
“We wait,” he said just before he walked out the door.
“Wait for what?” I asked Victor.
“To make sure our contact calls back with the go-ahead,” he said. “We have to be sure Costa was telling the truth about where to find his brother before we proceed.”
Victor nodded but didn’t answer. He didn’t have to. I knew what was going to happen next.
Minutes later, everything goes eerily silent. Not even the sound of Andre’s whimpers or the squeaking of the leather chair as he’d struggle under the restraints trying to free himself can be heard.
My eyes fall on Victor, a questioning and worried look on my face.
“Are you OK?” he asks in a calm, standard voice.
I nod, but I’m not as OK as I’d like to be. My skin is still crawling and the beds of my nails tingle and ache uncomfortably. “I’m fine.” I swallow and start walking toward the door.
Victor reaches out and places his hand on the tarnished silver knob before I have a chance to.
“Perhaps you should wait until Fredrik has cleaned up.”
“Cleaned up…what exactly?” I already know what he’s referring to, but in a small way I want to hear him say it, but I don’t give him the chance.
“I said I’m fine,” I repeat softly, assuring him that even when I walk out that door, that no matter what I see, I’ll still be fine.
And I know I will be.
His hand slides away from the knob and mine replaces it.
As I walk out of the office and approach the dull gray light that bathes the area where Fredrik stands, I see Andre’s lifeless body still sitting on the chair. Heavy rivulets of blood drip from the leather seat onto the floor into a dark pool, staining the filthy concrete below. My eyes trail upward from the blood to Andre’s hands that are now fully splayed, his dead fingers hanging over the ends of the armrests having no more muscle function to allow them to curl.
The eyes. It’s always the eyes…
Andre’s are open, appearing to look across the room and right at me, but they are empty. Completely empty. A deep gash sits across the front of his throat, cut from ear to ear.
Fredrik begins to unfasten the restraints as I approach.
“I thought you kill only when you have to,” I say, looking only at the body and not at all traumatized by it. The torturing of the living body was what I could not stomach.
Fredrik slides the silver prong out of the last leather strap.
He straightens his back and turns to face me.
“I did have to kill him,” he says.
Somewhat perplexed by his limitations, which I thought before meant that he would only kill in self-defense, I just stare at him desperate for the answers. He turns away from me and goes back to ‘cleaning up his mess’.
“But he told you what you wanted to know,” I point out.
“We could not let Costa live,” Victor says as he steps up and stands beside me. “He would have alerted Velazco and his brother. Velazco would relocate before we could get to Venezuela. And his brother, he would leave New Orleans before we had a chance to apprehend him.”
“You’re going after him, too?” I ask, still confused by how this played out.
“If Costa and his brother’s information match then we’ll know that the location we were given is correct,” Victor explains. “We’ll keep the brother alive long enough to find Velazco and then he will be eliminated with the rest of his family.”
He walks over to his briefcase sitting on the crate.
“We go after the brother tonight,” he says, flipping the latches and it opens.
Fredrik reaches into a large duffle bag sitting on the floor in the nearest corner, out of the light, and unrolls a black body bag onto the floor, away from any blood spill. He unzips it straight down the center.
“Where is the recorder?” Victor asks Fredrik.
Fredrik reaches into the pocket of his black slacks and tosses the small electronic device the short way across the room. Victor catches it in mid-air. He listens to the horrific screams of Andre Costa and the information that Andre gave before closing the device safely away inside the briefcase.
Victor then pushes his hands down into a pair of white latex gloves and walks over to the body in the chair, positioning his hands underneath the armpits. With Fredrik at the feet, they lift the body from the chair and place it in the body bag on the floor, Fredrik zipping it up afterwards.
“What are you going to do with it?” I ask, overly curious.
I hear the sound of rubber snapping as Victor removes his gloves. Fredrik leaves his on and begins to clean the area, spraying the chair and the table down with some kind of clear solution from a plastic bottle with a long red nozzle. It smells strongly of bleach.
“Someone will be here to retrieve it within the hour,” Victor answers. “We should get going.”
“But…where are they going to take it?” I ask.
“To the swamps,” Fredrik answers evenly as he begins to scrub the blood from the chair with a white shop rag. And then he glances up at me and adds with that small, devilish grin behind his eyes that I’m so used to seeing, “Alligators love turtles.”
I roll my eyes and laugh.
Before I make my way back to the car with Victor, I turn and look back at Fredrik.
“Is there anyone you were never able to break?” I ask.
Instantly, the grin disappears from his face and the mood shifts in the room. I regret the question without knowing the answer.
I notice Fredrik’s throat move as he swallows. The hardening of his jaw. The darkening of his eyes as if the memory is torturing him worse than the torture he inflicted on Andre Costa minutes ago.
“My wife,” he answers.
I suck in a sharp, quiet breath and swallow the lump lodged in my throat. But instead of being sickened by the truth, instead of feeling only revulsion and blame toward him, my heart begins to ache for him instead. I don’t know why, but all I can feel is pain.
On the way to a hotel where I’ll be staying while Victor and Fredrik find David, Victor tells me about Fredrik.
“My God…Victor, why would he torture his wife?” I ask from the passenger’s seat. “I just…can’t imagine why he—”
“He had no choice,” Victor answers. “Years ago, Fredrik was just a contact. He never interrogated or killed anyone. He ran a safe-house in Stockholm. And that’s how he met Seraphina.”
“She was an operative?”
“She worked under Vonnegut, just as I did,” he goes on, making a turn onto Canal Street. “A couple of years with Seraphina visiting him, they fell in love. But being in the Order, as you know, they couldn’t allow anyone to know how strongly they felt for one another. They married in secret—not legally, of course—and then after two years together, Fredrik began to suspect that Seraphina was deceiving Vonnegut.”
“But if he loved her why would he tell Vonnegut?” I cut in, assuming that was what he had been about to say next.
“He didn’t,” Victor says. “Fredrik confronted Seraphina. He wanted first to stop her, to save her from being eliminated by the Order. She admitted to him that she was employed by another organization and working against Vonnegut. When Fredrik couldn’t change her mind, instead of turning her in because he loved her so deeply, he fell for her lies and began working with her.”
My heart falls into the pit of my stomach, knowing where this story is going. The pieces of the puzzle that is Fredrik Gustavsson are finally starting to fall into place.
“She betrayed him,” I say, this time knowing I’m right.
“Yes,” Victor says. “Seraphina began using Fredrik to relay false information about her missions back to Vonnegut. Then, from what I understand, Seraphina began visiting Fredrik less. Long story short, it took him six months to find out where she had been going. He found her in another safe-house. With another man. You can paint the rest of the picture.”
I shake my head absently, trying to understand this hole in my heart that I’m feeling for Fredrik.
We drive to the end of Poydras Street and park near a riverside hotel. Victor turns off the engine and we sit in partial darkness for a moment.