“Blinded by rage and pain for Seraphina’s betrayal, Fredrik…,” he looks out through the windshield, lost in deep thought of that day, “…It was as if a switch had been flipped inside Fredrik’s brain.” He glances over at me, washing enough of the memory out of his mind so that he can continue in the same consistent manner as before. “He interrogated and tortured them both. He killed the man in front of her, hoping it would be enough to break her because he didn’t want to kill her. But she never broke. She was more loyal to her employer than she was to Fredrik, a man whom she claimed to love. She destroyed him. He has not been the same since. It was a very long time ago.”
I look down into my lap, still seeing only Fredrik’s face in my mind and I shake my head some more, not wanting to believe any of it.
“Is that why he is the way he is?” I look back over at Victor as he pulls his keys from the ignition.
“I think it played a large part in how he turned out,” Victor says. “She was his first interrogation and the first—and only—person that he could never break. After that day, after he told Vonnegut about her betrayal and further securing himself within the Order, Fredrik requested to be placed in the field instead of just being a safe-house contact. Vonnegut agreed, and a few years later, Fredrik was officially an interrogator.”
“I didn’t realize that interrogators had such a morbid list of trades,” I say with a hint of disbelief in the form of laughter. “He mentioned he occasionally assists in suicides, too. Kevorkian? That’s morbid.”
Victor laughs lightly.
“Fredrik is full of morbid surprises,” he says and then opens the car door. He gets out, carrying his briefcase in one hand and walks around to my side. “I need you to stay in the room until I get back. Though it will likely be sometime tomorrow before I do.”
I get out of the car and he closes the door behind me.
“You’re not going to let me lure David?”
“No. He’s already seen you, knows that you left with Costa. By now you’re probably the one person in this city who he wants to find.”
Before we make it into the lobby, I stop Victor in front of the tall glass doors.
“What happened to Seraphina?”
Victor looks behind me briefly in thought for a moment.
“I don’t know,” he answers. “He refused to talk about it, which led me to believe that ultimately, he killed her.”
Victor didn’t come back to the hotel until almost noon the following day. I did exactly as he had instructed and I never left the room, not even to get a drink from the machine we passed in the hallway on the way up. I ordered room service and requested it be left on the floor outside the door. I watched television and showered and peered out the window of the fifteenth floor at the bustling city of New Orleans below, all the while wondering what Victor was doing. If he and Fredrik found David and if David was suffering the same fate as his brother.
When Victor returned, he was as clean as he was when he left; not a drop of blood on his suit anywhere. Of course, I knew that didn’t mean anything.
He and Fredrik got the information they needed out of David and it happened to match the information that Andre Costa had given. Apparently, David was easier to break. Victor told me that Fredrik didn’t even have to resort to the needles. A part of me was glad for that. I just didn’t want to think about it.
Fredrik stayed behind with David, and Victor drove me back to Albuquerque.
“I thought we’d already established this, Victor. Why are you leaving me here?”
“Because you’re not ready for me to take you with me on missions.” He’s carefully packing a few items of clothes into a brown suitcase on the foot of the bed. “Certainly not all the way to Venezuela. It becomes much more difficult to stay in hiding when crossing international borders.”
I sit down on the side of the bed and then lay across it, letting my legs hang off the sides at the knees. I gaze up at the tall, vaulted ceiling.
“How long will you be gone?”
“Until the job is done,” he answers and I hear the latches on the suitcase clicking closed.
“What am I supposed to do while you’re gone?”
“Whatever you want. Just stay out of trouble.” His crooked smile gives him instant forgiveness.
“Well, can’t I stay with Dina in Oklahoma? Or she could come here and stay with me. I’ll go stir crazy here by myself.”
“You’ll be fine,” he says. “It’s too soon to risk visiting Mrs. Gregory either way. Once Fredrik is free, he will stay with you here in the house.”
I raise my back from the bed and hold myself up with my elbows propped against the mattress.
I narrow my eyes at him.
“Fredrik. You’re going to leave me with Fredrik?” I know that he trusts him, but he doesn’t trust him fully.
I don’t understand his reasoning.
Victor grins faintly. “Are you afraid he’s going to stick needles under your fingernails?”
I blink a few times. Was it that obvious?
“Like I said, you’ll be fine.” Victor leaves the foot of the bed and comes around to my side where he crouches down in front of me. I raise up the rest of the way and look down at him.
His expression has changed, the grin has gone leaving only a soft look of wonder and concern in his face. The shift in mood makes me eager and uncomfortable.
“Sarai,” he says, placing his hands upon my bare knees, “remember everything that I’ve told you about trust. Just remember everything that I’ve ever told you.”
“Why are you saying this?” I c*ck my head to one side and lines of confusion and worry deepen around my eyes. “I don’t like the way that sounds.”
He stands up. “Always trust your instincts.” He picks up his suitcase from beside me and heads toward the bedroom door.
“Wait,” I call out, following him.
He stops and turns to look at me.
“Why are my instincts telling me right now that you’re keeping something important from me?”
He sets the suitcase back down and steps up to me, enclosing me within the circle of his arms. His mouth brushes mine, the warmth of his tongue gently parting my lips. He kisses me hungrily, winding his hands within my hair, and as much as I want to bask in the passion of the moment, I can’t help but wonder if this is a kiss goodbye.
He pulls away from me reluctantly and touches the bottom of my chin with the side of his index finger.
“Because they’re right,” he finally answers and I blink back the stun of his confession. “Let’s just hope they never let you down.”
Without another word, Victor walks out of the house and heads to a commercial airport to catch a plane to Venezuela.
Two days have come and gone uneventfully and I’m growing more restless alone inside this big southwestern-style house, the tall yellow-painted walls and terra cotta flooring my only company. I can’t stand television much, though after being imprisoned in Mexico for most of my young life with only Spanish soap operas for entertainment, one might think American television would be a welcomed luxury. But I grew quickly out of it very early on after I started my temporary life with Dina in Arizona eight months ago. Rarely do I ever listen to the radio even. But I did start playing the piano more. I’ll always love the piano. I kind of wish that Victor had one here for me to play.
I pace the big house in my bare feet, double-checking all of the doors and windows, making sure they’re locked. But it’s the last time I check as I refuse to become paranoid, not even for Victor’s sake and his sometimes peculiar, but always incessant concern for me. But I can’t deny that I like that about him.
I think a lot about what he said to me before he left. I want more than anything right now to know the meaning behind his cryptic words. I feel like he’s testing me again. That’s what my instincts are screaming at me. But what worries me more than anything is that deep down I know this test has a lot to do with Fredrik. I’m beginning to wonder just how far Victor will go to train me.
And I’m beginning to wonder just how much he really trusts me…
Hours into the late afternoon, just when I’ve decided to give in to suffering through a round of television, I hear a vehicle pulling into the driveway in front of the house, little pieces of loose rock popping underneath the tires. I race to the window to make out who it is.
My heart leaps inside my chest when I watch the lever-style knob on the front door turn halfway as it is being unlocked from the outside. All I can think about is why Victor gave Fredrik a key.
“There you are, doll,” Fredrik says as he steps into the room, his dark, tousled hair always styled as though he literally just left the salon.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, pretending not to know and failing to conceal the nervousness in my voice.
I glance quickly toward the sofa where I’ve hidden a 9mm under a cushion and then near the hallway where a cherry-wood console table hides a .380 in its small drawer. They are among several guns that are placed throughout the house. Every one of them loaded. In this life there’s no such thing as a safety lock.
“Victor didn’t tell you?” he asks, breaking apart the buttons at the wrists of his dress shirt and rolling up his sleeves to his elbows. “I’m to stay with you until he gets back. You keep it incredibly warm in here.” He slides his index finger behind his collar pulling the fabric away from his throat with a look of discomfort.
“Sorry,” I say. “I get cold easily.”
Fredrik smiles and walks past me and into the living room. I follow him, keeping my eyes on his every move. I feel like I’m not supposed to trust him, but the truth is that I do trust him. I’m baffled by my own insecurities.
“You could at least open a few windows,” he suggests.
Fredrik walks around the tawny leather sofa and flips the latches on the tall window behind it. A light breeze filters inside, blowing the long, see-through tan curtain covering it. He does the same to the window next to it.
He’s dressed in a pair of casual dark-brown slacks and a white button-up shirt where I can see the outline of his chest and arm muscles through the thin fabric. A pair of brown leather loafers dress his bare feet. A gun grip peeks from the back of his pants, held firmly in place by his belt.
Maybe that’s what this test is about, if in fact it is a test; more and more I’m unsure of everything, it seems. But it seems out of character for Victor to go out of his way to see if I’ll sleep with another man. Though if that’s the case, what man better than Fredrik, a gorgeous and darkly intriguing specimen of the male form, to tempt me with? But I’m not a sick and demented girl. I find Fredrik’s casual ability to torture and murder not-so-innocent people, rather disgusting and barbaric…OK, so maybe what he did to Andre Costa didn’t disgust me as much as it should have. Maybe I should still be traumatized by what I saw considering it’s only been a few days. Maybe I should be so uneasy around him right this very minute that I feel like I have rocks in my stomach and my hands should be shaking. But I’m perfectly at ease and…OK, perhaps I am a sick and demented girl. Victor must see it. Why else would be choose to tempt me with Fredrik of all people?