“Stressed?” The red-haired man cackled loudly.
“Yes,” Olaf said, retaining his calm demeanor. “I think it is best that I take over from here on out.”
My eyelids broke apart a crack, just enough to see the look on the red-haired man’s face hovering over me. He was smiling, but it frightened me. I shut my eyes again quickly when I noticed his looking my way.
“You just said you no longer wanted to deal with the boy,” Olaf said. “Is there a problem?”
A few seconds of silence ensued.
“No,” the red-haired man said. “Take him with you. Perhaps you can succeed where I have failed.”
No more words were spoken between them.
Olaf carried me to his car and laid me down carefully across the backseat.
“I will take care of you,” Olaf said softly from the front.
I shook uncontrollably from the pain of my ribs and my head. Tears and snot and blood seeped into my mouth.
“I will be kind to you, boy,” Olaf said as the car pulled away from the building, “until you give me no choice.”
He drove me to someplace I had never been before. And I remained there in his care, learning to overcome my fear of him and the other men and of the life that I was forced to live. Until I poisoned him in his sleep five years later and escaped.
“Fredrik?” I ask, concerned by his long bout of eerie silence.
He turns away from the window and smiles softly.
“Are you all right?” I ask as I walk closer.
He nods and that devilish grin I’ll always associate with him spreads over his face.
“Are you worried about me, doll?” he playfully taunts and I feel myself blushing.
I shrug. “Maybe a little. But don’t let that head of yours get too inflated.”
He smiles and I feel nothing but sincerity and reverence in it.
I head toward the kitchen, stopping just before I make it around the corner and out of his sight.
“Are you hungry?” I call out.
“Can you cook?” he asks in return, still poking fun at me.
“Not like that maid of yours,” I admit. “But I make a mean peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
“Sounds good to me,” he says and I smile at him before I disappear into the kitchen.
I leave early in the morning, taking the car Victor left in the garage in case I needed it for an emergency. Driving to Santa Fe to Spencer and Jacquelyn’s Krav Maga studio isn’t exactly an emergency, but it’s important to me, nonetheless. And I can’t sit around the house like this anymore when I could be training.
I’ve been sparring with Spencer for thirty minutes. I hate how easy he goes on me, but I guess at the same time I’d regret thinking that way if he decided to hit me with his tree trunk fist.
“Move with your shoulders,” Spencer says, moving in a circle with me, both of us bent partway at our waists, our arms out in front of us defensively. “Punch. One. Two. Left. Right.” He demonstrates as he speaks, jutting each of his massive fists at the air in front of him.
I do exactly as he instructs, over and over, to perfect my technique. And then I jab at him hard, but he blocks and defends himself easily from all of my attempts.
He comes at me and instinctively I duck and move around him, long wisps of my hair that had fallen from my ponytail get trapped between my lips and stick across the bridge of my nose. Sweat pours from my hairline and down the center of my back, making the thin fabric of my black t-shirt stick grossly to my skin.
Spencer comes at me again and I use something I’ve already learned, hitting him in center of his throat, a vulnerable spot that instantly takes him off balance. I reach out quickly before he has a chance to redeem himself and grab him around the back of his head, shoving him over forward where I drive my knee into his face, once, twice, three times in fast succession.
He stumbles backward, pressing his hand over his nose. If Spencer didn’t want to refrain from really hurting me, he never would’ve stopped. He would’ve pushed through the stun and the pain and kept coming after me until I was dead.
“Damn, girl,” he says, injecting laughter in his deep voice muffled behind his hand. “I think you broke my nose.”
I shake my head at him, disappointed that he stopped, though I learned to accept that he always will, weeks ago.
“Nah, I think it was already crooked,” I say in jest.
He laughs again, and removes his hand from his face to point at me warningly, his right eye narrower than his left.
I walk over to the edge of the black mat where my towel is lying on the floor and I use it to wipe the sweat from my face. Pulling my t-shirt rapidly in and out at the collar, I attempt to air myself out, glad that the tight black spandex pants I’m wearing were made to reduce sweating.
Fredrik walks through the tall glass door at the front of the studio. He doesn’t look pleased.
He walks across the mat in a pair of dark jeans, a muscle-hugging gray t-shirt and a pair of bright white Converse shoes with red shoestrings. I can’t decide what’s more imperative: explaining myself to him, or asking him if he woke up this morning and thought he was someone else.
“How’d you find me?” I drop the sweaty towel back on the mat beside my black running shoes.
“Why’d you leave?” he asks in return.
I roll my eyes and shake my head subtly, glancing over at Spencer standing not far away looking between Fredrik and me curiously, his huge arms crossed stiffly over his thick chest. His wife, Jacquelyn, enters the building through the same door Fredrik just walked through.
I turn to Fredrik.
“What are you, twenty?” I ask, scanning his attire.
He looks good in it, I admit, but I doubt I’ll ever get used to seeing him in anything other than his suit. I just can’t adequately picture him torturing a man to death in a pair of Converse. I shake the odd image out of my mind.
“Answering questions with questions,” he points out with slight annoyance. “I found you after calling Victor. He told me you might be here.”
“Is he pissed?” I feel my face fall. I hope he’s not pissed.
Fredrik shakes his head. “No,” he says as though he’s disappointed by the truth. “He said you coming here today would be no different than any other day.” He looks at me authoritatively. “But you should’ve at least told me instead of sneaking out. What are you? Fifteen?”
I smirk at him.
“Is everything all right?” Spencer asks stepping up, eyeing Fredrik coldly from the side. Jacquelyn disappears inside the office on the other side of the room.
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” I say. “Spencer, this is Fredrik. Fredrik, Spencer, my trainer.”
Spencer’s dark brown eyes move in his motionless head to see me and then fall back on Fredrik. “Is this someone Victor knows? He specifically told me not to allow anyone but him in here to see you.” He narrows his eyes on Fredrik and looks like he’s ready to take him down any second.
Fredrik, on the other hand, is smiling faintly, standing with his hands folded in front of him, his posture refined. Fredrik may not be able to win against Spencer in hand-to-hand combat, but I truly am more worried about Spencer because I know what Fredrik is capable of.
I step into the space between them.
“Victor knows Fredrik,” I say. “He just never expected that Fredrik would have to come here.”
The two size each other up quietly and then Spencer nods and says to me, “OK, but if you need anything….”
“I know. Thanks.” I smile.
Spencer leaves Fredrik and me standing alone. He disappears inside the office with Jacquelyn just a few students enter the building and drop their bags on the floor by the far wall.
“Victor’s coming back tonight,” Fredrik says, lowering his voice and afterwards looking over his shoulder.
I walk with him farther way from the people getting prepared to train.
“I’m surprised you got through to him,” I say. “I tried calling him once last night but I couldn’t get through.”
Fredrik nods. “No signal where he was for the majority of the time.”
I look over my shoulder now. “So then he…finished the job?” I ask in a whisper.
“Yes. Velazco has been taken care of. I’ll be dealing with the other son tonight.”
“You’re going to kill him?” I whisper even lower, constantly looking at my surroundings to make certain no one is in earshot of our very criminal conversation.
Fredrik’s eyes widen just a little around the edges to indicate that he’d rather I not say anything else incriminating inside this place. He takes me by the arm, carefully fitting his fingers around my elbow, and walks me toward the front door. Not until we’re standing outside on the sidewalk does he feel it’s safe enough to speak.
“He deserves to die,” Fredrik assures me and I get the feeling he thought I might have a problem with it.
Maybe I do, in a way. Only now am I realizing it.
“Well, what…,” I pause and take a deep breath, “…what exactly has David done to deserve to die? What did Andre Costa do? I know that their father, Velazco, has done a lot of bad to a lot of people, but I just…I don’t know, I feel like you’re punishing them just as brutally as Velazco for the things that only Velazco has done.”
Fredrik shakes his head glumly at me. “No. Velazco’s sons and the men who work for him are the ones who get their hands dirty. They are the ones who do the kidnapping, who carry out most of the kills, the rapes. Every single one of them deserves what they get.”
“But how do you know that Andre Costa and David have directly kidnapped, raped or killed someone?”
“I have my sources,” he says. “That’s all you need to know.”
“I thought I was part of this,” I say with slight offense.
“You’re not the one killing them.” He buries his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans. “If it ever comes down to that, you being expected to kill someone, then you can ask all the questions that you want.”
I don’t like his answer, but I accept it and leave it alone. I sigh heavily and walk over to stand with my back pressed against the brick wall, crossing my arms over my stomach and propping a foot on the wall behind me to hold my balance.
“Speaking of me killing people,” I say. “I feel like Hamburg and Stephens are drifting farther away from me every day. I’m tired of waiting. I want to kill them. I want this done and over with.”
Fredrik stands next to me, with his back against the wall, too.
We both look out into the street, watching cars pass through the green light.
“What are you going to do when they’re dead?” he asks. “Is that going to be it? You finish them off, get your revenge, and then go about your life?”
“No,” I say without looking over at him, my voice distant because my mind is faraway thinking about it all. “No, they won’t be the last.”
I realize that this is something that I haven’t even said to Victor yet. Not because I was keeping it from him, but because I’m only now understanding it myself. Surprised by my own answer, I become lost in the moment, staring at the intersection as the cars blur in and out of focus.