He looks at me now and I can’t read his expression, which, I have learned, is usually because he’s got too much on his mind and he’s trying to stay focused.

Before Fredrik has a chance to answer, Victor asks me, “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m not hurt.” I look off toward the wall when I hear Fredrik speak up.

“I wasn’t followed here,” Fredrik says. “I made sure of that. Went an hour out of the way just to be sure. And there has been no sign of anyone here, just a few vehicles on the highway, but nothing suspicious.”

Victor comes around the coffee table and sits on it, the same way that I often do, and he looks down into my eyes as I sit on the center cushion looking back at him. He appears concerned. And angry. Not at me, though, but I think at whoever was in that Navigator.

“Before you say anything—”

“Like I told Fredrik,” he cuts in calmly, dropping his hands between his thighs, his elbows resting on the tops of his legs, “I didn’t expect you to stay here, cooped up in this house the whole time I was gone. Don’t apologize for leaving.”

Surprised by his tolerance, I’m rendered quiet for a moment.

“I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else,” I finally say, still feeling like I screwed up again. “I figured since I’ve been staying here all this time and training with Spencer, that it wouldn’t make any difference whether I chose to go today or to wait until you got back.”

“And you’re right,” Victor says. He reaches out and places his hands on my knees. “This isn’t about you leaving.” He looks over at Fredrik as Fredrik takes the empty seat. “We have to figure out how they knew where to find you.”

I see something in Victor’s face that Fredrik can’t see, something that puts me on edge. Victor has the look of a man who is suspicious of someone, who is suspicious of Fredrik. I look back and forth between the two of them, trying to understand Victor’s mindset. Is this Samantha back in Texas all over again? Did Victor put too much of what little trust he possesses in the wrong person again? Was this the test all along, by leaving Fredrik with me, alone?

My hands collapse into fists beside my thighs on the couch, my fingernails jab into the skin of my palms. Did Victor use me to test Fredrik’s loyalty?

“I’ve already been thinking about that,” Fredrik speaks up. “And I hope I’m wrong, but I have a feeling I know how they found her.”

It was something Fredrik and I already discussed before Victor got here. But now…now that I see the suspicion in Victor’s eyes, I can’t help but wonder if all this time while we waited for him to return, if Fredrik was only filling my head full of lies to deter us from the possibility that it was him.

I don’t trust either one of them now. I feel like a captive all over again, stuck between dangerous men who I know I can’t get away from.

And my heart hurts.

Victor’s hands slide away from my knees and he gives Fredrik his attention. I remain calm and motionless, doing what I do best: faking it.

“I think we should get to Phoenix as soon as possible,” Fredrik goes on. “I tried calling Amelia, figuring maybe she knew something, but she hasn’t answered or returned any of my calls. It’s not like her.”

Victor moves from the coffee table and sits next to me, leaning forward to open his briefcase. He removes his laptop and slides his fingerprint across a sensor to unlock it.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Checking my feeds at Amelia’s house,” he says, opening something on the desktop. “I haven’t bothered since we got Mrs. Gregory out of there.”

Several minutes of sifting through various videos—one clearly in question as men enter Amelia’s house and apprehend her—he shakes his head and closes the laptop.

“What is it?” Fredrik asks.

Victor packs the laptop back inside the briefcase. “They were there. The feed went dead shortly after. They must’ve found one of the devices I planted the night I took Sarai to see Mrs. Gregory.”

I’m panicked by thought of what Stephens might’ve done to Amelia, or more-so what she might’ve told them.

“Fredrik’s right,” I say. “We should get to Phoenix.”

“Then let’s go.” He reaches out for my hand.

Reluctantly, I take it and go to my feet with him. What I really want to do is slap him across the face.

“Victor?” I say just as he turns his back, intent on going toward the door.

He stops and turns back to look at me.

“This wouldn’t be happening at all if Hamburg and Stephens were already dead.”

Phoenix, Arizona – 1:00 a.m.

We fly to Phoenix on a commercial plane and take a cab to Amelia’s house. A six-hour drive apparently wasn’t going to cut it as Victor wants answers now and not a moment later. I fear that Amelia’s dead, and that’s why she isn’t answering any of Fredrik’s calls. I think Fredrik has the same idea. Back at the house in Albuquerque, each time he’d call her and she wouldn’t answer, he became more frustrated. Worried, even. I found that strange coming from someone like Fredrik, who I get the feeling uses women for sex and does not have the ability to care about any of them. But now, I can’t help but believe it was all for show, that he only pretended to worry about Amelia when in truth, he probably had her killed himself.

In any case, I’m just glad that we got Dina out of her house when we did.

The cab drops us off a block away from Amelia’s house and we walk the rest of the way under the shroud of darkness. Her porch light is on illuminating the dirty white siding on the little house and the broken concrete steps leading up to the front door. Another small light glows from the den window where shadows move in a confined pattern giving the impression that the light is coming from a television. When we ascend the concrete steps and stand in front of the door, Victor reaches up and twists the hot bulb above the door frame, snuffing out the light.

Fredrik moves over to the window and peers inside.

Victor stands in front of me and tries to push me behind him protectively, covertly, but I shove his hand away. He turns at an angle and looks down into my angry face. I grind my jaw and shake my head, letting him know that I’m infuriated and that he better not touch me.

He looks away, keeping his attention on Fredrik.

“I don’t see her,” Fredrik whispers. “No sign of a struggle.”

Victor pulls his 9MM from the back of his pants, places his hand on the door knob and tries to turn it. It’s locked. I get nervous when Fredrik pulls his gun, too. Victor stands back and motions for Fredrik to get in front of him, making it appear that he wants Fredrik to be the one to knock on the door when I think it’s more to keep Fredrik in his sights.

Fredrik knocks three times and we wait. Victor doesn’t look at me anymore, but I wouldn’t expect him to in a time like this. I find myself more interested in Fredrik’s movements as well, waiting for him to turn on us any minute now.

There’s movement inside. The curtain on the window near the door shifts and then the sound of a body pushing against the door itself as whoever is inside peers through the peephole. Victor forces me behind him this time and I don’t argue, worried more about who’s on the other side of that door than my bitterness towards Victor.

I hear the chain sliding away and then the clicking of a deadbolt, lastly the sound of the knob turning carefully. When the door breaks apart from the frame, it does so only inches and a pretty face peeps through the crack with long blonde hair disheveled around her puffy eyes.

“Fredrik?” Amelia says in a low, harsh voice. “You shouldn’t be here.” I see her eyes darting around nervously, looking beyond us toward the street.

Victor steps up beside Fredrik and pushes the door open with the palm of his hand. The smell of cinnamon potpourri and burnt coffee rises up into my nostrils. Amelia steps back quickly, burying her hands underneath her tightly crossed arms covered by a blue bath robe that stops just above her bare ankles. The left side of her face is heavily bruised and there is blood in the white of her eye. Her lip looks as though it has been slowly healing from being busted.

Victor pulls me inside the house with him and Fredrik follows, shutting and locking the door afterwards. And before anyone speaks, Victor and Fredrik rush through every room in the house, guns in their hands, making sure that no one is hiding in wait.

They come back into the den at the same time, sliding their guns back behind their pants.

“What happened to you?” Fredrik asks Amelia. “Why haven’t you been answering your phone?”

She’s shaking, her arms trembling inside her robe.

Victor looks at everything but her. He begins searching the room, while I know at the same time hanging onto every one of her words.

“I didn’t answer because I knew it was you,” she says to Fredrik. “And you didn’t leave any voicemails. You never leave voicemails. They tapped my phone, Fredrik. I couldn’t risk answering.”

Fredrik takes Amelia carefully by the elbow and walks with her into the den area. He sits down next to her on the sofa.

“Tell me what happened,” he persists.

I sit down on the edge of the recliner in the corner, my back arched, my hands folded together draped between my knees.

Amelia looks over at Victor as he’s running his fingers along a bookshelf, searching for something.

“They found all of that stuff,” she says to him. “When they came in here, three men ransacked my goddamn house, turned it upside-down, looking for whatever those devices were you hid everywhere.”

He goes back to searching the house, though staying in sight of us. In sight of me.

Amelia turns back to Fredrik. She sits with her hands pressed together between her knees, her right leg constantly moving, her foot bouncing nervously against the rust-colored carpet.

“They came here three days after you left,” she goes on. “Tied me to a kitchen chair. They beat me. They threatened me with my family—”

“What did you tell them?” Victor cuts in, standing in front of her now.

“I didn’t have anything to tell,” she says, fear rising up in her shaky voice. “They wanted to know where she was.” She glances over at me. I notice how yellow the skin around her eye is now that we’re in the room with the light from the television. “But I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell them what I didn’t know. Shit! They wanted to know where Dina was, too. I didn’t know that, either. They didn’t believe me so they beat me some more!” She takes a deep breath and tries to compose herself, maybe to keep from crying. She looks as though she could burst into tears at any moment.

“But you had to have told them something,” Fredrik says from beside her. His voice is urgent but not at all accusing. “Think, Amelia.”

Amelia looks down at her shaking hands and then brings them both up and pushes her messy blonde hair back away from her face.

“I-I couldn’t take it anymore,” she says shamefully, unable to look Fredrik in the eyes. She stares down at the carpet. “I thought they were going to kill me, to beat me to death. I-I only told them that Dina had called her Sarai and she talked to me about her sometimes.” She looks up at Fredrik now, worry all over her face, straining the corners of her reddened eyes. “But it wasn’t anything I thought they could actually use.”

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