I look to Niklas. “You need me for what?” There is poison in my voice.
“You’re going to tell me everything you know about my brother and his new…organization. I want to know the names of his associates, where any of his safe-houses are located and who runs them.” I notice his jaw grind behind his cheeks. “And I want to know how deeply Fredrik Gustavsson is involved in Victor’s affairs.”
I shake my head. “Well, first of all, who the hell is Fredrik Gustavsson? Secondly, I don’t know anything about Victor’s organization, whatever that’s supposed to mean. He told me he left the Order, yes. And he told me that you betrayed him by staying in the Order and taking the assignment from Vonnegut to kill him. But he hasn’t told me anything else. He said it’s better that I don’t know.”
Niklas’ eyes warm with a faint smile. Without moving his head, he glances at the man behind me and suddenly I feel like I’m falling as the chair is pulled backward, the front legs rising off the floor. Instinctively, I heave my body forward as far as I can to keep my head from hitting the concrete behind me. I’m dragged across the room in the chair, to where, I don’t think I want to know.
Everything stops. The front legs of the chair come back down hard against the floor and then three more men, in addition to the one who dragged me, are holding my arms and legs. They begin to untie me, but just as quickly as the ropes come undone, I’m in their firm grasps, both hands and both legs, and no matter how hard I struggle to get away, I can’t move. “LET GO OF ME!” I thrash and twist my body, trying to kick my legs out at them, to pull my arms from their hands. “NIKLAS! LET ME GO!”
He doesn’t respond. He stands there in the grayish-blue hue of the dusty building next to Stephens, as my arms are forced above my head and bound again at the wrists by leather straps hanging from a lower ceiling. The same is done to my ankles. I hear a squealing noise and the sound of the contraption binding me, popping into place before my hands are stretched higher above me and my bare feet are lifted from the floor.
“GODDAMMIT! I’M GOING TO KILL YOU! LET ME GO!” I grind my teeth together so harshly that a shot of pain sears through my lower-jaw.
Niklas is standing in front of me again. I never even saw him move, I was too busy trying to get at the man closest to my left.
“Why are you working with them?” I shout into his face. “Make me understand that! I thought you were working for Vonnegut!”
Niklas folds his hands together on his backside.
“If you really want to know,” he says, “Sure. I’ll tell you.”
He paces back and forth in front of me once before stopping in the same spot. But I can’t help but notice Stephens standing in the background, the glint of a silver blade flashes within his hand. He remains in position, gripping a knife down near his pelvic bone, a look in his face that is eager to get at me.
“When I found out about what you did in Los Angeles,” Niklas says, “I knew that if you were still alive, Hamburg would want to make sure that it wouldn’t be for long. You had gotten away. There was no sign of you at the restaurant, or among the bodies that were found at the hotel.” A flash of Eric and Dahlia’s faces moves painfully through my mind “You had gotten away and I knew it had to be because Victor helped you. Suddenly, Hamburg and Stephens and myself had something in common. I wanted to find my brother. They wanted to find you. I knew you would be together, so therein lies the common ground.”
My wrists are already hurting being held up by the straps, the weight of my body putting so much pressure on them. I feel my face straining as he talks.
“Why couldn’t you find Victor yourself?” I lash out, trying to hide my discomfort. “Or why couldn’t they find me themselves?”
“They had information on you that I did not have,” Niklas says. “They had been keeping tabs on you for months, since the night you and Victor left the mansion.”
I laugh out loud, throwing my head back. “Bullshit. If that was true why didn’t they just kill me a long time ago?”
Stephens steps up closer from behind Niklas.
“Because Victor Faust threatened Arthur Hamburg that night,” Stephens says. “He wasn’t going to do anything to bring Victor Faust down on him again. I kept tabs on you just in case. I knew where you lived—easy to find and follow one leaving a Los Angeles hospital after being shot—I knew where you worked. Who you associated with. The places you frequented. I checked into Dina Gregory’s background and learned everything there was to know about her family. She wasn’t hard to track down later, either.”
The corner of my nose and mouth harden into a snarl.
“That still doesn’t explain why you teamed up to find us,” I say icily, thinking more about what he was saying regarding Dina. And the truth is that I don’t care much about why they are working together. I’m just trying to buy myself some time by keeping any conversation going for as long as I can.
Stephens and Niklas trade places and now Stephens is the one looming closely near me. He slides the blade between his fingers into my view, making certain that I see it and am intimidated by it.
He looks at me in a narrow, sidelong glance. “Surely you remember what Victor Faust did to Arthur Hamburg’s wife. Surely you didn’t think that he was going to just forget about it.” He leans in close to my face, the smell of his breath, like old cheap wine and cigars, makes me lightheaded with disgust. “My employer has wanted Faust dead since the night he killed his wife. We knew where you were at all times, but we had no idea where Faust was and had no reason to believe that you did, either. And we certainly didn’t know that he gave a shit about you. I suppose he didn’t really, or he would never have left you alone like that.” A taunting grin sneaks up on his face.
Just as he starts to pull away, I throw my head forward at him, hoping to get at him with my teeth, but he’s out of reach too soon. I coil my fingers around the leather straps above me and lift my body up for a moment to relieve some of the pressure on my wrists. I fall back down harshly, shaking the contraption.
I spit at him, but it doesn’t come close to hitting him.
“They can’t find Victor without me,” Niklas says. “And I can’t find him without you.” He gets in my face again and though I know I could spit on him this time and not miss, I don’t. That look in his dark blue eyes scares me into submission. “So we made an arrangement. They help me find you and I kill my brother for them.”
“FUCK YOU!” I rear my head back and butt him in the forehead with mine. Pain shoots through my temples and down into my jaw and my vision blurs for a moment.
Niklas steps away from me, clearly stunned by the contact, but he doesn’t retaliate. He turns to Stephens and Stephens does the honors. I start thrashing again as he comes at me with the knife.
“Willem,” Niklas calls out in a strangely casual tone from behind.
Stephens doesn’t turn around to look at him, but he stops.
“I need her alive,” Niklas says. “Remember that. Remember our agreement. I find out what I need to know and then you can do whatever you want with her.”
I shake my head and laugh low under my breath at them both.
“I’m not telling you anything,” I snap. “You can’t f**king break me. You think you can. But you are so wrong. You have no idea.” My voice is surprisingly calm.
“Well, we’ll have to see about that,” Niklas says.
He turns on his heels and walks away, the sound of his shoes tapping against the concrete echoes throughout the warehouse until it fades as he disappears on the other side of a metal door.
Stephens’ smile has gotten bigger now that Niklas is gone.
And I just became more afraid of him.
Two days later…
Staring at the laptop screen, the frozen image of Sarai’s sweaty and bleeding face stares back at me. I’ve watched the video over and over again, as Stephens beats her, and my brother, as he tries fruitlessly to get her to talk. It kills me to see Sarai this way, to watch as this man who will be dead sooner than later hurts her. And it kills me that I can do nothing about it.
“She’s not going to talk,” Fredrik says from behind, a deep concern for Sarai’s well-being in his words.
He stands in the doorway of the office in my Albuquerque house, free of dead bodies now that Fredrik and I have gotten rid of them. I refuse to leave this house. If Stephens wants me he is more than welcome to send men here for me. But my brother, on the other hand, wants information first and they all know he will not get it out of me.
“Victor,” Fredrik speaks up again with urgency and even a bit of pleading, “you have to do something. We can’t just sit here. They’re going to kill her.”
“There is nothing we can do,” I repeat as I have explained this to him already. And as much as it pains me to do so, I explain it to him all over again. “I have no clue where she is, Fredrik. Niklas isn’t going to reveal her location until he gets from her the information that he wants. I know my brother. He is smart. He will not risk facing me. Not like this. Vonnegut wants more than my head, he wants information. Niklas will get what he needs from Sarai and then send me another message telling me where to find her. I’ll go after her and he knows this. And then he’ll have me. He’ll have me and everything about you and our outfit and our contacts.”
I push myself out of the desk chair, causing it to roll across the floor and smash against the nearby wall.
“DO YOU THINK I’M ENJOYING THIS?” I point my finger at him and then at the floor.
I calm myself, steadying my breath, and I look down at my vague reflection in my shiny black shoes.
“Victor, I don’t understand. Why don’t you just give them what they want?”
It intrigues me that Fredrik, the master of interrogators, wants so desperately for Sarai to talk, that his concern for her is showing me another side to him.
It also concerns me.
“It’s not that simple.” I look up at him. “Even if I told Niklas what he wanted to know, Sarai is still dead. In fact, she’ll be dead a lot sooner if I give in, if I gave you up and everyone involved in our operation. The longer she holds out, and the longer I hold out, the longer she lives. Until I figure out what to do.”
Fredrik leans against the doorframe, crossing his arms. He sighs deeply.
“But it’s been two days,” he says. “She can’t hold out much longer.”
“She will hold out,” I say with confidence.
I turn back around and look down at the video paused on the screen, the tips of my fingers braced against the edge of the desk.
“Then how are we going to find her?” he asks.
I stare at her face for a long, tense moment and then close the lid on the laptop.
“I will find her.”
The stench of my urine on the floor in the corner of this dark room I’ve been locked in for two days is becoming unbearable. I lie against the cold, filthy concrete, my cheek pressed against the rough, grain-like texture. My back stings, burns as though the open wounds inflicted by the whip Stephens used to beat me with are becoming infected. It happened last night when Niklas left me alone in this room. By the time Niklas came back, Stephens had already beat me so badly that I passed out briefly from the pain and woke up in a pool of my own vomit. I heard Niklas and Stephens arguing just outside the room, on the other side of the tall metal door. Niklas didn’t approve of how Stephens handled me and he made it known.