“Let her in,” a familiar voice says from the door.

It’s Hamburg, still as porky and grotesque as he was before, wearing an oversized suit ready to bust at the buttons if he inhales too deeply.

I smirk at the guard glaring back at me with murder in his eyes. I know that look, I’m all too intimate with it just the same. He takes the gun from my purse and hands the purse back to me.

“Mr. Hamburg,” Stephens says, “I should remain with you.”

Hamburg shakes his double-chinned head. “No, you mind the restaurant. These people aren’t here to kill me or else they wouldn’t be so obvious. I’ll be fine.”

“At least leave Marion outside the door,” Stephens suggests, glancing at the guard.

“Yes,” Hamburg agrees. “You stay here, let no one interrupt our…,” he looks at me once coldly, “…meeting, unless I ask for an interruption. If at any time you no longer hear my voice for a full minute, come inside the room. As a precaution, of course.”

He smirks at me.

“Of course,” I mimic and smirk right back.

Hamburg steps to the side and gestures me in with an opened hand, palm-up.

“I thought this was over, Miss Seyfried.”

Hamburg shuts the door.

“Have a seat,” he adds.

The room is generous in size with smooth, rounded walls seamless from one side to the other. A series of large paintings depicting what appears to be scenes of a biblical nature are set near a large stone fireplace, mounted inside enormous glass shadow boxes with lights beaming upward from the bottom like spotlights. The overall lighting is low, like it is in the restaurant, and it smells of incense or maybe scented oil of musk and lavender. On the far wall to my left is an opened door leading into another room where the blue-gray light from several television screens glows against the walls. As I walk in closer to take the leather high-back chair in front of Hamburg’s desk, I glimpse inside the small room. It’s just as I thought. The screens show different tables in the restaurant.

Hamburg closes that door, too.

“No, it’s far from over,” I finally answer.

I cross one leg over the other and keep my posture straight, my chin raised with confidence and my eyes on Hamburg as he moves through the room toward me. I reach down to pull the end of my dress fully over the knife sheathed at my thigh. My purse rests on my lap.

“You’ve already taken my wife from me.” Indignation laces his voice. “You don’t think that was enough?”

“Unfortunately, no.” I smile slyly. “Wasn’t it enough that you and your wife took one life? No, it wasn’t,” I answer for him. “You took many lives.”

Hamburg chews on the inside of his mouth and takes a seat behind his desk, facing me. He rests his sausage-like hands out in front of him across the mahogany. I can tell how badly he wants to kill me where I sit. But he won’t because he believes I’m not alone. No one in their right mind would do something like this, come here alone, inexperienced and reckless.

No one but me.

I just have to make sure he continues to believe that I have accomplices until I figure out how I’m going to kill him and get out of the room without getting caught. Hamburg giving the guard one minute of not hearing his voice before he can burst into the room has further put a serious wrench in the plan that I never really had to begin with.

“Well, I must say,” Hamburg changes the tone in the room, “you are stunning no matter what kind of wig you wear. But I admit, I like the red one better.”

He thinks my dark auburn hair was a wig. Good.

“You’re a sick man, you know that, right?” I tap my nails against the chair arm.

Hamburg smiles creepily. I shudder inside, but keep a straight face.

“I didn’t kill those people on purpose,” he says. “They knew what they were getting into, that in the heat of the moment, control could be lost.”

“How many?” I ask demandingly.

Hamburg narrows his gaze. “What does it matter, Miss Seyfried? One. Five. Eight. Why don’t you just get to the reason for your visit? Money? Information? Blackmail comes in many forms and this wouldn’t be the first time I was faced with it. I am a veteran.”

“Tell me about your wife,” I say, stalling, pretending to be the one still holding all the cards. “Before I ‘get to the point’ I want to understand your relationship with her.”

A part of me really does want to know. And I’m incredibly nervous; I can feel a swarm of bees buzzing around in my stomach. Maybe pointless talk will help ease my mind.

Hamburg cocks his head to one side. “Why?”

“Just answer the question.”

“I loved her very much,” he answers reluctantly. “She was my life.”

“That is love?” I ask, unbelieving. “You let her memory die with the image of her being a drug addict who committed suicide just to save your own ass and you call that love?”

I notice a light move across the floor underneath the door of the surveillance room. There was no one inside before, at least not that I could tell.

“Like blackmail, love comes in many forms.” He rests his back against the squeaky leather chair, interlocking his porky fingers over his big stomach. “Mary and I were inseparable. We weren’t like other people, other married couples, but because we were so different didn’t mean we loved each other less than anyone else.” His eyes lock on mine briefly. “We were lucky to find each other.”

“Lucky?” I ask, baffled by his comment. “It was luck that two sick people found each other and teamed up to do sick things to other people? I don’t follow.”

Hamburg shakes his head as if he’s some old wise man and I’m just too young to understand.

“People who are different like Mary and I were—”

“Sick and demented,” I correct him. “Not different.”

“Whatever you’d like to call it,” he says with an air of surrender. “When you’re that different from society, from what’s acceptable in society, finding someone just like you is a very rare thing.”

Absently I grit my teeth. Not because he’s angering me, but because I never imagined that anything this disgusting man could ever say to me would make me think about my own situation with Victor, or that anything he could say I would actually accept.

I shake it off.

The faint light underneath the surveillance room door moves again. I pretend not to have noticed, not wanting to give Hamburg any reason to think I’m anticipating another way out.

“I came here for names,” I blurt out, having not thought about it thoroughly.

“What names?”

“Of your clients.”

A change flickers in Hamburg’s eyes, the shifting of control.

“You want the names of my clients?” he asks suspiciously.

Oh shit…

“I thought you and Victor Faust already had possession of my client list?”

Keep a straight face. Don’t lose composure. Shit!

“Yes, we do,” I say, “but I’m referring to the ones you never kept a record of.”

I think I’m going to be sick. My head feels like it’s on fire. I hold my breath hoping I saved myself.

Hamburg studies me quietly, searching my face and my posture for any signs of faltering confidence. He rounds his heavy, double-chin.

“What makes you think there’s a ghost list?” he asks.

I breathe a partial sigh of relief, but I’m still not out of the woods.

“There’s always a ghost list,” I say, though I really have no idea what I’m talking about. “I want at least three names that aren’t on the list we have a record of.”

I smile, feeling like I’ve regained control of the situation.

That is until he speaks:

“You tell me three names that are on the list you have a record of and then I will oblige.”

I have officially lost the control.

I swallow hard and catch myself before I look ‘caught’.

“What, you think I carry your list around in my purse?” I ask with sarcasm, trying to stay in the game. “There will be no negotiations or compromise, Mr. Hamburg. You’re hardly in any position to be cutting any deals here.”

“Is that so?” he asks, grinning.

He’s onto me. I can feel it. But he’s going to make sure he’s right before he makes his move.

“This isn’t up for debate.” I stand from the leather chair, tucking my purse underneath my arm, more disappointed than before about relinquishing my gun.

I press my fingertips against the mahogany desk, holding my weight up on them as I lean over just slightly toward him.

“Three names,” I demand, “or I walk out of here and Victor Faust walks in to blow your brains against that pretty painting of the baby Jesus behind you.”

Hamburg laughs.

“That’s not the baby Jesus.”

He stands up with me, tall and enormous and intimidating.

While I’m running through my mind trying to find the source of how he knows I’m full of shit, he is a step ahead of me and announces it like a kick in my teeth.

“It’s funny, Izabel, that you’d come here asking for names that don’t appear on a list that you…,” he points at my purse, “…don’t keep a record of, because then how would you know that the names I gave you weren’t already on it?”

I am so dead.

“Let me tell you what I think,” he goes on. “I think you’re here all alone, that you came back because of some vendetta against me.” He shakes his index finger. “Because I remember every little f**king thing about that night. Everyf**kingthing. Especially that look on your face when you realized Victor Faust was there to kill my wife instead of me. That was the look of someone blindsided, who had no idea why she was there. It was the look of someone unfamiliar with the game.”

He attempts to smile softly at me as if to display some kind of sympathy for my situation, but it just comes off as sardonic.

“I think that if someone was here with you, they’d already be in here to rescue you by now because it’s obvious you’re in a load of shit.”

The door to the main room opens and the guard steps inside, twisting the lock on the door behind him. For a split-second, I had hoped it was Victor coming to save me right on cue. But that was just wishful thinking. The guard is looking across at me with spiteful, grinning eyes. Hamburg nods to him and the guard starts to take off his belt.

My heart falls into the pit of my stomach.

“You know,” Hamburg says walking around his desk, “the first time I met you I remember a deal being made between Victor Faust and myself.” He points at me briefly. “You remember, don’t you?”

He smiles and places his chunky hand on the back of the chair I just abandoned, turning it around to face me.

My whole body is shaking; it feels like the blood rushing through my hands has become acidic. It charges through my heart and into my head so fast I feel momentarily faint. I start to reach for my knife, but they’re too close, closing in on me from two sides. I can’t take on both of them at the same time.

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