“Yeah?” He turns around fully and watches me curiously, waiting.

When I’m in arm’s reach I pull my fist back and then bury it against the side of his face, right along his jaw. The force of the blow sends a painful tremor through my hand. I try shaking out the pain by spreading and wiggling my fingers, but that just makes it worse.

“Owww, shit! What’s your damn problem?” Niklas holds his hand over the corner of his mouth. “Never mind. I get it. I shot you and now we’re even. I deserved it.” With his hand still over his mouth as if he’s trying to pop his jaw back into place, he moves the rest of the way toward the chair and sits heavily into it.

“That wasn’t because you shot me,” I snap. “That was for killing Stephens. He was mine.” I point at him. “And the only way we’ll ever be even for you shooting me is if I shoot you back. So like I said before, stay out of my way.”

Niklas looks across at Victor standing behind me, giving him a look that reads Is she for real? Victor doesn’t say anything, but when I glance back at him briefly, I notice he’s smiling.

Fredrik is lounging against the sofa with his arm across the back and a big grin on his face.

Finally, I take Victor’s hand and his offer to sit down. I’m too sore to stand up on my own for too long. He walks me to the sofa and helps me onto the soft cushion, holding my hand until I’m all the way down. And then he sits beside me.

Fredrik leans over and looks at me on the other side of Victor, his dark, charming smile in-tact.

“I’m glad you’re with us,” he says. “Of course, you have a lot of training ahead of you, according to Faust here.” He nods in Victor’s direction. “But something tells me you’re a natural.” He winks. “Stubborn. Reckless. Mouthy. So unladylike. But I probably wouldn’t like you much if you weren’t all of those things.”

“Thank you, Fredrik,” I say with sincerity and a smirk.

Niklas leans back in the chair, propping his black military-style boot on his knee. I don’t know why, but I make note of that. Military boots? I look the rest of him over. Dark jeans. Plain gray t-shirt that fits tight around his bicep muscles. Disheveled hair.

I look to and from him and the always-sophisticated Victor, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing something. I glance around Victor at Fredrik to his right, and like Victor, Fredrik looks the same as he always does, in expensive dress shoes and a refined suit.

“Why is he dressed like that?” I ask Victor, indicating Niklas with the tilt of my head.

Victor glances over momentarily, but it’s Niklas who answers.

“Because I prefer it over those ridiculous suits,” he says. “And since I’m no longer with the Order, I feel like I can dress however the hell I want.”

Surprised, my eyes fall back on Victor without moving my head.

Victor nods a few times, confirming what Niklas said.

“He left days ago,” Victor says. “Fredrik is the only one still on the inside.”

“But…why?” I ask. “I mean, wouldn’t it be better if Niklas was there keeping tabs on Vonnegut, especially where you’re concerned?”

“I left because I had to,” Niklas says. “It was taking me too long to kill Victor.”

“And as expected,” Victor adds, “Vonnegut was beginning to question Niklas’ loyalty. Vonnegut may not know that Niklas and I are brothers, but we’ve had a close working relationship for many years. It was taking too long and it was getting too risky.”

I let out a worried breath and start to lean against the couch until I remember my back.

I look at Fredrik. “What about you?” I ask. “Does the Order know about your relationship with Victor? Or Niklas, for that matter?”

Fredrik smiles at Victor. “See, she’s already hard at work,” he says with light laughter and then looks back at me. “The Order knows I worked with Victor a few times in the past, but not anymore than anyone else he’s ever worked with. As far as Niklas, when Victor went rogue, I was approached by Niklas—now we all know why—to help him find Victor. I was under the impression that I was to report to Niklas from now on.”

“But Vonnegut never knew of my involvement with Fredrik,” Niklas speaks up.

“So for now,” Victor says, “Fredrik is safe in the Order.”

“And I’m their only eyes and ears left on the inside,” Fredrik adds.

“Wow,” I say, shaking my head, trying to take all of this in and what it means for us.

“Getting scared?” Niklas asks with a grin on his lips.

“Not at all,” I answer with a smirk. “Just trying to figure out which job is more imperative, the compound in Mexico, or taking out the Order and getting them off our asses.”

Niklas grins and it seems that once he realizes it, he averts his eyes away from mine.

“I think I’m in love with your woman,” Fredrik says to Victor in jest.

“Somehow I doubt you’re capable,” Victor says nonchalantly.

He looks at me. “I know which job is more imperative.” He smiles slimly and places his hand over mine.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Izabel

The footsteps carrying through the hallway are faint as guests walk back and forth every so often. Tall heels. Tasteful dress shoes. Rich voices pretending to be intrigued, overdramatizing the insignificant things in life. Artificial laughter. Classical music—Bach, I believe—plays downstairs, so crisp and elegant and distinguished that it makes me feel like I’m attending a party for the Queen of England rather than sitting patiently in a dark room with my favorite knife in hand. I call her Pearl.

This room smells no different than it did the last time I was here, like too much cologne and sweat and stale potpourri and dryer sheets. A heavy, square marble table sits across the room. I remember that table. I will never forget the way Victor bent me over it, or the disgusting pig who watched as my panties pooled around my ankles.

It’s dark outside, just after nine o’clock, and the moonlight bathes much of the room from the walk-out balcony behind me. I’ve made sure to leave it open so that I can feel the night air on my skin. It’s incredibly warm in these tight clothes. Black from the neck down. Boots dress my feet, much like what Niklas prefers to wear except mine have daggers sheathed within the leather. A gun is holstered to my hip, but it’s only there in case I need it. I like my knife.

I sit in a chair near the center of the spacious room, just out of the soft gray light pouring in from the balcony. My right leg is crossed over the left. My hands rest carefully within my lap, the pearl handle of my knife fitted firmly in my fist. I tap the thin silver blade against my thigh.

Twenty-six minutes have passed since I sat down. But I’m patient. I’m disciplined. As much as I can be, I suppose. I promised Victor that I’d wait. That I’d sit here just like this, practically unmoving, until it was time. I said that I could do it, that I could get through it without marching my way downstairs and taking care of business there. I intend to prove it. Though, I admit it’s hard.

I glance over at Niklas standing in a dark shadow near the balcony doors with his hands folded together down in front of him. He’s grinning at me, taking pleasure in my growing frustration. I smirk back at him and look toward the bedroom door across the room.

Thirty-two minutes.

I hear the voices of the two guards always stationed outside of the room. They’re talking to Arthur Hamburg.

Seconds later, the door opens and a blast of light from the hallway shines into the room. But it doesn’t touch me. And just as quickly, the light is shut out as the guard closes the door after Hamburg steps inside. He doesn’t notice me when he walks past the large bed and then the marble table.

“What do you think of the hair?” I ask.

Hamburg stops cold in his tracks.

I lean over forward in the chair, pushing myself into the path of light.

“Jet black,” I say so casually. “Do you still think I’m stunning no matter what kind of wig I wear?” I reach up with my free hand and touch the short cut carefully to show it off.

The overhead lights in the room come on when Hamburg says, Lights on.

“How did you get in here?” he asks desperately, his gaze bouncing about the room, looking for the answer and for signs of anyone else.

When he notices Niklas and Victor both standing near the balcony entrance behind me, guns in their hands down at their sides, he starts to call out to his guards. But then a loud thud sounds just outside the door. And then another. Hamburg stops feet in front of the door, no longer sure it’s safe to open it.

He looks back at me.

I smile and tap the blade against my leg some more.

The door behind him opens and Fredrik is standing there with two white collars clenched in his hands. He drags the bodies of the guards across the marble floor, releases his grip and their heads hit the marble with a thump.

Hamburg stares at Fredrik, wide-eyed like a fish, his overweight body frozen in the same spot, his sausage-like fingers barely moving against his slacks, nervously, as if he’s absently searching for a weapon that he normally keeps on him and he doesn’t want to believe that it’s not there when he needs it most.

Fredrik shuts the door and locks it. He walks back over to the bodies, taking them up by the collars again and dragging them across the room. There’s no sign of blood on them. He must’ve used his weapon of choice, a needle filled with something deadly and untraceable.

I look at Hamburg.

“Y-Yes…the black looks good on you,” he says uneasily. “W-Why are you here? Willem is missing. I-I don’t know where he is. I swear. I haven’t seen or heard from him in over a week.”

I smile and tilt my head to one side. “That’s because he’s dead,” I say matter-of-factly.

Hamburg looks behind me at Victor. And then at Niklas. And then back at Victor again.

“Look, I-I told him to leave it alone,” he continues to stutter. “I didn’t send him. I-I specifically told him not to look for either of you.”

Sweat beads from his chubby face, glistening on his double-chin. The armpits of his white dress shirt are wet with stains, the moisture spreading quickly across the fabric. The collar of his shirt changes color as it soaks up the moisture like a cheap paper towel.

I stand up. “You’re a liar.” I walk slowly towards him. “But it doesn’t matter. I’m not here because of Willem Stephens. I’m here because of you.”

Hamburg takes the same amount of steps backward that I take toward him, his bloated, wrinkled face twisted by trepidation, his thick hands feeling behind him for a door or a wall.

Fredrik steps in front of the door, blocking Hamburg’s path and Hamburg stops. I watch as his throat moves when he swallows. Fear is ever-growing in his eyes.

He keeps looking behind me at Victor and Niklas, always focusing his attention on Victor last.

Victor steps away from the balcony door and stands beside me.

“Look, I held true to my word, goddammit!” Hamburg shouts, the lines around his eyes deepening. He points his fat finger at us, dressed in a thick gold ring. “I never went looking for either one of you after you killed my wife! I kept my word!” He points directly at me. “You were the one who came looking for me! Y-You started all of this!”


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