He places the phone in my hand. At first, I just stare at it, but he urges me with that look of his, the one that screams hurry-up-already but only someone like me, someone ‘close’ to him would ever notice it.

Fumbling the phone in my hands, I hold it steady and punch in Eric’s number. But then I change my mind, hang up on the first ring and call Dahlia instead.

She answers after the fifth ring.

I take a deep breath and do what I do best. Lie.

“The truth is, you both hurt me. I doubt I’ll ever be able to forgive either one of you for what you did.”

“Sarai…God, I am so sorry. We really didn’t mean for it to go that far. I swear to you. I don’t know what happened—”

“Listen, Dahlia, please just listen.”

She becomes quiet.

I turn on the waterworks. I never knew I could cry on cue and it could be completely fake.

“I want to believe you. I want to be able to trust you again, but you were supposed to be my best friend and you betrayed me. I need time alone and I want you and Eric to go back to Arizona. Tonight. I don’t think I can stand seeing either of you again—wait, where are you right now?”

It just dawned on me that if she and Eric were at the hotel then surely she’d know by now that two men were shot to death on the floor where their room is.

“We’re at some rooftop party,” she says. “A-Are you OK with that? I thought it was messed up for us to go out, but Eric said you insisted—”

“No, it’s fine,” I cut in. “I did insist. Where is he now?”

“I left him on the roof so I could talk. It’s really loud up there. What is this number you’re calling me from?”

“It’s a friend’s phone. I lost mine. Did Eric tell you that if anyone comes looking for me—”

“Yeah, he did,” she interrupts. “What’s that all about anyway? Jesus, Sarai, forget about this issue with me and Eric for a moment and please tell me what’s going on. The blood. The weird clothes you were wearing and that thing on your head. Was that a wig cap? You’re in some kind of trouble, I know. I know you hate me and have every right to, but please just tell me what happened.”

“I can’t f**king tell you!” I scream at her, letting the tears strain my voice. “Dammit, Dahlia, just do what I asked you to do. Give me that much! You f**ked my boyfriend! Please, just go back to Arizona, let me get myself together and then I’ll be on my way home. Maybe then we can talk. But right now, just do what I ask. OK?”

She doesn’t respond for a moment and a long bout of silence passes between us.

“OK,” she agrees. “I’ll tell Eric that we need to leave.”

“Thank you.”

I’m only a little relieved. I won’t feel good about this until I know they make it back home alive.

I hang up without another word.

“Well, that was convincing,” Victor says, slightly impressed.

“I guess so.”

“I know your friend believed it,” he adds. “But I didn’t believe a word of it.”

I turn to look at him. He knows me as well as I know him, it seems.

“That’s because not a word of it was true.”

He leaves it at that and we pull out from underneath the bridge.

~~~

We arrive at a house tucked at the end of a secluded road on the outskirts of the city, perched on a hilltop with semi-perfect views of the cityscape below. An irregular-shaped pool sits to the west side of the house and snakes around behind it, the light blue water lit by underwater lights making it appear luminescent. It’s quiet here. All I can hear is the wind brushing through the thick of trees that surround the east side and back of the house, which prevent a full three-hundred and sixty-degree view of the brilliantly-lit landscape of Los Angeles. As we approach the front door, a portly woman in a blue housekeeper’s uniform greets us. She has dark, curly hair and olive skin. Her cheeks are plump, encasing her beady dark brown eyes which look at Victor and I with scrutiny.

“Please come in,” she says with a familiar Spanish accent.

She closes the front door behind us. The house smells faintly of Windex and an unnatural mixture of sweet scents that can only be attributed to some kind of store-bought air freshener. It seems that all of the windows have been left open, allowing the summer night breeze to filter through the house. It’s nothing like the wealthy mansions I’ve been in, but it’s still immaculate and cozy and I feel like I could’ve at least cleaned up before coming here. My skin and my clothes are still stained with blood…

Victor is dressed in black slacks and a tight long-sleeved button-up shirt that clings to every muscle in his arms and chest, the sleeves unbuttoned and pushed up near his elbows. The shirt hangs freely over his slacks and the top two buttons have been left open. A pair of rich, casual black shoes dress his feet. A shiny silver watch adorns his right wrist and I can’t help but notice the single hard, ropy vein that moves along the top of his hand and down the length of his wrist bone. When he follows the housekeeper through the large entryway and briefly turns his back to me, I see the grip of his gun poking from the top of his slacks, the end of his white shirt tucked behind it.

He looks back at me, stops and puts out his arm, guiding me to walk in front of him. My skin shivers lightly when his hand touches my lower back.

Before I have time to feel too out of place next to Victor, Fredrik, Victor’s Swedish friend and accomplice whom I met at Hamburg’s restaurant long ago, enters the room through the large glass doors overlooking the backyard.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Sarai

“You’re early,” Fredrik says with a deadly, yet unimaginably sexy smile. He’s dressed much in the same way Victor is except that in place of Victor’s button-up shirt, Fredrik sports a plain tight white tee that clings to his lean, masculine form. His feet are bare.

The first time I saw Fredrik I found him inconceivably gorgeous with soft, almost-black hair and haunting dark eyes; his facial structure appears sculpted by some renowned artist. But I’ve always felt there’s something dark and frightening that lives inside of him. Something I never personally want to get more acquainted with. I’ll settle with the way things were when we met: friendly and charming and mysterious, seeing only the beautiful mask that he wears to conceal the animal that dwells beneath it.

Victor glances at his expensive watch. “Early by only ten minutes,” he clarifies.

Fredrik smiles as he approaches, his white teeth semi-bright amid the backdrop of his tanned skin. “Yes, but you know how I am.”

Victor nods, but doesn’t elaborate. I’m left to wonder what that meant.

“It’s good to see you,” Fredrik says, looking down at me from his tall height and encompassing presence. He reaches for my hand and kisses the top of it, just above my knuckles. “I hear you killed a man tonight.” He raises back up out of his half-bow and releases my hand. A haunting, proud smile lingers on his face, the corners of his eyes warm with something reminiscent or…pleasurable, as if the thought of my killing someone somehow delights him.

I look at Victor to my right. He nods, answering the question that is all over my expression: Did the guard I stabbed in the neck at the restaurant, die?

I look at Fredrik and answer matter-of-factly, “I guess I did.”

A tiny grin tugs the corners of Fredrik’s lips and he glances at Victor briefly with only the movement of his eyes.

“And you’re OK with that?” Fredrik asks me.

“Yeah, actually I am,” I answer right away. “The bastard deserved it.”

Fredrik and Victor seem to be sharing some kind of secret conversation. I hate that.

Finally, Fredrik says to Victor out loud, “You’ve got your hands full, Faust,” and he turns his back to us and heads back toward the glass doors. We follow him outside, passing underneath the covered portion of the patio and descend a set of rock steps that lead onto an enormous rock patio that spreads out in all directions. The patio is decorated by wrought-iron tables and chairs and an outside canopy bed.

I sit down next to Victor on a plush couch.

“How’d you know, anyway?” I ask Fredrik, but then I turn to Victor and say, “And you never did tell me how you knew that I was here.” Really, I don’t care much, I just want to look into his eyes again. I want to be alone with him, but for now I’ll settle with the three-inch space between our bodies sitting next to each other.

“Melinda Rochester told me,” Fredrik says with a knowing grin. I start to ask, Who the hell is Melinda Rochester, when he says, “Well, she told everyone, actually. Channel 7 news. A man stabbed to death behind a Los Angeles restaurant.”

I start to squirm inside my skin. I hope the cameras didn’t get a good shot of me.

I turn to Victor, worry heavy on my face. “I wore a white wig,” I say, trying to find something, anything that I did right. “I kept my face down…mostly.” I give up. I know that what I did is going to continue to dig that grave of mine. I sigh and stare at the bloodstained hands in my lap.

“And finding you was easy,” Victor says next to me. “Mrs. Gregory called me after you left Arizona. She was worried about you going to L.A. and thought I should know.”

My head swings around to face him. “What? Dina knew where you were?” I feel the skin around my eyebrows hardening in my forehead.

“No,” he says gently, “she never knew where I was, but she knew how to get a hold of me.”

His words sting. I swallow down the feeling of betrayal, on both of their parts.

“I told her to contact me only if it was an emergency. If something happened to you.”

“You left Dina with a way to contact you,” I snap, “but left me with nothing. I can’t believe you did that.”

“I wanted you to go on with your life. But in case Javier’s brothers found you, or if you decided to pull a stunt like you pulled tonight, I wanted to know about it.”

I can’t look at him. I scoot to put a few more inches of space between us and although I’m bitter and pissed off at him for what he did, I find myself wanting to move back. But I stand my ground, refusing to let him know that the power he holds over me makes my anger towards him feel more like a tantrum.

“I can’t believe Dina kept this from me,” I say aloud, though more to myself.

“She kept it from you because I told her how imperative it was.”

“Well, whatever the case,” Fredrik speaks up as he takes the matching chair next to the couch, “it looks like you’ve gotten yourself into a situation you won’t be able to crawl out of easily, if ever.”

“Why are we here?” I ask bitterly.

Fredrik laughs lightly under his breath. “Where else are you going to go?”

“I had to get you away from the hotel,” Victor says.

“Wait a minute,” I say, backtracking. “I didn’t kill that man behind the restaurant. It happened inside Hamburg’s private room upstairs.” I remember the man I saw outside behind the restaurant, the one who let me go, and my heart sinks.


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