“Did you hear what I said?” I gesture my hands in front of me. “She’s in on it. She kept saying ‘This wasn’t supposed to happen’, because she was in on setting up the hit on the boyfriend.”
“Shit, he’s right,” Izabel says with widening eyes and parting lips. She turns to Niklas. “The client is the father of the girl Paul Fortright supposedly molested. I saw the file. He’s a single father. His wife died last year in a car accident.”
“So what,” Niklas says, growing more impatient. “None of this matters.”
“It matters if Paul Fortright is an innocent man and Kelly Bennings and this client are somehow working together to off Fortright. Think about it. Fortright was never convicted of molestation. Now there’s a hit placed on him. Any other time I’d find that normal. Kill the guilty guy who got off on a clerical error. But there’s more to this than that and I know it.”
“He’s right,” Izabel says, looking to Niklas for agreement because he outranks all of us. “That woman’s shit stinks worse than any of ours.”
Niklas shakes his head and sighs with aggravation.
“We came here to do a job,” he says. “Not play detective and superhero games.”
He pushes his way past us, clearing a path between Izabel and me, heading back toward the door.
“We’re not a black market order, Niklas,” I call out to him. “If we kill Paul Fortright and he’s just an innocent man who the guilty want to kill just to get him out of their way, it’ll make us one.”
“He’s right, Niklas,” Izabel says softly from behind, “and I don’t want that on my conscience.”
Niklas stops in front of the tall silver door before opening it. His shoulders rise and fall and cold breath streams from his mouth as he turns around.
He reaches inside his jacket pocket and retrieves his cell phone.
“Dorian,” Niklas says, “head inside and stay with Bennings for now. Make sure the skanky bitch doesn’t find a way out of that chair. And don’t let her onto what we discussed.”
“Sounds good to me.” Dorian, likely just wanting to get out of the cold, goes back inside the building without question.
Niklas talks to Victor for several minutes, explaining to him everything that’s happened. And by the time he gets off the phone, it’s apparent just by listening to Niklas speaking to Victor that our mission has changed drastically. It was never about the money to begin with. The payday this job offered was a drop in the bucket compared to what Victor normally accepts.
Niklas puts his phone away in his pocket.
“We’ll use Paul Fortright to lure the other organization,” he begins, “and then we’ll take them out.”
“What about Fortright?” Izabel asks. “Not to mention that crazy bitch in there, and their daughter?”
“For now we continue to play the game,” Niklas says, lighting up another cigarette. “We’ll get the location of the house and let her believe we’re going to kill him and bring their daughter to her.”
He stops and looks at both of us with intent. “But we’re not to interfere in their drama bullshit. Victor wants us to take out the other operatives, leave Fortright alive for now and that’s it. Hell, we’re not even sure if this is even legit. You both could be delusional.”
“I resent that,” Izabel snaps.
“Of course you do, Izzy.” He smirks and takes a long pull from his cigarette, the hot ember glowing orange around his face. “But I don’t give a f**k.”
Izabel’s jaw clenches and if looks could kill Niklas would be a bloody pulp by now.
Suddenly, my phone buzzes against my leg and my heart winds up dead center in my throat. My first thought was that it’s Greta calling me about Cassia, but when I look down at the screen I’m surprised to see that it’s not.
“It’s Victor,” I say out loud, though more to myself.
I answer quickly as Niklas and Izabel listen in, as curious as I am.
“I want you to sit the rest of this mission out,” Victor says into the phone. “Go back to Baltimore and we’ll touch base in about a week.”
Confused and slightly concerned about his reasons, it takes me a moment to put my words together.
“I’m capable of finishing this,” I say. “Yes, I was quick to stab Bennings, but it got the result I wanted.”
“That’s what concerns me,” Victor says. “You’re not yourself. You weren’t yourself at the meeting yesterday, and we can’t afford mistakes. Take the time off and clear your head. It’s not an option.”
I sigh deeply and give in. As much as I do want to stay here and finish what I started, I want even more to go back to Cassia and find out what she’s remembered.
“OK,” I say into the phone, “I’ll head back now.”
Two and half hours later and my flight is finally ready to depart Seattle.
I sit on the plane the entire time, playing the video of Cassia singing in the basement, over and over again, with my ear buds pressed into my ears so as not to disturb the people sitting around me.
Cassia knows something. She remembers. She has to remember. I can taste Seraphina in my mouth she’s so close. Finally, after six years of relentless searching I’ll be with her again.
I haven’t slept in almost twenty-four hours, but I’m wide awake when I arrive back at my house in Baltimore just after 10:00 a.m. the following day. Greta’s old beige Honda Civic is parked in the driveway. I pull in beside her and kill the engine.
I’m incredibly nervous, a feeling so foreign to me that at first I don’t know what to do with it.
Carrying my black leather travel bag in one hand, I head up the red brick driveway and feel like I can’t get to the front door fast enough. The door is locked and while I’m scrambling to get the right key, I’m expecting Greta to open the door as she normally does when she knows I’m on my way back. But this time, I realize, she isn’t aware of my early return.
Finally, I get the door open and head inside quietly.
The house smells of eggs and biscuits and sausage. It’s spotless as usual, not a speck of dust left on anything or even evidence of the breakfast she cooked other than the aroma lingering in the air. I set my bag carefully on the floor in the living room wanting to avoid letting them onto my presence. I move into the kitchen, stepping around the spot in the floor that always creaks when walking over it and head for the bar. My iPad is right where I left it before I went to Seattle, and in the same horizontal position as though Greta made sure to place it exactly as it was and hoped I wouldn’t notice. I unlock the screen and move my finger over the app, opening the live feed from the basement.