Cassia’s thin white nightgown lays in a small silky pile next to my feet. I reach down and take it into my fingers, wanting to put it to my face and breathe in her scent one last time. But I don’t. I set it aflame with the lighter in the other hand and then toss the quickly burning fabric on the fluid-soaked bed. The room is engulfed in seconds.
And I realize as I stand here watching the flames lick the walls, that I’ve come full-circle and there is no going back.
Two months later…
Victor Faust owns a fancy new building just outside of Boston and he’s quite proud of it, though one wouldn’t know by his expressionless face—oh wait, he just smiled. I walk alongside him toward his private office, impressed with the building so far with all of its Old World charm, original stone walls and newly-furnished marble floors and stunning artwork in large intricate frames. It’s certainly fitting of a man like Faust, and I have to say, as much as I love the rich, modern style, I could get used to this. But it’s a special building for all of us in Victor’s new Order, because it’s the first place we’ve been able to meet and conduct business that feels more like a business than a hideout in a back alley somewhere.
We’re out in the open—somewhat—hiding in plain sight.
The word is that Vonnegut is threatened by Victor—by all of us. And while although we still have to watch our backs every minute of every day, we’re gaining the upper hand.
Sometimes I think the only reason Victor ever chose to hide in the first place had everything to do with Izabel. He would do anything to keep her safe—of course, he can’t tell her that.
We step into the private office with scaling walls lined by bookshelves packed with leather bound books from floor to nearly the ceiling. A large elongated table sits as the centerpiece of the vast room, occupied by eight high-back dark leather chairs on each side and one at each end. Attending this meeting today other than Victor and myself are the usual: Izabel, Niklas, Dorian and even James Woodard who Victor has decided to keep with us as his official information go-to guy. Woodard has grown on me, I admit. Dorian, not quite so much.
“Well, look who it is,” Dorian says from his seat with a grin, “the guy bringin’ crazy back.”
Dorian was finally reassigned to a new member of our Order that I think might despise him more than even I did—a highly-skilled spy named Evelyn Stiles who used to work for the CIA. But she hasn’t been fully tested here yet and has no business at this meeting. James Woodard got in faster than the usual, but I trust Victor’s judgment.
I take a seat next to Izabel. She smiles over at me, but doesn’t say anything. The two of us haven’t spoken much since the night I killed my wife two months ago in Baltimore. But the distance I put between us has been all my doing. I can’t have her involved in my life the way she wants to be—or the way she used to be. I’m not the man I was when Izabel—as Sarai—and I first met. And as long as I’m in control of my life, that’s the way it will stay. I don’t want to love anyone—in any manner or situation—because to love is to be controlled. I will always care for Izabel and look after her and I will kill for her, but I can’t let myself love her, not even as my sister, or my friend. I don’t want Izabel, of all people, to end up like everyone else I’ve ever loved.
Despite the distance I keep, she still has it in her head that she’s going to help me with ‘personal’ interrogations and tortures the way that Seraphina did.
But she is very wrong.
I have other plans for that.
Woodard smiles above that double-chin of his and pushes a newspaper across the table toward me with his pudgy hand.
“You might like this news, sir,” he says—always respectful, always terrified of me.
I glance at Victor once just as he’s taking his seat at the head of the table, and then look down into the newspaper which has been folded over to the second page. It takes me a moment to realize it’s a paper from Seattle.
Scanning over the text and images, my eyes fall on two small photos in one corner set side by side of Kelly Bennings and Ross Emerson in convict-style mug shots. As I read, the paper reveals how after a ‘traumatizing and brutal kidnapping and interrogation by two unknown men’ that the couple are ‘facing years in prison after incriminating video evidence had been dropped off at the Seattle police department, which included their confessions and their crimes in full detail’.
I lean back against my chair, cross one leg over the other and say indifferently, “They’re getting what they deserve.”
I don’t look at the newspaper again. And I don’t think about it again.
“The reason I brought you all here today,” Victor speaks up with one hand atop the other on the table, “is that I have significant news.”
He has the room’s full attention.
“Seems that Vonnegut has united with Sébastien Fournier’s order in France and they’re working together for one reason.” He raises only his index finger from the top of his other hand. “I trust you all know very well what that reason is.”
“Because they’re f**king scared,” Niklas chimes in, sitting to Victor’s left; an unlit cigarette dangles from his lips.
Dorian shakes his blond head, smiling. “I say we just get it over with and take them all out.”
“Can’t kill someone you can’t find,” Izabel reminds him.
Vonnegut and Fournier have both proven elusive since Victor Faust went rogue from The Order.
“That’s not entirely true,” I speak up. “We’ve been taking them out slowly but surely by killing those loyal to them and taking control of those who aren’t.”
“Yes, Mr. Gustavsson has a point,” James Woodard says and smiles across the table at me with a little too much admiration for my tastes.
I ignore him.
“Yes, but that’s not even the most significant news I have for you,” Victor says and all heads turn simultaneously back in his direction.
Victor pauses and steeples his hands in front of him.
“I have reason to believe—and for now I will not reveal my sources—that the U.S. Intelligence somehow knows about our operations. Not only are we being hunted by The Order, but we might also be hunted by the FBI and the CIA.”
“What do you mean ‘might’?” Izabel asks from Victor’s right, her eyes filled with concern. “And what exactly do they know?”