I step the rest of the way up to the counter and stand with both hands buried in my coat pockets. Dante’s eyes move back and forth from my face to my hands, likely worried about what I might be hiding in them behind the fabric of my coat. Needles to shoot him up with? Pliers to pull out the rest of his teeth? A knife to cut out his tongue, perhaps? A gun to put him out of his misery?

None of the above.

“Look, I didn’t say nothin’ to no one,” he stutters with one hand facing me, palm forward. “I haven’t said shit. I haven’t did shit.” He looks around the store. “I’ve got myself a real job here. It doesn’t pay jack, but it’s an honest job.” Then his voice rises and cracks when I still don’t respond: “I haven’t done anything!”

“I know,” I finally say. “I’ve been keeping tabs on you since I let you go that night.”

Looking down at a box of gimmicky gum on the counter, each wrapped individually in clear plastic wrappers, I point and say, “Do you mind?”

“Sure, sure, yeah,” he says quickly, gesturing both hands at the gum. “It’s on the house, man. In fact, you can have anything in this f**kin’ store you want.” He smiles squeamishly.

I take a single piece of gum from the box and remove the plastic wrapper, popping it in my mouth.

“I see you got new teeth,” I say and then start chewing.

He nods rapidly. “Y-Yeah, I uhh, well there’s a nice dentist on the other side of town who helps addicts tryin’ to get clean. I didn’t actually lose my teeth because of Meth or anything”—I smile and continue to chew—“but he helped me. Got me a denture for real cheap and put me on a payment plan. I’ll have it paid off in a few more months.”

I slip my hands back inside my pockets.

“How would you like a set of permanent implants?” I ask.

Dante’s eyebrows draw inward confusedly.

“I don’t know what you mean?” He’s extremely nervous.

I think I smell urine.

I make a face. “This gum tastes like shit,” I say.

He nods rapidly again, uncertain and still fearful of my every movement and word. “Yeah, kids like that stuff….”

“Well, Dante,” I go back to the important matter, “I have a job proposal for you. That is, if you’re interested in hearing it.”

Silence.

He doesn’t know what answer he wants to give, but is sure he knows what answer I want to hear.

He opts for the in-between.

“Umm, I’m not sure I understand.”

Bringing the little plastic wrapper up to my lips, I spit the gum back into it and then toss it in the trash can pressed against the counter on the floor.

“I’ve been giving it some thought,” I begin still in the same casual manner I walked in with, “and I believe you’re the right kind of man for the job. You can pay off those dentures with just a fraction of your first paycheck and afford dental implants within a month. Of course, you’ll be put through some tests—medical, among other things—and like with any honest job, you’ll be subject to piss tests every now and then, but I think you’re the right man. What do you say?”

“Umm, well”—he scratches his head—“what exactly is the job? I mean, uh, I guess I’d want to know what was expected of me…well, I mean, if it’s OK I know before I agree?”

Yes, that’s definitely urine I smell.

I pull out a cashier’s check with his name on it and put it on the counter, sliding it into his view.

He glances down nervously, having a difficult time looking only at it with me standing close enough to grab him when his guard is down.

“Holy f**k…,” his voice trails off and finally keeping his attention on me is put on the backburner as the five figures next to his name dance in his line of sight.

He takes the check into his hand as if to make sure that it’s real, then finally he looks back up at me through those blue eyes wide on display underneath his curly black hair.

“You can make that much every month,” I say. “As long as you perform at the job to my complete satisfaction and approval and as long as you stay clean and don’t f**k up.”

His eyes are finally smiling again, just like they had begun to do when I first walked into the store and he hadn’t noticed who I was yet. Now his whole face is smiling. Greedily. Like a pirate standing over a chest of gold. The job could be sucking me off once a week and he’d likely agree to it for that much money.

“I’m your guy,” he says.

I smile faintly and pull out my wallet from the other pocket, opening it and fingering a twenty into my hand. I toss it on the counter.

“I’m going to pull my car around to the pump,” I say. “Give me twenty bucks.”

He nods and takes the money.

“Wait, uhh,” he calls out as I start to walk away—I stop and turn to face him. “How do I—?”

“I’ll be in touch,” I say and push open the glass door.

Dante Furlong became my private assistant. He knows a lot of drug dealers and addicts who can never be reformed, and whores, or ‘lot lizards’ who have killed men—truck drivers and husbands looking for some ‘strange’. Dante knows just about everyone in the crime ring not only in Maryland, but most of the surrounding states. He knows the lingo. He knows the ins and outs, and where to find all of the people who will one day end up in my chair.

Sometimes when thinking of Seraphina—because I do think of her as well as Cassia—I wonder why I didn’t just find someone like Dante a long time ago. With him there are no attachments, no risk falling in love, no risk losing love. I can look Dante in the eye and kill him if I have to without thinking twice about it, or regretting it, or hurting over it. And when I want to f**k, I can find the Kate’s and the Kira’s and the Kali’s and the Gwen’s. No attachments. No looking back. Just moving forward. Onto the next willing woman who I can break beneath me.

And every single day of my life, I fight against the pain that tortures my black heart, the pain that I know will never go away. The pain of being alone and without her. Without anyone. My interrogations for Victor’s new Order become more brutal with every job. My tolerance for my victims, lessened. My ability to offer mercy, practically non-existent. And during my personal tortures of those who Dante brings my way, I become more sadistic and let fewer and fewer live.


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