She escaped—because I let her, and because I let her three innocent women died at her hands. I never saw her again after she set my house ablaze until nearly a year ago in New York. I was watching the nightly news and I saw her walking through a small crowd behind the news reporter.
I’ve been searching for her since.
Victor drops his foot on the floor and leans forward, draping his folded hands between his knees.
“Fredrik,” he says, looking right at me with his head tilted to one side, “you do know that all you need to do is ask and I’ll give you all of the resources you need to help find her.”
“No,” I reject the idea quickly. I shake my head and lean forward, too. “This is on me, Victor. I appreciate the offer, but I have to do this one on my own. Surely you understand.”
He nods a few times more, now looking out in front of him. Then he rises to his feet, straightening his suit jacket.
I stand with him and follow him to the front door.
“Keep me posted on Dorian,” he says. “I’ll send you details about Washington as soon as I have them ready.”
“Will do,” I say.
Victor bids me farewell and heads back to his current residence in Philadelphia.
The second he leaves the driveway, I head into the kitchen to get an update on Cassia from Greta.
She’s looking right at me, impatiently waiting for permission to speak, the moment I enter the kitchen.
“What is it?” I ask, standing at the entrance.
Drying her hands on a dish towel, Greta says, “Cassia is restless, Mr. Gustavsson.” She sets the dish towel on the black granite countertop. “It’s been three days. Forgive me for saying so, but it would’ve been better if you saw her when you first came back, rather than waiting until this evening.”
I nod gently. “Yes, I know, but I have my reasons.” Those which I don’t feel obligated to explain to Greta. She is my maid and Cassia’s caretaker when I’m gone. Not my mother.
I step up to the counter, my bare feet moving slowly over the cool tile floor, black and shiny like the countertop, and I enclose my hands down in front of me, loosely interlocking my fingers. I notice her throat move as she swallows nervously, her aged blue eyes falling away from me to look downward at something, anything, other than me.
Tilting my head gently to one side, I say, “You’re still afraid of me. After months in my home. Why? I’ve never harmed you.”
Greta hesitantly raises her eyes to me, but can’t hold the contact.
“I am sorry, but you’re the first assignment I’ve ever had who”—she wrings her hands below her pelvic bone—“…does the things that you do. It is not something I’m used to. And probably never will be.”
Greta—and Dorian—became two of our new ‘employees’ when Victor took over one of the black market operations here in the United States almost a year ago. Just like the one that is still—though not for long—run by Sébastien Fournier in France, we killed off the leaders of Greta’s former Order and obtained all of the information on the identities of its operatives. Having this delicate and damning information gives us control over everyone involved. In a way it’s no different than one large company buying another one out and new ownership moving in, making drastic changes and submitting all of the employees on the payroll to extensive background checks and running them through new tests. Most of them really don't care much who their leader is so long as they continue to be paid, but this makes it difficult to separate the loyal from those who would sell us out to a higher payer at the drop of a hat. But Victor Faust knows what he’s doing. And I’ve become one of his key weapons in weeding out the unstable and untrustworthy. Each operation we take control of has had at least ninety or so members. All men and women, assassins and spies and safe-house operators who each go through me and my interrogation chair. If it comes to that, of course. But then again, most never get past Victor and Niklas to be unlucky enough to have to face me. I’m the one they are sent to when even after all tests have been passed, there is still suspicion.
Some of my…victims, as Izabel Seyfried calls them, might say that the way Vonnegut in The Order deals with suspicious employees—killing them quickly at the first sign—is a more humane way. Perhaps she’s right. But there is no such thing as humane interrogation in this business. And besides, if there were, I’d certainly be old school.
Greta has never been in my chair. I trust her. Sometimes you can tell just by being around a person a few times if they’re trustworthy. Greta is solid. A little skittish around me, though I can’t blame her, but she has had every opportunity to call the police about the woman I keep locked in the basement. She has had ample opportunity to tell Victor or even Dorian. But she’s done nothing. Maybe it’s her fear of me keeping her loyal, which is never a good combination, but only time will tell.
I unclasp my hands and let my arms drop at my sides.
“If you’d like to be reassigned,” I say straightening my head out of its tilt, “I can arrange that, but I would need you to keep quiet about Cassia. I will tell Victor on my own time about her. Keeping her here is not a betrayal, it’s simply a choice. One that I will face the consequences of when that time comes.”
Greta shakes her head gently and momentarily drops her gaze to the floor. “No,” she says, looking back up at me, her hands still clasped together in front of her. “I prefer to stay. I’ve grown to care for Cassia. I would like to make sure she is well taken care of when you’re not here to care for her yourself.”
“Thank you,” I say and I truly mean it.
Not only did I not look forward to replacing Greta, but I really didn’t want to have to kill her. And I would’ve had to if she chose to take the offer. She is the only other person who knows about Cassia and I can’t let the little birdy leave the roost.
Greta sighs and unclasps her hands, resting them atop the counter.
She’s growing nervous again.
“I have to tell you,” she says and I prepare myself for it, “I truly believe, deep in my heart that she doesn’t know where this Seraphina person is. I’m a pretty decent judge of character, Mr. Gustavsson, and when I look at that girl, I see a girl who is telling you the truth.”
I bring my hands around clasping them together behind my back and then pace the floor a couple of times.