Twenty-four hours ago…
I burst through the door first with Victor and Niklas behind me. Tears of rage and vengeance fill my eyes. The house is pitch dark except for a small light somewhere in the hallway, the smell of scorched coffee lingers heavily on the air. There was a struggle here; two of the chairs around the kitchen table have been knocked over, the tablecloth pulled from the table along with the centerpiece basket of real fruit. Bananas, apples and oranges litter the caramel-colored tile floor.
“Dina!” I scream and rush through the rest of the house with my gun in my hands and my finger on the trigger. “Dina, are you here?!”
“She’s not here, Izzy,” Niklas says behind me.
“Shut up!” I turn swiftly in the hallway, but then I stop and calm myself when I realize it had been Victor who called out my name the second time.
Niklas leaves us alone and disappears through the den entrance to check out the rest of the house.
Victor steps up to me, a small LED nightlight plugged into the wall at the end of the hall glowing faintly against one side of his body; a shadow covers the rest.
“Listen to me,” he says cupping his hand about one side of my neck, “she’s not dead, so get your head on straight. This is the kind of emotion that will get you killed. Look at me, Izabel.” He rips the word out.
My eyes shoot up from the floor and I do as he says, tears rolling down my cheeks. I wipe underneath my nose with the side of my gun hand.
“How do you know she’s not dead?” I feel like I’m going to be sick.
“Because she’s not here,” Victor says. “Whoever took her wants something from us and won’t kill her. She’s leverage.”
I remember when I was leverage once. When Sarai was leverage back in Mexico.
I wipe my tears again, but that rage and vengeance is ever-growing inside of me and these aren’t tears of sadness. Not even close. Whoever did this, whoever found Dina, the only mother I’ve ever really known, and took her from this safe-house in New Jersey, I’ll kill them. I’ll fucking kill them!
A bright light spills out into the hallway coming from the den, following the clicking on of a lamp.
“There’s another note,” Niklas calls out.
I push my way past Victor and hurry into the den, snatching a 3x5 white index card from Niklas’ hand. It’s written in pencil. I read it to myself first and then out loud.
Meet me at the vacant red brick building on 66th and Town St. in New Brunswick at 2:00 a.m. Oh, and tell Dorian Flynn to give his ex-wife a call.
Victor and Niklas exchange a look. I look back and forth between them, the card bending between my tightening fingers. I notice from the corner of my eye, a body lying on the floor behind the sofa, a black boot on the end of a long leg sticks out into the floor. But I don’t say anything because Niklas and Victor have already seen him. They know that it’s the guard they sent here to watch over Dina and there’s nothing that needs to be said other than the obvious—whoever kidnapped Dina killed him when they broke in and took her.
“So it’s Dorian’s ex-wife?” I say. “She did this?” I look to Victor. “Who is she and where does she live?”
Victor takes his cell phone from his suit jacket pocket and runs his index finger over the glass screen.
He puts up his hand to me as whoever is on the other end of the phone answers—probably Dorian—and gets his attention.
I grit my teeth behind closed lips and wait impatiently.
“Yes, there was another note,” Victor says into the phone and then reads the note back to Dorian having remembered it word for word. “Is your ex-wife capable of—”
“Put him on speaker,” I cut in urgently, stepping up closer to Victor.
Without hesitation, Victor slides his thumb over the speaker icon and Dorian’s voice funnels into the room.
“Tessa couldn’t fight off a Chihuahua,” Dorian says. “There’s no way she can be invol—.” He seems to have stunned himself into silence.
Victor, Niklas and I look to and from each other.
“Dorian?” I speak up.
It takes him a moment, but he finally says, “Let me call you right back,” and immediately hangs up, not even giving Victor time to say anything if he’d intended to.
“What the fuck is going on?” Niklas says absently.
He steps around the sofa in his black leather biker boots and crouches down beside the dead man, his gun poking out of the back of his pants. Then he lights up a cigarette.
“What are you doing, asshole?” I march over and slap the cigarette out of his hand. It hits the hardwood floor; flecks of burning embers spark from the end and burn themselves out when they touch the wood. “This is Dina’s house, Niklas! She doesn’t smoke and you won’t smoke in her house!”
Victor’s hands collapse around my upper-arms from behind and he pulls me away carefully.
“Control your girl, brother,” Niklas says, his German accent always bleeding through his perfect English, but I’m so used to it now that I hardly notice anymore. He growls and takes the cigarette back into his fingers. Then he turns his head at an angle to see me and says, “I know you’re pissed right now, Izzy, but don’t take it out on me.”
“Stop calling me that!”
Victor whispers near my ear, “Fighting with Niklas isn’t going to help find Mrs. Gregory. Calm yourself, or I’ll take you back to Boston and leave you there.”
“You wouldn’t do that,” I say under my breath and without turning to face him—I know he would.
“I will, Izabel,” he says calmly and his hands slide away from my arms. “If you’re too emotionally invested in this, it could be you that gets Mrs. Gregory killed. Set your hatred for my brother aside and focus on what’s important.”
I glare at Niklas still crouched in front of the body.
He puts the cigarette out on the side of his boot, turns away from me and begins checking the pockets of the dead man.
“You’ve gone soft, brother,” Niklas says with his back to us. “Letting a woman tell you what to do.”
He rises to his feet and looks right at Victor.
“This isn’t the kind of thing we do,” he goes on. “Saving little old ladies. Rescuing smart mouth bitches from Mexican drug lords. What’s next—cats in trees? Puppies in drainpipes?”