I think about it long and hard. About everything.
And then I hand her my gun.
Nora looks up at it briefly and then takes it into her blood-stained fingers.
“Then welcome aboard,” I say.
And the fact that she doesn’t shoot me in the back, or run away into the streets of Boston when I leave her sitting there and go back inside, further proves she’s telling the truth that I already knew.
Four days later…
I wish I could say that things are getting back to normal around here, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Niklas is still gone and none us have seen him or heard from him—he could be in another country, or living in the back of a bar somewhere nearby, and either would be believable. His cell phones don’t even ring anymore—they either go straight to voicemail, or tell me the user doesn’t have a mailbox set up to leave a message. I stopped calling him two days ago. When he wants to be found, he’ll let us know. And I’ll worry about the outcome of that day until it happens.
Dorian, after Fredrik interrogated him for many long hours, I’m happy to say is still alive. He’s still imprisoned in cell C and will probably be there for a while until Victor figures out what to do with him. But according to Fredrik, everything Dorian told Victor seems to be true, and he hasn’t hidden anything else that we know of. But the thing with Victor keeping Dorian alive, I believe, is mostly to do with U.S. Intelligence and if they will retaliate in reaction to Dorian’s death. But Victor says it appears that the kind of private contractor Dorian is, if he were ever killed or compromised, the United States wouldn’t claim they knew anything about him.
It’s what U.S. Intelligence knows about us that keeps Victor from making a decision either way. Dorian admitted to profiling each of us and giving that information to his superiors, employers, whatever they’re called—I’m in the dark when it comes to this stuff and Victor doesn’t talk about it much…or maybe he does and I’ve just been too involved in my training with Nora Kessler to notice.
I started the following day after the night I let her in. And already I feel like I have to watch my back every moment of every day—not because she can’t be trusted, but because as part of her training, she attacks me out of nowhere. There is no such thing as a break. At any moment Nora could be testing me, mentally or physically, or in any way she sees fit. It’s the same kind of training I started out with Victor over a year ago, but much more intense. She fucks with my head so often that I can’t tell the difference when she’s lying to my face or telling me the truth—I’m supposed to be able to figure it out. Learn to fully trust my instincts and be able to react to any given situation accordingly without ever thinking about it. “If you have to stop and think about it, you’ve already fucked up,” she said during one of the rare times she’s given me actual advice. And then, “It’s not the same thing as ‘think before you react’, it’s about changing the way you think and react naturally.”
I never expected any training to be like this. And it’s just beginning.
Today Nora joins us at the table for her first meeting.
Victor didn’t approve of my decision to let her join us when I told him what I’d done. Not at first anyway. I had to remind him that he said he trusted me, and although I think deep down he didn’t need reminding, I know he least expected me to let her live and it all came as shock to him. It did me as well. I had every intention in eliminating Nora that night—eliminating; maybe I’m starting to become more like Victor—but at the last minute, I went with my gut instead of my hatred for her.
I walk into the meeting room to the faces of Victor, James and Fredrik. Nora will be late if she isn’t here in five minutes. I make my way to my usual chair close to Victor where I sit down and try to look confident—I know that if Nora doesn’t live up to everyone’s expectations of her that it’ll be on my head because I’m the one that let her join us. Being late to her first meeting isn’t a good way to start.
The room is rife with silence. Hardly any movements stir the mild air seeping from the vents in the ceiling. James stares at his laptop screen. Fredrik sits solidly, like a brooding, gorgeous giant with both hands resting on the table. Victor sits with his back pressed against his chair and his hands in his lap—always the power in the room, and anyone would know it just by looking at him even if they’ve never met him before. I feel their eyes on me—though not Fredrik’s—but I can’t bring myself to look at either of them.
Finally, the sound of heels tapping against the floor on the other side of the door echoes down the hall. The door opens and Nora, on her long legs and with beautiful blonde sweeping hair, enters the meeting room, closing the door behind her. She’s dressed in, of all things, a black women’s suit and tall black heels. A white collared shirt with an elegant ruffle pokes from beneath the suit jacket and lays perfectly about her chest, pulled up around her neck in a delicate fashion. Delicate—a word I never would’ve thought to associate with the likes of Nora Kessler.
“Cutting it close on time,” I speak up.
Nora sits down next to James, her back straight and refined.
“Yes,” she says with an apologetic smile and then reaches into her jacket pocket and withdraws a cell phone. “But I found Niklas.”
Victor and I glance at one another as Nora slides the cell phone across the table and into Victor’s reach. He picks it up and looks into the screen, tapping it once with his fingertip as it begins to fade to black. I lean over closer to Victor to get a better view.
“Barlow’s,” Nora announces. “He seems to be spending a lot of his time there, drinking”—I look into the screen to see several photos of Niklas sitting in a darkly lit bar with a shot of whiskey on the bar in front of him—“a different girl every night the past few nights. He’s staying in the hotel next to the bar.”
“That’s just thirty minutes from here,” I say, looking at Victor anxiously.
“Drinking and women,” James speaks up across the table from me. “Sounds like he hasn’t changed, really. I think it’s safe to say he’s all right.”
I frown at James.
“He’s not all right,” I say.
“But he will be,” Victor says.
He slides the phone back to Nora. She leaves it on the table in front of her.