I couldn’t leave him anywhere.

I turned around and went back the way I came.

The guard pretending to be asleep before, stood in the doorway of the building, waiting for me, dressed in a black T-shirt and black military pants tucked into black military boots; a police baton hung from his fist.

“You could have kept on going,” the guard said. “Why did you come back?”

A loud clunk and click and then a constant mechanical hum sounded from high above me and bright lights spilled out over the rooftop, pooling around me in two brilliant circles that made the grass beneath my feet look white. The spotlights, as if shackling me to the ground by chains, held me still in that spot in front of the building. Two more guards came toward me from somewhere that I didn’t care to look, and stopped in arm’s reach. I kept my eyes trained on the guard in the doorway with the police baton. He had asked me a question and I didn’t know how to answer it, so I didn’t at first.

A white-hot pain stung me in the back and my knees buckled beneath me, sending me to the ground. I wanted to cry out in pain, but I knew it would only make them hit me harder, longer. I bit down on in the inside of my cheek so hard that the metallic taste of blood pooled inside my mouth.

“I will ask you again, Fleischer,” the guard with the police baton said—though according to my back, the ones standing beside me also had batons. “What made you return?”

I could hear his voice, but my eyes were clenched so tightly because of the pain, that I couldn’t tell where he was standing anymore. He was closer though, that much I knew.

Slowly, my eyes crept open, my vision was blurred for many long seconds.

He was standing directly over me.

I raised my head and looked at him and finally answered, “I belong here, sir. I pledged my life to The Order and I will die in its service.”

“Stand up.” His voice was calm, but stern.

I did what I was told, pushing through the pain and forcing myself to my feet. I raised my chin to appear strong and obedient; my legs were shaking only because of the pain, but I maintained my firm posture.

“Take him for punishment,” the guard demanded the others, “and then begin his transfer.”

They thought I would cry when I was stripped of my clothes and flogged with a whip. They thought I would beg them to stop, choke on my own vomit.

But I didn’t cry. Fuck them.

I took it until I passed out. A second longer and I would’ve cried I’m sure, but I was spared the humiliation of a weak, sobbing boy, by the bitter sweet visitation of unconsciousness.

That was the last time I saw my brother, Victor, for several long years. But I never forgot about him, and I never stopped loving him, and I always kept our secret. But I vowed to one day be more like him, to live up to his skill and his dedication to The Order, because not only did I respect him, but I never again wanted to see that hurtful anger in his eyes. Everything I did from that point on I did for my brother. By the time I saw him again, Victor already had nine kills under his belt—the first at the age of thirteen, carried out one week after I was transferred. And when he turned seventeen, one year after we were under the same roof again, he was given the full rank of Assassin, the youngest assassin ever appointed by The Order.

I was still a failure, with a disappointed mentor that knew I’d never be sent out into the field.

A wave of jealousy swept over me, but I’d hoped I’d hidden it well. No matter what I did, or how hard I tried, I only seemed to fall further behind him, and I knew I’d never live up to him.

But he was my brother, and not even a jealous heart would ever make me betray him.

I believed him when he told me that night that he’d never do anything to cause me harm. I believed him with my whole life and my whole heart and my whole goddamned soul.

I believed him…

Niklas

Present Day

The whore with big brown eyes and perfect tits, raises her blond head from my chest.

“Did you hear anything I just said?” she asks, her eyes slanted.

Fuck no I didn’t.

“Yeah,” I answer, “you were telling me about your sister, or some shit.”

She huffs and sits up the rest of the way on the bed, her breasts bouncing, her ass jiggling—I haven’t fucked her yet, but I’m getting around to it. She had just given me a massage minutes earlier.

I reach over to the nightstand and take a cigarette from the pack, placing it between my lips.

The whore snarls at me.

What the hell is she waiting for? An apology for not giving a shit?

“What?” I argue as I drag my thumb over the lighter and a flame appears.

She shakes her head and leans her naked body over me, reaching for another cigarette from my pack and then lighting it on the end of mine.

“Nothing,” she says with offense. “You just said that you wanted to talk first, so that’s what I was doing—pouring out my heart about my rich bitch sister. And you weren’t even listening.”

I puff on the filter slowly, taking a long drag.

“What do you want me to say?”

“Nothing,” she repeats bitterly, dropping it.

But I’ve never known a woman who said “Nothing” and really wanted to drop it. Bitches and their mind games—if it wasn’t for the pussy I’d stay the hell away from them all.

“Maybe I should start charging you for my time,” she says with smoke streaming from her plump lips. She scoots toward the headboard and sits slumped against it, one long naked leg bent, the other lying flat against the mattress.

I laugh lightly.

“I’ve never paid for sex in my life,” I say, flicking my ashes in the ashtray on the nightstand. “And I never will.”

“I said for my time,” she corrects me. “This talking bullshit, for example.” Her blond head falls to one side and she looks over at me with a spreading grin. “I’d never charge you for the sex, Niklas.”

I smile faintly.

After I’ve smoked the cigarette down, I crush the filter in the ashtray. The room I’ve been staying in since I left our Order is a shithole, but I’ve always preferred shitholes to luxury; old boots to shiny dress shoes; worn jeans to posh suits; rot-gut whiskey to expensive wine. Only thing I can think of clean and pure and not stained by moral perversion that I like, are women. Not necessarily this particular woman—I like her not because she’s a whore, but because she’s proud to be a whore—but women…like Claire. The only woman I ever loved more than my mother.

The woman that my brother killed.

“What’s up with you, anyway?” the whore asks. “Maybe it’s none of my business, but you’ve been all brooding and shit the past couple of weeks.”

I sit with both legs stretched out before me, crossed at the ankles, the bed sheet draped over my midsection, my arms crossed over my chest. On the other side of the small, dingy room with green wallpaper, a round table sits in front of the only window covered by thick navy curtains that have been pulled together, shutting out what’s left of the daylight. Another hour and it’ll be dark. The flatscreen television—like the telephone and the broken hair dryer and stained mini coffee pot—has been mounted to the room to deter theft; it hangs from a moveable arm bracket affixed high on the wall. Old ‘Seinfeld’ reruns play on the screen with the volume low. The muffled sound of music from the bar on the ground floor beneath me funnels through the thin walls and floor.

The bed moves as the whore—OK, her name is Jackie—shifts around next to me.

I look over just as she’s standing up with her back to me, her naked ass shaped like a cherry. I like that.

“Where are you going?” I ask, mildly interested.

She steps into her skimpy black panties and walks around to my side of the bed, crushing her cigarette out next to mine; a thin sliver of leftover smoke rises from the ashes.

“I’ve gotta be somewhere in an hour,” she says indifferently.

I reach out and clamp my hand around her wrist, stopping her. Jackie never really has to ‘be somewhere’—I’ve known her for two months—and all of a sudden I feel like an asshole. Well, I admit I am a fucking asshole twenty-four-seven, but I don’t like it when I actually feel like one.

She looks down at me irritably, waiting for me to get on with it, blinking her light brown eyes.

“I’m a dick,” I say and let go of her wrist. “Sorry. Please, just sit back down.”

Unconvinced, Jackie manipulates the inside of her mouth with her teeth, staring at me indecisively, and then reaches for her bra anyway lying on the stained carpet. Not wanting her to go—because I actually enjoy her company even when we’re not fucking—I swallow my admittedly ridiculous ego and say, “Tell me more about what happened with that rich bitch sister of yours. Did she ever apologize for shutting you out like that, for keeping you from spending time with your niece—Katie? That’s your niece’s name, right?” I really had heard everything Jackie was going on about before, when I was lost in thought thinking about my own issues with my own flesh and blood. I’ve just never been the type to talk about my shit, or to listen to anyone else’s. When I’d told her before that I wanted to ‘talk first’, I meant something more along the lines of everyday mundane bullshit: about the hair I found in my goddamn omelet this morning; the cab I rode in for three miles stuffed in the backseat with two steroid-addicted assholes whose arms were so big they couldn’t reach their armpits to apply deodorant—I’ve been taking a cab lately so Victor and Izabel won’t know I’m still in town, though if I know my brother, he knows where I’m at by now. But somehow, while talking about why I was taking a cab, Jackie started talking about her sister. Oh yeah, I guess it was because I mentioned that I had been avoiding my brother.


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