No—I refuse to give up on her. I won’t do it. No one cared about me enough to look for me when I went missing. Dina didn’t even know I was missing, thought I just moved away with my mother. But I was alone for years. I had no one looking for me. Olivia Bram deserves better.
What would be Victor’s next move?
It feels strange being on a mission and not hearing his voice in an earpiece; not having him here to tell me what to do, which pieces to move across the chess board. I miss him. I wonder what he’s doing right now.
Somewhere in Virginia
“You’ve been on our radar for eight years, Mr. Faust,” Dan Barrett, one of Flynn’s superiors, says across the elongated table from me, dressed in his finest cheap suit. “If we wanted to take you down—”
“Do not make it sound easier than it is, Mr. Barrett,” I tell him. “Do you think I would be sitting here in front of you like this if it were that simple?”
Dan Barrett’s mouth pinches on one side; his nostrils flare kind of how Izabel’s do when she doesn’t get her way—only it’s sexy when she does it; this man I’d very much like to punch in the face. He’s been nothing but mouthy since we arrived here: trying relentlessly to intimidate me; pointing out the things he knows, some of the people I’ve killed (though not even a fraction of the actual number)—his way of holding something over my head to get me to cooperate. That will get you nowhere, Mr. Barrett, except your own personal plot in the cemetery we passed on the way here.
I look to the man on his left, Barry Connors, the only one out of the six men at this table with Fredrik Gustavsson, Dorian Flynn, and me, with a cool, reasonable head. The other four men haven’t said much yet; mostly I believe they’ve been taking mental notes, sizing us up, picking apart our brains so they can better piece together their professional versions of my and Gustavsson’s profiles later; add to our M.O.s they created on an Excel spreadsheet somewhere, or posted on a whiteboard with words scrawled in Sharpie like ‘dental obsession’ and ‘expert marksman’; more an FBI thing, I suppose, but they seem the type.
“Let me repeat myself,” I say, looking to Barry Connors. “If I choose to offer my services to you, I would work for you and with you, but not under you—there is a difference. Any surveillance still on me or anyone in my Order would be terminated immediately, including any other undercover operatives who might still be implanted in my ranks.” I glance at Flynn to my left, for only a moment. Unless you want them dead.
They would never completely terminate their surveillance, I know, but they would some of it to make it seem they are holding up their end of the deal, and some is better than none.
“We do understand your terms,” Barry Connors agrees.
He starts to say more, but I interrupt.
“I want to see the files—everything—that Flynn gave you on us.”
I feel Flynn’s eyes skirting me nervously; he inhales a deep breath; I never take my eyes off Barry Connors.
“What does that matter?” Dan Barrett asks smartly. “If you’re worried about how much we know, Mr. Faust—we know what you do; it’s enough to put you on death row.”
Barry Connors puts up his hand. “Not that we’re threatening you, of course,” he assures me.
“But just the same,” I say, “I am curious about the kind of information Flynn gave you.”
“But it’s beside any point,” Barrett says with a grunt.
“Just give him the files,” Connors says with the dismissive gesture of his hand. “We have copies.”
Barrett thinks on it a moment and then agrees.
“OK, Mr. Faust,” he says, nodding, “we’ll get the files to you in—”
“Now,” I cut in as kindly as possible, “would be preferable.”
Barrett’s upper lip crinkles into a snarl. He reaches into his suit jacket pocket and pulls out his cell phone, touches the screen and then puts it to his ear. “Print off the files on I.D. 44160742-A and bring them to me.” He ends the call and slides the phone back into his pocket.
“Do you mind if, while we wait,” Connors begins, folding his hands on the table in front of him, “we tell you what we know about Vonnegut, at least, so we can collaborate when the time comes? Get a head start?”
“If you would like,” I say, opening my hands to him. “But I’ll offer you nothing in the way of information, or even my opinion on the information you have on my former employer, until I’ve agreed I’m going to work with you.”
“Fair enough,” Connors says.
“I’d like to know,” Mark Masters, sitting on the other side of Connors, speaks up, “how you feel about working for a man who sells weapons to terrorists, innocent girls to men who violate and murder them, and drugs to children?” He would spit in my face if it would not instantly end our meeting and possibly his life.
I say nothing. Because I haven’t agreed to a deal yet and this man is apparently slow to understand that. Or just stubborn. Probably more the latter.
“I apologize, Mr. Faust,” Connors says, doing damage control. “Mr. Masters tends to speak without thinking; you have to understand we’re usually working on the other side of the fence, not with the…criminals, so to speak. I admit, even for me it’s a little difficult to be sitting at this table, having a seemingly civil conversation with a hitman and…” He pauses and glances grimly at Gustavsson; a lump moves down the center of his throat. “…And a man like him.”
I smile faintly and fold my hands together on the top of the table too. “Oh, I’m sure that’s not entirely true, Mr. Connors; I’m not the first ‘hitman’ you have done business with, nor is Gustavsson the first…specialist you’ve been in the same room with without chains on his wrists and ankles.”
“No, you’re not the first,” says Connors, “and you won’t be the last, but it’s still not a common occurrence, so please bear with us.”
“Mr. Gustavsson,” a man named Kenneth Ware cuts in, “I’m just curious about why you do the things you do?” His thick, dark eyebrows stiffen inquisitively in his forehead. “How does one get into the interrogation business?”
Gustavsson chokes on a small laugh—even I almost laughed at that one.
“Did you really just ask me,” Fredrik begins, “you, a man involved in covert government operations, how one gets into the interrogation business?” He shakes his head with surprise and disbelief. “That’s humorous to me, Mr. Ware. Truly it is.”
Kenneth Ware smiles to combat the red in his face. “Well what I mean, Mr. Gustavsson, is why you are…the way you are. There’s a pretty big difference between what you do and what I do.” At least he’s not trying to be argumentative like Dan Barrett who must have been born with that ever-present scowl.
Fredrik sighs and crosses his legs, afterward interlocking his fingers and resting his hands over his midsection. “Why don’t you tell me?” he says with a mock smile. “Is there not enough about me in those files of yours already?”
“Actually no,” Kenneth Ware answers. “I’ve just taken a special interest in you is all, and would like to know more. About your background anyway; I already know what you do, I’m just fascinated by why you do it.”
“Mr. Ware is a fan,” Connors says, suppressing a grin.
“I seem to have quite a few of those.” Fredrik purses his lips. “It’s kind of disturbing, actually.”
“I have to agree,” I say with the shrug of my shoulders.
“Me too,” Dorian Flynn speaks up; his eyes veer when he notices me looking at him.
“Can we get on with this?” Barrett snaps; he chews on the inside of his mouth. “Your files’ll be here momentarily—”
The tiny door to the meeting room opens and in walks a man with a file folder, much thinner than I expected, the folder, not the man.
“Ah, there they are now,” Barrett says.
The man gives the folder to Barrett and Barrett slides it across the table toward me.
“Where’s the rest of it?” I ask, looking down into a stack of about sixty freshly printed sheets of paper. I begin sifting through them, scanning the text in search of keywords—I’ll read it all more thoroughly later.
“That’s all of it,” Dan Barrett insists.
I look up with only my eyes; my hand in pause holding a sheet of paper over the stack.
“He’s telling the truth,” Barry Connors says with a nod. “Mr. Flynn claimed it was difficult for him to get access to any files.” He points at the folder. “Everything we have on your Order is there.” He’s lying, but I’ll let it slide for now.
“But you said you’ve been following me for eight years.”
“Yes,” Connors says, “we have a small file on you from when you worked under Vonnegut, but nothing as extensive as what’s there”—he points at the folder again—“just some of your hits; information on who you worked closely with: your brother Niklas Fleischer, your Safe House contacts, and of course”—he glances at Fredrik—“Mr. Gustavsson.”