“Yes, I’m coming home, Abbs,” he tells her; the hope that she is still alive when he gets there is written all over his face. “I’ll be late for that dinner, but I’ll be there.”

Barrett looks right at Dorian Flynn.

“Hey,” Flynn says, putting up his hands in his defense, “I only gave him the information you authorized me to give: your names and titles and where we’d be meeting.”

That’s more than what you can say you gave to them on us.

“You’re threatening my family?” Barrett’s hands become fists on the table, and he starts to get up, but Connors stops him.

“Mr. Faust is threatening us,” Connors says, “the same way you’re threatening him, so calm down, and sit down; no one’s going to get hurt.” He looks at me across from him with more of that hope in his features. “What did you expect, Dan, that he’d just waltz into this meeting without being thoroughly prepared? You do remember why we set up this meeting to begin with, right? Victor Faust knows what he’s doing, and”—he looks right at me—“I’m not ashamed to admit that he’s better at it than we are.” He turns back to an angry Barrett. “But that’s why he’s here, Dan, so let’s get this partnership underway, toss the distrust and the threats aside and let’s start over. Smoothly. All right?”

Connors looks to me.

“He is right, Mr. Barrett,” I say. “No one will hurt your family.”

The card I played is my way of letting them all know that if they ever betray me, or even manage to kill me, that there will be the gravest of consequences. I may not have information on Kenneth Ware, Mark Masters, Ryan Miller or David Darros yet, but I will after this meeting is over, now that I know who they are and I’ve seen their faces.

Barrett very slowly slides back into his chair. Once he has calmed himself he looks to me and nods. “OK,” he says. “A fresh start; I’d very much like that.”

Victor

The nine of us talk for an hour about what each of us knows on Vonnegut—I and Gustavsson only give them the information we agreed on before coming here, as I am sure they did the same. We discuss at length what each of us proposes we do first to go about catching Vonnegut, but in the end we all come to the agreement that it will take time, a lot of resources, possibly several undercover missions to gain more information, and that nothing will happen overnight. Before we can take a man down, we have to know who he is exactly, what he looks like—Connors’ and Barrett’s team do not even know where to begin. I pretend to have an inkling, that I have a little more on Vonnegut’s true identity than they have, just to keep them baited. But what I really have is someone who I believe has actually seen my former employer in the flesh—Izabel is the key, and no one turns that key but me. Fortunately Dorian Flynn knows nothing of what Nora told me in the room that day about Izabel. Five other people in my Order do know, however, but I trust them to keep it to themselves. For the most part.

“In the meantime,” Connors speaks up, “we have another job we hope you’re interested in assisting us with.”

Kenneth Ware, Gustavsson’s fan, smiles suddenly as if he is delighted to finally be getting to this point.

“Is that so?” I say to Connors, admittedly curious.

Connors nods and then looks to Ware, giving him the floor. Ware’s close-lipped smile stretches as he eagerly opens his laptop on the table, bends over in his chair and sifts through his leather satchel on the floor, and then produces a file folder much thicker than the one they had on me, at least two inches thick, stuffed with what appears to be a stack of eight-and-a-half-by-eleven sized photographs; a few of them slide off the top and halfway out of the folder when he sets it on the table. He shuffles them back into a neat stack, but not before I glimpse the blood and dead flesh; bodies in haphazard positions, strapped to furniture—photographs of crime scenes, no doubt.

“I take a special interest in serial killers, Mr. Faust,” says Ware—(and there it is: his not-so-hidden obsession with blood and those who crave it enough to kill for it on a regular basis). He opens the file folder. He’s still smiling, and I find it quite entertaining how he looks at Gustavsson more than me as he explains. “I’ve been tracking one for ten years and I’m very interested in your insight.” He looks only at me now and adds carefully, “Though, if possible of course”—he glances at Fredrik—“I would like it if Mr. Gustavsson could work with me on this case personally.”

“We do not do cases, Mr. Ware,” I point out. “We work jobs, missions. And we work alone. Vonnegut is different because we all want the same thing and need each other’s resources to get it, but as far as anyone else, you give us the information you have on a target, pay us to carry out the hit and we will do just that. It is about money, Mr. Ware, not justice, or the fundamental need to take out bad guys.”

Mark Masters glares at me across the table, but says nothing.

“Yes, I understand that,” Mr. Ware rambles on, fumbling through the stack of crime scene photos, “but this particular case is a lot like finding Vonnegut; we don’t have an identity on this serial killer—just an M.O.—and I think we have a much better shot unravelling the identity with your insights. And there’s something about the M.O. that Mr. Gustavsson”—he looks at Fredrik again, this time with an excited gleam in his eyes—“might find…familiar, for a lack of a less invasive word.”

“Familiar?” Fredrik speaks up—clearly Mr. Ware has gained Gustavsson’s attention.

Ware nods three times, his smile ever-growing, but before Ware can answer, Fredrik adds, “Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s interesting, but I get the feeling you’re putting me on the same level as the one you’re hunting—I’m no serial killer, Mr. Ware; now a serial torturer, I don’t like the way it sounds, but I admit it’s safe to say at least that much is true, but there’s a big difference between me and a serial killer.”

“Yes,” Ware agrees, excitedly, “there’s a difference between you and serial killers, but this particular serial killer, Mr. Gustavsson, forgive me for saying it like this, has enough in common with you that…well…” Ware swallows and glances at Connors and Barrett, clearly apprehensive about spitting the rest of his words out.

Fredrik folds his hands on the table and leans forward, cocking his dark head to one side inquisitively, intimidatingly, as only Gustavsson can do—he is quite good at making a man speak with just a look, sometimes even without his tools of the trade sitting on a tray next to him. Kenneth Ware swallows again and his eyes stray toward the crime scene photos.

“In common with me that what, Mr. Ware?”

Ware looks up, smiles squeamishly and says, “Well…that for a while I was sure you were the serial killer I was hunting. When Mr. Flynn came back with his information on Mr. Faust’s newly organized Order, and I read the file on you, it was like a goddamned light from the sky opened up above my head—I was sure you were my killer, convinced of it because your M.O. and the killer’s M.O. are so similar that I thought it couldn’t be disputed.”

I look over at Fredrik; his left eyebrow shifts upward.

Then he smiles darkly and leans back in his chair again, his hands unfolding and sliding away from the table.

“I’m the one who got him off your back,” Dorian Flynn reveals, proudly. “You may do some sick shit, but I knew you weren’t a damn serial killer.”

Are you still trying to save yourself, Flynn?

“So then what is this similarity, then?” Fredrik asks; he crosses his arms over his chest. “And how can you be so sure that I’m not the one you’re hunting—just because Dorian says I’m not the one, doesn’t make it true.”

Shedding the uneasiness, Ware smiles animatedly again, and plucks a few of the photographs from the stack, sliding them across the table into my and Fredrik’s view.

“The victims,” Ware says, “are missing all of their teeth, though they’re not pulled from the victim’s mouths, they’re cut out; the gums are always gaping and butchered, not indicative of a clean extraction.” He holds up his index finger to indicate that he has more. “And as if the missing teeth weren’t similar enough, all of the victims are found strapped to chairs—all different kinds of chairs, unlike your…well that chair you often use to do interrogations, but chairs nonetheless.”

“And you thought,” Fredrik says, preparing to make a point, “that I and this serial killer were the same person?” He shakes his head with disbelief. “For someone who’s studied serial killers for most of his life—I’m assuming—and hunted this one in particular for a good deal of it, it disappoints me that you seem to have forgotten—or overlooked?—the number one similarity that all serial killers have: they tend to stick to their M.O.. I never cut out the teeth”—he glances over at me and purses his lips—“though that’s not a bad idea, Faust; maybe I’ll use that during my next interrogation.” I shrug, and he turns back to Ware. “And I always use the same chair, when I use a chair, which isn’t always the case. Yeah, I see the similarities, but clearly we are not the same person.”


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