Ware is red in the face, but he manages to defend himself quickly enough.

“Yes, I realize that,” he says, “but I thought you had evolved, as most serial killers do. The last victim—before the most recent one—was found three years ago; I thought for sure you had evolved since then, opting for clean extractions, and possibly forming a bond with a particular chair and decided to stick with that one.”

Fredrik laughs—until he realizes that he can’t very well make fun of Ware for the bonding chair comment when Fredrik does, in fact, have a special bond with his dentist chair. Of course, I can’t read his mind, but I’m confident that is what he was thinking—it is what I was thinking, too.

“And what about the most recent victim?” Fredrik asks.

Ware sifts through the top section of photographs until he finds the one he is looking for. He places it on the table toward us; the other men in the room continue to watch and listen, absorbing it all.

“He was found three months ago,” Ware begins, “here in the United States—Atlanta, Georgia. Still the same M.O.; nothing about the killer’s technique had evolved.” He nods in Flynn’s direction. “And according to Mr. Flynn, you had an alibi for the time of the murder; you weren’t even in the country.”

“So this serial killer crosses borders,” I say.

“Yes,” David Darros, the calm, experienced one speaks up for the first time; his voice is smooth, with confident undertones, and heavily accented. “And dat ees vy I am here.” He is definitely German; though his accent is much thicker than my brother’s. “I am liaison for Interpol. Dees serial killer ees vanted in five countries: France, Sveden, England, Germany and United States.”

“And those are just the countries where bodies found have been linked to this serial killer, so far,” Barrett says, finally playing the ‘good cop’ for a change. “We believe there are more.”

“And how many are there at present?” I ask.

“Thirteen,” Connors answers. “All of them men.”

Fredrik sits up straight, growing more interested.

“And how much,” I ask, “is catching this serial killer worth to you? And I’m assuming it will not be a hit?”

“Twenty million dollars,” Connors says.

“And definitely not a hit,” Ware interjects—it would probably crush his little black heart to see this serial killer go the way of the grave; he would much rather spend the rest of his years interviewing and studying and wetting his dick in the cold, dark mind of the killer he has longed to capture. “Just find him and lead us to him and we’ll take care of the rest.”

“We will, of course”—Connors clears his throat—“be the ones taking all the credit for the capture, since we can’t very well tell anyone about you.”

I smile slimly. “Of course,” I say with a mock smile. “We are not in this business for the publicity, or the fame, Mr. Connors—by all means, revel in it all you like.”

“So then do we have a deal?” Connors asks.

I think on it a moment, and then turn to Gustavsson.

“Does working this case with Mr. Ware interest you?” I ask him, knowing that it does. A killer with his M.O. is too appealing to pass up—I know a little about that.

Fredrik contemplates, rubbing his clean-shaven cheeks with his fingertips. Then he nods. “Yeah, sure sign me up, I suppose.

Izabel

Francesca’s sister, Valentina, comes up the elevator shortly after Miz Ghita leaves with the girl, and there’s suppressed panic in her face.

“Sister,” Valentina says walking up, her short dress swishing around her knees, “I didn’t want to bother you but…it’s”—she looks at the three of us briefly—“it’s Sian.”

I notice from the corner of my eye that Emilio stiffens.

Francesca stands from her throne; servant girls move toward her immediately; a little flurry of hands reaching out to adjust her hair, her bloodied robe; two kneel down in front of her with a shoe in each hand and wait for Francesca to step into them, but she passes them up, remaining barefooted; another girl gets on her hands and knees and furiously wipes up the trail of blood left by Ela, clearing it from Francesca’s path.

“Is there a problem with Sian?” Francesca’s voice is cold, unforgiving, and the darkness shadowing her features sends a chill up my back.

Valentina nods. “Yes,” she says, and then she glances at us again, clearly not comfortable talking about this ‘Sian’ in front of us.

So she starts speaking in Italian.

Great—more reason I wish Victor was here, or at least talking to me into my ear.

Francesca and Valentina go back and forth in their native language for half a minute, and all I take from the conversation is that whoever Sian is, Francesca must really hate her, and that whatever she’s done, or said, is worse than being tripped by a guest slave and spilling wine on the floor, or even forgetting to address a master properly, maybe even worse than a slave looking Francesca straight in her eyes and telling her to fuck off—I fear for this Sian, I really do. And by that look of dread on Emilio’s face, maybe he does too. The second Sian’s name was mentioned to Francesca, Emilio became someone different; his personality shifted so drastically that I feel like I have whiplash. His brown eyes churn with apprehension; his shoulders are stiff; his hands open and close into fists at his sides; he looks trapped, his only way out blocked by a terrifying sister he loves and yet…hates at the same time? I never would’ve imagined that of Emilio, but it’s there, as plain as day on his face. What a confusing, fucked up family the Morettis are—and I thought our little family of killers had issues.

“I will deal with Sian myself,” Francesca tells Valentina in English so we clearly understand. That can only mean she wants us to know what’s going on, and that worries me immensely.

Francesca smiles at us.

“Come,” she says, gesturing. “Since you are here, Niklas, and you are a generous paying guest, I would like to show you my way of dealing with a whore—a true whore.”

Niklas stands from the sofa, taking me with him. Nora follows suit.

“Since we’re waiting on the cyprians,” Niklas says casually, straightening his tie, “a little side entertainment sounds good to me.”

“Brother?” Francesca calls out, looking over her shoulder at Emilio. “Join us won’t you?” It wasn’t a request.

Emilio looks at the floor, unable to look his sister in the eyes. I would normally think him a coward; I’d probably laugh at him inside, glad to see the asshole knocked from his pedestal, but for some stupid reason I can’t even fathom, I feel…bad for him.

“You don’t have to do this, Sister,” Emilio says.

“Oh, but I do.” She smiles wickedly.

Then she walks out ahead of Valentina, and everyone except the slave girls follow behind her. We file into the glass elevator and Valentina presses the button for floor three, and down we go, into the unknown and it terrifies me. It’s not a long way down a few floors, and the elevator isn’t particularly slow, but it feels like it’s taking forever—and I wish that it would. I catch myself looking at Emilio from behind, watching him struggle in his copper skin; the outline of his jaw rigid; his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. And I look at Francesca standing next to him, and she’s his opposite: calm and powerful, tall and dangerous, excited and vengeful, a woman who thrives on unjust punishment, who seems to have her poor brother’s nuts crushed figuratively in her hand so that if he ever opposes her, she’ll make sure he never forgets it. But their relationship is still a mystery to me, now more than ever—I don’t think I’ve ever been so confused.

Moving down one long stretch of white hallway, I see a small group of women out ahead—housekeepers, servants—standing outside a room, all huddled around it, waiting, for what I don’t know. A dozen faces all look up simultaneously when they see us—Francesca, particularly—coming toward them. They scatter, moving quickly away from the door and lining up single file along the wall on the other side of the hallway; I see one woman dressed in a white and baby-blue maid’s uniform, cross herself, mouthing a prayer.

My eyes dart from the women to the opened door still several feet out ahead when a scream pierces the air. Shouting. Angry shouting. Two, three different voices; one louder and more belligerent than the others. And amid all the shouts and screams, I hear the tiny wailing of a baby and my heart dies a little more every inch I walk further into that unknown.

“Please! Don’t take her!” the young woman’s voice roars, traveling down the hallway and into my ears uninvited—I feel like I’m being punished.

Francesca steps into the room and we follow. Like the rest of the mansion, the space is vast. And white. So much white. But this room, with a giant four-poster bed situated between two grand windows filtering in the night through the curtain-less glass, has been stained by blood; the crimson color has soiled the bed sheets; a small pile of bloody linen lies on the floor beside the bed.

The doctor, presumably, walks out of a side room; the sound of latex snapping as he removes the bloodied gloves from his hands. No words are spoken by or to the doctor; apparently he’s done here, and so he takes up his bag of tools and his brown leather long-coat hanging over the back of a chair, and he exits the room, moving past the wide-eyed women now all crossing their chests and mouthing prayers.


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