I find myself stunned—where the fuck did this come from?
“Don’t tell me you’re pregnant, Izzy, that would be the same thing as pissing in my Cheerios.”
Izabel looks over sharply. “No!” she says quickly, as if the longer I believe that the more chance it might be true. “No, I’m definitely not pregnant”—she looks offended; I laugh inside—“I was thinking about it because…of Sian. When I was in the compound, girls got pregnant all the time.”
“What’s that got to do with me or anyone else in our Order? Victor is who you’re really asking about though, right?”
The glare in her eyes answers the question before her words do. She swallows nervously and looks back out at the city.
“Don’t make this something it’s not,” she scolds me. “It’s a legitimate concern, considering our line of work—what happens if someone gets pregnant? How would Victor—or even you—deal with pregnancies?”
I can’t shake the feeling that Izabel asking about this sort of thing, has more significance than what she’s letting on. But whatever—I don’t care to probe further into that head of hers. OK, maybe I care to probe a little—all right, all right, I care to probe a lot. But I’m not going to. Not my fucking business.
“You and James Woodard,” I begin, “are two of few who haven’t been…fixed.” I can’t help but laugh when Izzy looks over at me with disgust, her eyebrows tight in her forehead—she looks offended, which is what I was shooting for.
“We’re not animals,” she says. “We don’t get fixed—are you calling me a dog?”
No, Izzy, you’re certainly no dog…
I laugh again, letting my head fall back. Then I look at her and say, “We’re all fucking animals, especially that adopted brother of yours you have such a soft spot for.”
“Fredrik’s not an animal, Niklas,” she defends, disappointment in her voice. “But you shouldn’t judge—you’re not so human yourself.”
“I admit I’m an animal,” I say. “And if you were ever to ask Gustavsson yourself, he’d admit the same thing—anyway, to answer your strange question: selling babies isn’t our style; Victor may be a cold-blooded, murdering bastard”—I couldn’t resist—“but he’d never resort to something like that.”
“Then what would he do?” She looks right at me—what is that in her eyes? Fear? Hope? A little bit of both? Damn, it’s killing me not to probe. She’s hiding something—but what?
“For starters,” I say, pointing my index finger up briefly, “Victor, as you know, is all about prevention, first and foremost. Most in our Order who haven’t already been sterilized, it’s mandatory that they become sterilized. The exceptions being people like Woodard who already have families, or members who might benefit the Order in some way by getting knocked up.”
By that shocked look on Izabel’s face, it’s obvious my dear brother hadn’t gotten around to telling her this part yet. I smile thinking to myself, rubbing my hands together metaphorically in my mind, excited about being the one to break the news—any little thing I can do to make my brother’s life more difficult, I’m going to take it.
“Benefit our Order by getting knocked up?” She appears confused, maybe wanting to have heard me wrong.
I nod, smiling, and then light up a cigarette.
“Sometimes operatives who work on the inside,” I begin, “as you know already, have to play their roles one hundred percent, that includes starting families and blending in with white-picket-fence societies. An operative I worked with under Vonnegut has been married to a woman undercover for fifteen years, had six kids with her before I left The Order.”
Izabel shakes her head with disbelief.
“How is that an undercover mission?” she asks. “After fifteen years and a family, how is it still a mission? I’d think by then it was something very different.”
“To some, sure,” I say, nodding, puffing on my cigarette. “And that operative I’m sure loves the kids he made with his wife—maybe he even loves his wife—but a good operative, like Victor for example, can still draw the line even after fifteen years of marriage; he’ll still be able to do what has to be done when and if that time comes.”
“What are you trying to say, Niklas?” She glares at me.
I’m trying to tell you, Izzy, without outright telling you, that my brother may love you, but he will always be Victor Faust, that sometime now or later, he’s going to realize that you’re just another Claire.
“I’m trying to tell you,” I say out loud, “that there is no place for children in our world. Never has been and never will be. And if an operative gets knocked up, or knocks a woman up, that operative will have to be dealt with in whatever way Victor sees fit; in some cases, he might cut the operative loose, give him a free pass to live his life, but you can bet your ass he or she’d be watched until the day they die.”
“And in other cases?” she asks.
I shrug, pause, and then answer, “Let’s just say that just about everyone gets fixed, Izzy.”
She looks right at me.
“Except for me,” she says, searching my face for the answers, some kind of understanding that maybe only I can give her. “Why do you think Victor hasn’t pressured me about sterilization?”
“Well, for one thing,” I say, “he’s not worried about you getting pregnant because he can’t get you pregnant.”
“And for another thing?”
But I find myself at a loss for words—I never expected to be slapped in the face by this, of all things. Why hasn’t my brother not only pressured but ordered her to be sterilized? It’s very out of character for him, so unlike Victor that I don’t think I’ve ever been as confused as I am right now.
I snap out of it and look over at Izzy.
“Like I said, he can’t knock you up so there’s no reason to worry about it.” Setting my cigarette in the ashtray on the table between us, I lean toward her. “Why are you asking me this stuff, anyway? And don’t say you were just curious. There’s more to it than that; it’s all over your face.”
I didn’t ask Niklas about pregnancies and children because I was worried about getting knocked up on a mission, not even the Mexico mission. I will never be raped again, that is a fucking certainty; I will kill any man who ever tries to have his way with me. But that’s not what my question was about—I was only thinking about my child with Javier; thinking about it now more than I ever have since I’m not the only person in our Order anymore who knows about him or her.
And I never would’ve asked Niklas, of all people, about any of this stuff if it weren’t for the fact that he’s Victor’s brother and knows him better than anyone. But it doesn’t come without guilt—it should be Victor I’m asking these kinds of questions, not his brother. But I can never tell Victor the truth. I don’t know why, and that bothers me immensely…I just know that I can’t.
Izabel looks away from my eyes, shrugs her shoulders; just like me, she’s covering up the true weight of her answer. “But that is the only reason”—(liar)—“I guess going on missions like these, and the one I’ll be going on in Mexico with Nora in a few months, they make me think about stuff like this.”
Ah, so therein lies the truth—Izzy worries, probably thinks about it all the time, what would happen to her if she managed to get herself raped on one of these missions, especially these missions.
I would never let that happen…
“No one’s going to fucking touch you, Izzy,” I say, looking right at her; she keeps her gaze fixed out ahead at the rooftops. “That’s why Victor sent me here with you, because he knows nothing like that will happen to you with me at your side.” I pause, searching her face for something still hidden and then add, “But it’s not this mission you’re worried about, is it?”
She doesn’t answer.
“Y’know,” I say, looking out at the rooftops with her, “if I had any say in it, you wouldn’t be allowed to go to Mexico.”
She looks over quickly, defensively, her lips taut.
“Then it’s a good thing you have no say in it,” she snaps.
“Hey, I understand why you want to be a part of it, but it’s the last place in the world you should be going.”
“We’ve already had this argument,” she points out. “Why do you care, anyway, what I do or where I go?”
“I don’t,” I tell her instantly, crush my cigarette out in the ashtray. “I’m just sayin’.”
“Sounds to me like,” Nora speaks up from behind, “we just need to get Izabel fixed and get it over with.”
I really hate that woman—just because I fucked her doesn’t change that.
I look over my shoulder to see Nora standing underneath the balcony entrance, her arms crossed.