“I could not allow Flynn’s betrayal to slip through the cracks.” He stares out at the water. “It troubles me immensely that I ever gave it a second thought, even for Izabel’s sake. But I did what had to be done. And I will continue to do what must be done. Izabel will have to understand.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“She will have to.”

I nod and say, “Well if it means anything, I do think she’ll understand. She’s strong, Victor; she may be too emotional at times, but I think she’s into this for the long haul.” I pause, glance over and add, “And I could never be sure before, but I really believe she’s not only committed to this life because of you. She wants it for herself as well.”

“Yes. She does.”

A splash breaks the sudden silence as Mack pushes Dorian’s body over the side of the boat.

“What will you tell Dan Barrett and his men?” I ask.

“The truth,” he says without pause. “Flynn’s death will be a warning to them.”

The silence grows again, and then Victor turns to look at me, making eye contact for the first time.

“This job with Kenneth Ware in finding this serial killer,” he says, “I am leaving entirely up to you. You do with it what you will, work as closely with Ware as you see fit, carry out the mission yourself and reap the rewards in-full.” He looks back out ahead of him. “I have too much on my plate where Vonnegut and The Order is concerned, to be concerning myself with other, less important matters—no matter how much money is at stake.”

“I understand.”

“Vonnegut is my number one priority,” he goes on. “And I know that before I can even begin to weed him out and take him down, things in my own Order need to be resolved: I need to know just how much Nora Kessler can be trusted; I need to be confident in Izabel’s ability to be a part of the Mexico mission; I either need to know that my brother is with me, or cut him loose and move on—there are too many broken threads, Fredrik. I do not need anymore.”

That last comment, it felt like a warning—directed at me.

I reach behind me and rub my hand against the back of my neck, smiling.

“Well don’t worry about me; I know I went off the deep end for a while after Seraphina, but I think I’m going to be OK—I’m OK now.” I’m not OK. Just different.

He doesn’t say anything. And I leave it alone.

Victor always did know me more than I wanted him to; he’s a lot like me in that way: can tell what a man’s thinking, can see inside of a person, know what to expect long before it happens. He was trained to know these things—mine was self-taught through life experience. And I would be a fool to think that he can’t see what lies behind my mask now, or at least a glimpse of it: that I’m changing, that what used to keep me grounded isn’t working so much for me anymore. It’s like heroin: I’ve been doing it for years stacked on years; I’ve tapped out all of my veins, and even though the high is diminished, and each time I shoot up I feel the effects that once sustained me less and less, my body still needs the drug; it not only craves it anymore—it needs it even though the high no longer accompanies it. It needs something stronger.

Valerie Lou carries us back to Boston, and admittedly the whole way there I think about Dorian lying in the bottom of the sea.

Niklas

Going after this girl right now is probably a mistake; it won’t do Olivia Bram any good if we get killed in the process of trying to save her. A part of me feels like we should just go back, get on that plane and leave before the Morettis find us; take the information Emilio gave us on the cyprians and plan something new to bring her home. The other part of me—the part that usually wins out—is saying fuck it, let’s get this over with.

Izabel and I find the residence, which is an old apartment building nestled in the city center. People of the community ride up and down the streets on bicycles and scooters. We park the car on a side street and walk the rest of the way toward the building down an alley.

“I think this is it,” Izabel says when we come upon a doorway just off the street. “Second floor.”

We both take a deep breath and go inside. When we come to the door, Izabel’s the one who knocks. And then we wait. Anxiously I keep looking over my shoulder, expecting to see men with guns drawn coming for us.

Izabel knocks again—still no answer. She looks over at me nervously. I knock the third time, rapping my knuckles hard on the green painted wood. Movement can be heard inside; a light underneath the crack of the door blinks off and on as someone walks through it. I hold my breath when I hear the sound of metal on metal, a lock sliding open, and then a click before the door cracks away from the frame.

“Who are you?” comes a soft, but aggravated voice through the crack.

“I’m Izabel.” She motions toward me. “And this is Niklas.”

All we can see of the girl is a one-inch strip of her face, part of an eye, but not the one that would show the distinct birthmark; and the rest of her is shrouded by darkness; a lamp burns off an orange glow somewhere in the background.

“What do you want?” the girl asks.

Izabel glances at me, not sure what to say, but then turns back and answers, “We’ve got something for you; if you’ll let us in I can explain. It’ll only take a minute.”

“I’m sorry,” the girl says and goes to close the door, “but whatever it is I’m not interested.”

Izabel puts her hand on the door, stopping it from shutting all the way.

“Are you Olivia Bram?”

The girl freezes with a sharp but quiet gasp; her eye darts back and forth between me and Izabel. It takes her a moment, but she tries to shut the door again. “No. I’m not. My name is Alana. And I’m busy, so you’ll have to excuse me—”

Izabel pushes the door open fully; the girl, startled, stumbles a few steps backward into the dimly lit living room.

“I don’t know who the fuck you are,” she says, almost stuttering, “but you better get out of my apartment or I’m calling security.”

“Your name is Olivia Bram,” Izabel says, moving carefully toward her. “You were kidnapped when you were fifteen years old while on vacation with your parents and you’ve been missing for seven years. We’ve come to take you home.” Izabel reaches out a hand, I guess to calm Olivia because she looks panicked, but Olivia takes another step back. “Your father is here in Italy waiting for you,” Izzy adds.

“My name is Alana,” the girl, who is unmistakably Olivia Bram, says and then reaches for a tiny drawer in the table behind her that holds the lamp.

“Don’t go for the weapon,” I warn her, tapping my index finger on the side of my gun pressed against my thigh. “We’re not here to hurt you, just to take you home.”

“This is my home,” Olivia says, and there’s a bite in her words as she trades fear for defiance. “I’m not going anywhere.” She crosses her arms over her black blouse; the top three buttons have been left undone, revealing her cleavage. She wears a loose-fitting long black skirt that drops to her knees. Her feet are bare.

She lights up a cigarette from the lamp table and moves into the kitchen.

“Your father has been searching for you for years, Olivia,” Izabel says, following behind her.

I do the same, putting my gun away in my pants; I keep my eyes and ears open, especially conscious of the sounds outside of the apartment.

“Well he didn’t look hard enough,” Olivia snaps. She takes a long drag from her cigarette and then adds with smoke streaming from her lips, “I remember the day it happened; I was in the backseat of that goddamned car for ten minutes before they drove off with me, and I watched my mom and dad spend that entire ten minutes looking at shit-tourist-jewelry underneath a vendor’s tent—they didn’t even know. The men who took me knew, as if it happens all the time, that no one would see them sitting there in the open; they knew no one would notice when they snatched me and threw me into the backseat of that car. Because tourists are fucking stupid; they’re so caught up in everything around them they don’t realize the second they step off that plane into a foreign country that they’re being watched, targeted by men just like the ones who took me.” Olivia takes another drag and then she laughs, her bony shoulders moving up and down. She shakes her head. “Those men were so good they had enough time to take another girl from the crowd and shove her into the car with me. Ten minutes. Two girls. Broad daylight. And no one saw a thing. I wondered for a long time how long it took my parents to realize I was missing.” She sets the cigarette in an ashtray, then crosses her arms, smirking at us. “You said my dad has been looking for me all this time? What about my mom?” She snorts. “I guess she gave up? Doesn’t surprise me; she was an emotionally unstable train wreck of a woman anyway.”

“Your mother committed suicide not long after your abduction,” Izabel says.

The smirk disappears from Olivia’s face, and for a second she doesn’t move anything but her eyes. And then she laughs under her breath, trying to hide the pain of such news by covering it up with humor and a what-do-I-fucking-care attitude.


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