“Probably better off,” she says, shaking her head.

She takes the cigarette up again and smokes it down before crushing what’s left of it in the ashtray.

“Like I said,” she begins, “this is my home, and I’m not going anywhere. I have everything I need here; people who protect me and care about me—”

“These people don’t give a shit about you,” Izabel cuts her off. “And they only protect you because you’re one of their moneymakers. What do you think is going to happen to you when you get older, and the high-paying customers want someone younger to fulfill their sick fetishes? You think the Morettis are just going to keep paying your housing and putting food on your table when you stop bringing in profits?”

“I don’t expect to live that long,” Olivia comes back; a little smile slips up on her lips. “Fuck growing old—my tits won’t be sagging to my knees when I die. I’m going to die beautiful and strong and sexual—I’m going to go out the same way I lived. And I still have plenty of time.” She sashays her hips as she approaches Izabel, stopping in front of her and reaching out to touch Izabel’s face.

Izzy lets her.

“Don’t know what the fuck happened to your hair,” Olivia says, smoothing her fingers down Izabel’s cheek. “But you’re beautiful. I could fix it for you; I could do a lot of things for you”—she glances at me and smiles—“for both of you, if you’ll let me.”

“We’re here to help you,” Izabel says, desperation in her voice drowning in fading hope.

Olivia’s fingers slide down Izzy’s neck, her shoulder. “He could fuck me while you sit on my face,” she says, leans in and tries to kiss Izzy, but Izzy pushes her away carefully.

Olivia throws her head back and laughs, then walks away, past me and back into the living room toward the front door. “I think you two should leave,” she says, placing her hand on the doorknob. “I have a client in twenty minutes.”

I move past Izzy and step right up to Olivia, grinding my teeth.

“You’re coming with us,” I demand. “If I have to throw you over my shoulder—”

“Niklas,” I hear Izzy’s voice from behind; her hand falls on my shoulder, “we need to go.”

“Yeah, we will,” I say, “as soon as this girl puts some fucking shoes on—”

“No,” Izzy says gently, and my stiff shoulders soften into a disheartened slump. “She’s broken and there’s nothing we can do to help her.”

“She’s right,” Olivia says, smirking; she turns the knob and opens the door. “You should be on your way; go play the hero to someone who wants to be saved. I don’t. I enjoy my life. And I’ll slit my wrists the right way before I let anybody ever take me away from my life ever again.”

I glance at her wrist, the one holding the door open, and see that she’s no stranger to attempted suicide: one scar stretches horizontally from one side to the other, and all I can think about is how these people went to the trouble to save her life just so they could make money off of her. She must’ve done it long before she was placed into service—maybe the scar was what got her thrown into service. How long did it take her to accept what her life had become, and to stop wanting to end it? How long was it before her strength left her and she gave herself over fully to these people, forgetting who she was? And then I imagine Izabel…no, I imagine Sarai, imprisoned in Mexico for most of her young life. But she’s still here. She fought and she won—she truly is the strongest person I’ve ever known.

Izabel and I step out into the hall.

“Don’t tell my dad that you found me,” Olivia says. “If he comes here, he’ll only end up getting himself killed. And besides, I don’t want to see him. I never want to see him again. That life is over.” And then she shuts the door in our faces; the metal lock on the other side slides back into place.

I don’t say anything on the drive back to the plane, but my silence isn’t only because we couldn’t help Olivia Bram. All kinds of shit is going through my head, from the few people I care about, to the many I don’t. And even on the plane, soaring over the ocean, I keep to myself. Nora asks me once about that ‘trying again’ suggestion, but I brush her off and she doesn’t seem to care. Izabel wants to talk to me, but she’s afraid to say anything. And it’s better that way. I can’t talk to her right now; least of all people Izzy.

When I set out on this mission, I thought maybe I could find it in me to somehow forgive my brother. I wanted to. Because he’s the only thing I have in the world. But I just couldn’t do it. And I know I never will—some things just can’t be forgiven. Will he kill me for what I’ve done? Nah. It’s not like I ratted him out to outsiders—I just kicked over his fucking sandcastle is all. He’ll build a new one. And I might just kick that one over too.

Izabel

Home has never felt so good; gone just a few days, it felt more like weeks and if I never see that place again, I won’t complain.

James Woodard is the first person I see when the three of us—including Niklas, which makes me nervous—walk into the building at our Boston headquarters. He looks better than when I saw him last, not as sickly.

“Everything all right?” I ask.

He steps up to me with a laptop tucked underneath his arm. “Much better,” he answers. “Thought I was having a heart attack shortly after you left; rushed to the hospital and found out I’m just stressed out.” He laughs. “The doctor asked me what I did for a living and I said ‘I work for an underground assassination organization; I’m their information guy’, and the doctor laughed and said, ‘Well my suggestion is that you tell your boss to give you a few days off or he’s gonna kill you too.’”

I chuckle.

“Victor’s upstairs in his office,” he tells me. “He’s waiting for you.”

I swallow hard, steady my breath, try to calm my nerves. James and I look at Niklas at the same time, probably both thinking the same thing: Is one of them going to kill the other? So much for steady breath and calm nerves.

“What happened to your hair?” James says.

I touch my hair and pose as if showing it off. “I got a haircut; don’t you like it?” I just smile.

Niklas pushes past us and heads straight for the elevator; Nora and I follow.

“Niklas, please don’t do anything you’ll regret,” I plead as the elevator takes us up.

“It’s probably best if you leave me alone with my brother.”

“No, it’s not,” I say. “I’m going in there with you.”

“Afraid he’s going to kill me?” Niklas smirks.

Yes…a small part of me is afraid, but I don’t know why.

“No,” I say, because the larger part believes he won’t. “I just want to be there.”

When we step off the elevator, the hallway feels shorter than usual; in no time at all we’re coming upon the meeting room double doors and my heart is pounding violently against my ribs. Niklas wastes no time, pushes one door open and goes right in, either unafraid of Victor’s retribution, or fully prepared to counter it—I think it’s both.

Niklas is the only person Victor acknowledges when we enter the room. He stands from the elongated meeting table, leaves his hands on the top of it, his back arched.

“Niklas.” Victor nods.

“Victor.” Niklas nods.

The tension in the room is already suffocating me.

“Izabel, Nora, I need you to step outside.” Victor’s voice is calm, but it feels ominous. He still doesn’t look at either one of us.

Great. I knew this was going to happen.

“Victor—”

“Now.”

Finally his eyes meet mine from across the long table, and in them is something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. A chill slithers up the back of my neck. No more words are needed; Nora and I turn on our heels and leave immediately.

Niklas

Victor’s hands slide away from the table as he straightens his back and stands upright. For a long time he doesn’t say anything; and for a long time neither do I. Oh, I have plenty to say to my brother—I want to punch him in the face—but he’s going to be the one to start, the one who sets the tone. Because I know if left up to me, only one of us will walk out of this room alive. And since I love my brother too much to ever kill him, it’ll probably be Victor.

He sits back down at the head of the table.

I sit on the table and light up a cigarette. He hates it when I smoke inside. Do I give a fuck?

“I suspected when you agreed to go on this mission,” he begins, “that you had every intention in wrecking it; it is the only reason you went.”

I smirk. Take a drag. Nod. Listen. Let him get it all out. Smirk some more.

“But I wanted to give you a chance,” he says. “I had hoped you would come to your senses. Instead, you managed to not only kill the target and cost us three million dollars, but you used the client’s money on a girl who was not even his daughter, and since there clearly is no Olivia Bram to show for it, that money has to be replaced by me.” He rests his back against the seat and sighs lightly. “I have to say, Brother, I expected more from you, and all I got was a tantrum.”


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