I shake my head with amazement. “You are one strange woman,” I say, trying not to laugh myself.

“Nah,” she says, “I just have better communication skills.”

I do laugh this time.

“Really?” I say with disbelief and sarcasm. “I’d say your communication skills need some work—you’re too blunt in my opinion. For all the shit you are good at”—I point at her briefly—“communication isn’t one of them.”

Floor eight.

Nora shrugs. “I think so,” she disagrees. “I tell it like it is. Why—forgive the cliché—beat around the fucking bush? I say just get on with it.”

“Get on with it meaning you want to know what Niklas is like in bed?” I can hear the elevator moving closer now, the sound of metal moving against metal. “Well if you’re so pro-getting on with it, I’d assume you’d bypass asking me and just ask Niklas if he’d show you how he fucks.”

Floor nine.

The elevator doors slide open very slowly, revealing the man from the surveillance room a piece at a time.

“Yeah well that’s hard to do when we can’t find him,” Nora says. “Think of this as you and me bonding.”

The plump man in an ill-fitting sloppy suit looks back at us from the elevator with rounded eyes. He reaches for his gun. With my eyes still on Nora, I raise my gun at him and squeeze the trigger. “Bonding?” I say as the heavy weight of the man’s body hits the elevator floor with a thud. A bag of chips and some other vending machine food falls from his hand. I holster my gun in my boot, and Nora and I both each take an ankle and start to drag his body out.

“Well yeah,” she says, struggling with his dead weight as we slide him across the tile floor. The elevator dings and the doors close. “We spend all our time training and taking everything so seriously, I thought it’d be nice to get to know you—what the hell did this guy eat, a Buick?”

“By asking me how Victor is in bed?” I say as if making a statement.

“Sure,” she says with another shrug, drops the leg in the empty office and stands upright. “Why not?”

“Because it’s private,” I say, drop the leg and stand upright too.

We leave the room and make our way to the stairwell.

“And why the interest in Niklas all of a sudden?”

The stairwell door closes behind us with hardly a noise.

“Oh, the interest has been there for a while,” she admits. “I was curious to know when my sister was fucking him—she screamed a lot.”

I raise a brow.

“Like I said, you’re one strange woman.”

We take the stairs quickly to the eighth floor, seeing the tall metal door out ahead.

“There are two men in the hall guarding the entrance to the room,” I hear Victor’s voice in my ear. It stuns me a little this time considering the nature of my and Nora’s conversation, and the fact that for a moment I had forgotten he was listening to everything we were saying. My face flushes with heat.

“And by the way,” Victor adds, “how I fuck Izabel is none of your goddamned business.”

Nora grins at me. I grin back. We burst through the stairwell door with guns drawn and take out both men standing guard before waltzing into the room with our targets as if we own the place.

Because at this point, we kinda do.

Izabel

The room is rife with silence as the targets look back at us from a long table positioned horizontally across the back of the room. Suits. Rolex watches. Clean-shaven. Hair slicked back in a sort of chocolate wave on Pinceri, the man in the center, like some gangster crime boss.  Though he’s no gangster anything—he’s a professional thief.

I move right as Nora moves left, both of us heading straight for the table with our guns pointed at the two men on either side of Pinceri.

Pinceri stands slowly, moving his hands, palms up, out to his sides in a surrendering fashion, though calmer than I expected.

“Now let’s talk about this,” he says in a charming, relaxed voice, the kind of voice that has mastered the art of seducing women. “No need for violence. How about you put the guns down and let’s have a civil conversation.”

A muffled shot sounds. Then an eerie thud and crack as the bullet from Nora’s gun buries in the man’s skull on Pinceri’s right. He falls over in a slump against the table, one arm dangling over the arm of the chair, swaying side to side like a pendulum for a brief moment before it goes still.

“This one’s all yours 53642.70 ¸” Nora prompts me, keeping her gun trained on Pinceri, who seems unaffected by the dead man next to him.

Nora nods to me in Pinceri’s direction.

I move my gun from the man on his left and train it on Pinceri instead, while Nora walks around and past me and toward the table. Pointing her gun at the other target’s face she demands, “Get up,” and he does without hesitation, the apprehensive look on his heavily lined face covered by age and sun damage.

Pinceri remains smooth and undaunted.

There’s not much time, I keep telling myself.

I get right to the point.

“How you answer my question,” I say to a smiling Pinceri, “will determine whether you live or die.”

His smile appears more like a grin now, and he turns his head at an angle, looking at me in a sidelong manner. Then he opens his arms wide out in front of him, palms up, and says, “Well, by all means, grace me with your question.”

The man to Pinceri’s left looks between the three of us, moving only his eyes—he’s terrified, unlike his confident boss whose cool attitude is, I admit, throwing me off a bit. I’m used to fear and bumbling, begging on hands and knees, telling me they’ll give me anything I want, do for me anything I want.

“What name is the Levington Daws account secured under in Sweden?” I ask, watching Pinceri closely over the barrel of my gun pointed at his face. “And who, other than you, has access to it?”

Pinceri’s smile thickens.

“That’s what you’re here for?” he asks, cocking his well-groomed head to the other side.

Thuddup!

The man to Pinceri’s left falls dead onto the floor. Pinceri is unfazed.

Nora takes a new magazine from her belt and reloads her gun.

“Carry on,” she says as she presses her bottom against the massive table, locking the magazine into place.

Pinceri and I lock eyes.

“Yes,” I go on, “that’s what we’re here for.”

“And you think that by killing my two most trusted men,” Pinceri says with poise, “that I’ll just give up that information to you—I can always hire more men.” He smiles. “And you won’t kill me because I’m the only one who can give you what you came here for.” He reaches up with both hands and casually tugs on the lapel of his suit jacket as if to straighten it.

“But are you willing to gamble the same on your wife?” I ask with confidence, holding all the cards.

He doesn’t flinch—maybe just a little, but then again, that could’ve just been me thinking that he should.

“What does my wife have to do with this?”

I grin, even though he can’t see anything of my face other than my eyes, and I take another step toward him.

“Oh, you know how these things work,” I provoke—he may not see the grin on my face, but surely he can hear it in my voice. “You know that if we could make it into this room without setting off any alarms, that we wouldn’t have come here if we weren’t prepared.”

“So, you’re saying you have my wife.” He sighs, not with surrender or concern, but as if he were bored. Then he reaches up and rubs the smoothness of his chin with his fingertips. “Is that the trade: the information for the life of my wife?”

Sensing that maybe he doesn’t believe us, Nora pushes herself from the table and walks down the length of it toward him. Producing a photograph from her boot, she tosses it on the table in front of Pinceri.

He glances down at it, then back up at us, before taking it into his fingers. He studies it for a short moment to confirm that the woman, beaten and bloody and tied to the water pipes in the basement of an abandoned building, is in fact, his wife.

He sets the photograph back down, still unflinching, and the more I stand here with this piece of shit who seems like he doesn’t care about what we’ve done to his wife, the more I want to shoot him on principle. But I have to remind myself that he’s probably just trying to keep his cool, avoiding showing his true concern.

Pinceri smirks gently and clasps his hands together on his backside.

“Now I’ll ask you again,” I say. “What name is the Levington Daws account secured under in Sweden and who has access to it?”

Pinceri smiles.

I grit my teeth.

Nora looks at me from the short distance across the room, but doesn’t say anything—this is my mission, my contract, my hit, and therefore my decisions. Not to mention part of my training, and I know that everything I do and say will not only have consequences, but will be judged. By Nora. By Victor. By everyone.

I put a bullet in Pinceri’s right thigh.

He falls against the tall leather chair behind him, one hand involuntarily grabbing the table for balance; the photograph of his wife sliding away underneath his fingers as he sinks deeper into the leather.


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