“But you’re going to make her hate you, Victor.”
“That is the last thing I want,” I say, staring off at nothing, thinking of Izabel—my only weakness. “But just like I told her, I would do anything to protect her.”
“Is that—protecting her—the only thing this is about? I’m telling you, Victor, my way is much easier.”
I look at Nora coldly.
“Your way, Kessler, is not an option. We may be looking into the same mirror, you and me, but we are not the same person.”
“Maybe not,” she says, “but if you really love her the way you say you do, then your way of dealing with things is only going to cause you a lot of unnecessary pain. And it’ll never go away, because it’ll always be there, staring you in the face. Are you strong enough to handle that?”
I do not answer, not only because this is not a conversation I feel comfortable having with Kessler, but because I simply do not know the answer.
She stands from the chair.
“Unless there’s anything else you need,” she says, “I’d like to go to my apartment and get some sleep.”
“No, that will be all for now.”
She starts to walk away, stops and then says, “Dorian’s dead, isn’t he?”
She pauses, chewing on the inside of her mouth—a nervous gesture much like mine with the folder moments ago. But then she shrugs it off, smiles and says, “Better him than me,” and leaves quickly.
I lock the file folder away inside my briefcase, along with its secrets.
Jackie plops her half-naked ass down beside me on the bed. She’d started to strip the second she walked into the room—the woman is almost as horny as I usually am. “Not sure what you brought me here for, if not to get laid, but I’m glad you called.”
I get up from the bed, burning cigarette wedged between my lips, and I open my duffle bag on the table by the window.
“Holy shit! Is that—?”
I toss a stack of one hundred dollar bills to her, and then a second. And then a third.
“Fifty thousand dollars,” I say. “Give or take a little.”
Jackie stares at the money in her hands, wide-eyed, high on the color green; someone like her has probably never seen a thousand dollars all at one time, much less held fifty.
“What the fuck?”—she looks up at me—“where’d you get this?”
“I worked for it.” I plop back down beside her on the bed, crossing my ankles. “It’s yours.”
She blinks, stunned. “What do you mean? You can’t be serious.” And then she surprises me when she starts to shove the money into my lap, shaking her head. “No, I-I, Niklas I can’t take this.”
“Sure you can,” I insist, pushing her hands away, the money still in them. “And you will. Because you deserve it.”
“Hey, now that’s not…Niklas, I thought you never paid for sex.” She grins. And blushes like a fucking kewpie doll—I really have no idea what a kewpie doll is, if it blushes, or where that reference came from.
I laugh and then reach over to set the cigarette in the ashtray. “Damn woman, you think so highly of yourself that I’d pay you fifty thousand dollars for, what, ten or so nights with you?”
She slaps me on the arm. “Asshole!” she laughs. “Well I just meant—”
“I’m not giving you the money for the sex,” I tell her. “I just want you to get yourself out of that shithole of an apartment of yours; buy yourself something nice; maybe take that niece of yours to Disneyland, or whatever little kids like to do—that Harry Potter fuckin’ wonderland, I don’t know—just go out and have a good time.”
She’s not smiling anymore, just looking at me like she doesn’t know what to do or say.
“I don’t understand.” She wipes a tear from her face.
“Hey, none of that emotional shit,” I tell her. “It makes me uncomfortable.” She smiles and I reach out and wipe another tear from her face, and then I smile too. “I just think you’re a good friend, Jackie, and those are kind of hard to find.”
She lays her head on my thigh.
“Who knew?” she says, a playful gleam in her eye.
“Who knew what?”
“That a man whore and asshole like you could be so…sweet.”
I wrap my hand in her hair, pulling her head from my leg. “You ever fucking call me sweet again—”
“What are you gonna do?” she taunts. “Sweet, sweet, sweet Niklas.”
I crawl on top of her, pull off her panties.
“I do whatever I want,” I say and kiss her hard and then go down between her legs.
I do whatever I want…because I’m my own person. And I’ll fight for whatever I need to make me whole. Whoever I need to make me whole.