I remove a syringe from my coat pocket and pull the protective cap off the tip of the needle.

“No…w-wait a goddamn minute! Y-You haven’t even asked me anything! You haven’t given me a chance to talk!”

I don’t want you to talk.

Dorian’s eyebrows crease as he looks at me questioningly.

“Let’s see what he has to say first,” Dorian speaks up, waving his gun at Woodard who keeps looking at the barrel apprehensively, worried it’s going to go off. “There’s a lot of shit to go through, Gustavsson. If the guy is willing to talk, I’m all for listening.”

“Yeah…,” Woodard agrees, hoping I’ll do the same, his eyes jerking back and forth between us.

Suddenly, he looks as though he was slapped in the face. His beady eyes grow wider and his breathing begins to elevate.

He points a shaky, pudgy finger at me.

“Gustavsson? Y-You’re Fredrik Gustavsson…t-the one they call the Specialist?” His big head begins to shake side to side, over and over. “No…I-I’ll tell you anything you want to know. But I don’t have anything to hide. If I’d known who you worked for—shit, if I’d known who you were—I’d have let you in at the door. No questions asked. I’d have made you f**king soup!”

“There’s nothing to tell,” I say, though I’m pulling straws here. “We already know what you’ve been selling and to whom. There’s no coming back from that.” I just need him to shut the f**k up. I need to interrogate and kill him. I need Cassia to see it. “Stand up.”

Woodard looks to Dorian for help, seeing as how he was the one of us willing to give him more time. Lucky for Woodard, Dorian doesn’t like paperwork and this big house full of files he’ll have to sift through when I leave is the only thing keeping Woodard alive right now. In any other case, Dorian would’ve blown his brains against that hideous tapestry curtain behind him already.

“Five minutes,” Dorian suggests. “Come on, man, you know I’m all about taking them out quick, but he’s ready to talk.”

Woodard nods furiously, his hands gripping the edges of the chair arms, his double-chin moving like Jell-O.

I sigh heavily and drop my hands at my sides, the syringe filled with a cocktail that would’ve put Woodard to sleep long enough to get him back to my house quietly, dangles from my fingertips.

“Three minutes,” I say.

“O-OK…three minutes,” Woodard stutters. “I’m not a traitor.”

“So, you’re a liar,” Dorian says from beside me.

“No.” Woodard shakes his head. “I did sell information to Marion Callahan, the guy who dropped me off in the parking lot. But—”

“Sounds like a traitor to me,” Dorian adds and then raises his gun, pointed right at Woodard.

I reach out and place my hand on the cold steel, lowering it. The last thing I need is for Dorian to kill my victim and leave me with no one to put in my chair. Or, the gun to go off that close to my ear and make me go deaf.

“Clock’s ticking,” I say to Woodard.

He puts up his hands momentarily and then drops them on the tops of his legs covered by khaki pants.

“I wanted to prove to the new bossman that I’m worth keeping,” Woodard says. “Because I knew I was on my way out the first day Norton was killed and you guys took over. Look at me. I’m not necessarily considered an asset at first glance. And I couldn’t get a face-to-face meeting with the new boss.” He sighs. Already, I’m feeling a wave of disappointment beginning to wash over me. “Marion Callahan approached me outside my house, where my wife and daughters sleep for Christ’s sake, and told me that if I could get him information on the new boss and his operations, they’d secure me a top level position in their outfit. N-Not as a killer, of course,”—he smiles squeamishly—“I’m useless in the field. Never killed anyone in my life—w-well, once, but it was an accident.”

“Two minutes,” I remind him.

He nods and goes on:

“I met with Callahan twice and gave him two flash drives. Bogus information. Nothing on those drives is real. False names. False locations. Hell, I even made up details of a mission that never happened.”

“Why would you do that?” I ask.

As much as I need to deal with Cassia, I equally need to deal with this. It is my job, after all, and I could never bring myself to give Victor Faust less than one hundred percent of my effort.

“Because I looked into Callahan,” Woodard says. “I know my way around computers and information. I have backdoor access to FBI, CIA, Interpol—shit, I can get information on anyone from any database. But Callahan, he wasn’t in any databases. None. I took his fingerprints from the business card he gave me. I ran him against everything for two weeks. Nothing.”

“Well, that’s not entirely unusual,” I point out. “Given his profession.”

Woodard stands from the chair, so deep in thought that he probably doesn’t even notice. I let him. Dorian does, too, but keeps his gun at the ready down at his side. Woodard begins to pace, stopping every few seconds to look back at us, gesturing his hands intensely as he explains.

“Come on,” he says as if we should know better, “there’s always some kind of record, even if it’s hidden on a Girl Scouts application. No one is a ghost. Not like this guy.”

“So then he’s using a fake name and his prints have never been recorded,” Dorian says, getting as impatient as I was moments ago. “So f**king what. That doesn’t prove anything other than he’s good if there’s no record of him.”

Woodard smiles chillingly. “Not if he’s a Boss.”

That gets our attention.

Dorian and I look at each other briefly.

“Do you have any proof?” I ask.

“No,” Woodard says. “But think about it, the ones at the top of the food chain, they’re the most protected. They have no ties to anyone other than their right-hand men and their gatekeepers. They trust no one and they kill at the first sign of betrayal or suspicion. It’s why the bosses are harder to find.” Woodard points at me, still smiling darkly. “Have you ever seen Vonnegut?” he asks and it surprises me that he knows anything about my former employer, or that he was my employer at all.

“No,” I answer. “Not face-to-face.”

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