It turns out that Woodard was telling the truth about Marion Callahan, the man he was selling false information to, which in turn almost got him killed.

Victor sits at the head of the table where he always sits, between Izabel and Niklas. I’m of higher rank than Izabel and would normally sit to Victor’s left, but seeing as she’s the one sleeping with him and might cut me if I argue with her about it, I don’t mind so much the demotion in seating arrangements.

The room is dimly lit with dark, dingy walls and a single exposed light bulb set in the high ceiling. There are no windows and the entire place reeks of mold and water damaged walls. It’s but one of dozens of bases scattered all over the United States that we use to conduct business and hold meetings just like this one.

I crack a smile at Izabel, hoping to deter her from digging deeper into my head.

“That’s a fake smile if I’ve never seen one,” she says, calling me out. “Seriously, what’s goin’ on with you?”

“I just haven’t had much sleep the past few days.” I refrain from looking her in the eyes. If anyone at this table can detect a lie other than myself, it’s Izabel. She is, after all, a master of manipulation and deceit.

“If you need to sit this mission out,” Victor speaks up, “you’re free to do so, and you’ll only be contacted if an interrogation is needed.”

“No,” I say right away because I want to be as far away from Cassia as I can be. “I’m good to go. I’ll get some shuteye on the flight out.” I glance back down at the photos of a man and a woman taken outside of restaurants, convenience stores, and one of the man coming out of a daycare center, which is disturbing on so many levels. “Besides, I have a feeling that this woman, if we don’t get to the man before her, won’t give him up.”

“What makes you think that?” Izabel asks simply with curiosity.

I glance at the fair-haired woman in the photo standing outside a restaurant, carrying a fountain drink in one hand and a small purse in the other.

“I don’t know exactly,” I say peering down at the target, “but she’s got that look. They’ll likely need me. She won’t be easy to break.”

Woodard’s chair legs scrape annoyingly against the floor as he adjusts his seating position. All eyes shift to him. He smiles dopily across the table at me and reaches a hand up to push his glasses over the bridge of his nose with the tip of his pudgy finger.

“I suppose you’ve been interrogating people long enough to see these kinds of things,” he says with admiration that makes me uncomfortable. “I really admire your work. I-I mean, not that I’m a sadistic freak with a hard-on for that kind of stuff, b-but I just mean how you’re able to break anyone.” His smile gets bigger, revealing his lightly-yellowed teeth. “It’s impressive.”

Dorian, sitting next to him, tries to suppress a smile. Niklas, on the other side of Dorian, raises a brow and grins at me.

“Sounds like someone does have a hard-on for you Gustavsson,” Niklas jests.

“Damn, man,” Dorian says looking over at Woodard, “could you be more obvious?”

“H-Hey, I’m just giving credit where credit is due,” Woodard tries to cover himself. “I’ve heard things about the Specialist for years.” He points at me now as if something jumped in his mind. “I’ve always wanted to ask you, why do they call you the Jackal?”

My teeth crash together behind my closed lips.

I turn to Victor.

“Why is he here, exactly?” I ask.

“You should probably shut the f**k up,” Dorian tells Woodard.

“Y’know, that’s actually a good question, about what he’s doing here,” Izabel says to Victor. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea letting him see your face. We don’t even know him.”

“And I don’t like him,” Niklas adds and Woodard appears quietly offended.

I’ve noticed the entire time we’ve been in this meeting that Niklas’s hand often twitches over the pack of Marlboro reds on the table in front of him. I’m mildly surprised he hasn’t said, Fuck it, and lit one up already, but he has more respect for his brother and leader, Victor Faust. At least until the nicotine eventually wins out.

Victor sits quietly and seemingly unperturbed by everyone talking around him, but when they realize they should let him speak, the table gets quiet and all eyes shift his way.

“Woodard is here because I want him to see my face,” Victor announces. He steeples his hands in front of him. “Marion Callahan is unaware that we’re onto him. I’ll be using Woodard to feed Callahan information that I want him to have. But it’s nothing any of you should concern yourself with. Seattle is your priority. I’ll handle this situation with Callahan while you’re gone.”

Izabel’s auburn head snaps around.

“I don’t like that, Victor,” she says demandingly. “Sending all of us away while you—”

“I’ve been doing this longer than anyone in this room,” Victor cuts in, retaining his unruffled composure. “No disrespect, Izabel, but I’m very capable of taking care of myself.”

Izabel’s nose crinkles on one side. I pretend not to have noticed. Obviously, Victor isn’t pleased with her ‘lover’s worries’ being thrown on the table like that for all of us to see. Victor is all business when business is being conducted. Izabel, although she knows this, still hasn’t quite grasped it yet. She may never.

Relationships are quite f**king ridiculous.

“Hey, I’m trustworthy,” Woodard speaks out offensively. “Don’t be so quick to—” A scraping noise pierces the air as Woodard nearly falls out of his chair when Izabel leans across the table in her tight black pants and buries the tip of her knife in the wood in front of him. His dark, beady eyes grow wide in the sockets and his double-chin rears back.

“Nobody asked you,” Izabel growls. She pulls the knife from the table and slowly slides back into her seat.

Woodard, as stiff as a statue, moves only his eyes to look at Victor.

Victor shrugs. “Don’t look at me,” he says nonchalantly. “If she wants to kill you, I won’t stop her. So, perhaps you should mind your tongue.”

Woodard slinks against the back of his seat and drops his short arms from the table placing his hands in his lap.

Dorian and Niklas can’t stop grinning. I just shake my head.

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