“As I was saying,” Victor goes on, “I’ll be dealing with Callahan on my own. If he’s an order leader, I’ll be the one taking him out. This will be Woodard’s chance to prove to me that he’s an asset to us. And if he doesn’t, I’ll kill him myself.”

Woodard’s throat moves nervously as he swallows.

I take the opportunity to further the discussion on our mission, sliding the photo of the man coming out of the daycare center, into the center of the table.

I tap it with my finger. “The guy allegedly molested a five-year-old girl,” I point out. “What’s he doing anywhere near a daycare center, much less leaving one?”

“He wasn’t convicted of the crime,” Victor says. His steepled hands fall away from the table as he rests his back comfortably in the chair. “Guilt could not be proven.”

“Lemme guess,” Dorian says, leaning forward and folding his hands together on the table, “parents of the five-year-old girl are the clients. Fuck yeah. I like their style. Nothing I wouldn’t do if some greasy motherfucker touched my daughter.” He pauses and then adds, “Well, actually I’d kill the piece of shit myself.”

Niklas pulls a cigarette from the pack and slides it between his lips, but doesn’t light it. He leans back in his chair, interlocking his hands together behind his head. “What about the woman?” he asks.

“She’s the girlfriend,” Victor says and then looks at me. “And the reason he’s coming out of a daycare center is because he just dropped off their eighteen-month-old daughter.”

A series of deep sighs moves lightly around the table.

“I don’t like this already,” Izabel says. She leans against the back of her chair and crosses one leg over the other, afterwards her arms.

“Are both parents targets?” I ask.

“No,” Victor says. “Just the man. His name is Paul Fortright. The girlfriend, Kelly Bennings.”

“OK, but why do all four of us need to take care of this?” Dorian asks. “I’m pretty sure any one of us can handle this one guy.”

“And you could,” Victor says. “But we’re not the only organization that the client employed to get the job done. The one to pull it off first is the one that gets paid.”

Niklas’s face spreads into a grin. “A competition. That’s my kind of work.”

“Hmmm”—Dorian rubs the underside of his chin with the edge of his index finger, in thought—“so because the stakes are so high, does this mean we kill whoever gets in our way? Rival operatives included?”

“Especially rival operatives,” Victor confirms. “The payday is twenty thousand—not a lot—but the money isn’t why I took on this job.”

“You took it because of the rival organization,” Izabel assumes. “It’s the perfect opportunity to draw them from the shadows.”

“Precisely,” Victor says.

“What happened to recruiting members of other organizations?” Dorian asks. “Don’t we need numbers?”

“We have numbers,” I speak out and Victor nods, confirming that I’m on the right track. “And if recruiting is the only thing we demonstrate, other rival organizations will begin to fear us less, leaving only the leaders and their right hand men and women looking over their shoulders.”

“Yes,” Victor says. “It’s time we start taking entire groups out and sending a message. In the past year after taking over the black market orders that we have, we’ve come across too many who have no loyalty. They’ll sell out their leaders and their entire organization at the drop of a few thousand dollars. I want future recruits to want to work for us, not because of how much they’re paid, and not only because of loyalty, but because they know we are the most dangerous and the most intolerant.”

All heads around the table, including Woodard’s, nod simultaneously in agreement.

Victor stands from the chair and straightens his suit jacket.

“There is a kill preference,” he says, “though ours is different from our rivals. It’s how the clients will know which of us got there first.” He pushes his chair underneath the table and stands behind it. “A single shot to the back of the head,” he adds.

“Well, that counts me out,” Izabel says disappointed. “I’d love to kill me some child molester.”

“Sorry, Izzy,” Niklas taunts, knowing she hates his nickname for her, “but you’re not the best shot at the Round Table.”

“Shut the f**k up, Niklas,” she snaps. “I could always practice on you.”

Niklas smirks and places the unlit cigarette between his lips again.

Victor’s eyes shut momentarily, appearing as though he has suddenly acquired a mild headache.

Then he looks over at me.

“The offer stands,” he says. “You can be notified if you’re needed. They may have no problem finding Paul Fortright without the girlfriend. She’s just a backup plan that likely won’t be utilized.”

I shake my head. “I’ll go just in case,” I say and stand up as well. “Besides, I’ll feel better about already being there if I’m needed, especially if we have competition.”

Victor nods, accepting my decision and probably agreeing with it. It strikes me somewhat odd that he would leave this decision up to me with so much at stake. That’s not like Victor Faust. While although he’s not a selfish, tyrant leader and he takes our well-being into careful consideration at all times, it’s still not like him to allow me such freedom on a job like this.

“All the information you need,” Victor says, looking at each of us in turn, “is in the envelope. Keep me updated on all events. I’ll see you in no more than three days.”

Everyone else stands from the table, all except for Woodard who isn’t sure what to do. His beady eyes dart around at all of us, taking in what’s expected of him by watching, and finally he follows suit.

“James Woodard,” Victor says and jerks his head back subtly, “come with me.”

Woodard swallows nervously again and stumbles around his chair as he walks away from the table. That guy’s going to have to grow a pair soon if he expects to survive with us, even if all he’s destined to do is sit behind a computer screen and be our eyes and ears over the information waves.

By midday, I’m on a plane to Seattle and although normally I would be able to think of nothing but the anticipation of a possible interrogation, Cassia is all that’s on my mind.

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