“Umm, Fredrik”—she smirks and tilts her head thoughtfully—“this is Wednesday.”

I sigh. “Yeah. I know.”

The smile drops from her face in an instant as she realizes just how serious this is, and how I know full well that I’m risking a lot by telling her anything.

Finally, I pick my cell phone up from the dashboard console and run my finger over the screen to open the live video feed from my basement. Izabel watches me intently while I wait for the video to appear. I watch it for a moment first to see if there’s anything out of the ordinary. Cassia is alone in the room for now, pacing the floor and dragging the chain around her ankle behind her. She’s wearing a thick blue robe over her nightgown that drops to her calves. She looks lost and anxious. I wonder briefly if Greta has been down there with her yet and then conclude that she must have because she had to have taken her breakfast.

I hesitate, collapsing my hand around the phone, and contemplate this whole thing quietly one last time, making sure I want to open the lid on this issue.

I hand Izabel the phone.

Reluctantly, she takes it from my hand and peers down at the screen. After watching a moment, and looking back and forth between me and the feed, she asks, “Who is she?” and then she looks at the screen again.

“Her name is Cassia.”

Another long pause.

Izabel looks up from the phone and at me for a longer time.

“OK,” she says simply, waiting for me to explain.

“That’s a live video feed,” I say. “From my basement.”

Her eyebrows crease with confusion.

“You have a girl in your basement? I don’t understand.”

I sigh heavily, having a difficult time trying to figure out how to tell her. What do I start with? What do I leave out? I have to be careful because Izabel is smart and will pick up on gaps in my story easily.

“I’ve been using her to help me find Seraphina.”

“Using her how?” Already Izabel looks disapproving. “What does she have to do with Seraphina? How long have you had her down there? Wait—.” She stops abruptly and looks at the screen one more time. When she raises her eyes to me again, full of suspicion and criticism, she says, “Is that a chain around her ankle?”

“Yes,” I admit.

Izabel tries to shake off her initial feelings of disapproval to give me the benefit of the doubt. “OK, so you’re interrogating her. She’s involved with Seraphina’s life of betrayal and murder and God knows what else. I get that.” She sets the phone down in the console.

I can tell by the look of uncertainty on her face that she’s not so sure any part of the excuse she just came up with is valid.

“No,” I admit with hesitation. “Cassia is an innocent girl. I’ve been keeping her prisoner in my basement for about a year now. Since five months after the Hamburg and Stephens job went down in New Mexico.”

Izabel freezes.

“A year?” she says aghast. “And she’s innocent? Fredrik, what the hell is wrong with you?”

I shut my eyes softly. “Just calm down and let me explain.”

She takes a deep, concentrated breath and just looks across the small confined space at me. “Victor was right,” she says and it makes my head snap around the rest of the way. “When he sent you home from Seattle, Victor told me that he had suspicions about your involvement with Seraphina, that it’s what’s been distracting you. I didn’t even know she was still alive until the other night, Fredrik.” She shakes her head gently. “Hell, the only reason Victor told me anything at all was because I was so worried about you and the way you’ve been acting lately. But Fredrik, you can’t do this to this girl, no matter what part she plays in Seraphina’s life. Not if she’s innocent. You need to let her go.”

“Izabel,” I say softly, hoping I can make her understand without telling her too much, “Cassia doesn’t want to be let go. She’s terrified of Seraphina. She wants to stay with me.”

Lines deepen in Izabel’s forehead as her brows draw inward.

It takes a moment to get her words together, but she says, “Wants to stay with you? Jesus, Fredrik, she has a chain around her ankle. She’s locked in a basement.” She motions her hands, emphasizing the words, trying to make me understand how ridiculous they sound. “If she wants to stay with you, why would you keep her locked up?”

“It’s just a precaution. In case she tries to escape.” Even to me my own words sound contradictory and stupid.

And judging by the forced smile in Izabel’s eyes, she thinks so, too.

But then her expression shifts suddenly as if a reasonable explanation just crept into her mind. “You’re in love with her,” she accuses and it shocks me a little—I hadn’t expected that, of all things. “You don’t want to let her go because you’re in love with her. It makes sense. And I can see something in you, Fredrik—I could sense something was different about you, and it didn’t feel like anything…bad. Just different.”

I want to say, Izabel, you’re way off the mark here, because what she’s saying is ridiculous, but at the same time it’s a way out. If she thinks the only reason I’m keeping Cassia prisoner is because I’m in love with her it will seem less cruel and Izabel could possibly force herself to live with my decision and keep my secret, even if just for a little while longer, until I can get everything straightened out.

“And she must be in love with you,” she goes on, her face lighting up with realization the more she puts the pieces together. “Stockholm syndrome. Makes perfect sense.”

It actually amazes me how much everything she just said does make sense.

Only thing is, none of it is true.

Izabel leans over the console and pushes herself into view. “But Fredrik, this is crazy, even for you—“

“Oh, well thanks for that,” I cut in with a faint smirk, trying to lighten the mood.

She smiles.

“You know what I mean.”

Of course I do, but I couldn’t help myself.

Then just as quickly as I had managed to inject a joke, I go back to the darkness and turn my eyes away from her, staring through the windshield at the cold, gray day.

“You know that Victor—hell, even I—will help you find Seraphina.” She rests her body against the seat again, still facing me. I don’t look back at her. “I know you think this is something you feel you have to do on your own—I completely get that—but it doesn’t have to be that way. Not at the cost of that innocent girl. Fredrik, why do you need her to find Seraphina?”

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