I remain unruffled on the outside, but on the inside, his words sting. And he knows this, otherwise he wouldn’t have brought it up.
Bringing my lips to my glass again, I meet François’ eyes from across the table, challenging him to test me further, without having to move a muscle in my face.
He smiles faintly and takes another sip.
I set my glass on the table.
“Well, I must say,” François cuts in, looking down at his food, “if you know all of this, what more would you possibly need from me?”
“I want the key to the safety deposit box in New York,” I say.
The lines around François’ mouth deepen with his smile. He looks up toward the waiter standing at the ready to his left and the waiter goes over to him.
“Please, do us all a kindness and open that bottle of wine that Monsieur Gustavsson was so generous to bring this evening.” He gestures toward the bottle with two fingers.
The waiter does as he is told and sets the opened bottle in the center of the table.
The other four men at the table all place their silverware back onto their plates, knowing that something other than dining is going on now and that they need to remain sharp. All of them wipe their mouths with their cloth napkins after taking a sip from their wine glasses.
François snaps his fingers and a small-framed woman with honey-colored hair pinned to the back of her head steps through a side entrance and scurries over to him. She is exquisite. Vulnerable. Frail. She wears a short black skirt that clings tightly to her hourglass form. I study the gentle slope of her bare neck and the fullness of her plump br**sts underneath the thin white fabric of her blouse. She’s not wearing a bra and her ni**les are like little beads of sex inviting me to devour them.
I would love to break her beneath me.
Briefly, she meets my dark gaze but looks away before François catches her. And in just that small moment, I could sense the tiny jolt between her legs.
“New glasses please, mademoiselle,” he orders and she scurries off to do his bidding.
“You like what you see?” François asks, noticing my attention on her as she leaves the room. “Perhaps I could offer you her services before our meeting comes to a close? I am a generous man, after all. Just because I do not plan to let you walk out of here alive does not mean I cannot treat you to life’s luxuries before you die. Think of it as a parting gift.”
“That won’t be necessary,” I say. “But I appreciate the offer.”
“Well, you should at least eat something,” he says, gesturing at the food in front of me that I haven’t touched.
I shake my head and sigh. “I did not come here to dine, monsieur, as you know. I came here for the key. That is all.”
“Well, you won’t be getting it,” he says and offers another smile.
Then he points to the blond-haired man sitting next to me and says, “Bring me the black box on my desk.”
The man glances at me coldly, drops his napkin on the table and stands up. And as he’s leaving the room, the woman with the honey-colored hair and heat between her legs re-enters the room with six slim wine glasses wedged strategically between her fingers. She sets one in front of each of us, walking over to me last. She takes her time about pulling her slender hand from the glass. I don’t offer her the luxury of my eyes.
François points at her. “Come here,” he says and she walks over to him.
He looks across the table at me in a sidelong glance with a clever look in his eyes. He points at the opened bottle of wine I brought. “He will drink first,” he says indicating me.
The woman takes the bottle and approaches me with it.
“You think I did not anticipate your intentions?” François says waving his hand in a dramatic fashion at the wrist. “I know more about you than just your…mishap…in San Francisco. Killing that woman. That innocent woman.” I’m seething beneath my skin, but I can stay calm. Taunting me in this way only shows François’ true level of worry. “I know all about you.” He grins maliciously and instantly I get the feeling he hasn’t brought out the big guns yet, that he knows something worse about me that I did not expect him to know.
For the first time since I walked through those mansion doors, I’m unsure of my next move. But I can keep my calm. It takes much more than the provoking words of a dying man to trigger me.
The woman pours the wine into my glass and steps over to the side.
Seeing that I’m not going to ask François exactly what else he knows, he proceeds to tell me anyway.
“I’ve heard of your past.” He takes another sip of the wine he’s been drinking since before dinner began. “About how you got that nickname of yours.” He rubs the fingertips of one hand together and looks up in thought. “What was it? Ah, yes, I remember now. They called you the little jackal. A scavenger boy. Rabid and worthless.”
I’m going to enjoy watching him die.
I pretend to be unaffected and simply raise my brows inquisitively. “Seems to me you’re trying to buy time.” I glance briefly at my Rolex. “You don’t have much left, I’m afraid.”
François chuckles and smiles at me with teeth. He leans forward against the table and relaxes both arms across it. The blond-haired man re-enters the dining room with a glossy black box that fits in the palm of his hand. He places it on the table in front of François.
Without taking his eyes off me, François opens the box and removes a gold key dangling from a thick gold chain.
He holds it up in the light so that I may see it.
“I do not fear you, monsieur,” he says as he opens his suit jacket and carefully drops the key into his hidden breast pocket. “I did want to give you an opportunity to, perhaps, negotiate your terms. But you really do possess more confidence than any man should.” His deep-set light-colored eyes drop from mine and fall on the new wine glass in front of me. “Why don’t you do the honors and drink from the wine you brought.” He smiles vindictively and brushes his hand in the air toward me, urging me to drink it. “That is what you expected, isn’t it?”
The dark-haired man on my left suddenly appears uncomfortable, shifting on his chair with a look of agitation. He reaches up and slides his index finger behind the neck of his dress shirt and moves it back and forth, trying to pull the fabric from his sweating skin. His face is growing pale and sickly.
François looks at him with little concern. “Is something wrong?”