The dark-haired man stands from the table. “Forgive me, monsieur, but I am not feeling well. Perhaps I should sit the rest of the evening out.”

François nods and waves him away.

The man pushes his chair out and steps away from the table, grasping his napkin in his hand. He wipes the sweat from his forehead with it as he leaves, stumbling just before he rounds the corner and disappears from sight.

“I’m certainly glad I didn’t eat the food,” I say with a raised brow. Touching the edge of my plate with my finger, I push it away from me.

The other men, including François, look down at their plates simultaneously and then toss their napkins on top of the leftovers. Two waiters act immediately to remove the food from the table.

François looks irritated, as if he’s already addressing the issue in his mind of firing his head chef as soon as this is over.

“Why don’t you have a drink?” he suggests, getting back to the matter at hand. “Or, did you forget?” He points at my glass.

“What, you think I poisoned it?” I ask.

François smiles and steeples his hands again. He looks at me knowingly.

“I would like for you to drink the wine,” he repeats, ready to get this over with.

All eyes are on me. The three men left at the table. François. One waiter standing against the wall behind him. The woman with honey-colored hair standing in wait on François’ right.

Finally, I nod and curl my index and middle fingers around the stem of the glass. Hesitantly, I bring the glass to my lips and slowly take a drink. As I’m doing this, I notice another one of the men starting to show signs of distress.

François only notices me.

“Drink it all,” François instructs.

“As you wish.” A grin tugs the corners of my lips just before I touch them with the glass.

A hard thump sounds from the area on the other side of the wall where the dark-haired man went just moments ago. A woman’s scream pierces the air, followed by shouts in French:

“Call an ambulance!”

“Monsieur Bertrand has collapsed!”

Clearly rethinking this whole situation, François’ eyes dart back and forth between me and the other men. But then he can only look at them when he realizes they are also sick. One collapses from the table, the chair that had been holding up his weight knocked onto its side.

François looks right at me, his deeply lined eyes wide with worry and rage.

“What have—,” he shoots up from his chair and points at me with a bony finger. “You did this! How did you do this? You will tell me!”

He clutches his chest and falls back into the chair.

Another man stumbles away from his chair and collapses on the floor, vomiting and convulsing.

Gun shots sound outside the mansion.

The waiter standing against the wall tucks his tail between his legs and takes off running. The sound of glass shattering and metal trays clanking against the marble floors echoes throughout the halls.

“Bastard!” François shouts, still pointing a finger at me while he tries desperately to cling onto the edge of the table with the other hand. His face is turning colors, a very nice shade of burgundy and ash. I’ll have to remember that when I buy my next tie.

I stand from my chair and casually straighten my black Armani suit, tugging both sides of the lapel. Then I take up the glass of wine I brought as a gift and I drink the rest of it down in front of him, setting the empty glass back on the table. François watches with horror, barely holding onto his life. Then I take the other glass of wine into my hand, the one I never really drank from but only pretended to, and I approach him with it. His eyes dart back and forth. He tries to reach into his jacket to grab his gun but he begins to vomit instead. I stop and wait, not wanting to get any of it on my shoes. François chokes and throws his head back, pressing his back against the chair. He gasps for air to fill his lungs with, but it just won’t come, and he falls over forward onto the table, his cheek pressed into the expensive wood grain.

He is already dead before I can tell him how I did it, how I managed to poison a bottle of wine that I never touched.

More gunshots sound outside. And they’re getting closer.

I set the glass down beside the balding spot in the top of his head and then I grab him by the shoulders, pulling his dead weight away from the table. His eyes are wide open. Lifeless. His vomit-laced mouth remains open partway in a ghastly display. His tongue is swollen.

I reach inside his hidden breast pocket and retrieve the safety deposit box key, afterwards slipping it down inside my own pocket. In a way, François did freely give me the key. I simply needed to know where it was and he played right into my hands with his arrogance by revealing it to me.

“You did well,” I say to the woman with the honey-colored hair still standing in the same spot near François’ chair.

She smiles…no, she blushes, and glances briefly at the floor. So demure. So fragile. So fake. So willing to do anything that a man asks her to do when promised enough cocaine and sex to send her into oblivion for the next week.

Suddenly, she doesn’t look so shy anymore, but rather needy and quite repulsive. Such a pity, really, I looked forward to f**king her later. She crosses her arms over her large br**sts and swallows nervously. Her little green eyes move back and forth at each of the dining room entrances. Staff are still running frantically through the mansion.

“Where is it?” she asks anxiously about the cocaine.

She rubs her hands up and down against her arms.

Just then, as the last of the gun shots abate, Dorian Flynn, known by Izabel Seyfried as the ‘blond-haired, blue-eyed devil’, walks into the room with his 9MM down at his side.

The woman jumps at the sight of him and springs over next to me.

“Did you get it?” Dorian asks.

I nod subtly.

Dorian’s short, blond, spiky hair, I notice has blood in it. I c**k my head to the side inquisitively.

“Can you ever get through a mission without making such a mess?”

“Fuck no,” he says. “I like a f**king mess.” Then he smirks and adds agitatedly, “Can you ever get through a mission without lingering? I’d like to leave before the police get here.”

“Hey, wait a minute!” the woman says, stepping from beside me. “What about me?” She crosses her arms and glares at Dorian, but then looks to me for the answer. “You’re not leaving until I get what you promised me.”

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