Growing more anxious every passing second, Dorian takes things quickly into his hands. He raises his gun and a shot zips through the room. The woman falls against the marble floor with a bullet in her temple.
“Fucking druggie bitch,” he says and jerks his head back. “Let’s go.”
I dust off my suit and step over her body.
I’m back in Baltimore the next day, waiting for my employer and friend, Victor Faust, to arrive. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and it has been difficult to refrain from going into the basement. I usually visit her long before the afternoon hours, but today is a different day and sometimes things must be done out of order.
She gets very distraught when she doesn’t see me for a long time. It kills me to leave her like that, but she understands that my job requires much of my time and attention. But I make it up to her the best I can. And she always forgives me.
Besides, she is also a job—a private and very personal one—and no matter what my responsibilities are to Victor Faust, I make time to spend with her. There has been progress and I’d hate to lose any of it by being away from her for too long.
After a late lunch, I’m sitting in the kitchen with my laptop open on the bar when Victor arrives.
“It’s good to see you.” I offer him a smile at the front door and gesture him inside.
Victor takes a seat in the den in one of two black leather chairs with carved wooden legs—imported from Italy—beside a matching wooden table. I take the one opposite him.
Reaching into the pocket of my white dress shirt, I retrieve the key I acquired from France and set it on the round table between us.
Victor leaves it there for the moment, his eyes only skirting it.
“I take it Moreau wasn’t very cooperative,” he says.
He sits with his arms resting across the length of the chair arms, the sleeve of his black suit jacket barely covering the thick silver watch he wears on his right wrist.
I smirk and shake my head.
“Monsieur François Moreau was exactly as you said he’d be. A stubborn and overly confident bastard.” I motion two fingers in front of me when I see my maid, Greta, enter the room. “Please, get my guest and I a…,” I glance over at Victor.
“A beer would be fine,” he says.
I hold up two fingers to Greta. “Two Guinness’.”
She nods her gray head and slips into the kitchen.
Victor finally takes the safety deposit box key from the table between us, sliding it carefully across the shiny wooden surface. He examines it closely, the gold chain draped across the backs of his fingers.
“So, this box in New York,” I begin, propping my right ankle atop my left knee, “it contains all the information you need? Or will I be making another trip to France soon?”
Victor drops the key into the secret pocket of his suit jacket and shakes his head. He props a foot on a knee just as mine is.
“It contains enough,” he tells me. “Sébastien Fournier may be difficult to track down, but I don’t need him to take over his black market operations. He entrusted the identities and personal information on his operatives to François Moreau. Called him the Gatekeeper. Moreau did an excellent job keeping the information hidden by securing it on an independent device and clear across the ocean. But he was a fool to think it would stay hidden forever.”
Greta enters the den with an opened bottle of beer in each hand. She offers the first to Victor.
“Would you like me to prepare extra for dinner this evening?” Greta asks after she hands me my beer.
She stands before us dressed in a calf-length navy skirt and a short-sleeved, button-up pink blouse. Her long, gray hair is fixed into a bun at the back of her head. She is of average height and weight, but her legs truly show her age, with tiny, varicose veins running along her thick calves and ankles.
I look to Victor again, curious myself if he’ll be staying for dinner.
“No, I will be leaving soon,” he says to Greta. “But thank you.”
She nods to both of us and then I dismiss her, but just before she turns and leaves, her eyes catch mine privately, giving me a look of concern I’m all too familiar with.
She leaves the room, knowing she has made her point clear.
Cassia has been asking for me.
I turn to Victor.
“Well, I have to say that you were right,” I speak up. “I didn’t think it would be as easy as it has been to take control of these black market operations.”
Victor takes a sip of his beer and sets the bottle on the table.
I grasp mine firmly in my fingers over the end of the chair arm.
“Easy is too light a word,” Victor says with a small smile. “I believe I used the word do-able.”
I return the smile, because it’s not often I ever see the statue of a man actually smile. For a long time, when I first met him, I never knew he had teeth.
“Alright, yes, easy is putting it lightly,” I agree and take another sip. “But I’d say taking over three operations in under three months is pretty damn good.”
“It’s been a group effort,” he says, always giving credit where credit is due. “I couldn’t have done it without the four of you.”
Victor is being modest. I know that, yes, he could do it without us. Very easily, in fact. Without myself, or Dorian Flynn, or his brother, Niklas Fleischer, or even that redheaded spitfire of a woman of his, Izabel Seyfried, who I’ve grown rather fond of in the past year. And Victor may treat us all with respect, but I also know that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill any of us if it came down to it. Victor Faust is the epitome of ‘iron fist’. I don’t fear him. I fear no one. But I do respect him and I owe him my life.
However, if he were ever to find out about Cassia, he would likely take back the life he saved by getting to me before Vonnegut did a few months ago. Vonnegut is our former employer, head of The Order, which myself, Victor and Niklas were all a part of before we went rogue.
Now there is a heavy bounty on our heads and we’ve been laying low ever since.
“Where are we at now?” I ask. “What are our numbers?”
“Six black market operations are now under our control. Four in the United States. One in Mexico. And one in Sweden. All totaling one hundred thirty-three active members. Aside from what we had before obtaining them.”
“One hundred thirty-three?” I ask, looking at him inquiringly, cocking my head gently to one side.