Everyone, including me, want the same answers, so no one interrupts.

“What they know is also something I’m going to keep to myself for now,” Victor says evenly, looking at no one in particular. “It doesn’t surprise me that they know some things—operations like ours which continue to grow cannot be entirely inconspicuous—quite impossible, actually. But I will say that they know enough to lead me to believe that there might a mole our midst.”

I look at Woodard. Woodard looks at me until he realizes why I’m looking at him and he shrinks his back against his chair and opts for looking at the table instead. Izabel looks at Niklas. Niklas looks at Dorian and then looks right back at Izabel with the same accusing eyes she’s casting his way. Dorian looks at me. There sure is a lot of suspicion at this table.

We all look at Victor, though only with question on our faces.

“Someone at this table is a traitor?” Izabel asks.

“Well, it sure as f**k isn’t me,” Dorian says.

Woodard puts up his inflated hands. “I-It ain’t me neither.”

Niklas pulls the cigarette from his lips and slouches in his chair, draping one arm over the back casually and coolly. “Yeah, well other than my brother,” he says with pride and confidence, “I’m the last person at this table who’d involve this shit government in anything.” I picture Niklas spitting on the floor to show how deeply his aversion for the U.S. government and intelligence goes, but he doesn’t.

“You’re my first pick,” Izabel accuses, her pretty features twisting into a smirk.

Niklas flips her off.

“Oh, how mature can you get?” Izabel scoffs.

Victor inhales a noticeable breath and all eyes fall on him again.

“I never said the mole—if in fact there is one—was at this table. And truly, it could very well be that Vonnegut, as a last ditch attempt to get rid of us, is the one who provided the CIA and the FBI with the information. I have my suspicions, but the dilemma is that if they do know how and where to find us, why haven’t they made a move?”

“That’s a good question,” I say and then add, “If they know, how long do you think they’ve known?”

“I’m not sure,” Victor admits. “But I want all of you to be on the lookout for anything suspicious—of course, not that you don’t already do that.”

Dorian and Niklas both laugh.

“That’s daily life for me,” Dorian says.

Niklas nods, agreeing.

Victor changes the subject—a little too soon, in my opinion—and says, “Next order of business is a fifty thousand dollar hit in Miami. I’m assigning this one to Evan Betts”—he looks to his left—“and Niklas.”

Niklas doesn’t look pleased.

“You’re putting me with a newbie?” In fact, he looks outright offended.

Izabel, on the other hand, is all smiles.

“Betts may be new,” Victor says, “but he’s good. I want to see more of his work and I’ll only pair up newcomers with someone from this table that I feel I can trust.”

Niklas appears more accepting now, but Isabel’s smile turns into a sneer.

The meeting goes on for another twenty minutes and as it’s coming to a close, everyone leaves but myself and Victor, who requested that I stay.

I’ve been out of commission—by Victor’s orders—since what happened two months ago. I had expected more of a sentence than the ‘time off for personal issues’ that I feel I was given, but Victor didn’t see my keeping Cassia a secret from him, a betrayal. It only further proves that Faust is not a tyrant leader, but a man with a conscience—though he sure goes out of his way to hide that fact.

But my time off alone to deal with what’s left of my life didn’t have the sort of effect that anyone at the ‘round table’ might’ve expected. I didn’t grieve or come to terms or have any epiphanies. I didn’t remove any heavy burdens from my shoulders, or bathe in the sun, or reflect on my life and force myself to be positive and move forward.

No, I didn’t do any of that.

Instead, I stood in front of a mirror.

Naked. Still bloody after torturing and killing a man who led a notorious gang in Detroit. I stood in front of that mirror as the shower water got hot and I saw the shell of my former self looking back at me with new insides. New darkness. New demons. New memories. New everything. And yes, I did move forward, but not in the direction of the light.

That finite glimpse of light I experienced with Cassia was an illusion.

“I have to be honest with you,” Victor says standing behind me. “I’m not convinced you’re…yourself.”

I nod subtly, standing with my hands clasped together behind me.

“And you would be right,” I admit.

Victor walks slowly around the table away from his chair, also with his hands clasped behind his back just as mine are.

“If you were anyone else,” he goes on, “I wouldn’t risk it, but all I’m asking of you is to back away from our operations at the first sign you feel that something you might do could compromise us. Can I trust you to do that?”

I nod again. “You have my word.”

Victor glances at the wall and then looks back at me as if he had used that brief moment to decide what to say next.

“I have every bit of trust in you, Fredrik, but I would be fooling myself to believe that you’re not walking the thin line between sanity and self-destruction. I’ve seen that look before—in fact, I saw it in the mirror once.”

How ironic—the things we see in those malicious, mocking pieces of glass.

“I would ask how you, of all people, ever walked that line,” I say, “but I know you won’t tell me.”

Victor smiles faintly.

“And you would be right,” he says in the same even tone as I had said it to him moments ago.

“Despite my acceptance of all this,” Victor says dropping his smile, “I do have to make something very clear.”

I say nothing and just listen. This is the part where Victor hangs up his suit of understanding and steps into his threatening one.

“Izabel”—I knew he would begin his sentence with—“has it in her head that she’s going to—“he motions a hand, twirling three of his fingers as if allowing the right term to materialize on his tongue—“aide you in finding people to torture, but you and I both know that’s unacceptable. Correct?”

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