She tilts her head. “I really hope for your sake that no one is listening in on our conversation this time.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” I snap, unconfident. “My real name—so what. That’s not hard to find out. Just like James’s birth record information. I think you’re a fraud.”

Nora smiles and motions to the chair again.

“A fraud, maybe,” she says, taunting me as always, “but a fraud who controls whether Dina Gregory lives or dies, nonetheless. Please, have a seat, so we can be at eye level.”

I round my chin, gritting my teeth, but once again she has my attention.

“Are you asking or telling?”

“I’m asking,” she says calmly. “Please. Sit.” She opens her hand in gesture.

Her strange change of attitude catches me off-guard, but it’s only after I finally sit down that I realize she still got me to do it. She doesn’t say anything in the way of mockery, but I know, just by that faint look of satisfaction in her eyes that she’s jotting down another win in her mental notebook.

I say nothing, and try to maintain my own influence; what’s left of it anyway.

“How about this,” I say, crossing my legs and my arms, “you tell me a little about you first, just so we can get more…comfortable with each other. And then I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

“Did my blood not suffice?” she asks with a knowing smirk. “I gave it to them freely, you know. Because they’ll find nothing on me.” She holds up both hands, palms facing me. “Fingerprints?”—she chuckles elegantly—“won’t find anything on those either, I’m afraid.”

“So then let’s talk,” I say.

Nora leans forward, laying her arms across the table, though they only reach from the middle of her forearms, the chains hooked to the handcuffs preventing them to go any farther.

“I told you,” she says, “I’m not here to answer your questions.”

I stand up and boldly move my chair the rest of the way over and place it at the table within her reach. I’m not afraid of her and I want her to know it.

She grins looking up at me and her eyes follow mine all the way back down as I take my seat again, just a couple of feet across from her. Then I lean forward just like her, laying my arms across the table in front of me and enclosing my hands.

I glance at my fingers and then look her dead in the eyes. “I have all of mine,” I say with cruel mockery. Then I lay my hands flat on the cool metal tabletop, spreading my fingers outward—unpainted manicured nails, a white-gold ring on my pinky finger with a three-carat diamond, another one—silver with a black onyx stone—on my right thumb. I slide the ring off the right pinky finger and place it on my left, afterwards holding my hand up in front of me as if to admire it.

Then I turn it around, my palm facing me, so that she can see it, too.

“There’s something about a woman’s hands that’s irresistible to some men,” I begin, taunting her in my most controlled tone. “The same kind of men who love the shape of a woman’s neck, or the slope of her shoulders, or the daintiness of her wrists. These are the sophisticated men, the kind of men who can offer a woman a more…intelligent relationship.” I turn my hand back and forth slowly in front of us, looking at that ring shining on my pinky finger, and the more I talk, the more a sort of darkness begins to shift in her eyes—I’m pulling at straws here, but it seems to be working. “Then there are the breast and ass men. Most of them just horny amateurs who have no sexual control.” I glance at her pinky finger again. “You’re a beautiful woman,” I say. “Nice breasts, nice ass, but that hand of yours really isn’t doing you any favors. I hope the one who took your finger got what was coming to them.”

Nora slides her hands off the table and rests them in her lap. And although I seem to have pinched a nerve somewhat, her sly smile stays intact.

Maybe vanity is the kink in her armor instead of confidence.

“You’re exactly as I’ve always imagined you’d be,” she says, seemingly unscathed. “Young, inexperienced, mouthy, overly confident, quick-tempered, and too far in over your head.” She leans forward again, but keeps her hands in her lap; the light beaming from the dome-shaped fixture centered high over the table makes her blonde hair and red lipstick glisten. “But you won’t last in this underground world, Sarai Cohen. You think that being a sex slave for nine years, subjected to horrific abuse and death and the darkest side of human nature, makes you fit for a lifestyle of professional killing, suitable to sit at that table among men who are so far out of your league.” Her sly smile stretches amid her creamy, but bruised face. “But more than that, you’re certainly out of your league when it comes to me. So, if I were you, I’d drop the desperate attempt to trump me at my own game, and play the only pathetic hand you have.”

Her words did sting, more than I thought they could, but I don’t let it show on my face. At least I hope not.

I smile and enclose my hands on the table again.

I know deep down that I should keep my mouth shut, that I should let her get on with this, but I’m pissed and I can’t help it—she has the quick-tempered part right at least.

“Just tell me who it was,” I say, spurring her on, “who cut it off. Was it a man? An ex-lover? A husband? No?” I purse my lips. She shifts a little in her chair. “A woman then? Ah, that must be it—you’re a lesbian, aren’t you?” I grin.

But I think I’ve lost her now, gone too far off the track because her smile returns, so I go back in the opposite direction.

“Was it your daddy then?” My eyes are alight with excitement, my lips turning up on one side—I’ve definitely struck a nerve. “It was, wasn’t it? Why did your daddy cut off the tip of your finger, Nora?”

Her smile disappears from her face in an instant. Her breathing becomes deeper, exhaling audibly from her flaring nostrils.

“You tell me your secret,” I say, “and I’ll tell you mine—why did Daddy cut off your poor finger?”

White teeth bared behind red lips come toward me over the table so fast my eyes close and my hands come up instinctively to block myself from the force of the blow. I feel like I’m falling only seconds as my chair goes backward with Nora on top of me, until it hits the hard floor. A flash of light and spots spring before my eyes and pain sears through my skull as my head bounces off the tile.

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