He catches his breath; sweat beads on his upper lip; the armpits of his plaid shirt are discolored by moisture.

“I ran it through the database you gave me from The Order,” he begins as he flips open a blue folder in his hand, “and there were no matches to anyone within The Order, but there was a match to a hit.”

He hands me the paper from inside the folder.

“Does ‘Solis’ ring any bells, sir?” Woodard had not been in the surveillance room when Niklas was with Nora.

Yes, it rings many bells, James Woodard.

“Thank you for this,” I tell him, again avoiding his questions. I fold the paper into a square and tuck it away in the front pocket of my slacks.

Woodard’s confidence returns in the form of an uneasy smile.

“So I did good?” he asks, always needing the validation.

I simply nod.

“Find me again when you get those results back,” I say.

“Sure thing, boss.” He smiles proudly to himself as he scurries in a bumbling manner down the hallway and out of my sight.

The guards outside Dorian’s door step to the side as I walk up.

“They removed the bullets from Flynn’s shoulders, sir,” one guard says, “and stitched him up. He requested he not be restrained due to his injuries, but we followed through anyway.”

Sliding the key into the steel door, the lock clicks with an echo.

I close the door behind me after stepping inside the small room with only a tiny box window covered by bars to let in the sunlight. A metal bed juts out from the gray brick wall, covered by a thin cot. A toilet and a sink are shoved closely together near one corner.

Dorian sits on the metal cot with his legs over the side, his booted feet touching the dingy tile floor. His hands are cuffed in front of him. He is shirtless; blood seeps through the bandages on his shoulders.

He raises his head and looks up at me with concern in his face.

“I know I have some explaining to do,” he says, “and I will, but maybe right now isn’t the time? I’m more worried about Tessa. There’s not much time left.”

“I am making time for this,” I tell him. “Besides, I have no confidence in Gustavsson making it here before the forty-eight-hour deadline, so it will make no difference whether or not I take my turn with Nora.”

Dorian frowns.

“So, you’re just giving up?” he asks, apprehension and disbelief manipulating his features. “What about Mrs. Gregory—Izabel loves her like a mother. Are you going to give up on her?”

“This is not about giving up on anyone,” I say, “but facing the reality of the situation. Without Gustavsson’s cooperation, they are all as good as dead, and since there has been no communication with him, no sign that he intends to come here, I am simply shifting my focus on other matters.”

Dorian shakes his head and looks down at the floor.

“Tessa doesn’t know anything about you, or anyone in this Order, not even me,” he says in a defeated tone of voice. He raises his head again. “It was safer for her to tell her I work for U.S. Intelligence.”

“Because you know the nature of both,” I say, already knowing.

He nods slowly, grimacing as pain moves through his shoulders.

“Perhaps you shouldn’t have told her anything,” I point out. “A professional operative, whether one who works for me or the CIA or for anyone else, would never reveal such a top secret job to anyone. You did it twice. First to Tessa, and then to Nora, to save your own life.”

“No,” he says quickly, “I never would’ve given up my identity to save myself. I wouldn’t give a shit if Nora killed me—I only told her because I knew that if I didn’t she’d kill Tessa.”

He is truthful in those words, I strongly believe.

“But even for her,” I say, “you should never have told her anything. She is a civilian. An innocent. And by telling her the truth, you made her an unknowing accomplice. And a target.”

“I know,” he says, shaking his head and looking at the floor again, “but when it comes to her, I’m weak. I always have been. You should know, Faust”—his eyes lock onto mine—“you love Izabel. You should understand why I had to tell Tessa something.”

“You told her simply because she had suspicions,” I say. “I could stand here all day and tell you why that reason is unacceptable, but that’s not why I came.”

“Are you going to kill me?” he asks almost listlessly.

Dorian Flynn is not afraid to die, and a part of him I believe wants to. Perhaps he has thought about death more than any of us, I do not know, but there is no shortage of quiet despair inside of this man. The smiling, facetious face he wears in front of all of us is just a mask covering a somewhat troubled soul.

“You have five minutes to explain,” I announce. “At the end of that five minutes, I will know whether or not I’m going to kill you.”

He nods.

A betrayal such as this one, when an operative secretly works for another employer without my knowledge, would almost always come with the heaviest of consequences—immediate death. But one must be careful to dish out such a sentence before first knowing from that person what information has been leaked, and to whom. And the fact that he is a private contractor for U.S. Intelligence also means that I must be prepared to have more than just Vonnegut and The Order coming down on us, if I kill him. Depending on the nature of his status with his superiors and what kind of private contractor Dorian is, it might be smarter to keep him alive.

“I’m a SOG agent,” Dorian says, “and in case you think I’m easy to break, that if you ever were to send me on a mission and expect me to break if I got compromised, you’d be wrong. I was commissioned just to observe and gather information first. But when the time was right, I was allowed to approach the leader and tell him the truth about who I am, and then present the deal prepared by our government—I was going to tell you the truth eventually.”

“You said approach ‘the’ leader.”

He nods. “Yes. My mission started in Bradshaw’s organization, before you took over and I became a part of yours. The CIA has been searching for Vonnegut for more than thirty years. Kind of like that succubus out there”—he nods toward the wall, indicating Nora—“Vonnegut is a ghost. No one that I have ever known or heard of even knows what he looks like, or if he’s even a man. Just when we thought we had him, we’d find out at the last minute that the suspect was just a decoy. There is no bigger bounty on any man’s head on this planet than the one on his.”

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