A flash of anger crosses her eyes, but she does well to contain it before it does further damage to her self-control. She smiles instead and then glances at her finger momentarily as if it’s an insignificant thing.

“I’d be happy to show you,” she says sultrily, “if you’d like to see the rest of my body.”

A faint smile appears on one side of my face.

“I bet you would,” I say.

I can only imagine what Izabel is thinking right now. This is yet another issue where Izabel will have to learn self-control, but I have little confidence in that ever happening; she is a jealous woman by nature—an incapacitating kink in the armor in this business.

“So then you know where I came from,” she says, giving up the playful, seductive act. “I knew you’d have that much figured out at least before you took your turn. Yes, Solis is my”—she looks up in thought, pursing her lips contemplatively—“well, I wouldn’t go as far as calling him anyone’s father; a more appropriate term would be sperm donor.”

“How were you compromised?”

“That isn’t something you’ll get out of me, Faust. It’s inconsequential.”

“On the contrary,” I say, “it is the reason you are here. A personal vendetta. But that raises another question—if you were compromised, how is it that you are still alive?”

“Unlike Vonnegut,” she says, “the Sect doesn’t immediately kill its operatives because of a mistake. There aren’t as many of us, and we are, shall I say…worth a lot more than dispensable operatives like yourself. When one of us makes a mistake, we’re punished in ways that your Specialist cannot even fathom. We get one chance to come back from our…lapses in judgment, and then if we still cast suspicion, we go the way of the grave.”

“Something tells me,” I say, “that you might have gone the way of the rogue.”

Her eyes crease with curiosity.

“And what would make you think that?”

“Because you flinched when I taunted you about that finger,” I point out. “And because you attacked Izabel when she taunted you. An SC-4 operative does not show anger because they do not feel anger.”

Kessler’s chest, bound to the chair by paracord, rises slowly as she inhales a deep, concentrated breath.

“You’re right,” she admits, “I was compromised. And they tortured the hell out of me—you should see my back. But unlike the others who go through what I went through, the treatment had the opposite effect on me. I didn’t revert back into the soldier I was bred and born and trained to be”—she grins—“I guess you can say they pissed me the fuck off and I became someone different. I had a mind of my own for a change, and it was so…liberating, Faust.” She looks upward at the ceiling; a euphoric expression manipulating her features. She drops her chin and looks back at me. “Freedom to me is how I imagine heroin might feel to an addict. I wanted more of it after I had tasted it the first time. And I was willing to do anything to get it. Kill anyone to keep it.” There is a hidden meaning behind her last admission.

“Who did you kill?”

“Whoever got in my way.” She smiles.

She will not give up anything she does not want me to know, but by withholding certain answers to my questions, that will give me more clues as to her reason for being here. Any topic she does not want to talk about is surely behind the source of her intentions—how she was compromised, who she killed for her freedom.

“But like I said before,” she goes on, “you and me, we are a lot alike. I bet I’m more like you than anyone else in your entire organization, even that beautiful redhead of yours. How long do you think a relationship with her will last?” There is nothing provoking in her question; she seems quite serious.

But I find myself deeply provoked, nonetheless.

“We will not talk about Izabel,” I say, “or my relationship with her.”

“You love her,” Kessler says, and again, she is being honest and not just trying to elicit a reaction from me, which I find peculiar. “I wouldn’t know much about love,” she continues, “at least not that kind, but if my instincts are as human as the part of me that separated myself from the Sect, then I’d say you do love her. I can see it in your face, as stoic as the mask you wear is.” She pauses and then adds, “But do you want to know what else I see when I look at you?”

“No,” I answer, and open a hand, palm up, as if to say ‘but by all means’.

“You’re conflicted,” she says. “You love her, but there is still a huge part of you, of who you were before she became a part of your life, who you were for nearly all of yours, that isn’t so sure you can do everything it takes to maintain that love. You are, and always have been, a professional, methodical killer, a man of business whose only passion in this life has been to play God.” She pauses once more, tilting her blonde head to one side and looking upon me thoughtfully. “And another part of you doesn’t intend to tell me anything. It has already made peace with itself in accepting that Dina Gregory is going to die because you’re not willing to compromise yourself or your organization just to save a little old woman, even if she’s important to the woman you love.”

I swallow hard, but maintain my composure.

“Believe what you want,” I say. “You cannot manipulate me like you have the others.”

“Yes, I know,” she says. “You and Fredrik Gustavsson I knew coming in here would be the two who would never cooperate. No matter whose lives were on the line.”

“So then if you already knew these things, why are you wasting your time here? What are you getting out of any of this if you know you will not get the confession that you seek?”

A small smirk appears on her face.

“Because whether I get the confession or not,” she says with confidence, “I’ll still get what I came here for, either way.”

“And what would that be?” I know she will not answer, but I ask in case by some chance I am wrong.

“You’ll know in approximately three and a half hours,” she says.

I just look at her, quietly admiring her as much as I want to kill her. The main reason she is still alive is because of Izabel, but I admit, the more I learn about her and interact with her, the more I want to put her under a microscope—I’ve never been face to face with a female version of myself. It is intriguing.

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