“I’ll probably always be this way with you,” he says. “If something were to ever happen to you…I don’t want to end up like Fredrik.” He pauses, looking briefly at the brick wall and then he sighs. “I’ll go in ahead of you,” he says.

I nod slowly and he kisses my lips and leaves me standing here, the wooden door set in the wall at the end of the concrete steps closing behind him as he disappears inside the building.

This is why I hate working with Victor, and why I prefer working with Niklas, regardless of how much I hate Niklas. Victor is hard on me in every aspect of this profession; he’s put me through some horrific things just to prove I’m trustworthy, but when it comes to being in the field, he often treats me like a child. Not all the time, but in times like these when he gets one of his gut feelings. Quietly I question his true reason for being here. Because I know that his love for me, however deep it runs, isn’t enough to put any of us at risk to save a ‘little old lady’. He has gone out of his way to keep Dina safe and comfortable in various safe-houses across the country, all because she means so much to me, but risking all of us like this just to save her from her kidnapper is out of character for him. Which is why I know he’s not doing it just to save her. That gut feeling of his is telling him that other things may be at stake, that there’s far more to this than what it might seem. And it cannot be ignored.

I go down the steps and let the darkness of the basement floor swallow me up inside of it, too.

Victor is nowhere to be seen when my eyes finally begin to adjust to the dark. Some faint light bathes the area in spots, pooling near the few small, horizontal windows set in the brick, covered by years of dust and thick with cobwebs. On the other side of the vast, mostly empty space, past a pile of debris and a stack of old bicycles, there’s a tall rock staircase. Another smaller door leads somewhere to my right. And to my left is more debris—piles of broken rock and tattered insulation and strips of wood that had been pulled from the low ceiling.

I head toward the tall staircase, gun at the ready in my hand. I’m more a knife-girl, but something tells me this unexpected mission thrown on us in the middle of the night might be more a gun event. As I ascend the rock steps quietly, I reach down and pat Pearl jutting up from my boot, just to make sure she’s still there. She and I have a very close relationship—she’s killed far more people than I have.

A shadow moves across the gray light on the basement floor, snapping me around on the sixth step to look behind me. I never heard the door opening from the outside. I back myself against the wall, my black, tight-fitting attire helping me blend in with the darkness. My long auburn hair is pulled into a tight braid trailing down the center of my back and out of my face, keeping my vision sharp. I don’t move and I steady my breath so that it’s as noiseless as the rest of me.

I ready my gun when I hear the distinct sound of small debris being crunched underneath a pair of boots.

“It’s just me!” Dorian whispers sharply as his hands shoot up on both sides, my gun pointed down at him from the middle of the dark staircase. “Jesus! Scared the shit out of me, woman!” His voice is low, his breath noisy.

I lower my gun.

He points at the small door on the other side of the room.

“Came through there,” he whispers. “There’s another way into the basement on the other side of the building. That door links the sides.”

“Did you see anyone?”

“No, not a soul.” He comes up the steps behind me. “This doesn’t feel right.”

“No, it doesn’t,” I say.

“Where’s Faust?”

“He came in this way ahead of me. Where he is now I don’t know.”

We take a few more steps, getting closer to the door at the top.

“I didn’t know you were married,” I say quietly, but keep moving because this isn’t the time to stop and chat about our exes. Besides, I don’t really have any exes, unless you want to count Javier Ruiz, the Mexican drug lord who I was a sexual slave to for nine years. And personally, I don’t consider him an ex.

“I guess we all have things about us we’d rather not talk about,” he says.

That wasn’t necessarily his way of refusing me the conversation, but I end it just the same.

We reach the door and I place my hand on the dusty old knob, preparing to open it slowly.

“She hates me,” Dorian says, catching me off-guard.

I look down at him two steps behind me.

He shrugs. “I don’t blame her though,” he says and then nods, looking at the door. “Let’s go.”

The door breaks apart from the frame, thankfully without a sound, and I crouch down on the top step in my tall black boots before poking my head carefully around the corner—if anyone’s standing there waiting to blow my head off, they’ll probably expect my head to be a little higher, giving me just enough time to spot them first and back away before they can react.

There’s no one in the long, dark hall that splits off in two directions. Just more debris—overturned metal chairs and what looks like old desks of some sort are stacked in a sloppy pile along one wall. Papers are strewn about the floor.

We step out of the doorway and into the hall, passing quietly around the debris and the paper.

“I’ll go this way,” Dorian says, pointing to his left.

I nod and we part ways, me heading in the opposite direction past several opened doors on both sides of me, each room revealing that this might’ve been a school at one time. Now that I think about it, I do recall seeing what resembled an old running track a block over, and other red brick buildings much like this one, and a basketball court—it and the track overrun with weeds made it harder to identify in the dark, initially.

I take my time down the length of the long hallway, stopping at each door to make sure the rooms are clear before walking past them, and minutes later find myself at a set of closed metal doors, with strips of silver running horizontally along the centers, waiting for me to place my hands upon them to push them open. I step up to the doors and press my back against one instead, carefully turning my head at an angle to see inside the vertical piece of glass running from the top of the door to the horizontal push-handle. Moonlight barely penetrates the room from the frosted glass panels high up in the tall ceiling. All I can see are rows and rows of seats drowned by the darkness. And a stage, I finally make out the longer and harder I look. It’s an auditorium.

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