She has my attention.
I just look across at her and wait.
“You wipe the blood from my face,” she says, “and I’ll tell you. No games or tricks or anything else in return.”
“Why should I believe you?” I walk casually toward her again, my shiny black dress shoes moving over the white tile floor in unhurried steps. “Why would you just give up information to me?”
She smiles lightly.
“Think of it as a down payment,” she says.
“For what, exactly?”
“I’ll tell you that later.”
I do not trust her. Not an ounce. But listening to whatever this information is won’t do any harm.
“What is it then?” I slip both hands down into the pockets of my slacks.
“It’s about Vonnegut and Izabel.”
The resigned expression on my face shifts into blatant confusion. I cock my head slightly to one side.
Nora’s smile lengthens. She knows she has more than my attention now.
I pull a small white handkerchief from my pocket that I sometimes use to open doors with to avoid leaving fingerprints, and step up in front of Nora. Pushing her head back with the other hand, I carefully wipe away the blood from her face.
“Go on and tell me,” I say, and she does.
I want to hit the wall out of frustration and rage, but I’m not in the habit of purposely injuring myself. I’m ashamed and embarrassed and I’ve never wanted to kill someone in my whole life more than Nora Kessler. Izel runs a close second, and she seems like she’d be number one because of the shit she put me through, but Nora, no she’s number one in my book because it’s more than me who she’s fucked with—she took Dina, and now she wants Victor.
Pacing the hallway outside of the room where Victor is with Nora, I scream under my breath, gripping the top of my hair tightly in my fists. I know my face must be beet red and maybe purple.
“Izzy,” Niklas says, “you know that shit wasn’t right. You played right into her fuckin’ hands, doll.”
I continue to pace, disregarding his stupid nicknames that would normally make me want to punch him. My jaw hurts from gritting my teeth, my lungs are working overtime and every muscle in my body is so tense I feel like a statue.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I say, glaring at the floor as my boots move over it, back and forth.
“Well you have to,” Niklas says.
I glance up only long enough to see him leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.
Back to focused pacing.
“And Victor thought I was reckless and lacked discipline,” he adds. “You beat me by a longshot.”
I stop and whirl around in front of him, my fists clenched at my sides.
“I don’t need your shit, Niklas,” I snap. “I’m getting enough of it from her. I don’t need it from you, too.”
I don’t realize until it’s too late that there are tears in the corners of my eyes. I take a deep breath and hold them down.
“My brother’s loyal to you,” Niklas says now with sincerity rather than ridicule. “I never thought I’d see the day that he would love any woman, Izabel. Never. Screw what Nora said to me when I was in there with her, that shit about me never wanting to be in love, about how I avoided it—that was true for the most part—I didn’t want that shit—but the difference between me and my brother was that I was susceptible to it and Victor wasn’t.”
I don’t look at Niklas, but I stop pacing and stand with my back to him, and he knows I’m listening.
“Victor was always the one telling me, when I’d start to get close to a hit or an assignment on my missions, that I needed to be careful. It never happened to him. He warned me, time and time again not to get too involved emotionally. But I didn’t listen and Claire ended up dead.”
“She didn’t end up dead because of you,” I point out. “There were other people after her. She would’ve died even if you’d never met her.”
“Maybe so,” he says. “But this isn’t about me. Look, my brother loves you. He’ll do anything to protect you—he was even going to kill me, remember? Jealousy just makes you look bad.”
I shake my head, stung by his words.
“Niklas, I didn’t go in there and attack Nora just because I was jealous. Yeah, of course it was a part of it, it was the last straw—I just couldn’t hold it all in anymore. I tried”—crossing my arms, I look away from him again—“but I couldn’t help myself. She has my mother, Niklas! She has come in here and scattered all of our lives around like toys—I can’t take it anymore!”
There’s a knock on the door from inside the interrogation room. I become quiet in an instant, trying to compose myself and failing.
Niklas punches in the code to let Victor out.
“I’ve gotta take a piss and find some food,” Niklas says, his version of ‘I’ll let you two be alone’.
He shoves both hands into the pockets of his jeans, the muscles running along his arms hard and defined down at his sides. He walks away down the hall.
I can’t even look Victor in the eyes. I look at the floor instead.
“She was only trying to get under your skin, Izabel,” he says. “To prove a point.”
I raise my eyes to him, filled with anger and exhaustion.
“And a point she proved. Bra-vo.” I sneer and begin to pace again.
“Are you…threatened by her?” he asks with heavy curiosity in his voice.
“No,” I say, though it’s not entirely true. “Victor, I know what just happened made me look like some crazy, jealous, psycho girlfriend, and yeah my reaction was triggered by the things she said to you, but that wasn’t the only reason I went in there. I trust you, OK? That’s not what this is about—this has gone on long enough. The way she’s fucking with all of our heads.” I grit my teeth and clench my fists and my breathing picks up. “And you want to know what enrages me the most about all of this? You want to know what really and honestly triggered me going in there?”
I step right up to him.
He doesn’t answer, but he doesn’t have to.
“I’ve been trying to find excuses as to why any of us would put ourselves through this,” I begin, my voice stiffening with every syllable. “None of us, certainly not you, would even give this bitch five minutes of our time in any other situation. The cleaners would’ve already mopped her blood up off the floor and gotten rid of her body by now.” I pause, trying to steady my breath and to arrange my words because what I’m about to say is going to leave a bitter taste on my tongue. “The only reason any of us are going through this ridiculous bullshit is because of the innocent people we love, because of ties to the outside world that we—I—just can’t cut.” I slash a hand through the air, angry at the truth.