I’m beginning to think Fredrik is the sanest one of us all…



I run right into Dina’s arms when James walks into the building with her.

“Dina! I’m so happy you’re OK.” My arms engulf her.

She kisses my head and my cheeks and for a moment I feel like a little girl again. An innocent little girl happy to see her mother, who was never a sex slave and who has never killed anyone.

“I’m good, I’m good, baby,” she says, hugging me tight.

She’s wearing a light pink blouse tucked into a pair of tan slacks. Her gray-blonde hair is done up in a wave of loose curls that fall around her aging face where even more wrinkles than from when I saw her last are set around her eyes.

I take a step back with her hands clasped in mine and I look her over.

“You look…fine,” I say, having expected—and feared—to see her covered with bruises and blood, maybe a few broken bones.

“Well, of course I do,” she says as if I should already know she was fine the whole time.

I glance over at James standing behind her with a look of deep question on my face.

Victor enters the meeting room behind them.

“What’s going on?” I ask, looking to Victor and then back at James.

“Well,” James begins, “seems like Nora never hurt any of them. With Mrs. Gregory—”

“Oh, please call me Dina,” Dina cuts in, “that proper stuff makes me feel old.”

I smile to myself.

James smiles likewise and nods. “Nora told Dina that she was sent by you and Victor to take her to safety.”

“Oh but I didn’t believe her right away,” Dina says, shaking her graying head. “I knew better than that and when she killed that nice man that watched me a lot from the street, I was scared. I thought she was going to kill me next.”

I look back and forth between Dina and Victor, anxiously waiting for the rest of the story.

“Needless to say,” Dina goes on, “that woman put on some show I guess, because next thing I knew she was telling me to ‘get down!’ and she was lookin’ out the windows and I was really afraid there were other men there to kill me. She told me that man on the floor she killed was a traitor, or—I think she used some fancy movie word like conspirator or infiltrator”—I want to tell her to skip all that stuff, but I don’t have the heart—“or somethin’ like that—anyway, she had me believing her, that’s for sure. She took me out of that house and set me up real nice in another one and told me not to leave or go outside or make any phone calls. She took my cellular phone. Said it was for my own good. But I had everything I needed.” She combs her long, weathered fingers through the length of my hair. “And I didn’t want to put you in danger so I stayed put like I was told and waited.”

“She didn’t hurt you at all?”

I’m baffled by this. Completely baffled.

Dina shakes her head. “No,” she says, “she was real kind. So imagine my surprise when Mr. Woodard here told me she was going to kill me. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Victor and I glance briefly at each other.

“I suppose Tessa got fed the same story?” I ask.

“No,” James says. “Well, in a way. After Nora convinced Tessa she wasn’t there to hurt her, and after Tessa unknowingly gave Nora the ammunition she needed against Dorian—just like she told Dorian she did—Tessa believed Nora was U.S. Intelligence and so she cooperated.”

“So Tessa wasn’t hurt either?” I ask.

“Nope,” James answers.

“Where is she now?”

Victor steps up closer and answers, “I had them take her back home. She didn’t need to be brought here. She doesn’t need to know anything about us.”

“She thought I was a CIA agent,” James says with slight laughter, but a proud air. “As far as my daughters, well they weren’t so easy to convince. They were just scared out of their minds—they think I’m into Real Estate. So, I guess Nora had no choice but to tie them up somewhere.”

I look right at Victor.

“Then she really was working alone,” I say about Nora.

“It seems that way,” Victor says with a nod.

“I’m really thirsty,” Dina says, squeezing my hip with her hand. “Is there anything around here to drink?”

I hug her again.

“Of course,” I tell her and grab her hand. “I’ll take you to get something.”

I smile faintly at Victor as I walk Dina out of the meeting room and toward the tiny kitchen down the hall.

Fredrik passes us on the way as he heads in to see Victor. He says nothing to me, or even makes eye contact.

“Oh, he’s a looker,” Dina says quietly with big eyes as she looks back at his tall height in that expensive suit. “The thing I hate the most about being old is that men like that don’t look at me anymore.”

Oh, Dina, if you only knew what that particular man is capable of.

“Well, I think you’re beautiful,” I tell her, squeezing her cool, weathered hand. “Besides, men today are probably a little freakier than you were used to.”

“Hey, I used to be kinky,” she says with a grin.

“Dina!” My face twists all sort of ways and my cheeks begin to burn. “I do not need to know that.”

We both laugh together and slip inside the break room, which is really just a room with a leather sofa and matching chair with a marble coffee table and two end tables, a flat screen television mounted on the wall and a kitchenette area in one corner. Victor looked at Woodard funny when he asked him to put a break room in the building (“A break room? This isn’t exactly factory work, Woodard.”), but in the end, and after Woodard explained to me what a break room was and I liked the idea, we both got what we wanted. And I’m not the only one of us who uses it often—Niklas sleeps in here sometimes with his boots kicked up on the arm of the sofa. James brings his laptop in here and watches old stuff on TV Land. Dorian…well, he was always the one who kept the fridge stocked. Victor—OK, he doesn’t come in here at all except to find one of us.

Dina has a seat on the sofa while I grab two of Dorian’s sodas from the fridge.

“So, other than beautiful blonde women threatening to kill me to get to you,” Dina begins lightheartedly, “what else has been going on with you, Sarai?”

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