“Do what you want,” I say with acid in my voice, “I don’t care anymore. If you want to shut me out, fine, but I’m going to say what I have to say before you go in there and…do your thing.” A snarl manipulates my mouth.

Fredrik just stands there looking at me with his briefcase clutched down at his side.

“Nora Kessler told Niklas something when he was in that room with her, something that stuck with me long after he’d left. And as much as I despise her, I can’t deny that she was right.”

I point my finger sternly at his chest.

“You need love to survive, Fredrik,” I say with harsh conviction. “You’re this dark, frightening man who is so cold on the outside that Hell would freeze over if you were ever sent there…but on the inside, you’re a broken man who needs love more than anyone because of the life you were forced to live, because of the horrific things you were forced to endure.” I shake my head with sadness in my heart. “You need love more than anything because it’s the one thing you’ve been deprived. You shove me away because I meant something to you, because out of all of us here, you thought of me as family. You shut me out because of how many times love destroyed you.”

I step up closer and my eyes never leave his, the anger in them never wanes. His cold, but emotionless face hasn’t shifted.

“We all need something to survive, Fredrik—Victor needs to be in control; James needs acceptance; Niklas needs something to call his own; Dorian needs to make peace with himself…and me…I need a lot of things, but I haven’t figured out which one of them I need most. But you…you need love, and you can’t push it away forever. It’s not in your nature.”

I step back and away from him and just look at him for a second, studying his unyielding face, his deep blue eyes, searching for something, anything, but he gives me nothing. I’m so angry! I want him to say something. Argue with me, tell me how wrong I am. Tell me I’m stupid and young and I can’t possibly know how he’s feeling or what he’s going through.

Absolutely nothing.

Shaking my head with a sour look on my face and surrender in my heart, I gesture a hand toward Dorian’s cell.

“I guess I’ll see you around,” I say, turn on my heels and leave.

I don’t look back as I walk the length of the long hallway, but I can sense that Fredrik stands there in the same spot at least until I round the corner at the end.

What is happening to us? To all of us.

Niklas is nowhere to be found. I’ve tried calling him and I left the building and went driving around Boston, checking out the bars he likes, but it’s an hour before dawn and I’ve still found nothing. Niklas doesn’t want to be found and I can’t help but wonder and worry for how long. What if he really never comes back? What if he can’t ‘understand’ why Victor did what he did, and they become enemies? Things can’t be left this way, they just can’t…

Dorian may be dead, or on his way there. Fredrik is a lost cause who will eventually self-destruct. Niklas has disappeared. Can our organization—our family—recover from what Nora Kessler did, or what she played a very large hand in doing?

I’m beginning to think it can’t.



With my gun in-hand, I open the door to the room where Nora has been caged for over two days.

She looks up at me from the chair.

“Let’s go,” I tell her with the backward tilt of my head.

“Where to?” she says curiously as she stands up in her leather pants and blood-stained face and blonde hair. She had slipped the silk blouse back on as well, despite the cuts on her back.

“You know where,” I tell her calmly.

Nora walks toward me on her bare feet—her high-heels have been tossed against the floor—and she makes a face as the pain in her back and wherever else Fredrik hurt her, argues her decision to move.

“Why don’t you just shoot me in here?” she asks.

I don’t answer, playing it off as unimportant, but the truth is that before I kill her there are a few things I want to say to her, things that I don’t want anyone else to hear.

We walk the hallway slow and deliberately, Nora in front of me, me at her back with my gun down at my side, and I lead her outside the back of the building in the darkness and in the quiet.

“On your knees,” I tell her, pointing the gun toward the ground beside a dumpster.

Without question or argument or an ounce of fear, she goes down on her knees, already knowing to put her back to me.

“I would ask why you won’t beg for your life,” I say, pointing the gun at the back of her head as I stand a few feet away, “but I already know the answer.”

“What’s the answer?” she asks, looking at the brick wall in front of her.

“You would never plead for your life.”

I curl my index finger around the trigger.

“And you would be right,” she confirms.

The ocean and the distant sound of cars rushing over the freeway are faint, but are the only sounds to be heard. The stench of the dumpster just feet from Nora, and the other five lining the back of the nearby buildings make the air foul. A single light shines in the distance from a pole, beaming down on the entrance to a parking garage, but the only light here is from the moon, making Nora’s dark figure appear like a shadow, except for her blonde hair that blankets her back and shoulders like a disheveled mess of white straw.

I look at her for a long time, almost feeling like I should force her to face me, because if I’m going to execute her I should have the courage to look her in the eyes. But I don’t. I’m not brave enough to look someone in the eyes and then take their life from them—not like this. An unarmed woman. On her knees. Behind a building. Beside a stinking dumpster. It would haunt me forever.

Time passes and I don’t realize how much until Nora begins to turn her head at an angle to get a glimpse of me behind her.

“Something tells me you’re not afraid to kill me,” she says, “so, what’s the holdup?”

I pause and say, “I wanted to ask you something first.”

She laughs lightly.

“Oh sure,” she says sarcastically with the shrug of her shoulders, “because I’m so inclined to answer your questions before you blow my brains out.” She looks back once with a smile and turns to face the wall again. “Go ahead and ask whatever you want, but you can expect only one kind of answer from me.”

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