“But what makes you think I know what he looks like?” I shoot back, growing overwhelmed by this surprising information.

“The wealthy men that you saw when Javier was using you as an arm trophy,” Victor says, “one of them I believe is the real Vonnegut.”

Immediately, I start to think back on all of their faces, each one moving fast through my mind like a blur.

“He can’t stay hidden forever,” Victor goes on. “Someone has seen him. He may be a ghost, but he’s still human and humans by nature need to associate with other humans, be in the presence of other people—I think he was one of those wealthy men, Izabel. And I think Nora going on this mission will be how we ultimately find him, dethrone him, and kill him.”

He pauses and adds with depth, “And then I will take over The Order once he’s dead.”

I don’t respond to his last comment, but for the first time since I came into the room, Fredrik’s eyes lock on mine.

This is the first time I’ve ever heard Victor say something like that. Take over The Order, The Order…it’s a conversation for another day. Right now my brain is overloaded with…everything.

I’m silent for a long time, letting everything else he’s told me sink in. There still seems to be a lot that has been left unanswered, but it takes me several minutes to figure out what those things are.

“But why send Nora?” I say, looking at her for only a second. “I mean…well, I guess I can’t be the one to go back in because too many already know what I look like—”

“I wouldn’t let you go back in anyway,” Victor cuts me off. “You’ll go to Mexico and be stationed in a tourist city, but Nora will be doing the inside work.”

I frown. “Why? What do you mean you won’t let me go back in?” There is acid in my voice.

Victor sighs and drops his hands back in his lap.

“You don’t think I’m capable of going back in,” I accuse. “You think I’m just like everybody else; that because I went through a traumatic experience I’d never be able to put myself through it again, that I’d never be able to handle it. Well, you’re wrong”—I slash a hand in the air—“I’m the opposite of everybody else. I’m not afraid of it. Of any of them. I’m stronger now than I ever was, and if anyone can do this job to perfection, it’s me. Not Nora, but me.”

“This isn’t about proving yourself, Izabel,” Nora says calmly and kindly.

I glare across at her. “No one asked for your opinion—”

“No, but I’m not the type to not give it,” she snaps back—Ah, there’s the real Nora Kessler: bold and mouthy and infuriating.

James scoots over on his chair a little to put some distance between him and Nora, probably expecting me to hurl myself across the table at her any second now.

I let it go, inhale a long, deep breath and look back at Victor.

“Like you said yourself,” Victor says, “you can’t be the one to go in because you can’t risk being seen.”

“Maybe there’s a way around that,” I say. “We could—”

“Izabel,” Victor interrupts with a somber and firm tone, “you’re not going back in there—you can’t fight off every man at that compound who’d try have his way with you.”

“Oh, so that’s what this is about,” I say icily. “You think I can’t keep myself from being raped”—I look him straight in the eyes, unblinking—“trust me, I could.”

“Nora will be going on the mission,” he says as if that’s the end of it.

Gritting my teeth, I take a deep breath and get up from the chair. “She can’t go in there wired,” I point out. “She can’t take a camera. She won’t have access to a phone. I don’t doubt her skills, but if she’s going to be one of the girls and make it believable, she can’t be sneaking off to contact us—they’ll know within minutes that she’s missing.” I look at her once and say, “How are you going to be the one to figure out who Vonnegut is if I’m the one who’s supposedly seen him?” I cross my arms and stare intently, my eyes darting to and from Nora and Victor.

“We will figure it out,” Victor says. “We have several months to come up with a plan.”

I shake my head, my mouth turning up on one side.

“Victor, I’m not stupid to believe you don’t already know the one sure-fire way to figure out who Vonnegut is.”

He looks at me, waiting.

“Through me,” I go on. “The second Vonnegut sees me, I’ll know it’s him because the realization of who he’s looking at will flash over his eyes in that instant. And I would see it. Vonnegut is well aware of what I look like.”

“Yes,” Victor says, “that is the best way to find out who he is, but we’ll find another way. You’re not going into that compound.”

“It is the only way.”

“Others have seen you,” he reminds me, growing irritated.

“But Javier and Izel are dead. Luis and Diego are dead and they’re the only other brothers of Javier that I’ve seen. Whoever’s running the place now I doubt knows who I am.”

“We can’t take that risk.”

“I agree,” James says. “It’s too dangerous.”

“Victor—”

“Izabel!”—he raises his back from the chair—“I’m not letting you go back in there!”—he takes a deep breath and calms himself—“I’m not risking you in that place—Nora, I’ll risk.” His cruel words don’t faze her one bit; she doesn’t care about such things. “You want to do missions alone and that’s enough of a risk, no matter how good you get, but sending you into a place where people might remember you and who will kill you on the spot the second they realize who you are—it’s not a risk I’m willing to take.”

I glance at the wall, disappointed and angry, but touched by his feelings and I can’t bring myself to just discard them as if they’re nothing.

“I’m sorry,” I say softly and Victor reaches out his hand to me. He never shows affection toward me during meetings, so the gesture takes me aback.

I walk over and take his hand. He pulls me to stand next to him. He kisses the top of my fingers. “We’ll figure out a way,” he says gently, “but Nora will be the one on the inside.”


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