My gaze falls toward the floor; the glare of the light on my black boots the only thing visible in my unfocused vision.

“Proud of that, are you?” Nora mocks, and I can’t be sure, but I thought I felt her eyes on me momentarily.

She cocks her blonde head to one side as I lift mine.

“You must like killing women, Mr. Faust.” She smirks, but is quite serious—and I know she’s trying to get under my skin.

“Killing is what I do,” he answers, sliding his hands off the table and returning upright. “I neither like nor dislike it. But I don’t kill innocent people, if that’s what you’re implying.”

“Oh, not at all,” she says, her tone laced with mockery.

Her eyes do meet mine this time, and I can’t help but feel like there’s something hidden in them, something that has to do with me. Or maybe—and very much a possibility—it’s my paranoia at work again.

“But to answer your question,” Nora goes on, “you can use me all you want to get your people back, but it will do you no good”—she leans forward over the table, her long hair laying against the metal—“you see, I’m not afraid of death, and I have nothing else to live for other than the information that I came here to get. So by all means, use me all you want, but you’ll only risk their lives further by doing so.”

Silence fills the room. Again, we all look at each other momentarily, contemplatively.

“What is the nature of the information that you seek?” Victor asks.

Nora grins, her head tilting from one side to the other in a precise, swaying motion.

“Each of you has a deep, dark secret,” she begins, “something you may be ashamed of, or regret, or may be haunted by because it was so awful this thing you did that your conscience can’t escape it. One of you”—she never looks at any one of us in particular while saying these things—“was betrayed by someone very close to you. One of you had something taken from you a long time ago. And one of you buried something that could be the end of you if it was ever found. You’re going to confess to me these secrets. Willingly. Truthfully.” She looks only at Victor now. “That is the nature of the information that I seek, Mr. Faust.”

Silence fills the space again, but this time it’s rife with a collective, uncomfortable feeling that all of us share.

“Are you claiming to already know these so-called ‘dark secrets’?” I ask, crossing my arms.

Nora’s red lips lengthen as her eyes sweep over me.

“I do,” she says. “I know more about you than the one in this room closest to you knows.”

“And just how would you know?” I say, standing my ground because I don’t believe it and I doubt anyone else does either. “Deep, dark secrets are deep and dark for a reason. And what exactly do you get out of this? Something’s not adding up.”

“I’ll tell you all how I know when I’m ready,” she says calmly, deliberately. “And I get a lot out of it, Sarai”—I flinch when my old name rolls off her tongue—“just be patient and eventually everything will make sense.”

Victor turns his back to Nora and looks at all of us.

“Is anyone here unwilling to go along with this?” he asks.

“I’ll do it,” Woodard says nodding his head, his double-chin jiggling. “A-Anything—I-I mean, just about anything to keep my daughters safe.” He wrenches his hands over the top of his rounded belly.

Dorian runs a hand over the top of his blond, spiky hair, the sleeve of his dark gray sweater slipping away from his wrist, revealing a Rolex worn over a black and gray tattoo of a blood-tipped leaf down the center of his wrist bone.

He nods and licks the dryness from his lips, his hand falling away from the back of his neck.

“I’ll do it,” he says and then he glares across the table at Nora.

Victor looks to me next and I only hesitate for a moment.

“Count me in,” I say and I look at Nora with a sneer. “I have nothing to hide.”

She smiles because she knows I’m lying.

Niklas pushes himself away from the wall by his boot and walks toward us, that smirk he’s famous for, displayed proudly on his face. He reaches up and scratches the scruff of his chin and cheeks. “You’re full of shit,” he says now crossing his arms and looking right at Nora. “You say everyone in this room has a secret. Well, I don’t—there’s nothing ‘deep and dark’ about me that anyone in this room doesn’t already know. I’m an open fucking book, and that’s how I know you’re just another manipulative bitch”—he glances at me briefly—“but sure, I’ll play your game. I don’t have anything better to do.”

Niklas walks back toward the wall.

All eyes are on Victor.

Victor looks at me briefly—because I know he’s only entertaining this for me—then he gives Nora his attention and says casually, “When do we begin?”

Nora smiles and presses her back against the chair.

She purses her lips and says with the wave of a hand, “The sooner the better. Clock is ticking. I hope you’ll relay all of this to that Specialist of yours—too bad he can’t bring Seraphina…or was it Cassia?”—she grins wickedly—“he is coming, isn’t he? He’s part of the deal; remember that. If he doesn’t show, they die.”

Dorian and I lock eyes this time, both of us with the same terrible thoughts and fears.

“So, who’s going to volunteer to go first?” Nora questions with perfectly-groomed raised eyebrows.

“I’ll go first,” Woodard says immediately.

He drags a curled index finger behind the neck of his shirt, loosening the sweaty fabric from his skin.

Victor moves toward the table and takes the back of the empty chair into his hand, pulling it to the center of the room, about five feet away from the table and the dangerous woman sitting on the other side of it.

“Do not move this chair from this spot,” Victor demands. “She’s secure, arms and legs, but stay out of her reach.”

Nora smiles wickedly at Woodard, revealing a straight white set of teeth. Then she looks at each of us individually one last time, proud of her performance, and the rest of us leave the room.

“I’m not sure it’s a good idea to leave Peter Griffin confined in a room with her,” Niklas says with an accent after the heavy door closes and locks automatically.

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