“Mr. Augustin,” Miz Ghita says in her rigid old woman voice, “this is Trevor Chamberlain; Trevor—Niklas Agustin.” I shake the short man’s hand. “He is CEO of The Chamberlain Corporation,” she goes on. “You may be familiar with it.”

She’s testing me.

I nod and say in German, “I’m quite familiar with The Chamberlain Corporation,” and look only at the company’s CEO when speaking. “It was the highest grossing in Munich last year—regardless of the scandal with the secretaries.” I offer Trevor Chamberlain a faint smile. “You’ll have to share with me your secrets sometime.”

Trevor smiles at me likewise and says, also in German, “The secret, as you probably already know, is simply to have enough money to get one’s self out of anything.”

We laugh lightly. Trevor sips his wine. I notice his eyes skirt Izabel. And then Nora.

A seemingly young woman, middle twenties, walks up carrying a tray of wine glasses. She, like the other servants making their rounds, is dressed in a simple black dress that drops just above her knees. A piece of black fabric is tied around her tiny waist, lending shape to her hourglass form and lavish breasts. She wears no jewelry, no makeup; her little black shoes are flat-soled; she never looks me in the eyes, even when serving me. I take a glass of wine from the tray; she bows her head and turns to Izabel, offering her the same.

Izabel looks at me first, smiles, bats her eyes. I nod and then she helps herself to a glass.

But the servant girl doesn’t offer Nora the same luxury, and this confirms two things: she is the same as ‘Aya’, and the servant girl knows it, because a slave knows another slave just as sheep knows another sheep.

I feel Miz Ghita’s eyes on the three of us, watching, waiting for one of us to fuck up.

Just as the servant girl begins to walk away, I stop her.

I hand my briefcase to Nora; she holds it with both hands down in front of her.

“Girl,” I say, and she halts, turns slowly but stops to face Miz Ghita without looking directly at her.

“Do as he says,” Miz Ghita consents, and then the girl turns to me, keeping her eyes to the floor.

Miz Ghita listens; Trevor Chamberlain sips his wine—he looks at Izabel again, and then Nora.

“Turn around,” I tell the girl.

She turns around. Slowly, so I can examine her; carefully so she doesn’t drop the tray balanced on one hand. She has long dark hair, almost black, that dips past her waist; creamy light caramel skin; deep brown eyes, and full, plump lips that alone could set even the most insensible or calloused man on the brink of sexual beggary.

“Lift one of the glasses,” I tell her.

The girl does exactly as I say, curling the slender fingers of her left hand around the stem of one glass and lifting it. She holds it there, unmoving.

“This one is not on the market, Mr. Augustin,” Miz Ghita speaks up.

I take a casual sip from my glass and say without taking my eyes off the girl, “Anyone can be bought, Miz Ghita; ask Mr. Chamberlain here.” I take another sip. “Don’t you agree?”

Trevor smiles a crooked smile and then joins me in checking out the girl.

It’s important to bond with the buyers, especially in front of the sellers—the sellers don’t like it when the buyers bond because they tend to have words about the merchandise behind the sellers backs—or in front of them—point out the things they don’t like, confer and weigh the pros and cons, shed light on flaws that the other buyer might not have noticed otherwise. But this, too, is all part of the game; buyers are never really friends, they want to point out flaws, over exaggerate them, make them up even, all to dissuade another buyer from bidding too high—or at all—on his merchandise. I really don’t care about the game, or any of this shit; I just want to make Miz Ghita nervous, put her in her place, intimidate her properly by showing her how difficult I can make it for her business if I don’t get what I want in the end.

The servant girl stands before me in all of her extensively learned obedience, never showing an ounce of discomfort even though that tray on her hand, and the other holding the glass in the same position for so long, has got to be taking its toll by now.

Bringing my glass to my lips, I take my time, watching the girl.

“I’m not in the market for a brunette, anyway,” I finally say. “I’m looking for something a little lighter, maybe in a honey. And besides, I don’t like left-handed girls; there’s something…” I wave my free hand in gesture, “…unnatural about them.” I laugh lightly and wave the servant girl away. “Call me superstitious.”

Trevor Chamberlain cocks a brow as his mouth touches the rim of his glass; he appears to be considering my comment—seed planted, score one for me. This particular buyer will now be checking any girls he’s interested in for ‘lefties’, and either offering less than he would have had she been a right-handed girl, or offering nothing at all—what a gullible idiot.

Miz Ghita, clearly perturbed by my pointing out the imperfection, wrinkles her mouth with displeasure, but says nothing, because after all, it would be bad business to argue with the clients in front of other clients.

The servant girl walks away quietly, disappearing into the small crowds of mingling guests.

“Your superstitions,” Miz Ghita puts in, “are just that, Mr. Augustin.” She turns to Trevor Chamberlain; a serene smile setting her face. “It’s all in what you choose to believe; left-handed people are unique, not to mention the more creative sort; it would be regrettable to pass up the opportunity to own one”—her cold eyes pass over me, telling me she can fix anything, and then she looks at Trevor—“Madam Francesca will be here shortly; please enjoy your wait by helping yourself to whatever you need.” Translation: Please converse with anyone here other than this man.

Trevor Chamberlain nods his appreciation, and then turns to me. “Mr. Augustin,” he says with another nod.

“Mr. Chamberlain,” I offer the same, and he walks away.

“Tell me, Mr. Augustin,” Miz Ghita says in a suspicious manner, “why a man who has such intolerance for imperfections would have a girl with only nine fingers.” She glances at Nora’s hands.

I sip my wine casually, always taking my time, and then answer, “I get the sense you’re assuming that when I bought her, all ten digits were in-tact.” I offer her a subtle smile, lifting one corner of my mouth; a gleam in my eye.

“Madam Francesca is unlikely to do business with anyone who disfigures his property—we spend far too much money, time and resources molding our merchandise to perfection.”

“Why would any of you care what I do with my property after it is mine?” I ask.

“Oh, I don’t give a damn,” she bites back; her wrinkled mouth tightening on one side. “But Madam Francesca is, shall I say, particular about her pieces—do you think a great painter would appreciate a man destroying what he put his heart and soul into creating after he takes it home from auction? Would an architect want the skyscraper he spent years designing and building, demolished to put a parking lot in its place?” Her beady brown eyes grow colder and she cocks her head to one side. “Madam Francesca takes pride in her work—this is yet another reason we are particular, and careful, about who we sell to outright.”

Now to test Nora’s ability to improvise.

“Aya,” I say without looking at Nora, “look at Madam Ghita and tell her why you were relieved of your finger, and how you came to be in my possession.”

Nora, still holding the briefcase, raises her head, and she looks right at Miz Ghita but never holds eye contact for longer than a second—she knows that to hold it would suggest they’re equals.

“Aya’s finger was removed by her former master for being disobedient, Madam,” Nora says in a soft, meek voice. “Master Niklas purchased Aya because of her imperfection.” She lowers her head again immediately after.

Well played, Nora Kessler, well played.

Miz Ghita’s cold eyes shift to look at me, and I can actually see a small spark of belief—and surprise—hidden within them.

“I see,” she says with a narrowed gaze. “So I take it you’re in the market for a left-handed girl then.” A faint grin flashes across her eyes.

My mouth lifts on one side and I take one last sip of my wine, setting the glass down on a tray as it passes in the hand of another servant girl.

“You play dirty, Mr. Augustin,” she says, referring to my manipulating Trevor Chamberlain. “I like that—but don’t make the mistake of thinking I like you; you won’t be leaving this place with any special deals or arrangements—if you leave with anything at all.”

“I would expect nothing less than a hard bargain, Miz Ghita.”

“Well just the same,” she says, “that particular left-handed girl is not for sale.”

“To be honest,” I state, “it’s not only left-handed girls I’m interested in. I look for flaws; flaws make a woman unique, give her personality. But out of curiosity, why is that particular girl not for sale?”

Miz Ghita looks back at the dark-haired servant girl twenty feet away, weaving her way through crowds with her tray on her hand.

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