I still don’t care much about her sister—from what I’ve heard, they could be the stars of their very own reality TV show—but to make her stay a little longer, I’ll listen if that’s what she wants.

Jackie’s fed-up expression finally turns forgiving, and she drops her bra back onto the carpet and sits down on the bed beside me, her feet on the floor.

And for the next thirty minutes I listen to her tell me everything.

“So what do you think I should do?” she asks, and I realize she really does want my advice.

What the fuck do I look like, a shrink?

“You want my honest opinion?” I ask, at least warning her beforehand because I never sugarcoat anything.

“Yeah,” she says. “I want honesty.”

I shrug and then bring my arms up, locking my hands behind my head.

“She may be your sister,” I say, “but that doesn’t make her off-limits. You do what you gotta do; beat the shit out of her if that’s what’ll make you feel better”—my eyes meet hers with warning and purpose—“but that shit you were saying about calling Child Protective Services just to get back at her—that’s fucked up. Do what you gotta do, but only bitches betray their families like that.”

Jackie nods several times in deep contemplation of my ‘advice’, and then she smiles, letting out a breath, her petite shoulders rising and falling underneath her disheveled blond hair.

“You should take out an advice column in the newspaper,” she says with a grin.

I laugh.

“Yeah, I can see it now”—I swipe a hand in front of me in demonstration—“I’ll call it: Dear Niklas, Should I Kill Myself? Sure, If You Feel Like You Should.”

Jackie chuckles, shaking her head and gently rolling her eyes. Then she crawls over my body and takes her place next to me on the other side of the bed again. She lays against the pillow on her side, facing me. The tip of her index finger, her fingernail painted with some weird glittery shit, begins to trace the outline of my chest muscles.

“What about this stuff with avoiding your brother?” she asks. “Wanna talk about it?”

Absently, and with bitterness, I chew on the inside of my cheek.

“No,” I answer after a moment, staring at the lime green door out ahead. “I’d rather not.”

“Oh come on,” Jackie says lightheartedly, patting my chest with the palm of her hand, “it can’t be that bad—mine was pretty messed up; can’t be much worse than mine. What did he do?”

After a pause, I say without looking at her, “My brother murdered my fiancé,” and in half a second Jackie’s almost-fully-naked body becomes a rock next to mine.

“Oh…”

“Why don’t you take those panties back off?” I suggest.

It takes her moment to hear my question, and then, still with quite a shock on her face, her eyebrows drawn inward, she slips her panties off and tosses them on the floor.

Tearing open a condom wrapper, I put the condom on and then gesture with one hand toward my lap.

“Get on,” I say, and she does.

And in under thirty seconds, neither one of us are thinking anymore about our fucked up families.

Izabel

New York City

I’ve begun to master it, the art of moving without making a sound, how to blend in with the shadows, to control what I hear and see and taste and feel and smell.

As my flat-heeled boots move silently over the asphalt rooftop in the dead of night, I see everything. My vision is sharp, taking in the way the moonlight lays across the building in a cloak of gray. I see a tiny glint of silver illuminated by that light on the doorknob just up ahead. I feel the mild air on my face, the calm thrumming of my heartbeat. Cool and collected yet eager to get this done. I should hear the movement of light traffic on the streets of the city below, the lapping of the waves against the shore, the wind moving through the tops of the trees, but I’ve blocked it all out so I can stay focused, so that I can hear what matters: the enemy’s footsteps, the cocking of a gun, a whisper intended to be unknown to me. Nora taught me these things. “Stay focused,” she had said a hundred times before she caught me off-guard and hit me in the face. “See and hear and know your enemy’s movements before they act on them.” And then she’d hit me again, and again, until the last time when I caught her off-guard and nearly broke her nose. Fucking bitch.

She smiled proudly and wiped the blood away with the back of her hand. Nothing fazes that woman. Nothing.

Nora turns her blond head done up in a tight bun, to look back at me on the rooftop. Her brown eyes appear black in the dark. Piercing. Beautiful. Malicious—strange how the night can reveal a person’s inner-workings. She smiles so slimly that it barely touches her lips, but I see it there, in those dark pools looking back at me with excitement and a sort of sweet murderous rage—she couldn’t have joined up with a more fitting group of people.

We slip our face masks on and she gestures at me with her gloved index and middle fingers.

I nod and prepare to follow.

We’ve been hiding on this rooftop since seven p.m. when Randolf Pinceri’s men locked the building up for the day. It was the easiest way inside: walk in among the employees and guests by day and then slip back in through a rooftop door by night, rather than trying to break in from any of the bottom floor entrances, which are heavily guarded in the overnight hours.

Like two stealthy black cats stalking prey, Nora and I move alongside the building, remaining hidden in the cover of its shadow. Our black bodysuits conceal every inch of our skin. Our heads are covered by masks, pulled down tight over our faces, leaving only our eyes untouched. Black boots cover our feet. Black gloves fit tight over our hands and wrists.

A camera moves in a slow horizontal motion, drinking in the quiet undisturbed scene of the rooftop. We stop at just the right moment, pressing our backs against the wall and remaining perfectly still until the camera passes. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. We move quickly toward the rooftop door, having only fifteen more seconds to get that door open and slip inside undetected before the camera makes another round.

With my lock-pick already wedged between my leather-clad fingers, I get to work on the door while Nora stands off to the side with her gun in-hand.

“Ten seconds,” I hear her whisper.

I say nothing and continue to work vigorously, crouched in front of the door. My heart begins to pound more erratically, pushing adrenaline hotly through my veins.

“Five seconds.”

Sweat begins to bead in my hairline underneath the tight fabric. I bite down hard on the inside of my mouth, trying not to fumble the lock-pick.

“Three.”

I can feel the camera making its way back, slowly and methodically, like a pair of eyes on me in the darkness that I can’t see but I know are there, and it sends a shiver up the back of my neck.

“Two.”

There’s a click and the door comes open when I grip the knob and turn.

We slip inside and shut the door with not a second to spare.

I stop to catch my breath.

The timing had to be perfect. Not necessarily the dodging of the camera, but everything from here on out. At precisely ten-thirty p.m. the alarm system on the building will automatically activate. But between the hours of seven p.m. and ten p.m. we had to wait for all three of our targets to arrive before we could act. Getting in was the easy part. Getting out will be a different story—we have to fulfill this mission without drawing attention, without setting off alarms, without one of Pinceri’s men alerting the dozens of others of our intrusion. We have to move through this building undetected, make it to the eighth floor, get information from one target, kill him and two others quietly, and then make it out of the building before the alarm is set. I’m getting a headache just thinking about it.

Pulling back my glove, I glance down at my watch.

“We have less than fifteen minutes to pull this off,” I whisper to Nora while she adjusts the tiny speaker fixed inside her ear.

I hear Victor’s voice inside mine as well:

“One man is stationed just outside the tenth floor door,” he says. “But there are three at the far end of the hall.”

Nora and I nod to each other, knowing what we have to do.

After tucking my lock-pick back behind the tight fabric at my wrist, I pull my gun from the holster on my thigh and follow behind Nora as she descends the concrete steps of the stairwell. The air is warm and moist in here where the air conditioning doesn’t reach, making my bodysuit adhere to my skin uncomfortably. The sound of our boots moving down the steps is faint, practically unnoticeable, but slightly enhanced by the echo of the small space. Dull fluorescent lights lay out a path for us as we make our way to the bottom and reach the tall metal door that leads out onto the tenth floor.

“Left or right?” Nora asks Victor.

“Right side of the door,” Victor responds, his deep but soothing voice always a comfort to me on these missions. “He is armed, but his gun is holstered.”

We spent two weeks scoping this building out: sent others in before us, blending in with the day visitors, who planted hidden cameras of our own, feeding real-time images to Victor and James Woodard back at our Boston headquarters.


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