I drop the sheet on top of the others.

“I thought the CIA did more…outside work, if you will?” I say. “Why follow me here? I thought chasing killers around the U.S. was more in the interest of the FBI?”

“Yes, but you worked for Vonnegut, and Vonnegut is by every account an outside threat to the United States. You were his highest ranking assassin—we can’t find him, so we go where you go.”

“And besides,” Kenneth Ware says, “we’re not technically CIA—we’re an entirely different division.”

“And what division would that be exactly?” I inquire.

“The Special Special Activities Division,” says Ware, mysteriously.

Interesting. Something as underground as we are, that I’ve never heard of. I know what SAD is, but according to Mr. Ware and his clandestine emphasis on the extra ‘special’, I’m guessing SSAD does not stand for Social Security Advocates for the Disabled.

“We were surprised,” Barrett speaks up, “when Mr. Flynn just happened to end up under your command after you took over the Black Market operation he was planted in—felt like we hit the jackpot when Flynn found out who you were, Mr. Faust.”

I am sure it did.

I continue to scan the papers as they talk. Flynn sits uncomfortably next to me.

“You were a ghost,” Connors says. “Even with some files on you when you were in The Order, we could never find you.”

“How did you get any information on me at all then?” I ask, looking up so I can see their eyes when they answer.

Connors and Barrett look at one another. Then they glance at Kenneth Ware.

“Let me rephrase the question,” I say. “Who was your mole in Vonnegut’s Order?” He or she couldn’t have been very good since they’re still searching for Vonnegut.

“We don’t have an agreement yet, Mr. Faust,” Barrett says, smirking. “We’re not at liberty to give you that information. Not even with an agreement.”

I look to Connors, the most accommodating of the six.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Faust,” Connors says with regret, “but we can’t reveal that operative’s identity. I’m sure you can understand. And he or she is still in The Order, so you have nothing to worry about anymore.”

I look at Mark Masters. “And do you have anything to say about this?” I ask him. “You’ve been awfully quiet; though not as quiet as those two.” I nod toward the two men who haven’t said a word other than their names since they sat down: Ryan Miller is the balding one; David Darros is the one with the German accent.

“I agree with them,” Mark Masters says, eyeing me intensely. “I don’t care who you are, or what you want as part of the deal—we’re not giving up the identity of our mole.”

Without a word, I look back down into the files and then I begin to read to myself. Everything. And as I’m filing it all away in my memory, I also file away my own profiles of the men who wish to partner with me:

Dan Barrett – He’s playing the ‘bad cop’; intimidation is his tool; he wants to make me feel like I should agree to work with them, that if I don’t they’ll bring me down, all without resorting to outright threats. But Dan Barrett, just like almost every other man on his side of the table, desperately wants my cooperation and is not likely to ‘turn me in’ if I refuse their offer; he needs me and would just send in another mole to replace Flynn to watch me. He believes I am the key to bringing down one of the most wanted men in the world; me being behind bars, or on death row would do nothing to help him.

Barry Connors – He’s playing the ‘good cop’; pretending to bond with me so that I feel like I can trust him. But I trust him no more or less than I do the others sitting next to him. He wants what Dan Barrett wants, and he is willing to do whatever he has to in order to get it.

Kenneth Ware – He’s one of the most transparent men in the room; his fascination with Gustavsson easily gives him away. I guarantee he has a Ph.D. in Psychology and probably has a favorite serial killer. Ware is the least of my concerns—he’s got blood in his eyes, and though he might not be a killer himself, blood is an addictive and seductive color to people like Ware and Gustavsson, and he is not likely to turn away from it.

Mark Masters – He’s the other transparent one, only he does give me reason for concern. Masters is a just man dedicated to his job, wants nothing more than to put every kind of criminal away for life and get them off the streets. But he’s a high stakes player, dealing with worldwide criminals; he might have been a cop or even an FBI agent at some point in his life, but it wasn’t enough; might have pushed pencils for the CIA for years working his way up to this position. He wants justice—perhaps a family member was murdered and everyone needs to atone—and I believe he’s willing to tolerate me long enough to bring Vonnegut down, but after that, I have no doubt he will come after me and everyone in my Order. But men like Masters are often too blinded by revenge, too impatient for their own good, and they tend to get themselves killed in the line of duty. I hope that is what happens so I don’t have to be the one to kill him later—he probably is a good man, and while I don’t particularly care to kill good people, I will if I have to.

Ryan Miller and David Darros, not having said anything to give me as much insight on them, still fit into a profile. Miller is new to all of this; he lacks confidence, doesn’t look as in control as the other men; swallows a lot; can’t sit still and constantly touches his suit as if it will distract him from his own discomfort provoked by a lack of experience; he can’t look me in the eye, and the one time he did, he actually smiled as though he were new to the class and hoped to make a friend. David Darros, on the other hand, is looking me in the eyes right now and he doesn’t want any friends; he’s calm and collected, is very confident in his suit, knows his way around and has far too much experience to be uncomfortable. In ways, Darros is a lot like me. I just wonder how much.

In all, I will agree to work with them, but what they will not know is that as far as Vonnegut is concerned, I’ll only be working with them to help myself. I will be the one to bring Vonnegut down, and the information they have on him could help me do that. I will take over The Order after I’ve eliminated Vonnegut; and by being on the inside, working behind the scenes with organizations that have dedicated many of their years in service to finding Vonnegut, I’ll already know who all I have to kill later, picking them off one by one and pulling their claws from The Order that I will one day control.

I place both hands on the table and announce, “I will agree to your deal: I will help you bring down Vonnegut, and in exchange, your organization will turn a blind eye to my operations and terminate your surveillance indefinitely. No member of my Order is to be approached by any member of yours without first going through me. And if at any time I find that you have not upheld your end of our agreement, I will have no choice but to terminate our relationship immediately and deal with you…in my own way.”

“Is that a threat, Mr. Faust?” Barrett speaks up, narrowing his eyes.

“Yes. It is, Mr. Barrett. And I am not in the habit of making threats I am unable to carry out.” I straighten my suit jacket and then fold my hands loosely on the table.

Barrett smirks. “We have you, Mr. Faust,” he cautions. “Both of you, two men who may not be on a wanted list yet, but keep in mind that’s only because we’ve kept you off them.” He leans toward the table, eyeing me as if he has something over me. “We could take you right now—we could kill you right now.”

“Please Mr. Barrett”—I open a hand, palm up, and casually gesture toward his jacket pocket—“why don’t you give your son—the one in Maine—a call, before you say anything more.”

His skin pales, and the smirk vanishes from his mouth. He glances at Connors nervously, then back in my direction. Masters breathes in heavily; his jaw grinds behind his stubbled cheeks. Miller, the novice, looks a bit scared; Darros, the expert, continues to watch me the same way I’ve been watching him. Connors’ eyes shut softly and he shakes his head like a man wishing his mouthy counterpart would drop the threats already. Kenneth Ware looks impressed.

Barrett’s son answers the phone.

“Are you all right, Danny?”

“Why don’t you put him on speakerphone?” I suggest.

Hesitantly, Barrett sets his phone on the table and runs his finger over the screen.

“I’m fine, Dad,” comes his son’s voice, “he hasn’t hurt me.”

The two of them go on about the man sitting in Daniel Barrett’s living room, my man from the First Division: how he was sitting there like that, in the dark, when Daniel came home from work hours ago; how my man told Daniel that he would not hurt him and that all he wanted Daniel to do was wait for this phone call.

And then Connors calls his wife in New York and they go through the same conversation about the woman sitting with her in her kitchen. “She even let me cook dinner,” comes the wife’s voice through the speakerphone. “Not that I’m hungry after coming home to find a strange woman in our house with a gun on her hip, but I was so scared I wanted to…do what I normally do, I guess; make me feel like you’re coming home. Are you coming home, Barry?” Her voice is shaky. Connors looks to me for the answer.

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