I can’t believe she’s alive…
“Maybe we can finish this mission with something to show for it,” Nora says. “Bringing his daughter back might be enough to satisfy him; Victor can tell the client that Francesca Moretti was killed in self-defense, that it couldn’t be avoided.”
“We’ll figure all that out later,” I say. “Let’s just find Olivia Bram and go from there.” I turn to Niklas, who still won’t look at me, and it crushes me but I deserve it.
“Niklas?” I say carefully, hoping to spark a glance at least. “Nora and I can go, if you want.”
He closes the laptop and stands.
“I’m ready when you are,” he says. “Nora, stay here; if anybody comes looking for us, give me a heads-up. I don’t want to walk into any ambushes when we come back.”
“What about me?” Nora asks, grinning.
“You can handle yourself,” he says. “I hope you don’t expect me to hold your fucking hand now because we slept together.”
Nora laughs. How can she not be offended? I’d punch him in the face for a remark like that.
“Honey,” she says, smirking, batting her eyes, “you weren’t that good.”
“I wasn’t?” Niklas is being facetious—he knows she’s full of shit—I know she’s full of shit. “So then when I get back, you won’t mind I try again.”
Nora shrugs. “Sure, I’ll let you try again.”
“Wait a damn minute,” I say, putting up my hand. “Nobody’s fucking on this plane with me on it.” I grab Pearl and then my gun and shove past them toward the exit. “I’m surrounded by crazy people.”
Niklas meets me in the rental car not even a full minute later; he jumps in the driver’s seat, starts the engine. Before he puts the car in gear, he looks over at me. I think he’s going to say something about our argument, about me being the biggest bitch on the planet—I want him to—but the hope fizzles out of me when he says instead, “I’m going to make this clear—if Olivia Bram isn’t there, we can’t wait for her, and we can’t stay here another night; I know you want to save her but—”
“But you’re right,” I cut in. “When they find Francesca, it won’t be long before they find us. I know we have to get out of here, and soon—we probably shouldn’t even be going for her now. Do you think he’s a mob boss or something; Vincent Moretti?”
Niklas puts the car in drive and we speed away.
“Whatever or whoever he is,” he says, keeping his eyes on the road, “he’s going to be pissed, and he’s going to be looking for all three of us. There were cameras in every room of that mansion—I’m sure I’m on camera…killing Francesca, among other things.”
And our DNA: on the wine glasses; Nora’s fingerprints on the wall where Niklas whipped her; my hair all over the floor. It was all unavoidable really; if things had gone as planned and we pulled off kidnapping Francesca we still would’ve been hunted down to a degree, but if there’s a Papa Bear out there more terrifying than Francesca, that changes things a lot. The only thing that gives me comfort is that no matter what traces of our identities we had to leave behind, we’re all still very hard to find, having no real lives outside of Victor’s Order, no paper trails, not much of anything. But all it takes is one break, one tiny thing, and we could end up as dead and forgotten as the people we’re commissioned to kill.
Wait…what did Niklas mean by ‘among other things’?
I’m not even going to ask.
My vision blurs into the colors on the GPS screen.
Atlantic Ocean – 3:15 a.m.
I think Dorian Flynn knew something wasn’t right the second he got the call, when Victor told him to meet us on an old fishing boat named Valerie Lou. But the guy came anyway, and I have to respect him for that. The three of us have been coasting over the water, moving farther out to sea for an hour now, but I feel the boat slowing, hear the engines shifting as our driver—Mack works for Victor, too—finally brings us to a stop in the desolate Atlantic. The boat stinks of fish, but I’m used to it living on the coast; and it’s filthy, with rusted hooks and dry rotted nets and…well, it’s a shithole of a boat and I’m going to need a shower after this.
For a few minutes all I can hear is the water gently slapping the side of Valerie Lou as she bobs on the surface. No one speaks. No one clears a throat. No one moves so not even the shifting of fabric interrupts the sound of the water. But in spite of the almost perfect silence, the thoughts going through all of our minds—mostly Dorian’s, I’m sure—are loud enough to be felt.
Then Dorian leans over and takes off his boot, just one boot, which I find odd.
“Can’t say I didn’t expect this,” he says.
He stands up.
“I’m not gonna try talking you out of it,” he goes on, looking only at Victor. He smiles, and a sort of peace passes over his eyes under the moonlight. “A part of me wanted to; but the truth is that I was always afraid to do it myself, so you’re doing me a favor.”
Victor nods respectfully.
“Will you at least—?”
“I will make sure Tessa gets the safety deposit key,” Victor says.
I admit, I feel kind of bad for the guy. Not necessarily for what’s about to happen, but because he was a tortured soul and I naturally have empathy for people who I can relate to. I know about Dorian’s demons because he told me many times when we were partnered; he’d ramble on and on about how ‘unhappy’ he was—he always downplayed the severity of it, using words like ‘unhappy’ when ‘dying inside’ would’ve been more fitting—how he put a gun in his mouth dozens of times but was too afraid to pull the trigger, about how the only woman he ever loved wanted nothing to do with him. But he always talked about these things as if they were a joke; he’d make wise-ass comments and laugh and then later he’d be in bed with some random girl because sex was how he made it all better—typical Dorian Flynn; can’t say I’m too much different in that aspect, really. I often wondered if he wasn’t the way he was, guns blazing and reckless and mouthy, because he wanted to die in the field. But I didn’t care much—empathy or not—Dorian is his own man, and I was never his keeper. I had—and still have—enough of my own demons to contend with, and mine are enough to weigh all four of us down into the Atlantic with Valerie Lou. The only difference between me and Dorian in this moment is that he wants to die and I’m not ready. Yet.
“And tell Izabel that I’m sorry,” Dorian says.
Victor’s gun appears, but for the moment he keeps it down at his side.
“I should tell you,” Victor speaks up, “I contemplated giving you a pass. For Izabel’s sake, of course, because I know that by killing you it will hurt her deeply and I am not in the habit of hurting the woman I love.”
“What changed your mind?” Dorian asks.
Victor sighs, almost unnoticeably; seems like something’s troubling him, which I find odder than Dorian only removing one boot.
“As I read through the files Dan Barrett gave me,” Victor begins, “the very files that you, Flynn, betrayed me by giving to them, I ran across something quite interesting.”
Oh? This is news to me, even. I cock an eyebrow, listening intently.
“What was it?” Dorian asks.
Victor pauses and then answers, “There was some information in particular included in those files that you could not have known prior to the date Nora Kessler had us in that room with her, forcing each of us to confess our secrets. Which can only mean that even after you were exposed as a traitor to my Order, after you vowed in your cell to be loyal to me, that you continued to betray me by passing along that information later the first chance you got.”
Dorian’s head lowers. “I know,” he says, and then raises his eyes. “I know…though I guess the only thing I’m sorry for, Victor, is that you had to read it.”
Victor nods once more.
Then Dorian turns around, putting his back to Victor, and his eyes to the vastness of the ocean before him. I have to wonder what he’s thinking, because I always wonder about what a man is thinking when he knows he’s about to die. I find more and more that I’m so intrigued by that very thought: What is he thinking?, that it alone is evolving me as a killer.
But that’s another story.
Victor raises his gun to the back of Dorian’s head, and then a shot rings out over the ocean, stirring the sound of water. Dorian goes down, his body slumping into a heap against the debris-littered floor of the boat. Mack comes out of the cabin afterward and prepares the body to sink overboard.
I follow Victor to the stern, sit down next to him on a fiberglass bench. We sit quietly for a long time, taking in the grim truth of the moment.
“So he told his superiors about what all went on with Nora?” I ask. “Everything that was said?”
It’s the only answer he gives, and I get the distinct feeling there’s more to it than it seems. But I know Victor well enough to know that if it’s something he wants to tell me, that he would’ve by now.