Wickedly handsome and shamelessly rich, Tristan Stahl is a villain. A businessman by day and an underground cage fighter by night, he fears no one, and respects one man alone – his adoptive father, Mark Stahl. It’s at Mark’s request that Tristan recruits Isolde Molnar for her “special talents”. He doesn’t expect complications from this “piece of livestock”, but working closely with her turns out challenging in more ways than one. Throw a modern alchemist’s potion in the mix along with Mark Stahl’s growing infatuation with the girl, and there you have it – Tristan and Isolde Reloaded. Enjoy!
I’m sitting on a stool in my room like a plastic doll, hands in my lap, staring at the clock on the wall. It feels like every move could destroy the perfect make-up and hair-do that professionals worked on for hours on end, swirling around me. So I haven’t moved since they left, waiting for Mark Stahl’s car. He said the driver would call when he’s here.
Nadine walks in, startling me. She places her briefcase on the floor and shuts the door furtively, as if she doesn’t want my brother Roland to know she’s home. The train speeds by the window, making the sidewall shudder.
Nadine drops to her knees before me and clutches my hands in hers.
“We need to talk.” The lines on her face bear the tiredness and worry of a stressful job. Stahl Enterprises has used her so intensely these past weeks that she hasn’t been home at all, always on the move.
“Hello to you, too, stranger,” I whisper as if just awoken from a dream.
“You need to get away from them, Isolde,” she warns. I notice her natural hairline like a tiara from which her red hair emerges, coiled in a business chignon. She hasn’t even had time to dye her hair.
“You mean Tristan and Mark?” I say matter-of-factly. I’m calmer than I should be, like I’m on crack or something. “There’s no running away from them.”
Nadine frowns. “Tristan and Mark? These two basically run the continent, Isolde, and you call them Tristan and Mark?”
I shrug. “I’m going out with the father tonight, aren’t I? It would be a bit awkward to call my date by his last name, or Sir, wouldn’t you say?” Bile rises up my throat, but I swallow it down.
She squeezes my hands tighter. “Isolde, what’s going on here? This isn’t like you. You’re not a gold digger, you don’t go kinky over old guys either, so why are you doing this?”
I press my lips together and look down at our hands. “It’s part of my job, Nadine.”
“Sleeping with that old turtle is part of the job?” she spits.
My lips curl bitterly. “Well, not just yet. They’re taking me along tonight because I might get to certain information easier than either of them. But later on . . .”
“Speaking of information.” Nadine reaches for her briefcase, opens it and shuffles through old looking papers. They’re yellow, translucent and a bit like unironed cloth. She drops them in my lap. I give her a questioning glance, and she motions with her chin towards them. “Behold and shudder.”
I frown down at the first paper. Columns with endless numbers, then names, then locations – I recognize Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen.
“These are prisoner numbers and names from the Holocaust,” I shriek. Some of them are highlighted with felt, obviously once neon-green, now faded.
Nadine glances over her shoulder and puts a finger to her lips. “Hush! Roland might hear you, and this is top secret information.”
“Then why are you showing it to me?” I push the papers back into her hands. “This could get you in an awful lot of trouble!”
“I’m already in trouble,” she says. She rises on her knees, her face now closer to mine, enhancing the air of secret. The words leave her mouth in short breaths. “If anything happens to me, I need someone else to know. Mark Stahl used to work for the Nazis. He’s ninety-six years old and very ill, but he’s keeping himself alive by means that he discovered back then.”
“I don’t understand.”
Nadine glances over her shoulder again, then brings her face even closer. “He used to be a Nazi doctor. And these –” she points to the papers now resting on top of her briefcase, “these were the people he worked on. He experimented on them and, when he got the results he was looking for, he used them on himself.” She grips my shoulders, her reddened eyes an inch from mine. “Isolde, the experiments made these people special.”
She picks up the pages and leafs through them with desperate fingers, as if she can’t find what she’s looking for fast enough. She finally points to a name, the pink polish on her fingernail chipped. “Viktor Schweizer. A doctor himself, a psychiatrist. Got rescued by the Americans. Once safe in the States, he wrote this.” She rummages in her briefcase, and fishes out a torn paper that she pushes in my hand. The lower edge is like the teeth of a shark, and the paper thin and fragile. “This is part of his report. Like most worthwhile information, it was never shared with the world.”
My pulse is so loud in my eardrums that it muffles the next train that makes the room quake. I pick up the paper and look down at it like it’s holy. “Where did you get this?”
I barely hear her voice over the scream of the train. “The American embassy. Viktor Schweizer is the ambassador’s right hand. I think he actually runs things from the shadow.”
“Nadine, how did you come upon all this?”
She gives me a clever grin, one of the few traces of sanity she has left. “I’m an investigative journalist, remember?”
I grip her hands in mine and look deep into her eyes, determined to talk sense into her. “You were careless, Nadine. Don’t you think Mark and Tristan had your activity monitored somehow?”
She snorts. “You mean like they wanted me to discover all this?”
“Not necessarily. But like they know that you did.”
Her brow furrows. “Then how come they didn’t try to stop me?”
My intuition, that for which Tristan first approached me, fires theories through my head like laser. The X file on top of the pyramid on Tristan’s desk flashes back at me. Viktor Schweizer, a psychiatrist. Mark Stahl once experimented on him in a concentration camp. The experiments worked. Now he’s back to take Stahl down – with new medical discoveries that will shake the world once released, and that will kill the entire pharma industry. I narrow my eyes. “Because Viktor Schweizer is the leader of the Institute for Psychosomatic Research.”
Nadine springs to her feet. “What?”
I nod. “You heard that right. Mark and Tristan have been trying to get to him since forever. It’s what they hired me for. Now it turns out they took you on their team for the same reason. They knew you’d be appalled when you started uncovering Mark’s dirty past, so they let you feel you were working against them, for the greater good. In truth, you’re taking them closer to Viktor Schweizer, who probably isn’t going out of his way trying fend off your investigations.” Intuition strikes again. I squint as if to peer through the man’s reasons and secrets, as if they’re hidden deep in Nadine’s face. “You’re a smart young woman with a fierce instinct for justice. The kind of person someone like Schweizer would enjoy to watch at work, and grow to trust. Sooner or later, he will make himself available to you.”
Nadine pulls a chair and sits across from me, folding her arms and opening her mouth, letting it sink in. She stares at the wall behind me. Another train screams by. Once silence sets in again, Nadine says, “And what part does Tristan play in this story?”
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