CHAPTER 1 - PREFACE
My mission for the night is to keep Roman from doing anything stupid. He's on pins and needles, bouncing from foot to foot as he stands behind me in the lobby of this hotel, the Violet or something like that. It's nice enough, but the whole situation makes me edgy.
The foyer is too open. There are three ways to see into this big space from different, obvious angles and absolutely no cover. Anybody walking by outside is going to make us as bratva immediately. And anybody who's paying attention is going to see that Roman is too jumpy, too nervous. I can see the outline of his piece sticking out of the back of his trousers, and the raging hard-on at the front. Nice one, Roman. Real subtle.
I'm glad the job went well, but I wish my brother would just get a grip sometimes. He's used to being a blunt instrument. He doesn’t necessarily see the benefit in subtlety, let alone diplomacy. Sometimes a blunt instrument is what you want though, I guess.
The blonde behind the counter looks like she might be game to help us blow off a little steam, but Roman makes a sour face when he sees the wedding band on her finger. He's got a point. You never know who she could belong to... and there are Italians and Russians everywhere. Everybody belongs to somebody, don't they?
I can hear the sound of a piano bar so that's where we’re going. Hopefully we'll find somebody in there, some way for us to get the hell out of this brightly lit foyer. It's like a shooting gallery in here, and yet I don't plan on dying tonight.
But, Jesus, this bar is a whole different kind of trap. There's a couple of plainclothes detectives sitting at the corner there, trying to act drunk while they guzzle club soda and laugh too loud. Then there's a couple older broads, but to be honest I think we have been to that well a few too many times. Yeah, mature ladies are much more likely to accept our unusual tastes with less attitude, but there’s something missing there. Or maybe I'm just bored. It's hard to tell.
And there goes Roman, carelessly pushing toward the narcs. What would he do without me? Ten to life is my guess.
A sweep around the room and I see nothing good. I'm ready to go. If I get a bottle of Jack delivered to our room then I can maybe get Roman upstairs for some shut eye. I know that after a hit he really likes to find some pussy, but that's not going to happen here.
I'm ready to start pitching the bottle of Jack idea when I turn around and see her there. There are three pink lights over her head, dropping this candy colored glow across the bridge of her nose as she stares deep into the pit of a drink that looks like a Manhattan or something. First glance, I would have pegged her for more of a grasshopper or pina colada type. It's unusual, but I do like a girl that can throw them back.
She's got a nervous thing with her fingers, tearing up some napkin into tiny bits. Ex-smoker? Panic attack? Either way, she's not going to see us coming.
“That one,” I say.
Roman looks around, his eyes glancing over the tops of the bottle blondes and Mrs. Robinson over there. I nudge him on the arm and point so he can't miss her.
He sucks his teeth. “Jesus, no.”
Her hair falls around her face in pretty little ringlets, shiny spirals I can almost feel between my fingers. No, she's not the kind of girl that Roman usually likes. She’ll be tough. He's going to have to actually talk. He's going to hate that.
“Yes. Her. Definitely her.”
He’s saying no, but I'm already on my way. I shove him hard between his shoulder blades toward the empty seat in front of her and then come up behind so I can swipe past her. Knock her a little off-balance. I don't know why, it just works. Startle them a little bit, and it’s like starting off with a bang.
After Roman slides in, I come right up after to make sure he's not to be able to wiggle his way out of the booth. She looks up like she's seeing double, her face blank and confused. Is she drunk? No, not drunk. But not necessarily thrilled to see us either.
Her eyes keep wandering over Roman’s face in that way I’ve seen a million times. Girls have a funny way of forgetting that he can see them, he sees the way they react to him. It makes me angry all over again. Rude little bitch. Doesn’t she know it’s not nice to stare?
In a few seconds I’ve got champagne for all of us and we’re just making a nice bit of conversation. No big deal. Her name is Marie. She's nervous and answering every question like it's a lie. She said she's not from here, but who knows? Maybe her name isn’t even Marie. Not like I really care.
There’s some kind commotion in the foyer and I look through the bar doors to the wide open area beyond. It’s just a noisy group of women but something makes me hesitate, and I watch just a few seconds longer. Two Italians come in right after, looking around suspiciously.