Sunday, October 14, 2007

Two Guns - Chapter 11 - Russians

Mark's hand slowly snaked under the pillow and pressed it against his face. Rather like starting a stubborn Fiat 500 parked in the arctic tundra, Mark's wake-up process was an exercise in frustration. His muscles tensed up in a cascade from his shoulders down to his fingers until he finally stopped fighting it and woke up. He was lying next to Sharon in a hotel bed, and found himself uncovered, with both sheets bunched around her sleeping figure. His memory of last night refused to play back, though it didn't feel like drinking - he just hadn't paid particular attention to anything except her, and he felt that this was greatly superior to the hangover and total darkness of binging on hard liquor.

Like clockwork, the phone rang just in time to ruin the quiet perfection of the sleeping girlfriend morning. Careful not to disturb Sharon, Mark reached across the bed to the nightstand, picked up the receiver and wrestled the phone cord free from a small notch in the bed's frame. He realized that he had no idea under which name he'd checked in or why the fuck he'd ordered a wake-up call, but these kind of things happen and the best you can do is roll with it.

"Yeah?" he said, not requiring a lot of acting to sound sleepy and annoyed.
"I'm calling to remind you," Vince said, "about the meeting."
"Remind me? What fucking meeting? I'm on va-ca-tion, it's all I ever wanted."
"Dude. The Russians."
"The Russians...?"
"You're not bugging out on us, are you?"
"No, I'm just...confused. How the hell did you find me?"
"Uh, Mark? I was there yesterday. You called and asked for your shit, I came by: car, clothes, guns, the whole shebang, and I told Alex you need a new cell phone. Figured I'd write down the hotel and room number..."

Mark turned around, spotting two suitcases leaning against the wall. That was stuff he really should've remembered...

"...and that would be when you told me about the Russians?"
"Quick refresher: 11. The Greek restaurant. And bring Collins, we've got the cops there, too."
"Okay, just one more question..."
"What time is it now?"
"...get dressed, Mark."

Click. Hung up, just like that. There was some recollection of a short conversation with Vince, but other than that, Mark's head was still not spun up to operating speed.

Mark reached to put the receiver back on the phone. At the moment of maximum extension, Sharon's eyes opened.

"Morning," she said.
"Hey, baby."
"You look a bit concerned."
"Oh? Nothing, it's just that I may have agreed to some work for both of us."
"May have? Some work? That doesn't sound very good."
"Ah, it's no big deal," Mark said as some memories of last night bubbled back to the surface. Oh, so it was boundless infatuation and alcohol. Thanks, episodic memory! "We're just gonna have a little talk with the Russians, they have some sort of trade dispute with us, your guys will mediate. Boring shit, but they want you and me to be there."
"Has to worry you a little bit, if 'baby' is the best you can come up with..."
"You're incorrigible."
"I'm Irish."
"Same thing."
"I only want you to actualize your full potential. Now, hit me."
"Okay, better than 'baby'...fuzzlebunny? Starshine? Your Royal Highness, Duchess of Éire?"
"Love the last one, but it sounds unwieldy."
"It's not," he insisted.
"How can you tell?"
"Only one way to test..."

With a small jump, he rolled onto the sheets that covered her, then started grinding and moaning in emulation of their late-night activities.

"Oh yes, Your Royal Highness, Duchess of Éire! Do me, Your Royal Highness, Duchess of Éire!" he cried in a faux-pornographic inflection; Sharon giggled beneath him.
"Either that is unwieldy, or you're doing it wrong..."
"I like method acting, but I may need your help with..."
"...getting into character?" she replied with a grin.
"Let's do a test drive," he said and kissed her on the neck.
"Ever the romantic.." she moaned, then pushed him a bit to the side and tried to untangle the bedsheets. "Unless you've got scissors, you're gonna need to..." she began, but he already had one of his hands reaching out for her. With a shout and a laugh, she jumped back and pushed Mark away, then descended into a fit of laughter. "You're cold! You're like a shaved yeti!"
"And whose fault is that? You owe me some warmth, Duchess!"

He pounced, but misjudged the shifting mattress, rolled right over her and off the bed before hitting the floor.

"Are you okay?" she asked, but it was hard to express concern while laughing her lungs out.
"I will be..."

And then the phone rang. Again. After struggling with himself and the floor for a few seconds, Mark finally took the receiver.

"Yes, what is it?" he barked; with Mark standing naked before her, Sharon's self-control was nowhere to be found. Almost involuntarily, she blurted out "Somebody's waking up!" and restarted her laughing fit, rolling away to escape Mark's retaliation. In response, Mark grabbed a loose pillow and chucked it at her, bonking it against her head in an unconventional display of his deadly accuracy. Sharon took the pillow in the spirit of its sender and buried her face in it, trying to muffle her laughter.
"I'm sorry, what was that?" Mark said, now somewhat less annoyed. The resigned sigh on the other end of the line could only come from Vince.
"Are you any more dressed than when I called last time?" he asked.

With Sharon rolling around without the sheets and just barely a cover on her face - surely the part of her that needed the least hiding -, they were arguably less dressed than before, in a rare display of nudistic one-upmanship. Mark idly wondered just how much less dressed they could possibly be without losing skin.

"We're getting there, but it's all Collins. You know how the girls are."
"If you'll forgive me saying so, Mark, you don't sound like you are dressed - or getting dressed."
"How can you..."
"I know you too well, obviously."
"Look, we'll be there, okay?"
"Please, Mark. All I'm asking you is to stop thinking with your johnson for two hours..."
"You didn't answer my question before."
"It's 10 now, Mark. Get a move on."
"Quiet part of town, I know the way, give us 10 minutes to get cleaned and dressed, maybe 3 to find my ride, 35 to the restaurant..."
"You're not actually thinking about what I think you're thinking about, are you?"

Mark turned to look at Sharon. The way she teasingly sprawled herself in front of him and smiled wasn't conductive to rationality. She wasn't just pushing his buttons - she had a brick on his gas pedal.

"Let's say 10 minutes," he said, addressing Sharon. She shook her head. "You can't do that," she said. "Is that a challenge, Your Royal Highness?" he gave back.
"Let me put this in terms your dick will understand," Vince said, annoyed but not necessarily unfriendly. "You get your ass and her ass here by 11. Not 11:15, not 12, not whenever you feel like it. 11."
"Yes, Daddy," Mark said. He pounded the receiver back onto the phone, ripped the phone cord out of its wall socket and made a cracking sound with his neck.

"Now, what's my nickname?" he asked.

Suffice to say, he found out.


In powersliding the car around the curve, Mark broke more traffic regulations than one could comfortably cite, but he had a meeting to get to on time. He drove his dark blue '70 Oldsmobile 442 like he wouldn't brake for the God Almighty himself.

"Nice car," Sharon said, but the joke was lost on Mark. "Figured you were the muscle car type." When that generated no reaction, she craned her head around to look over her shoulder. "And it has a back seat..."
"Christ, I can't even think about that right now," Mark said. "I haven't had this much sex in, well, ever. I'm gonna sprain something if I look at you."
"I wasn't going to go there, but..."
"Have you no mercy, Madam? This is some kind of aversion therapy, right? Tell me you're not going to keep this up..."
"I just think we should have as much fun as possible while we're on vacation. Like I said, enjoy the ride. Who knows what'll happen when we're back on the job?"
"I can see that, but that's exactly it - this is starting to become work."
"We usually have more time than those ten minutes, though. Maybe aromatic, I do have a few ideas. Hanging around gangsters brings out the naughty girl in me."
"Just for a change," Mark said, "I want to take you out on a couple of dates, catch some cheesy chick flick at the movies, pretend I know what a good year for Pinot wine know, some of this courtship stuff you're supposed to do before the filthy animal sex."
"But that sounds like a relationship. Do you think we're ready for that?" she said sarcastically.

Mark just chuckled to himself.

"Anyway, the Russians," he began. "Two guys. One is 'Nicky'. Nicolai Something, heavy weapons expert, he's new in town and Ded wanted him to get a taste of how things work here. Haven't met him, though."
"Uh huh."
"Ded's Russian Number Two, then. Not his real name, obviously..."
"And every year of it, too. You ever meet him?"
"He's a character, that one. Ex-paratrooper, ex-vory, the only asshole in this town older and craggier than yours truly. Real name's Boris Dolvich. Grew up in the Great Patriotic War, went on to be a Light Colonel with the paratroopers, then they sacked his ass for being a contrarevolutionary in '64 or so. Wheelin' and dealin' while he was an officer, but it's not like anyone was clean there - he just got his line of Party credit cancelled, a Commissar had an easy daughter and a party with lots of vodka. To hear Ded tell it, they were on his ass before he ever got near her's, so they shipped him off to Siberia. In the camp, he buried his soldier career and went full-time gangster. He never told me how the fuck he managed to get out of there, all I know is he did the underground brotherhood of thieves thing for a few years, found out that it was the same shit in pink and crossed over. Anyway, he's been here for as long as I can remember."

The 442's dashboard clock showed 3 minutes to 11 when the car came to a screeching halt in front of a Greek restaurant; for one perfect moment, it seemed like New York City actually had an open parking space in just the right location. (And it was swiftly taken by a sex-crazed hitman. Just about figures, doesn't it?)

"Sorry for the delay," Mark bellowed, cutting off Vincent's angry tirade before he could even start; the Italian hitman briefly reconsidered his angle of attack, but Mark laid into him again before he could make a peep. "We had some breakfast," he said, and that left Vince with an opening to exploit. "Yeah, I bet she has an...appetite."

"You just go in there, okay?" Mark said to Sharon, ushering her into the restaurant and away from the conversation. As soon as she closed the door behind her, he spun around, matching Vince's cheek-to-cheek grin with a mask of desperation.
"She's fucking breaking me in, I can tell," Mark said.
"That's just the usual pussy-whipping in progress. Let me guess, you're going for a romantic dinner?"
"And you think it was your idea, too?"
"Fuck you. I get a girl and suddenly everyone else is a relationship expert?"
"I am, anyway. Good form that you're still on time, though. The bosses will be here any minute, I already got the place searched, we're good."
"Thanks, I owe you one."
"I'm just gonna put it on the tab. Oh, and your fly's open."

Instinctively, Mark's hand shot downwards, but Vince's smile betrayed that he'd been had.

"Relax," Vince said. "It's gonna be okay."

Mark had to smile despite himself. What are best friends for, if not pranks and humiliating psychological insight?


Nicolai 'Nicky' Danko had a gun in one hand and a phone receiver in the other. He was in a hotel room with five more guys and Ded, though the latter had the unenviable position of being bound to a chair and bleeding from a cut on his forehead.

"...see you," he said, then hung up. Idly tapping the trigger guard of his Makarov PB, he walked over to Ded and woke him up with a hearty slap to the face. Ded's eyes slowly cleared until he could be said to be conscious again; Nicolai gave him a punch to the stomach to celebrate the occasion.
"You're only good for bleeding on carpets," Nicolai said, gesturing at the trickle of saliva and crimson from the corners of Ded's mouth; the old Russian didn't reply. "And you owe us."
"Fuck you," Ded managed to say.
"How American of you. Show me those hands."

Ded's arms were fixed to the armrests of the chair; Nicolai easily grabbed Ded's right hand.

"Those tattoos, they used to mean something, no? We have the same tattoos, that makes us thieves and brothers, yes?"
"You will help us. Prove that you are loyal to the right people."

Nicky seized Ded's pinky finger; he ran the length of the tattoo on it with his free hand.

"Every tattoo is a promise, Boris."

With a sudden move, one of Nicky's henchmen forced a rolled-up sock into Boris's mouth; despite the old man's struggles, it was soon fixed with a few layers of duct tape, gagging the gangster. Nicky leaned in close and drank the look of terror from Ded's face.

"And when you break a promise" - Nicky forced the finger upwards, snapping the bone to the tune of Ded's muffled screams - "you only hurt yourself."


Technically, the restaurant was closed for business on Sunday. The meeting meant renting the whole thing, screening personnel and only serving authorized food. It was rather like arranging a dinner for a Senator, but the money was very good - it was hard, if not impossible, to find a restaurant worker in New York City who didn't depend on tips for their livelihood, and the top strata of gangsters thought in rolls of benjamins.

Mark was tapped as security detail, which raised his spirit somewhat by clarifying that he wouldn't have to speak about his recent actions at the table. His role was easy: greet the guests, take their weapons, shoo away the uninvited. A further advantage of this arrangement was that Mark could keep his own guns, which also contributed greatly to his peace of mind - even if he did have to stand around for the whole duration of the meeting.

Alex was the first to show up, dressed in a tasteful suit and now walking rather briskly with her new cane. She repeated some of the instructions Mark had already received, gave him his new mobile phone - "The plastic on this one is a bit harder, I think", she said with a smirk -, then handed over her SIG and took a seat. Captain Whitton and his Berkovitz goon were next, exchanging no words but providing two Glocks for Mark's checkroom arsenal. Finally, Nicky showed up, carrying a smile and a big bottle of white wine.

"Invitation only," Mark said curtly, but was outdone by Captain Whitton, who walked up to the man, loudly said "Nicolai! Welcome!" and embraced the gangster. Mark raised an eyebrow, but it was at least as good as a picture ID to him.
"Boris couldn't come," Nicky said. "But I brought a little present from him." He handed the bottle to a waiter and ordered it put on ice.
"Couldn't come, huh?" Mark replied. "Where is he?"
"Oh, he's probably sleeping now. He caught a cold."
"Too bad."

Nicky tensed to take a step forward, but Mark motioned for him to stay and dialed Ded's number. "I'll just send him some good wishes," Mark said.


Ded's cell phone went off; one of the Russians picked it up, then raised his pistol to Ded's skull.

"You make a good act or you die, panimaijesh?"

Ded nodded; another Russian removed the improvised gag, and the phone call was taken.

"Hello?" Ded managed to say, sounding weak and pained from the ordeal.
"Christ, Boris, you sound like shit," Mark said.
"I look like shit, too."
"What's this about a cold I hear? I got some kid here who's trying to sell me that."
"Buy it," Ded coughed. "You just tell Nikolai what you would tell me."

Boris could hear Mark lower the receiver and say "You're late, you old cocksucker!" in a friendly tone, which brought a smile to his face. A second later, the Enforcer was back on the phone.

"Alright, then. Thanks for the present."

The Russian with the gun tensed up; Ded managed to raise his head and stared the gunman straight in the eye.

"California Merlot," Ded finally said. "Horrible wine, but good for Americans."
"You Vodka gulpers have no room for that shit, comprende? Do they even have wine in Russia?"
"Do we have wine? Hah! Rara Neagra, from Moldova. Excellent red wine. In '67, I killed three Armenians to get a crate. Only thing I took with me to America. My treasure."
"Hm. No need to waste it on me, then. Well, sorry to bother you, Boris. You just lie down and get better."
"I will. Goodbye, Mark."

Hung up. The Russian gunman lowered his pistol.

"Well done, old man."

And thus Ded was gagged again, but not shot.


The hard part about being on guard duty in a Greek restaurant was watching everyone else eat. The initial round of drinks had long since vanished, and Mark felt bad about the empty chair that should have been Ded's - instead, the poor guy was probably barfing his lungs out, his face tinted to the same shade as the metaxa sauce on those plates. In response to that thought - the metaxa sauce, not the barfing -, Mark's stomach growled. Well, maybe they'd let him have the doggie bag - even if that was a bit below the dignity one should afford a wolf.

Alexandra tried to call a toast to their newest associate when she noticed the emptiness of her glass; in response, Nicolai graciously offered Ded's bottle.

"Gifts are meant to be used," he said, pouring into the empty wine glasses already provided for this purpose. Mark's other craving - some alcohol to take the edge off - reasserted itself. It was probably overblown to call him an alcoholic, but he definitely liked the buzz a lot. But he didn't feel too envious on that count - he'd never liked the taste of vino.

White wine...nasty shit...Ded has red wine...probably also nasty shit. Give me a beer any day.

It was at this precise moment that Mark's fringe knowledge of alcohol proved to be of advantage - even if he didn't drink wine, he'd seen it served and drunk often. Often enough to know that a Merlot shouldn't be white. And if he knew that, he had a hard time believing that Ded wouldn't. It's the little things that ruin your lies, and Mark was sure he smelled a rat.

His suspicions crystallized into action; he fixed his eyes on Nicky and took a step forward to get a better line of sight.

The lithe Russian obviously had a head for this kind of stuff; Mark noticed that he'd unconsciously decided against shooting him right there because Nicky had managed to sit at the table's side, putting Sharon between himself and Mark. With the Enforcer maneuvering himself into a better position, it was obvious enough for Nicky to notice; the wiry Russian had the split second necessary to draw his hidden Makarov PB and aim it at Sharon's head before Mark could snap his Hi-Power from the sleeve. Within three seconds, the jolly meeting turned into a Mexican standoff. Nobody said a word, until Nicolai raised his voice again.

"We do it the hard way, then."

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