The call had come on Marishka’s phone, and so there she was at the Model Cafe again. The place was mostly empty, even the usual drunks gone. Anatoly didn’t seem that angry, just nodded to her as she walked in, and gestured towards the back.
Kuznetsov sat with his back against the bar on a stool. Sitting at the small table in the back were three men. The ones on the ends wore tracksuits and the telltale bulges of guns under their track jackets – muscle, but trusted muscle. Their hair was worn a little long and with enough product to make it greasy. They slouched a little, eyes watching her with a little bit of dull lust.
The man in the center was different. His hair was grey, cut short. His eyes missed nothing. He wore a gunmetal-grey suit, and a dark tie, and his back was ramrod straight. Not muscle. Boss.
She stopped a respectful distance away, and waited. The man in the middle let her wait a minute, then gestured. She didn’t glance at Kunetsov as she passed him, but got close enough to the man to be heard without being a threat.
[How can I help you, sir?]
The man in the middle narrowed his eyes. [You knew Yevgeniy Suvorov in IK44.] It was a statement, not a question. [You were… taught some things by him.]
[He is dead,] the man said. [Even the greatest bear can be brought down by the claws of too many wolves.] He pulled a paper bag up onto the table, and pushed it across. [He had done me a service, and word came to me that he wished this taken to you. It has been smuggled over here.]
She reached for the bag, carefully, watching the muscle, and then opened it. She looked to see what was inside, then nodded.
[Thank you, sir.]
[That’s not all,] he said. [You’re the daughter of Mikhail Petrovska, yes?]
Her eyes narrowed, and she gave one sharp nod. [As much as he had any family,] she replied, her voice bitter.
[Do not be so angry at him, girl. He is unable to assist anyone where he is. Why such as him is in the Polar Facility, I do not know, but that is why he did nothing. He may not even be awake now – simply frozen. But he also is owed a favor by me. He was a very special man – both one of us and one of them, more us than them.]
In the intricate world of Russian crime, that meant he was part of the Russian criminal underground and a mole for them inside the Russian security services. She considered this as the man continued.
[For his acts against his second masters, he was locked up, imprisoned. If we’d known you were there faster, we would have gotten you out. But it seems you learned very important lessons.]
She gave a shrug. [It was learn or lose. I learned.] She let herself have a slightly cruel smile. [As the Italians are realizing.]
[They still wonder how you survived. I was surprised to find you had, in fact. They were watching here, but…] He gave his own shrug. [Their men were convinced to move on.]
Which explained the report of the abandoned car in the area.
[Your father’s work, and your mentor – you owe us nothing, but the local heads may be interested in your plans.]
She shook her head. [I don’t want to get involved in anything. I have many bad memories I wish to excise. I mean no disrespect, but I just want some peace. I have money enough to not worry for a while if I live quietly.]
His eyes narrowed. [So why do you pump Kuznetsov for information?] he said, a bit more forcefully.
[To stay out of the way,] she replied, keeping her voice calm. [Keeping informed is a survival feature for me – knowing what to stay the hell out of. Plus, it seems I carry on my father’s legacy – I keep the goodwill of the police by telling them things about the bastards, and so they don’t pay so much attention to our people.]
He glared at her for a moment, then laughed. The two muscle boys, and Kuznetsov, visibly relaxed. [A good plan. Peace for you and profit for us.] He nodded. [You can go.]
She took a step backwards and then turned around to leave.
Once outside, Marishka stuffed the bag in her jacket. She was Catholic, not Russian Orthodox, but this was special. She’d seen it in Yevgeniy’s cell, this simple piece of hammered, painted copper, six inches by eight. It was illegal for her to own it, but it had been granted to her by a man she’d respected. Of course, she’d check it for bugs.
But the icon that he’d given her, a piece almost one hundred years old… this was special. She would put it in a special place, and keep it safe.
Especially since the rest of her night was going to be investigating the recent vandalism of a Roman Catholic Church. And especially because the paper left on the altar was signed by Mister Blasphemy.
She was going to have a busy evening. But this… this first.