Friday, May 27, 2011

Tango's Edge, Chapter 8


Chapter Eight

Kerry gazed up at the granite face of the young Wyoming state policeman. Despite his business-like expression, he looked like he was about seventeen and should be dancing in a nightclub rather than patrolling the interstate in the middle of the night.
A gust of Arctic air blasted into the Jeep, and she shivered. “Cold night, huh?”
He nodded. “Yes, ma'am. Driver's license, please.”
“Oh, I'm sorry. I should've had it out already.” Kerry dug into her purse for her wallet. “Was I speeding? I was just driving along, singing with the stereo, and I totally didn’t realize it if I was.”
“Eighty-five in a seventy-five mile zone,” he said, then cocked his head toward her. “Is that Incubus?”
She looked up and smiled. “Yeah! Aren't they great? This is their new CD, and it’s great, but my favorite song is still 'Drive’ from the ‘Make Yourself’ CD.” The track that had been playing, “Warning,” ended, and she used the break to her advantage. “Whatever tomorrow brings…,” she sang out, loud and deliberately off-key. Beside her, Mikhail made a sound that sounded like a cross between a snort and a cough before it became a snore. Ignoring him, she sang a few more bars of the song.
The cop grinned, looking even younger than he had before. “Yeah, they rock!”
Kerry smiled, suddenly feeling very good about the situation. They were home free as long as she could keep this cutie's mind on rock music. “Have you heard this CD yet?”
He shook his head. “Nah. But I have ‘Fungus Amongus.’ It totally rocks!”
Dear God! Didn't the poor boy know any other verbs? She’d pulled out her driver's license, ready to hand it over. “Oh, that one is good! But wait'll you hear this one. It’s smokin’!”
Still grinning, the cop glanced at her license. “From California, huh?”
“Uh huh.” She smiled brightly.
The patrolman glanced over at Mikhail who had his eyes closed, his mouth open in feigned sleep. “That your husband?”
“No!” Kerry said quickly. “I mean…yeah…” The cop was looking at her suspiciously. “Well, not my husband. My…you know…boyfriend.” His expression didn’t change, and Kerry lowered her voice, casting a furtive glance at Mikhail. “I’m working on the marriage thing.” Then she summoned her sweetest smile. “Can’t you give me a break, officer? I promise I’ll keep my speed down.” She didn’t actually bat her eyelashes at him, but gave him the most earnest look she could come up with. “Please?”
He stared at her a few seconds then gave a grudging nod. “Okay, I’ll let you off with a warning this time, but you might want to wake up your boyfriend and let him take over for a while. And by the way, you might think about setting your cruise control.” He began to scribble on his pad. “So, where you headed? Back to California?”
“Uh huh.” The wind moaned, and other frigid blast of snow-laden air hit her in the face. She pretended not to notice, that the cop was so interesting even bone-clenching cold couldn’t stop her from flirting. Her smile widened. “We just came from the Olympics.”
Damn, she thought. That wasn’t the brightest thing to say!
The cop frowned. “Then why are you in Wyoming? That’s an odd way of heading to California from Utah.”
Kerry felt her cheeks warm. Damn! She could practically feel the tension in Mikhail a few inches away. “Oh, we’re heading to Denver to meet his parents before we go back to California. That’s what I meant when I said I was working on marriage.”
Apparently satisfied with her answer, the young cop tore off the slip of yellow paper and handed it to her. “I just don’t get the Winter Olympics thing,” he said. “Now, the summer Olympics are cool. That’s where the real athletes are. Not those so-called winter sports. Like ice skating. What’s the sport in that? Nothing but a bunch of pretty girls in short skirts and guys in leotards prancing around the ice.”
Kerry somehow managed to keep a smile on her face, but she was pretty sure her eyes were shooting daggers. “Oh, yeah?”
He winked at her. “Yeah. You know why the male figure skaters are so light on their feet, don’t you?”
“No, why?” Kerry said, knowing what was coming.
“Because they're all fairies,” he said, and then guffawed.
Next to her, Kerry sensed the steam coming from Mikhail. They had to get out of here before he exploded. “Cute,” she said through clenched teeth. They were starting to chatter from the cold. Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up! You're a cute little bigot, but I'm freezing.
Still laughing at his crude joke, the cop handed back her license. “Here you go, Ma’am. Remember what I said. Watch your speed. Those Colorado troopers won’t be so forgiving.”
“You got it,” she said brightly. “Thank you, officer.”
She pressed a button and her window slid up. She started the engine, and the Jeep lurched forward. Kerry accelerated and merged onto the interstate. She glanced in her rearview mirror as the police car disappeared behind them. “Okay, Mikhail. You can wake up now.”
Mikhail lifted his head and ran his fingers through his flaxen hair, rumpling it.
Kerry's heart dipped. Oh, God, he was so fine! How was she going to get through the next few days with him without throwing herself at him like a sex-starved nymphomaniac? It had been four years since she'd had an orgasm that wasn't self-initiated. Stop it! She frowned. Think of something un-sexy. Think of…brussel sprouts.
“Did you hear what that American son-of- bitch said?” Mikhail said, eyes sparking blue fire. “He called me a fairy! I would like to show him what a six and a half stone ‘fairy’ looks like.”
Kerry gave him an amused look. “Remind me not to ever make you mad.”
He raked a hand through his hair again and peered at her, the outraged look disappearing from his face. “You are quite smooth operator, Kerry Niles. Cool as cucumber, yes?”
Okay, think of cucumbers. Her cheeks grew heated. No, not cucumbers, bananas, squash or any other phallic-shaped fruits or vegetables.
“Where did you pick up that Americanism?” she asked.
He shrugged, looking out the front window. “I like American TV.”
“Ah, so that explains it,” she laughed.
He nodded, staring at the road. “Yes, you are cool as cucumber. But one thing, Kerry…”
His amused eyes met hers. “Your singing…it sucks.”
Kerry's mouth dropped open. He watched her, suppressed laughter in his eyes as he gauged her reaction. She burst out laughing, and he grinned and joined her.
“You are good sport, Kerry Niles. I like you.”
Kerry smiled at him, even as her heart began to race. “You know what? I like you, too, Mikhail Kozlof. But I guess that's rather obvious, isn't it? A guy who talks me into dropping my entire life to help him defect…well, I guess he's got some major charisma going for him. Either that, or I need to have my head examined.” She thought about that a moment, then added, “But let's not go there.”
* * * * *
On the CD player, Stevie Nicks was singing about trouble in Shangri-La, and Kerry was happily accompanying her. It didn't bother her that Mikhail thought her singing sucked. She knew he was just kidding. After all, she knew she had a great voice. Hell, if she hadn't concentrated on a skating career for the last fourteen years, she could've given Stevie a run for her money. In fact, Stevie should be counting her lucky stars.
“’I hear there’s trouble in Shangri-La…’” she bellowed the chorus, ignoring Mikhail's stare.
“Uh…Kerry,” he cut in at the first break. “Have you, by chance, noticed it is snowing?”
Kerry glanced at the thick clumps of snow hitting the windshield. “Um…yeah. Since before we stopped at that gas station. What's your point?”
He looked at the speedometer. “And yet, you drive seventy kilometer per hour. Even though you cannot see very far in distance.”
Kerry's lips quirked. “It's miles per hour here, not kilometers. And what are you, anyway? A backseat driver?”
He looked confused. “Back seat? I am not in back seat. I do not understand.”
Kerry looked back at the road. “What I mean is…are you driving or am I?”
He had the grace to look embarrassed. “I am sorry. I did not mean to insult you. But when snow comes in Russia…and snow comes often there…I have found that decreasing speed is…what is word…prudent?”
Kerry shrugged and nodded. “Works for me.”
“Prudent thing to do.”
“Well, Mikhail, in ordinary circumstances I would agree with you. However, this particular snow isn't sticking to the pavement; therefore, there's no need to slow down. And like I said earlier, I like to keep up with the flow of traffic.”
Mikhail looked at the empty road. “Is no traffic. And you almost got ticket.”
“Almost is the key word.” She shot him an amused look. “Is my driving scaring you, Mikhail?”
He folded his arms across his chest in denial and stared straight ahead. “I am not scared.”
“Really? Come on, Mikhail. You can be honest with me. Do you think in addition to my singing, that my driving sucks, too?”
“I did not say that,” he huffed. “I think simply you drive very fast.”
“Yes, I do,” she agreed. “And I'll have you know I've never been in an accident.” She shrugged. “Just a few speeding tickets is all.”
He gave her a look of mock astonishment. “No shit?”
She burst out laughing. His oh, so American terminology cloaked in a Russian accent struck her funny bone. “Just a few tickets. Hey!” Still grinning, she peered at the clock. “It's almost five. Be light soon. You hungry?”
“Famished. I was too…what is word? Too much nerves…to eat before we left.” In fact, he hadn't been able to get more than a bite down at the sumptuous dinner hosted by Sergey Fadeyuska.
“Nervous,” Kerry said. “Yeah, I was, too. Want to stop and get something to eat? That sign we just passed said there's a diner up ahead.”
Mikhail's eyes lit up. “Diner! I know diners from American films. Yes, let us stop.”
Kerry pursed her lips as a thought occurred to her. “You know what, though? Maybe you'd better let me order. Your Russian accent is a dead giveaway, and just in case your evil friends come after you, we might as well not advertise you were here, you know?”
He nodded. “Good thinking. I will be silent. But I want American cheeseburger and French fries.”
Kerry gaped at him. “But it's breakfast. I don't know if they will…”
His jaw tightened. He folded his arms across his chest and gazed out at the snow pelting against the windshield. “American cheeseburger and French fries,” he said emphatically.
Kerry sighed. “Okay. I'll see what I can do.” She looked back at the road and rolled her eyes. High maintenance, she thought. The good-looking ones always were.
* * * * *
The diner, a throwback to the Fifties, appeared to be a renovated railroad car, barely wide enough for a counter and a row of booths lining the front windows. In all other ways, it was a typical roadside truck stop filled with hungry truck drivers and brisk waitresses with frizzy blond hair and slashes of red lipstick who called everyone “hon.” The mouth-watering aroma of sizzling bacon hung in the air as a grizzled woman who looked like she'd seen too many early mornings led Kerry and Mikhail to one of the red vinyl booths. On the PA system, Clint Black sang about a gambling venture gone bad.
Kerry waited until the hostess moved away then looked across the Formica table at Mikhail. “If it's Americana you want, Mikhail, you got it here.” She grinned. “I feel like we just stepped onto a 1950's movie set.”
He glanced around, eyes dancing. Like a schoolboy on his first field trip to a chocolate factory. A shiver of pleasure ran through her. She was so glad she'd decided to do this, she realized. It was an adventure, and she had three, maybe four days (if she stretched it out) to enjoy Mikhail's company before turning him over to Roger once they reached Occoquan.
A plump blond waitress with dark roots and a name tag that read 'Sue' poured coffee into their cups, her eyes, alight with curiosity, fixed upon Mikhail. He caught her stare and looked up to smile uncertainly at her. She batted her false eyelashes and gave him what Kerry thought sure she intended to be a coquettish smile. Too bad it was ruined by a missing cusped.
“Hi, there, hon,” she said in a thick Colorado drawl. “What can I getcha?”
Mikhail opened his mouth to speak, but then apparently remembered he was supposed to stay quiet. He peered at Kerry. The waitress kept her weary blue eyes on Mikhail.
Hello? Am I invisible? Kerry wanted to ask. She cleared her throat and waited. Finally, the waitress looked at her just as Martina McBride began belting out “Independence Day” on the PA.
Kerry gave her a sweet smile. “My friend has lost his voice. Um…would it be possible for him to get a hamburger and French fries?”
With a bat of her eyelashes and another syrupy smile at Mikhail, Sue the Waitress drawled, “No problem at all, darlin. Anything you want, Big Sue'll getcha.” With a flirtatious wink, she turned to leave.
“Uh…Big Sue?” Kerry called out. The waitress turned and looked at her, apparently startled that she was still sitting there. Kerry pasted on a smile. “I'd like French toast and bacon. Cooked crisp, please. Thank you.”
Sue nodded, scribbled something on her pad and waddled off. Kerry shook her head and looked back at Mikhail who was watching her with an amused grin.
“I'm not sure I'm going to like hanging out with you,” she said. “I have a feeling I'd better get used to being the Invisible Woman.” She glanced around the crowded diner. “Would you look at this? Everyone is staring at you. That's not exactly what we need.” Her eyes flicked over him, and she shook her head. “You know what it is? You're dressed like a European. That black sweater and tweedy coat. You stand out like a sore thumb.”
Mikhail's brow wrinkled. “Sore thumb? How does one get sore thumb?”
Kerry grinned, stirring cream into her coffee. “Never mind. You know what we need to do before we get a room for the day? Or maybe later, after we get a few hours sleep.”
Kerry took a sip of her hot fragrant coffee and smiled. Mmmm…wonderful. Then she met Mikhail's questioning gaze. “We seriously need to go shopping.”
* * * * *
Elena glanced at her wristwatch, a frown marring her lovely face. “It's almost four-thirty. Why haven't we heard from Mikhail?”
Sean sat at the desk in the living room of their suite, his fingers tapping a dance on the polished cherry wood. He'd been watching Elena pace up and down the room for the past half-hour. She was dressed in her warm-up clothes―red nylons pants and its matching zip-up jacket. Her skating costume for the evening's free dance competition was encased in plastic and draped across the back of a wingback chair. The bag containing her skates rested at the foot of the chair, ready to go. But with each passing minute, Elena was growing more anxious because no one had heard from Mikhail, and the car that was to take them to the arena was due to leave in fifteen minutes.
She whirled around, blue eyes frantic. “I'm going to try his room again. He must be there by now.”
Sean grabbed the phone before she could. “I'll try.” He dialed the hotel operator and gave her Mikhail's room number. The phone was picked up on the first ring, and Sean heard Fagan's voice. He kept his face blank, his eyes on Elena who was watching him with a hopeful expression.
“Boss, is that you?” Fagan inquired.
“Still no answer,” Sean said to Elena.
“No luck, Boss,” Fagan said. “Kozlof still hasn't shown up. What should I do?”
Sean kept his eyes on Elena. “I'll go down to the front desk and have them unlock his door. I hate to say this, love, but perhaps he's still sleeping off a hangover.” He placed the phone in its cradle and stood.
Elena's brows lowered in fury. Her hands tightened into fists. “I'll kill him if that's true.” She whirled away and began to stomp around the room. “How could he do this to me? He knew better than to get drunk last night.”
“Everyone was drunk last night, Elena. Don't think I didn't hear about the two drinks you had. Despite doctor's orders.” Sean hadn't been invited to the dinner party, but he'd spent the evening close by in the hotel bar.
Elena's face whitened. “Who told you that? Who is spying for you, Sean O'Malley? I won't have it, you hear me? I'm not your possession, and I won't have you running my life!”
“Things have a way of getting back to me, love. I am paid to watch over you, you know. And I've made it my business to make sure everyone knows you shouldn't be drinking.”
“Well, screw you!” Elena snarled. “I won't be treated like a child!”
Sean stared at her stonily. “If you persist in acting like a child, you'll be treated like one. Excuse me.” He opened the door of the suite and stepped out into the richly carpeted corridor.
As the elevator ascended to the eighth floor, he gazed thoughtfully at the numbers flashing on the panel above the doors. Where the fuck was Kozlof? Could Fagan possibly be right? Had some unfortunate accident happened to him after he'd left the hotel last night? For a moment, his mind entertained the image of Kozlof’s robbed and bloodied body floating facedown in the Green River. But somehow, that just seemed too good to be true. Life never worked out like that. There was always some pissing complication that you were never quite prepared for.
He stopped in front of Room 818, glanced up and down the empty hall, and then tapped. The door opened immediately, and Fagan's rabbit-like face peered out at him. With a brusque nod, Sean slipped into the room and closed the door behind him.
“Still no word from him?” he asked, knowing as he spoke what a preposterous question it was.
“Not a flippin' peep.” Fagan rubbed his eyes wearily. “And I've just about had it, Boss. Can't keep me bleedin' eyes open.”
Sean ignored his whining, his eyes sweeping the immaculate room. “Christ! Where the hell is he?”
The king-sized bed was neatly made, the dresser spotless, the ice bucket and glasses untouched. “Has the maid been in today?”
Fagan slumped into a chair by the window, rubbing his forehead. “She stopped by this morning, and I told her to go away. I thought about putting the 'do not disturb' sign out, but figured Kozlof might think it a wee bit odd if he came back and saw it.”
Sean shook his head in amazement. “You figured that out all by yourself, genius?” He strode over to the bathroom and peered in. The counter was clean except for the complimentary shampoos, lotions and soaps displayed in a small wicker basket. Odd. No personal toiletries anywhere. No shaving stuff, no deodorant, not so much as a toothbrush in sight.
His stomach started to churn. This hotel room had been Kozlof's home for the past three weeks, and would be so for another two. Where were all his personal items?
Sean whirled around and strode back into the bedroom suite, his jaw set. Fagan was still sitting as he was before, his hand cradling his forehead, eyes drooped in exhaustion. Sean flung open the closet door, his gaze raking the contents.
Kozlof's skating costumes hung on the rack, covered in plastic. A couple of canvas bags, presumably containing his skates, were on the floor next to a pair of Reebok sneakers and some dress loafers. There were also a couple of pairs of dress slacks and shirts hanging next to the costumes.
“Fuck,” Sean muttered.
He moved to the dresser, aware that Fagan had looked up at his profanity, and was now watching him with a mild curiosity. Sean flung open the drawers and saw…nothing. No underwear, no sweaters…nothing but a Bible and a Yellow Pages phone book.
His teeth clenched. “Son of a fucking bitch!” He whipped around, skewering a suddenly white-faced Fagan with his gaze. “You…goddamned…moron! Didn't it occur to you to check the closets and bathrooms to see if his things were still here? The fucker is gone!”
Fagan seemed to shrink in his chair. “Well, how was I supposed to know that, Boss?” he whined. “I did what you told me! What…what…more could I do?”
“Shut the fuck up!” Sean snarled. “And just get out of here. If I have to look at your ugly mug another second, I swear to God above, I'm going to rip it off and stuff it up your knucklehead ass.”
Fagan scrambled up from the chair and made a beeline for the door, still mumbling apologies. After it slammed behind him, Sean took a deep breath and tried to calm himself.
What was done was done. He didn't know what the hell Kozlof was up to, but he had a very bad feeling he wasn't going to like it. For the first time, he seriously considered the possibility that Kozlof knew something about TNG, and the dirty little secret of Kalevalo. If so, what did he intend to do with the information?
Jesus, he should've followed his instincts and had the man killed before they'd ever left Russia. But no, he'd allowed Elena, and her fanatic desire for a gold medal to influence him. He wouldn't make that mistake again. Once he found Mikhail Kozlof, he was as good as dead.
Sean moved back to the closet, his gaze sweeping the interior again to see if there was something he'd missed. He slipped his hands inside the pockets of the two pairs of slacks and found nothing. He squatted in front of the shoes, picked them up and glanced under them. Just as he was about to get up, he saw it. A small rectangular card on the carpet at the back of the closet. He picked it up and turned it over. A name and phone number was printed on it. His heart thumped as he recognized the Tallinn exchange. The name was one he wasn't familiar with. Vassily Immaakin, Solicitor. Why, he wondered, would Mikhail Kozlof, whose life was pretty much run by the skating federation, have need of an attorney in Tallinn?
He stood and tucked the card into the pocket of his slacks. Well, that was something he'd just have to find out. And he knew someone in Tallinn, a very dedicated individual with a talent for collecting all kinds of information, who would be happy to help him out for the right amount.
With a grim smile, Sean went to the desk, picked up the phone and dialed the international operator. “I want to make a call to Tallinn, Estonia, please. Thank you. I'll wait.”


Friday, May 20, 2011

Tango's Edge, Chapter 7

Chapter Seven

Mikhail gazed out the window at the glowing skyline of downtown Salt Lake City, his stomach tight with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. He glanced over at Kerry at the wheel of her monstrous vehicle as they headed around the city on Interstate 84. He hadn't expected a vehicle of this size―a Jeep Cherokee she called it. The automobile somehow didn't fit the feminine beauty of the woman at the wheel, but then, he had a feeling there would be plenty more surprises from her before this was all over. The very first one had been that she'd actually agreed to help him. He still couldn't quite believe it, even though they were on their way out of the city.
“Take a last look at the Olympic flame,” Kerry said. “It's probably the last one we'll ever see. Unless it's on TV. Well…me, anyway.” She gave him a quick glance. “If you get asylum in America, you'll probably be able to skate for us in the next Olympics.”
He shrugged and gazed out at the flame, feeling a deep sadness in his heart. “I will be thirty-two by then. That's quite old for competing in Olympics.” He shook his head. “I believe there is no Olympic medal in my future.”
“And how do you feel about that?” She looked at him.
He met her gaze. “How do you feel about it?”
She thought about it, and then gave an off-hand shrug. “C'est la vie.”
He gazed at her for a long moment, trying to figure out if she was serious. Deciding she was, he said, “You are amazing woman, Kerry Niles. When I think of how Elena will react when she discovers I am gone…well…” He gave a mock shudder. “She will not be so complacent. She will go…” He struggled for the right English word.
“Ape-shit?” Kerry offered, her dimple flickering.
“Ape-shit?” He tested the word on his tongue, and then nodded. “Yes, that is good word.”
She laughed and looked back at the road. Mikhail turned his head to catch one last glimpse at the Olympic flame glowing orange against the dark sky. Would this be the last Olympics in which he'd ever compete? He felt a stab of fear at the uncertainty of his future. Dear God, what if he was doing the wrong thing by defecting? Although he'd never thought of himself as Russian, preferring to acknowledge Estonia as his homeland, the fact was, he'd spent most of his life in Moscow. It had been a good life, one that ordinary Russian citizens would've felt blessed to have. Living in luxury and training for the Olympics. Now, his future was a question mark, and he'd be a fool not to be apprehensive about it.
Kerry glanced at him. “You okay?”
Christ, was she a mind reader, too? He shrugged and looked out the window at the last of the skyline sliding away. “I am thinking of what I am doing. What I have already done.”
Kerry remained silent. The traffic was light on the freeway heading out of the city. The Olympics weren't even half over yet, and Salt Lake City was teeming with people. But the Games were over for him and Kerry.
The escape had been easier than he'd thought possible. Sergey Fadeyuska had reserved a private room at a Salt Lake City restaurant in an upscale hotel to entertain their athletes. Mikhail had immediately ordered one screwdriver from the free bar, and then switched to straight orange juice, pretending to grow inebriated with each one. At eleven, he'd said his goodnights and staggered into the lobby of the hotel, and out the front doors where a doorman hailed him a taxi. Mikhail saw Kerry's monster of a truck waiting at the curb, and when the doorman turned to help another departing couple, he'd slipped inside, and they were off.
Earlier that afternoon, they'd rendezvoused at a quaint bistro in the historic part of the city, and Mikhail had given Kerry his meager belongings―a change of clothing, a few toiletries, and of course, the valuable information Vassily Immaakin had compiled to convince the CIA he was telling the truth―-and leaving everything else―his skates, his costumes, his luggage in the hotel room in Park City. It was done, and now…Mikhail looked out the window. The lights of Salt Lake City had disappeared.
“When will we reach state border?” he asked. “I will feel better when we leave Utah.”
Kerry's front bumper practically kissed the car in front of her, causing Mikhail to cringe and press his foot onto an imaginary break pedal before she swerved into the left lane and passed the car as if it were parked. Did all Americans drive so crazy?
“Oh, an hour…hour and a half,” she said, eyes fixed on the road.
He shifted uneasily and glanced over at her profile. She had the most charming nose―slightly tilted and somehow, mischievous. He'd earlier noticed that dimple flickering near the right corner of her mouth when she smiled or grimaced in a certain way. She wasn't smiling now, but looked rather thoughtful. Was she regretting her decision to help him already? His gaze drifted over her. She was dressed completely in black―black slacks, black turtleneck, black leather coat, even black cowboy boots. And why not? She was playing a spy game, wasn't she? Why not dress for the occasion? Her hair was loose around her shoulders, anchored by a black knit cap pulled low over her ears. All she needed was a pair of dark sunglasses and she'd look like she'd just stepped out of a James Patterson novel. It was endearing, really, except…
A fresh jolt of fear shot through him. Did she have any idea what she might be getting into? Had he made it clear to her about the danger, the possibility that somehow, Elena and her granite-faced bodyguard might know what he was up to, and would stop at nothing―even murder―to prevent him from reaching Washington and Roger Ellery? Because, of course, O'Malley had to be up to his eyeballs in this. Elena did nothing without him knowing about it.
“Is not too late to change your mind, Kerry,” Mikhail said slowly. “We can turn around and go back. No one will ever know you were involved.”
She looked at him, one black eyebrow raised. “Are you nuts? How do you think you can do this without me?”
He shrugged. “I will find way.”
“Like hell!” She shook her head and sighed. “Look, Mikhail, you're just having what we Americans call a case of the jitters. It's too late to turn back now. I'm in. And I'm going to get you to Occoquan, Virginia, or die trying.”
“Do not say that!” His voice came out in a harsh croak.
She gave him a strange look. “Hey, I was kidding. It's just an expression.”
“An expression that could turn out to be apt, Kerry,” he said, his voice softer, insistent. He had to make her realize this wasn't a game. “I try to make you understand that there are dangerous people who, if they discover what I am doing, will do anything to stop me. And because you are with me, your life will be in danger, as well. It does not matter that I have not told you details.”
“I realize that, Mikhail. Really, I do. But you have to understand something about me, okay?” She glanced at him again, and then looked back at the road. “For the first time in my life I’m on my ownfree. Do you know how good that feels?” She looked at him and grinned, making his heart turn over with the appearance of that sweet dimple. “And so are you. How does it feel, Mikhail? To feel so free?”
He stared at her, knowing he couldn't admit the truth, that he didn't feel free at all, that all he felt was fear and an unwelcome sense of isolation. Their eyes met and held for a moment. Mikhail was the first to look away.
He fixed his gaze on an air freshener in the shape of a cat hanging from her rear view mirror. It smelled like cinnamon, not cat. Thank God! He loathed cats. Ever since the day a young female skater brought a cat to the rink, and spooked by the noise of the skates scraping against the ice, it had jumped out of her arms, straight at nine-year-old Mikhail, practically taking his ear off, before slipping and sliding on the ice as it made its maddened escape. He'd hated―and had a phobia―about cats ever since.
“Perhaps when I have asylum I will feel free,” he murmured, continuing the conversation.
“Of course you will.” Kerry glanced at the illuminated clock on the dashboard. “We should be able to make Denver around first light.”
“How do you know area so well?” Mikhail asked. “You are from California, yes?”
“Yeah, but I grew up in Utah with my dad and grandparents. I learned to drive here the summer I turned sixteen.” She flashed an impish grin at him. “Grandma Vive said it took ten years off her life.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Mikhail said dryly as she passed another car at such a rate of speed, it looked like it was stalled in the middle of the road. “I did not know I was getting mixed up with crazy driver.”
She gave a saucy laugh. “I’ve had my share of speeding tickets. And of course, there’s that little police record thing…”
He glanced at her, unable to hide his curiosity. “What made girl like you get mixed up with Canadian hockey player?”
She shrugged. “Oh, same old story. Impressionable young woman who gets involved with a good looking, but very bad boy. It's not very original, and would probably bore you to death.”
Mikhail knew nothing would bore him if it came out of this fascinating woman's mouth. She was an enigma, an unusual combination of coltish girl and sensual woman. He wondered how badly the bad boy had hurt her. And if there had been other love affairs since. He wanted to ask her, but it would be rude to delve into her personal life on such short acquaintance. But he very much hoped that before they reached Washington―or Occoquan, as she insisted on calling it―he would have a chance to get to know her better.
“I would like to hear this story sometime,” he said finally, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.
She chuckled. “Okay. Maybe later. But I warn you, Mikhail, once I start talking, you won't be able to shut me up. And you'll be sorry you ever asked.”
He nodded, smiling. “I am warned. How long will it take us to get to Wash…I mean, Occoquan? What is this odd name, Auk Oh Quan?”
“It's a Dogue Indian name. Means “at the end of the water.” It's the cutest little town. Sits right on the Occoquan River. I visited Roger and Sharon there after an exhibition skate at the MCI Center. Sharon took me to this fantastic craft show. They totally closed down the whole town, and blocked off the streets and…” She glanced over, and grinned. “Oh, sorry. I told you once I get started talking, I can't shut up. How long will it take us to get to there?” She shrugged. “Depends on the weather, and how hard we want to push it. Josh and I drove from California to New York that summer, and made it in three days. But he's a speed demon, so…” She gave another shrug.
He stared at her. “And you are not?”
“No!” she scoffed. “I just go with the flow of traffic. Seventy-five, eighty…whatever. Do you drive?”
He glanced at the dashboard and shrugged. “I have sports car at home. But this big truck I do not know.”
“What kind of sports car? Is it a stick shift?”
He looked puzzled.
“A five-speed?” Kerry said. “You know, like this.” She indicated the gearshift between them. “Or is it automatic?”
“It is Mercedes convertible. With shift like this.” He shook his head and sighed. “I will miss that car.”
“Oh, don't worry, Mikhail.” She gave him a sympathetic smile. “Once you turn professional in America, you'll be able to afford several Mercedes. Although, personally, I'd go for a Porsche. It's sexier. Anyway, since you can drive a stick, you'll have no problem handling Big Bertha here.”
He looked at her, confused, and then realized she was talking about her car. Odd thing, naming a car. There was so much he had to learn about Americans and their customs.
“Why don't you try and get some sleep,” Kerry said. “After we cross into Wyoming, you can drive for a while. How about a little music?” With her right hand, she pulled a cassette tape from the holder on her sun visor. “You like Nickelback?”
He shrugged. “I have not heard such music.”
“It's hard rock. You like rock?”
He grinned. “Oh, yes. I play guitar. Maybe I will be rock singer some day. It will be new career.”
“No kidding?” Kerry glanced at him. “Yeah, you kind of got that rock star look going on. Maybe someday I can say I knew you when.”
She popped in the Nickelback CD and tapped the “seek” button to track number two, then began to sing along with the vocalist in a decidedly off-key alto. Mikhail adjusted his seat back and closed his eyes. No way would he sleep. He was too tense. But perhaps he'd just close his eyes for a few minutes. Almost immediately, though, the hum of the tires on the road and the music on the cassette player began to work its magic, pushing away his troubled thoughts.
This is nice, he realized, being here in a warm truck driving through the dark winter night. The woman sitting next to him was very much responsible for this momentary sense of well-being. Why he felt so comfortable with her, he didn't know. He liked the way she was so down-to-earth and real. She smelled good, too, like wildflowers and musk. And listen to her!
“This is how you remind me,” she sang along with the rock group, totally unself-conscious, even though her voice was, to be charitable, more Lucille Ball than Madonna. But even her off-key notes, he found charming. Damn. This was not good. He was becoming entirely too attracted to Kerry Niles. That was a complication that neither one of them could afford right now…not if they wanted to keep their wits about them.
* * * * *
The phone shrilled out on the bedside table in the early morning darkness. Half asleep and cursing, Sean rolled over on his side to grab it before it woke Elena.
“Yeah?” he grunted.
“Fagan, here,” said the voice on the other end.
Sean became immediately alert. His voice lowered. “Did you take care of it?”
“Uh…not exactly,” came the mumbled reply.
Sean’s hand tightened on the phone. Fuck! He glanced over at Elena. In the graying light of dawn, he could just make out the black satin mask covering her eyes, her lips parted in slumber. He released a frustrated sigh and found his voice.
“What happened?”
“He didn't come back to the room. I've been waitin' here all the fuckin' night. It's been bloody boring, too.”
“I don't give a shit if you're bored out of your fucking mind.” In his anger, Sean spoke louder than he intended, and Elena rolled over on her side, mumbling something unintelligible. He closed his eyes, forcing himself to calm down. Then he spoke between clenched teeth, “He left the restaurant just after eleven. Elena said he was sloshed to the bloody gills. And you're telling me he didn't come back to the hotel room?”
“That's what I'm telling ya.” Fagan's reply was mildly sarcastic. “I was sitting here, dick in one hand and my Makarov in the other, waiting to send him to Kingdom Come, and the bastard didn't bloody show.”
Asshole, thought Sean. Fagan was getting just a little too cocky for his britches. Soon, very soon, he was going to have to put that smelly sod back in his place.
“Hey, Boss,” Fagan went on in a more conciliatory tone. Sean supposed his ominous silence had put the fear of God back into him. “Maybe if he was that lit, he got rolled by some enterprising dickhead, and he's floating in the Green River by now.”
“You wouldn't be that lucky,” Sean retorted. “No. He's probably found a woman, and is sleeping it off in her bed right now. Elena has been bitching that he's been sniffing after that hot American skater with the black hair.” He ran a hand through his tangled hair, his brows furrowed in thought. “Look, stay there. He'll have to come back to his room sooner or later, and when he does…” He glanced over at Elena, still on her side facing away from him. “You know what to do.”
“Boss, I'm tired and famished,” Fagan whined. “If he's in some wee gel's bed, he won't be back for hours. Can I not go get me a wee bit of breakfast?”
“No!” Sean said harshly. “You heard me. Stay there, and take care of the job. Got it, Fagan?”
“Yeh, Boss.” His reply was sulky.
Sean hung up the phone, shaking his head in disgust. Jesus Christ! Good help was getting bloody hard to find.
* * * * *
Kerry pulled the Jeep into the brightly-lit gas station and put the gearshift in park. A few errant snowflakes hit the windshield, melting on contact. So much for the good weather holding out. But hey, she was used to driving in snow. No problem-o.
She looked over at Mikhail and grinned. Hadn't he said he was way too wired to sleep? Obviously, he'd been wrong. She wondered if she should wake him up. She had to pee like a racehorse, and if she was going to keep driving for a while, she needed coffee. The cessation of the motor hadn’t awakened Mikhail like she’d expected.
Her gaze swept over his face. Oh, how her fingers itched to stroke that strong, stubbled jaw, to run through his silky blond hair. She grimaced. What was she thinking? This must be what it felt to be a diabetic longing for a Hostess cupcake, and knowing it would be a huge mistake to sink your teeth into the sweet chocolate. Her gaze moved to his lips, and she remembered the passionate kiss the other night in front of Adam. He had taken her breath away with that kiss. A shiver of excitement zipped through her even now as she relived it.
Stop it, she told herself. That had been a game, a deception. They'd made it out of Utah; there was no reason now to pretend they were anything more than strangers. And it would be stupid―really really stupid―to act upon this attraction she felt, even though her intuition told her it was mutual. A woman knew when a guy was interested, and those vibes had been coming from Mikhail from the first moment they'd met. But nothing was going to happen between them. No way. Josh had taught her not to jump impetuously into a relationship. Not that it would be a relationship. If anything, it would be a one-night―maybe a two-night―stand. The skating world might have labeled her a “bad girl” but she wasn't into casual sex. And never had been.
She touched his shoulder. “Mikhail! We're at a gas station. I’m going to get some coffee. You want some?”
He opened his eyes. For a moment, he appeared disoriented, and then recognition dawned. His lips quirked mischievously. “Depends.” His gaze moved lazily over her lips. “I like mine sweet.”
Kerry's cheeks flamed as her heart turned over. She managed what she hoped was a casual smile. “Tanya warned me about you being a flirt. Now, behave yourself. Sugar and cream?”
“I will go as well.” He opened his door and paused as a frigid wind blew into the Jeep along with a few stray flakes of snow. “I need to stretch legs.”
Kerry eyed him as he stretched, not only his legs, but his arms, too. Sinuous as a cat, she thought, then shook her head and got out of the Jeep.
Fifteen minutes later, they were back on the interstate. Mikhail had offered to take over driving but Kerry, wired from the first few sips of coffee, had turned him down.
She glanced into the rearview mirror and wished she hadn’t. “Oh, damn,” she muttered.
Mikhail looked at her. “What?”
“We’ve got company.” She put on her left turn signal and began to slow.
Mikhail’s head whipped around. He muttered a word in Russian that Kerry recognized as an exceptionally foul profanity.
“Don’t freak, Mikhail,” she said calmly, pulling into the breakdown lane. “It’s just the state police.”
He looked at her as if she’d just announced she was going to sky-dive off the Washington Monument in pink tights. “They found us already. How did they know?”
The police car pulled up behind her, lights flashing. Kerry reached across the back seat for her purse. “Don’t be silly, Mikhail. They’re not after us. I might have been speeding.”
His jaw dropped. “Might have been? Kerry, your speed has not dropped below eighty since we got on road.” He muttered another Russian oath. “Great! Just great. What if I am recognized? What if___”
“Shhhhh!” Kerry hushed him, her eyes on the rearview mirror. “Here he comes. Just stay quiet, Mikhail. Pretend you’re asleep.”
A uniformed figure appeared at her window, and Kerry pushed the button to lower it. “Hi,” she said brightly, giving the cop her most charming smile. “How you doing tonight, officer?”

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Tango's Edge - Chapter Six


Chapter Six

The phone call jarred Kerry awake. Her gaze darted to the illuminated clock on the bedside. Three o'clock. Who on earth would be calling at such an ungodly hour?

It was Brandi's voice on the other end, and it was almost unrecognizable with panic. "It's Adam," she said, her throat choked with tears. "He was hit by a car outside the hotel."

Kerry's heart froze. "What?"

She and Mikhail had heard sirens just as he was about to leave. They'd watched the ambulance arrive, its lights flashing red on the street below. They'd commented on it, wondering what had happened. It hadn't, for a moment, occurred to her that someone she knew might be involved. Fear clawed up her throat. Oh, God. She'd been exasperated with Adam, but she'd never ever wanted to see him hurt.

"Is he okay," she asked, unaware that she was holding her breath as she waited for Brandi's response.

"He will be. Oh, Kerry!" Brandi burst into sobs. "I was so scared when I heard. I thought he'd…he'd…oh, I love him so much, and I don't care if he never loves me. I just want him to be okay."

"You said he was going to be okay. You said that, right? How badly is he injured?"

"He's in surgery. His leg…his femur I think they said…is broken in three places. They have to put it back together with pins. He's going to be in the hospital for probably a couple of months, but it'll be at least a year before he can get back on the ice. He was lucky, the doctor said. Kerry…" she paused. "It was a hit and run. Can you believe it? How could someone be that cruel? To hit him and just leave him lying there."

Kerry closed her eyes. "Oh, God. It's unbelievable." Her hand tightened on the receiver. "Does Catri know? She's going to be frantic. She can't lose Adam, too. Not after…"

"She knows. She's right here. They called her first. She says Adam's parents are in town for the Olympics, and they're trying to find them. Catri couldn't remember where they're staying."

"The Marriott," Kerry said woodenly. "I have my car. I'll go pick them up and bring them over. Which hospital is it?"

Brandi told her, and then added, "Tell them he's going to be okay. He's going to be fine."

It wasn't until Kerry hung up that she realized why Brandi's closing remark made her feel so uncomfortable. It was almost as if she were trying to convince herself it was so.

* * * * *

"Well…is he dead, then?"

Sean took a drag of his cigarette and stared at the man across the room. His name was Fagan Reilly, and he'd been working in Sean's employ since the good old days in Belfast. They still worked for the Cause, but there were times, like now, for instance, when Fagan did an extra job or two for him that had nothing to do with Ireland and the situation back home. Bloody old Fagan. Revolting man, really. The kind of man that the Prods pointed to when they talked about the filthy drunken Catholics, and how their kind stank up the city. Catholic to the core, even Sean saw they had a point. But then, Fagan served a purpose. Despite a wee bit dim in the light bulb department, he was quite adept at the wet work.

Sean grimaced as the memory of poor, plain-faced Liisa flooded over him. She hadn't been the typical Finnish beauty, that was for sure, but she'd had a good heart. He didn't like thinking about her, about how she'd died, so as always, he brushed the thought of her away. Instead, he remembered how Fagan had handled that little Ivan problem a couple of years ago. And of course, back in December, when Kozlof's mum had flapped her lips a wee bit too much, and stuck her big fat Estonian nose where it didn't belong, Fagan had taken care of her, too. Good thing Sean had an informant working at that newspaper office who'd discovered what the old bat was up to. Question was, had she managed to get any of that information about the massacre to her son? Another reason he wanted to see that bastard dead.
If Fagan was here to give him the good news, well, then, that was fine and dandy. If good old boyo Fagan here, for ten thousand dollars, gave the correct answer, everything would be coming up smelling sweet as fucking roses.

"Don't know, boss."

Sean's mouth tightened. Wrong answer. Fagan shifted uncomfortably under his piercing stare. "I hit him, Sean. Square on. He went splat on the sidewalk, and I would've finished the bugger off except that a great crowd of people came out of the bar just then. I figured it was better that I make a run for it." His thick Dublin accent rose to a whine, and Sean frowned.

"Quiet, you moron. Elena is sleeping in the next room." He took another drag from his cigarette, thinking. "You're sure you hit him? You heard Kozlof go crunch?"

Fagan grinned, revealing a mouthful of half rotted teeth. "He went crunch like a stinkbug under the heel of me boot."

Sean grimaced. Not at his words, but at the ugly mug grinning at him like a fucking Jack O' Lantern on All Hallow's Eve. Christ! You'd think a man would have more pride in himself than to go to the dogs like that. Had Fagan never heard of a bloody dentist? Or a toothbrush, for that matter. Sean shook his head. Thank the good Lord he'd been raised differently. Not like that Dublin gutter rat who didn't give a shit if his teeth were rotten or that he stank of stale Guinness and cheap fags. Ah, well. To each his own, he supposed.

"Okay, then." He reached for his money clip and peeled off twenty one hundred dollar bills. "Here."
Fagan reached out and took the bills, riffling through them quickly. He looked up, his brown eyes confused. "Uh…boss. This is only two thousand. You said ten."

Sean stared back at his employee, his lips twisting in a grim smile. "You're right, I did. I said ten thousand to kill him," he paused, his eyes drilling into Fagan Reilly. "You'll get the rest when I find out Mikhail Kozlof is dead."

* * * * *

Every surface in the hospital room was covered with greeting cards from fans, judges, coaches and other skaters. A bouquet of brightly colored balloons swayed in the air currents at the head of Adam's bed, one with Bart Simpson's grinning face that read "Get Well Soon, Butthead." When Kerry stepped into the room, wearing her own smiley face, Adam was staring out the window at the snow-capped mountains. He wasn't aware of her presence yet, and wore a curiously vulnerable expression, one that reminded Kerry of a younger, less arrogant, Adam. It brought a pang to her heart. Oh, Adam, why did things have to get so complicated between us?

Kerry cleared her throat, and when Adam turned his head, she smiled brighter. "Hey."

Surprise flashed across his face, immediately followed by a sullen expression. "You didn't have to come. I'm surprised you bothered."

Kerry sighed. "Oh, Adam. Don't be like this. Of course I'm here. You're my friend. I care about you."

His jaw tightened, and he turned back to the window. "Yeah, right. You care about me." His voice was heavy with sarcasm. "So, did you bring your Russian lover along?"

She approached his bed, biting her lower lip. How could she get past his anger? It would be so easy to just tell him the truth. Tell him there wasn't anything between her and Mikhail. But wouldn't that just give him false hope that there could ever be more than friendship between them?

She stopped at his bedside, staring at his handsome profile. He still looked like JFK, Jr. If only he'd work on his personality a little bit, he'd be a real prize for some lucky girl. A girl like Brandi.

"You're a fool, you know that, Adam?" she said. "You spend so much energy pining after me when there's a girl waiting on the sidelines just hoping and praying for something as simple as a smile from you."

He looked at her. "And who would that be?"

Kerry shook her head in amazement. "Men are so clueless."

She stared at him. He really didn't know. God, Brandi was going to kill her for this, but tough. "Brandi came as soon as she heard the news. She was here all night while you were in surgery. And even when she knew you were okay, she wouldn't go back to the hotel. Catri had to force her to go back and rest. Adam, you idiot, Brandi Vanderkleef has been in love with you since we were sixteen years old. And I don't see any sign of her ever getting over it."

Adam stared at her in utter shock. Damn, she'd been right when she called him clueless.

"Do what you want with the information," Kerry said. "But if you break her heart, Adam, so help me, I'll find a way to make you regret you were ever born."
Silence ticked by. Two high spots of color enflamed Adam's cheekbones. He glanced away from her, at a complete loss for words.

"So...where are your parents?" Kerry asked finally.

Adam shrugged, still not looking at her. "I think they went down to the cafeteria to get something to eat."

Kerry glanced at his left leg encased in a cast and suspended by pulleys attached to traction. Poor guy. Here he was laid up in the hospital, and she was berating him for not noticing a girl was in love with him. God, she was such a bitch! Why he was so crazy about her, she'd never be able to fathom.

She placed a hand on his arm. "Are you in much pain?"

He turned back to her, and gave another slight shrug. "They're keeping me well medicated."

"Do you remember anything about the accident?"

His black brows furrowed. "Just the lights of a car bearing down on me. I remember thinking about the competition. About how we wouldn't get a medal now."

Kerry nodded, trying not to allow her thoughts to show on her face. Poor Adam. Had he really believed they could medal? "I'm sorry, Adam."

He looked away, his throat working. Oh, God, please don't cry. I can't deal with that. But when he spoke, his voice was under control. "We could've done it, Kerry. I know we could've done it."

Kerry patted his arm. "Sure, we could've. Anything is possible." Yeah, and Pam Andersen is a virgin.

He looked at her, his eyes glimmering with hope. "Won't you reconsider, Kerry? Just four more years. One more try at the Olympics. You and me in Turin."

Kerry tried to remember that he was in traction in a hospital bed. It wouldn't be a good idea to grab him by the shoulders and shake him until his teeth rattled. Instead, she contented herself with a baleful glare and spoke between gritted teeth, "In 2006, I'll be thirty-two years old, and I can guaran-fucking-tee you that if I'm on an ice rink, it will be in the capacity of a coach…or a performer in the Ice Capades. And Adam, don't take this the wrong way…I love you…I really do. As a friend. But I don't care if every bone in your body is fractured. I don't care if you're hanging on by a thread. That doesn't give you the right to try and put pressure on me about my life and my choices. Don't ask me to reconsider again. I'm quitting. I won't change my mind. Got it?"

His jaw tightened mutinously. "Yeah, sure," he said. "I forgot. It's all about you, isn't it?"

An outraged cry of frustration burst from her throat. Her hands curled into claws, and it was all she could do to stop herself from jumping on him and strangling him until he yelled for mercy.

The door opened behind her, and Catri stuck her red head inside, her mouth stretched in a bright smile. "Oh, hi, Kerrelyn. How's our patient doing?"

Well, Catri, funny you should ask. He's nano-seconds away from being murdered. She gave her coach a bright smile, absolutely certain it looked as false as it felt. "Oh, he's getting back to normal, I'd say."

"Good." Her blue eyes moved to Adam who was still glowering at Kerry. "I have a little surprise for you, milaya moya." She opened the door wider, and a stream of skaters filed into the room.

Kerry grinned. They were from various countries, and they carried all sorts of things--cards and flowers and balloons, magazines and games, anything they thought would help Adam to pass the time in the hospital. Brandi was one of the first to enter, and she handed Adam a book about mountain climbing and a package of bakery-fresh chocolate chip cookies. Kerry watched Adam's expression as he accepted her gifts. Was it just wishful thinking that he seemed to be looking at the strawberry blonde differently than he had a few days before?

There was a tap at the door, and Kerry's heart jolted at the couple that entered. Mikhail and Tanya. A dignified silver-haired man and an attractive blue-eyed brunette—Adam's parents, followed them. Mikhail's eyes swept the room and found Kerry. She caught her breath at the question mirrored there. And for the first time since she'd heard of Adam's accident, she realized that now there really was no reason to wait. She'd already told Mikhail she'd help him--as crazy as that decision was. But now that she and Adam wouldn't be skating tomorrow night that meant…

If I'm going to do it, it has to be before the free dance. We'll be under constant watch after we win the medal.

Mikhail finally looked away, his gaze settling on Adam. Tanya smiled and approached the bed, holding out a festively wrapped package. "This is for you, Adam. From Russian skating team. Mikhail picked it out."

The Russian skating team, hmmm? Kerry thought. And where would be the queen of the Russian Skating Team? Her Royal Highness, Elena the Great?

"Thanks," Adam said tightly.

Kerry glanced at Adam's parents who were watching the proceedings. Adam's mother, Barbara, had a fixed smile on her pretty face while his congressman father, Oliver, stared, lock-jawed, at the Russians with barely concealed suspicion.

Like father, like son, Kerry thought.

Adam began unwrapping the box, moving gingerly as if fearful it contained a nuclear device or something equally lethal. He glanced up at the Russians before taking off the lid, his hesitation clearly obvious. At least, it was to Kerry. Again, she felt an overwhelming desire to shake some sense into him. Couldn't he, for once in his life, be cordial to citizens of a former Communist country?

Mikhail nodded, an ironic smile flickering about his lips. "Go ahead. Is not bomb."

Kerry held back a laugh at the startled look in Adam's eyes. He removed the lid and gazed into the box.

"Is brain teaser," Mikhail said. "I found at department store in Salt Lake."

Adam picked up the water-filled globe housing a tee and a golf ball, the objective of which, Kerry assumed, was to get the ball on the tee. He turned it over in his hands, examining it while his parents looked only slightly relieved that they hadn't been blown to smithereens.

"Is popular here in West, no?" Mikhail added.

Adam glanced at him warily. "Golf or this thing?"

Mikhail looked confused at his question. "Is hard, I think." His eyes flicked over the traction. "But you, no doubt, have plenty time to devote to game."

"No shit," Adam muttered darkly, glaring down at the globe.

Kerry rolled her eyes and moved closer to the bed, pasting a smile on her lips. "Uh…Adam? Don't you have something to say to Mikhail and Tanya for being so thoughtful?"

How old was he, anyway? Five? And why did she have to play mother when his real mother was standing right here in the room?

Adam had the grace to flush. "Yeah…thanks," he mumbled. "It's a cool gift," he added grudgingly.

Mikhail's eyes met Kerry's. He smiled, and she felt her heartbeat pick up. Talk about lethal, she thought. Mikhail's smile should be licensed as a dangerous weapon.

The skaters gathered around Adam's bed and chatted for a few minutes until finally, Barbara Cutter suggested that Adam needed his rest, and one by one, they began to leave the room. Tanya and Mikhail were the first to depart.

"Yeah, I've got to get going, too," Kerry said. "I'll stop in and see how you're doing tomorrow, Adam."

And to say goodbye, she thought.

Adam gave her a brief nod and turned to Brandi who still hovered at his bedside. In addition to the book and cookies, she'd brought him an Olympic teddy bear wearing skates and it was now propped up on the pillow next to him.

"You want to stay a while, Brandi?" he asked, and then looked at his parents. "Mom and Dad have to be going, right? Maybe you can hang around and keep me company."

Her freckled face blushed scarlet as her brown eyes widened in amazement, darting from Adam to his parents. "Me?" she asked in a small voice.

"Yeah, you," Adam said gruffly. "Anybody else here named Brandi?"

Kerry grinned. Maybe Adam's head wasn't as thick as she'd supposed.

"Yeah, sure," Brandi said, eyes glowing.

Kerry gave them a wave. "Later!"

* * * * *

"Say that again," Sean spoke into the phone between gritted teeth. "And slower this time. I know I must have heard you wrong."

Fagan's Dublin accent traveled over the telephone line, and the quaver in it had nothing to do with bad reception. "I said I hit the wrong guy." He waited for a response, and when he didn't get one, his tone raised a notch. "I'm sorry, Boss. I saw him go in, and then, it looked like the same guy coming out. I just assumed…"

"You…bloody…fuck-up!" Sean kept his voice low. He glanced towards the closed bathroom door. The sound of the shower told him Elena was still in there, soaping her luscious body.

He'd just enjoyed a taste of it minutes before, and his own body was still tingling from the climax she'd brought him to up against the shower wall. Now, though, at the news on the other end of the line, he felt the pleasure seeping out of him, replaced by an icy rage.

"Okay, so who did you hit?"

Fagan's rusty sigh came across the line. "Some American skater. Christ, I don't know his bloody name. But not to worry, he's not dead."

Sean grimaced. "Christ! That's great. Just great, Fagan. You can't even do that right. You left him alive so he can identify you? What are you, a flamin' idiot? Well, if they catch you, Fagan, you're on your own. Got that? I don't know you."

There was a moment's hesitation, and then Fagan said, "What do you want me to do about Kozlof?"

Sean shook his head in amazement. "Do I have to spell it out for you, you imbecile? I want you to take him out! I want Mikhail Kozlof dead before the free dance tomorrow night, you understand?"

Sean slammed down the phone. He'd been so involved in his conversation that he hadn't realized the shower had stopped. Elena stepped out of the bathroom, clad in a thick, white terry robe. Her eyes fastened on his face in overt curiosity. "What's wrong, Sean? You're all flushed."

He managed to summon a smile. "Not a thing, love. I'm flushed because I'm still hot for you."

"Who was that on the phone?"

"Just a business associate." He crossed the room to her. Gazing down into her eyes, he worked the knot from her robe and slipped his hands inside the opening to cup the firm globes of her breasts. "Just a little problem that's being taken care of as we speak. Mmmmmm…I want you again already. Why is it I can't get enough of you, girl?"

She smiled up at him, eyes sultry. Her hands crept around his neck, playing with the hair that curled at his nape. "Good thing I don't believe in the philosophy of abstaining from sex while in training." She licked her lips, her gaze on his.

His penis had turned to granite. "Good thing for me," he murmured. "I'd go bloody mad if I couldn't have you." His mouth captured hers in a brutal kiss. She gave back as good as she got, finally breaking away to catch a breath.

Her eyes danced with excitement. "Can you believe it, Sean? One more day. Tomorrow night, I'll be wearing that gold medal around my neck. That's all I'll wear, too. Just me and my gold medal."

Even that enticing image wasn't enough to stop him from stiffening with an unreasonable anger. His hands tightened on her shoulders, but he forced himself to smile down at her.

"You know what? Why don't we just put that gold medal on the backburner for now? I've got something else in mind to occupy your thoughts."

He swept her up in his arms and strode to the bedroom. Placing her on the rumpled sheets, he grinned down into her lust-clouded eyes.

There's no gold medal in your future, love, he thought. You're just going to have to be happy with me.

* * * * *

Kerry was walking past the fourth floor waiting room on the way to the elevators when she heard her name called out by a masculine Russian voice. Her heart began to beat a tattoo in her ribcage. She turned to see Mikhail getting up from a chair.

"I was waiting for you," he said. "Do you have moment to talk?"

Kerry took a deep breath, trying not to think about how gorgeous he looked in his red Norwegian sweater and black slacks. He was especially Nordic looking today. She could imagine him posing in a calendar of Norwegian sports stars, half-naked, and bronzed from the sun, his hair golden and wind-ruffled. Oh, God. That image was definitely a mistake. Now, she'd never be able to get it out of her mind. He was standing in front of her, fully clothed, and she had him undressed down to his Jockeys. Did Russians wear Jockeys? Or nothing at all?

Her face flamed. Don't go there, dummy. She gave a furtive glance around and stepped over to him. "Yeah, but not here. There might be too many skaters lurking around."

Mikhail nodded. "There is small park across street. You feel like taking walk?"


They were silent in the elevator as it descended to the lobby floor. Kerry was exquisitely aware of Mikhail standing next to her. He was so close, she could smell the intoxicating scent of his cologne, a mix of exotic Eastern spices and sandalwood. She remembered it from the other night when they'd skated together. It reminded her of faraway lands and romantic, moonlit nights under swaying palms.

"Tough break for Adam," he said finally as the elevator reached the ground floor. "I'm sorry you will not get chance to compete tomorrow night."

Kerry shrugged, stepping through the elevator door into the lobby of the hospital. "Yeah, it's a disappointment, but hey, that's life. I'm just glad Adam wasn't hurt worse than he was."

Mikhail followed behind as she headed for the front doors. "Did they catch driver who hit him?"

"Not that I know of. But when they do, I hope to hell they lock him up and throw away the freakin' key. What a slime ball."

Mikhail gave a short laugh. "You do not mince words, do you, Kerry Niles? I like that. You say what you think."

Kerry slanted him an amused look as they stepped outside into a sunny, but cold afternoon. "Yeah, and believe me, I get into a lot of trouble for it."

She tugged down the edges of her knit cap and pulled up the fake fur around her collar as she waited for the light to change to cross the street.

They didn't speak again until they reached the small park across from the hospital. Mikhail tucked his gloved hands into the pockets of his heavy tweed coat, and stared out at a frozen pond glittering in the sunlight a few yards away. He'd pulled on a traditional Russian fur hat as they'd left the hospital, and it had transformed him into a mysterious stranger, reminding Kerry that she really knew nothing about this man. Yet, she'd agreed to help him defect from his country. Was she out of her freakin' mind?

"I grew up skating on pond like that," he said suddenly, nodding his head toward the ice. "Nadya, my former coach, discovered me when I was six years old. I was doing figure eights on pond outside my home town of Tallinn." His eyes wore a faraway look as if he were picturing it in his mind. He gave a soft chuckle. "Oh, how Nadya frightened me the first time I met her. She came to my parents' flat to take me away to Moscow to train for competitive skating."

Kerry stared at him in surprise. "At six?"

He nodded. "In Russia, training starts early for talented athletes."

"But you were just a baby! She took you away from your home, your parents?"

He looked at her, a slight smile in his eyes. "Yes. That is not unusual in my country. It was frightening, I admit. But Nadya is good woman. She had no children of her own, and she treated me like a son." He sighed, gazing off at the pond again. "I still miss her."

Kerry's heart plunged. "I'm sorry. Did she…did you lose her recently?"

"Almost two years ago." He turned back to her, saw the look of sympathy in her eyes, and smiled. "No, she is alive and well. But when Elena became my partner, she was replaced by Elena's coach. Against my will, but…" He shrugged. "…orders from Russian Figure Skating Federation cannot be ignored."

"But I thought things were different now. Didn't you have any say in the matter?" Kerry asked.

He gave her a sardonic grin. "Name has changed, but athletes are still under thumb of government. When I first started skating, my goal was to become good enough to be accepted into the Central Red Army Club. Cesska, it was known by. Only the best athletes were accepted at cesska. For every Soviet skater you saw at world competitions, there were hundreds of others not so gifted, but who yearned to someday gain admittance to cesska so they, too, would become Soviet skating stars. It was first goal on journey of Olympic medal."

"And at what age did you make it in?" Kerry asked.


"Wow," she said softly, impressed. At ten, she was skiing black diamonds with her father, but had only skated a few times for fun.

They stood in silence for a few moments, Kerry on his right. She cast a quick glance at him, her eyes sweeping over the scar on his cheekbone.

She almost asked him how he'd gotten it, but just as she opened her mouth, he spoke again. "In light of what has happened to Adam..." He didn't look at her. "Perhaps is callous of me to say such thing, but…" He turned his head, and his eyes met hers. "Do you believe in fate, Kerry?"

She didn't answer, couldn't find her voice. And she couldn't look away from his mesmerizing blue eyes.

His voice lowered to a near whisper. "Our coach is arranging for special dinner for Russian skating team tonight. Everyone will get drunk, and most of them will party into morning hours. It will be perfect time to make my escape. I will have everything ready and out of my room. I will pretend to be drunk, and will stagger out to get taxi back to hotel. That will give me a good twelve hours before anyone will think to check on me. They will just think I'm in my room sleeping off vodka. Instead, if you help me, we can be on our way to Virginia." He paused, holding her gaze. A desperate light gleamed in his eyes. "You said you would help me, Kerry? Can we not move it up now?"

Kerry swallowed hard, and then took a deep, shuddering breath. "Okay," she said.
It came out nearly inaudible. She blinked, and then tried again. "Okay, Mikhail." This time her voice rang out clear and confident. "Tonight. Tell me where you want me to pick you up."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tango's Edge, Chapter 5

Chapter Five

“Guess what? Elena Boiko just collapsed backstage.” Brandi's eyes were wide as she relayed the news to Kerry and Adam.
They'd just stepped out of “Kiss and Cry” after getting decidedly mediocre scores from the judges for their original dance. Adam was still sulking, but at Brandi's words, his eyes lit up with hope. “You think she might withdraw from the competition?”
“Adam!” Kerry slanted him a disgusted look. “Don't be mean.”
“Hey, it's a reasonable question.”
“No.” Kerry said slowly. “A reasonable question would be…is she okay, Brandi?”
Brandi nodded. “Yeah. They say it was an asthma attack. A pretty bad one, but she's going to be fine.”
“Figures,” Adam muttered. He loped off down the corridor.
Kerry shook her head, gazing after him. “Can you say…poor loser?”
As always, Brandi jumped to Adam’s defense. “Give him a break, Kerry. He's still smarting over losing you. As a partner, I mean. You know…I was wondering. Do you think Catri would let me train as an ice dancer?”
Kerry looked at her friend in surprise. “You'd give up singles for Adam?”
A rosy blush flooded her face. “I've been thinking about it for a while. Ever since you told me you were, you know, retiring. It's stupid, isn't it?”
“Of course it's not stupid. Actually, I think it's a great idea. You and Adam would be perfect for each other.” She reached out and impulsively grasped Brandi's hand. “I mean it, Bran. I think you'd be good for him. You're stable and good-hearted. And patient. That's something I'm in short supply of. And I think you'd skate beautifully together.”
Brandi grinned. “You think so?”
“I know so. I'll mention the idea to Catri. I'll bet she'll love it.”
“Thanks. So…did you see our favorite Russian couple skate? They look pretty hard to beat, don't they?”
Kerry sighed. “They sure do. I don't know what Elena Boiko has done in the past year, but she's like a completely different person on the ice. Skating with Mikhail has really improved her performance.”
Brandi grinned, a dimple flickering near the corner of her mouth. “Oh, it's Mikhail now, is it? You know what I think? I think you have a case of the hots for him.”
Kerry felt her cheeks grow warm. She was very much afraid that Brandi had hit the proverbial nail square on the head. A case of the hots. That would explain why her temperature rose a degree or two whenever Mikhail was nearby. Even the hairs on her arms seemed to crackle and stand at attention. It was lust, pure and simple. Yep, good old-fashioned lust. Because what else could it be? She didn't even know the guy.
But she wanted to. Wanted to very badly.
Tonight, as she'd watched them skate, all she could think about was what it had felt like to dance in his arms, gliding over the ice with abandon, her heart singing at his touch. His scar had stood out starkly under the bright lights of the rink, and Kerry found herself wanting to trace the mark with a finger, then slide her hands down the smooth cords of his neck, skimming down to his muscled biceps and…
She'd had to give herself a mental cold shower, and she'd done that by looking at Elena, the human icicle. How cool and detached the Russian woman appeared as she danced with Mikhail, wearing a sequined dress of ice blue. Not an iota of emotion in those frosty blue eyes. Her Nordic blond head was just a few inches shorter than Mikhail's. Damn! They looked good together. A great looking couple. And by the way, were they a couple?
She and Adam had been waiting to be announced when Mikhail and Elena left “Kiss & Cry.” Mikhail's gaze had met hers for a few seconds, and she'd felt as if she'd jumped out of an airplane and was plummeting to earth in a free fall. What had he decided to do? Would he try to defect on his own? She caught her breath. What if he did and something horrible happened to him? Wouldn't she feel responsible for refusing to help him?
She'd had to force the thought from her mind as she skated out to center ice to take her position before the original dance. And somehow, when the music started, she pushed away all thoughts of Mikhail and concentrated on their performance.
Now, back in her hotel room, she undressed and drew on a long fleece robe, then headed for the bathroom to fill the tub. A long soak in hot bubbles would be just the thing to help her relax.
She was so glad the original dance was over. The free dance would be held in two nights, and because this was the dance where they had free rein with the music and choreography, it was always her favorite part of competition. They'd put together a compilation of different movements from Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and Kerry was fairly confident that she and Adam would put on a solid performance. But what she was really looking forward to was the exhibition skate on the night of the closing ceremonies. They were skating to Ray Charles's “It Had to Be You,” a slow, sexy dance that incorporated many unusual twists, turns and lifts―some which were illegal in competition, but always wowed the fans. She wished the World Figure Skating Association would allow skaters to use music with lyrics for competition, but although there had been talk of it for years, it didn't seem like it would ever happen. Too bad because it would open up a lot of creative doors in the sport.
Kerry turned on the faucets to fill the tub. Just as she was securing her hair in an elastic band, she thought she heard something from the bedroom. A knock at the door? She turned off the faucet and listened. It came again, louder this time. Her heart began to pound. Definitely a knock.
Mikhail! But why would it be him? She'd given him her answer, and he'd accepted it.
The knock came again, more demanding this time. She tightened the belt of her robe, moved to the door and peered through the peephole. Then sighed. Adam!
She cracked the door. “It's late, Adam,” she said, hoping he'd take the hint and go away. But he wasn't having it.
“Isss importan…” He pushed his way inside, and stood there, swaying, his eyes bloodshot, jaw slack.
He was drunk, which was unusual. Adam wasn't much of a drinker. He didn't do it often, but when he did, he couldn't handle more than a couple of beers before he was juiced. Even before that crazy year with Josh when Kerry had taken binge drinking to a new high, she'd been able to drink Adam under the table and still be able to shoot a clay pigeon from twenty-five yards away. She knew that because she'd once done it on a dare at the tender age of sixteen. Adam hadn't believed her when she'd told him her father had been an Olympic biathlon, and had taught her to shoot.
Kerry sighed and closed the door behind him. “Couldn't you at least have waited until after the competition is over before getting wasted?”
“It's over. Or as good as,” he mumbled, his reddened eyes peering at her like a pitifully abused dog. “Sorry I'm such a fuck-up. Such a loser. If it weren't for me, you'd probably win a medal.”
Oh, God. He'd gone from “the judges wouldn't know good skating if it came up and bit them in the ass” to “nothing ever works out for me.” She knew these stages well because she'd been there before. Like last year after the World Championships. And the year before after Skate America. And…she could go on and on. Jeez, it was like being with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, only both personalities were just as bad.
Okay, so she'd play along. “You're not a loser, Adam.” She kept her voice low and soothing, quelling any irritation. Which was not easy. “You just need to go to bed and sleep it off. It'll be better in the morning.”
“Yeah, I am a loser,” he moaned. “I lost you, didn't I?”
Oh, no. Not that, again. She tried to hold onto her patience, even though this particular subject was getting incredibly long in the tooth. It had been twelve years since they'd been a couple. A lifetime ago. Get over it, already!
Still, she managed to speak calmly, “We were too young to get so serious. The timing was wrong, that's all.” God, how she hated lying. She'd fallen out of puppy love with Adam as quickly as she'd fallen into it. But it seemed kinder to make him think it was really only their youth that had caused the break-up.
Or maybe not.
Something in his eyes changed, grew softer, and Kerry realized she'd made a tactical error. Damned if he wasn't taking that remark as encouragement. Before she could move or say another word, he grabbed her, pressing his body against hers.
“Adam, wha…?”
“Mebbe the timing's right now,” he garbled just before his mouth slammed down on hers, his tongue thrusting. Kerry's stomach spasmed at the gross taste of stale beer masked by a breath mint.
Damn him! He'd planned this! Apparently, he wasn't as drunk as he wanted her to think. She struggled out of his grip and gave him a hard shove. “Have you lost your mind? God!” She wiped the sleeve of her robe over her mouth in disgust.
The slack look had disappeared from his face, replaced by brooding anger. “You didn't used to be repulsed by my kisses.”
She stared at him in amazement. “What's wrong with you? I was sixteen!”
Adam ran his hands through his rumpled dark brown hair and sank onto the foot of the bed. Groaning, he dropped his head into his hands, and then looked up again, eyes wounded. “But we were so good together. Why can't you see that?”
Kerry fought against the wave of pity she felt for him, and lost. She sat down next to him, placing a consoling arm around his shoulders. “We were kids,” she said softly. “Each other's first loves. It was special, Adam, but first love doesn't usually last.”
He looked at her. “It did for me.”
Kerry stared back, at a total loss for words. What was it going to take to convince him to move on?
A tap came at the door, and she started. Oh, God. Now, what?
Adam looked at her. “You expecting someone?”
Kerry didn't bothering answering. She got up and strode to the door to look through the peephole. Her heart jolted. It was Mikhail. And like a lightning bolt, the idea came to her. It was outrageous, and totally daring, but it just might work. She took a deep breath and placed a hand over her racing heart. Oh, God, was she really going to do this? If so, it was now or never.
She opened the door and gave Mikhail a big smile. “Well! It's about time. Come in.”
One eyebrow arched in question, but he did as requested. Okay. Here goes. After he stepped inside, Kerry fastened her hands on each side of his face and said under her breath, “Play along.”
His blue eyes widened in surprise. He opened his mouth to say something, but she didn't give him the chance. She reached up and pressed her lips against his in a full-bodied kiss.
For a moment, he stood stiff with shock but then she felt the change come over him. His hands slid up her back as his warm mouth became eager and pliant on hers. Kerry's head began to spin, and the blood in her veins turned to the consistency of rich, hot syrup as she tasted Mikhail's flirting tongue.
Oh, God. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea, after all.
“What the hell is going on here?” Adam snarled, jumping to his feet.
Kerry tried to break the kiss and pull away, but Mikhail had different ideas. His hands tightened on her back, and his mouth nibbled at hers, playful and incredibly erotic at the same time. Her knees began to tremble. She felt close to fainting. Oh, wow! Not since Josh had she felt this kind of physical attraction.
“For God's sake, Kerry!” Adam's voice was growing angrier. “Do you know who this guy is?”
This time when Kerry tried to break the kiss, Mikhail released her. She drew away, her breathing erratic, eyes locked on his. He looked mildly amused, his full, sensuous lips quirked in an ironic smile. It made Kerry want to kiss him all over again.
Mikhail's gaze left hers and moved to Adam who was glaring at them with a belligerent scowl.
“Does Kerry usually kiss complete stranger?” Mikhail asked in a mocking tone.
Well, not usually. But after this, she might do it more often.
She moved closer to Mikhail, placing a proprietary hand on his muscular bicep―rock hard, she couldn't help but notice―and met Adam's indignant gaze. “We've been seeing each other for…” Her mind went blank.
“Several weeks,” Mikhail put in.
“Yes, several weeks.”
The color had ebbed from Adam's face. His hands were clenched in angry fists at his side. “But how? When have you had time?”
Mikhail's blue eyes roved over her, sending her body temperature up another notch. “We have made time, have we not, angel moy?”
She smiled, almost swooning from the sexy come hither look in his eyes and the throaty Russian endearment that had rolled off his tongue. “That's right, Adam. I didn't want to tell you before the competition because I knew it would just upset you.”
“Damn right it would upset me!” Adam's pale color had disappeared, replaced by a red tide of rage. “Are you nuts, Kerry? Getting involved with a…a…”
Mikhail looked at him, waiting for him to complete his sentence.
Adam's bravado faded. “Getting involved with someone in the middle of an Olympic year?”
Mikhail's hand moved up and down her arm, raising goose bumps under the fleece fabric of her robe. She could only imagine what her reaction would be if he actually touched skin.
“Love does not follow time table, is that not true, milaya moya?”
Love? Well, she'd been thinking more on the lines of lust, but hey, if it worked to get Adam off her back, she was all for it.
She smiled up at Mikhail, and he gave her a wink that made her heart spasm. “That's right. So…if you don't mind, Adam, Mikhail and I would like to…you know…have a little privacy.”
Adam stared at them. “I just can't believe this! Kerry, didn't you learn your lesson with Josh Mullins? You almost destroyed your career running around with that low-life hockey player!”
Kerry's mouth tightened. She opened the door. “I think you'd better go now.”
He didn't move, just stared at them.
“The lady wishes you to go,” Mikhail said quietly.
The two men eyed each other for a long, tense moment. The elevator dinged in the corridor outside and laughter erupted as some late night revelers headed to their rooms.
Adam wilted. “Okay,” he said, moving toward the door. “Ruin your life, Kerry. Because that's what you're doing, you know. And I won't always be around to rescue you.”
Kerry grimaced. “Please, Adam, don't get my hopes up by saying things like that.”
“Go ahead and joke.” Adam paused at the door and glared at her. “But I bet you won't be laughing when Catri finds out about this.” He stepped out into the hallway, and Kerry closed the door behind him.
She turned and met Mikhail's gaze. “Tattle-tailer,” she muttered.
His lips quirked. “I do not know what that means, but I think is not good.”
She grinned. “You're right. It's not.” Her smile widened. “So, we're an item, are we?”
“Item?” A questioning eyebrow rose. “What is this 'item'?”
“You know…” She felt the color rise on her cheeks as she gestured from him to herself. “You and me.”
“Oh!” He grinned, his face transforming from dangerous to delightful. “Ah, yes, seems we are.” He looked at her closely, his expression suddenly watchful. “I have question to ask you, Kerry. If I can slip away after competition, will you then help me get to Virginia?”
Seconds passed as he waited for her answer. Kerry gazed at him, her heart bumping. It was the moment of truth. Just this afternoon, sitting with Brandi in the dining room, she'd been wishing she could find a way to help Mikhail. Now, he was giving her a second opportunity to do so. And she didn't know what to do.
Then she did what she'd often done in the past fourteen years. She asked herself one simple question. What would Dad do? He'd always been a man of integrity―a gold medalist who’d turned down lucrative endorsement contracts, and instead, joined Greenpeace because he believed so strongly in ecology preservation and the protection of wildlife. Kerry knew her father would tell her to search her heart, and the right choice would be revealed. She'd already done that, and now, she just had to commit herself.
She took a deep breath, released it, and with a confidence she in no way felt, she looked Mikhail in the eye and said, “I must be nuts, but yeah, I'll help you. So…what's the plan?”
* * * * *
The man sat in a late-model dark sedan, watching the entrance to the small hotel. The motor was running, the lights off. Ten minutes ago, he'd watched the Russian figure skater enter the building.
He'd wanted to take a go at him then, but there'd been too many people around. The bar on the corner had a healthy number of people spilling out onto the street, and with the Winter Olympics going on, the village of Park City was bustling with activity, even in the early hours of the morning.
Bad news for the business at hand. But no matter. He was a patient man. The right time would come. He took a draw on his fag and released it. Smoke curled in the air around him. Yep, if he had his druthers, he'd just as soon use his Makarov. But Boss wanted it to look like an accident.
So, it would look like an accident.
He tensed, his eyes fastening on a dark figure stepping out of the hotel. It was Kozlof. Clenching his teeth around the cigarette butt in a snarl, he thrust the gearshift into first and pressed on the accelerator. The Mercedes’ wheels shrieked in protest as the car bolted forward.
His hands tightened on the steering wheel. The headlights caught the startled face of the man, the dark eyes widening in horror as the car plowed into him. The driver cackled.
Poor old sot never knew what hit him.