One thing writing (and reading) is great for, is getting away from real life. Stories make sense. They have villains and trials and suffering and struggle, but you usually know the hero/heroine will prevail in the end. These days, I find a lot of consolation in getting lost in my story. Mob life is so much more pleasant than what’s going on in the world. 😀
It was after one in the morning when Vadim received the text from Kisa. He grunted in satisfaction, sat back in his chair and poured himself a fresh cup of coffee. He took his time drinking it, then changed into a new pair of jeans, a new shirt and cheap pair of boots. He pulled on a pair of leather work gloves, then reached for the magic.
A travelling spell, particularly at any distance, was no small working. But he didn’t wish to drive a car that might be seen.
He blinked back into existence in a large, tastelessly decorated bedroom—mirrored ceiling and one wall, animal-print bedding rumpled and apparently energetically tossed, explicit prints on the walls.
A door in the mirrored wall was open. Closed, it would’ve been just another sheet of mirror, no knob or hinges to give it away. The door itself was quite thick, with a keyed deadbolt on the inside. Strange, muffled sounds came through it. He walked quietly over and found himself looking down a flight of stairs.
He wasn’t fool enough to call out. Anything, anytime could be a setup. His wards were in place, of course, but wards deflecting knives or bullets tended to raise too many questions. He extended wizard’s senses.
The smell of sex. The reek of fear. Two people, one breathing heavily.
Vadim went down the stairs, not bothering to be quiet this time. The room gradually came into view, a replica of the bed upstairs oddly out of place against an industrial tiled floor. Kisa, dressed in a man’s robe and holding a gun, stood in front of a plastic patio chair. On the bed, a naked man lay cuffed hand and foot to handy tie-downs on the bed, hot pink duct tape over his mouth. Stanislav Baljic. The man Emilia had pointed out. The moment he saw Vadim, he started making muffled, desperate noises.
Kisa lowered the gun and sat, primly crossing her bare legs. “Good call, boss.”
He nodded and looked around the room. There were mirrors over the bed here, too. But the wall, instead of sporting more mirrors, held a huge, flat panel TV screen. Video cameras were placed at strategic points around the room. SD cards lay scattered across the floor near a utilitarian white computer stand.
Vadim stopped at the foot of the bed, folded his arms and let his gaze travel up and down Baljic’s naked body He shook his head and clucked his tongue. “Looks like the lady has you at a disadvantage.”
“I think it might be a new experience for him,” Kisa said.
“Really?” Vadim said, feigning surprise. “He doesn’t secretly long for a dominatrix? So many powerful men do.”
“His tastes run in more…exotic directions.” She gestured at the SD cards on the floor.
Vadim walked over, picked one up at random and slotted it into the computer. He took the remote on the stand and pushed a button. The screen on the wall lit up.
Screams, sobs, pleas blared out of the speakers. The screen showed blood, first a little, then more. The volume become unbearable. He dialed it down.
It wasn’t the first time he’d seen such things. A warlord in Asia’s savage hinterlands saw more than his share of rape and blood and horror.
He punched the remote and the screen went dark again. He turned to Kisa. “Tell me what happened.”
“About what you’d expect.” She jerked her chin to indicate the bedroom upstairs. “He thought he’d slip me something to make me more accommodating. I played along…” She sagged in the chair as if drugged, then straightened. “…and we ended up here. He was just trying to cuff me when I gave him a little surprise.”
Baljic shook his head hard, his eyes wide. The noises he made grew more desperate.
Vadim rocked on his heels. “Is that true, Stas? You planned to make Kisa here the star of one of your productions?”
Baljic shook his head, high, frightened sounds coming through his nostrils.
“You must’ve known she’s one of mine, Stas. You met her at my party. You saw me greet her. Yet you’d bring her—my girl—here to your playhouse? To play with?”
He thought of what Emilia had told him, of the vision she’d seen of Tiffany, here, in this place, suffering what he’d seen on that video. He clenched a fist and fought an impulse to blast Baljic to ash on the bed.
“Would you like the gun now, boss?” Kisa said.
Whimper, whimper, whimper, Baljic said.
Vadim cocked his head, pretending to consider. “No, I don’t think so. You’re the one he insulted. I’ll leave him to you.”
Baljic bucked and writhed and screamed through his nose.
Vadim turned his back and started up the stairs. He was almost to the top when the crack of a silenced gunshot came from below. Then one more, then a third.
* * *
Vadim went through the house, from bedroom to bathroom, hall to living room, casting spells of bafflement. Once he’d learned about fingerprints and DNA, he adapted a couple of spells to encompass them.
Kisa came into the living room fastening her earrings. “Do you want him found, or not found?”
“Found,” Vadim said. “Let’s give people something to think about.”
“Those SD cards should help clear up some disappearances.”
Rage swept him again. He wrestled it down. “Yes. There’s that.”
There was a great deal of ugliness in this business. But there was ugliness, and then there was ugliness. He’d never had much tolerance for outright depravity.
She opened her purse and took out her phone. “Where’s your car?” she said, tapping in a text.
“I got a ride. I’ll ride back with you.”
Outside at Kisa’s SUV, Vadim glanced around. “Where are his men?”
“Around,” she said. “Ordered not to disturb him when he played, it seems.”
Vadim shook his head in disgust, surreptitiously setting a spell of diversion as well as an illusion on the car. He climbed in. If anyone had the ability to pentrate the diversion, the car they’d see driving away was something small and grey or some other indeterminate color.
He buckled in and Kisa started the car.
“I texted Jakow,” she said. “He’ll be here within the hour.”
Vadim had confidence in his spells, but a crime scene that was too clean made suggestions of its own. Jakow would make sure it looked uninteresting—or utterly confusing.
Kisa pulled onto the road, beginning what would be a circuitous route home. Vadim just stared out the window at the dark, sleeping houses sliding past.
“Should I ask?” Kisa said eventually.
“What?” He didn’t turn from the window.
“What’s biting you. All night you’ve been acting like someone pissed in your shoes.”
“It’s not enough the podletz meant to rape, torture and murder you?”
She snorted. “But you already knew what he was doing, or you wouldn’t have sent me to deal with him. What I wonder is how.”
“I have my resources.”
She shot him a sideways glance. “Hmm. Are those resources recently acquired?”
Now he turned. “Kisa—” he began, warning, then sat back and folded his arms. “Recently acquired and not yet altogether reliable.”
“I thought I noticed some tension earlier this evening.”
He drummed fingers on knee. “What’ve you heard about her?”
“Some of the men say she’s a fortune teller. Most of them laugh, but not all.”
“What do you think?”
She shrugged. “I think she has something valuable enough to abduct her outright instead of taking the time to convince her.”
He grunted. “There wasn’t going to be any convincing. She knew who I am and what I want.”
Kisa’s brows climbed. “Did she? And she knew about Baljic the same way?”
Vadim grimaced. “Exactly the same.”
She drove in silence a while, apparently thinking. “And you threw her into the middle of the likes of him and Ilchenko and Bernard? Somehow, she doesn’t seem the type to take that well.”
He grunted again. “You could say that.” The sprawling hillside estates had given way to dim, empty slopes. He watched them pass by, the darker shadows of oaks hunched on them. “Then I dared to mention her husband—”
Kisa stifled a noise.
He waved a hand. “A long time ago. Not my doing. The doing of villains like me.”
“Oof.” Kisa commented, wincing. At a stop sign, she checked the mirrors and turned onto the highway. “She must’ve been seriously offended.”
Vadim thought of the white fury on Emilia’s face, the sting of her small hand on his jaw. No, he wouldn’t relate that.
He drummed his fingers again. “She’s no use to me hostile.”
“She can be dangerous to you hostile. If she can do what you say, she could set you up.”
“The thought had occurred to me.”
“You’re going to have to change her opinion of you somehow.”
“I give her a comfortable place. I try to show her she doesn’t need to be afraid of me. I do her favors.” He threw up his hands. “What more can I do?”
A wry smile curved Kisa’s lips. “It’ll take a lot to make up for that kidnapping, Vadim. I can tell she’s not like most people who fall into this business. The ones who’re already flirting with it. People outside are afraid of us. You’re going to have to convince her you’re not a villain like the ones that killed her husband. Like Baljic and Bernard and the rest like them. You’re just a businessman, even if your business is the kind the law doesn’t agree with.”
He turned to look out the window again. “I have to convince her there are good reasons to work with me,” he mused.
“She’s no Tiff, grateful for some stability and security. No Amanda, either, relieved you took out the bastards before she got to them.” She shook her head. “I don’t know Emilia well. But from what I’ve seen, if you push, she’ll dig in. Or go underground. If she thinks she’s being manipulated, if you lie to her, it’ll all be over. You’ve got to figure out what she wants and give her that.”
He snorted. “Besides sending her home? It seems that’s the only thing that will satisfy her.”
Again, Kisa was quiet a while. “She was willing to confront you about her husband. So she’s loyal. When we took her shopping, she didn’t want the clothes when she thought they were your idea. So she’s proud. Principled too, probably. The way she acts toward Tiff and Flora, she’s kindhearted.”
“And protective,” Vadim muttered. “I had to stop her from trying to rescue you from Baljic at the party.”
Kisa’s brows climbed. “Really! You’ve got a lot of potential there, boss.”
He sighed. If he could he could manage to break through her hostility.
* * *
Awakening to the sound of a piano, Emilia opened her eyes to her dim bedroom. Faint squares of light shining through the French door patterned the carpet. The bedside clock read 3:53.
The notes were compelling, evocative, and she wondered if they were meant to lure her to the musician’s side.
Remembering the cards she’d laid when she returned to her room after the party, the spatter of bloody reds, the menacing black teeth of spades, she hugged her pillow and huddled deeper into the covers.