Aleksandr Chernoff just smiled. “If you’ll come this way, Miss Carmichael? I’ve taken the liberty of having a light meal prepared. I understand you had to eat in a McDonalds.” He said the restaurant name with a faint sneer, as though he disapproved of such a pedestrian choice.

Or maybe he just didn’t care for the food…

Her mother’s family always ate when guests came over, so maybe she was just being judgmental. Her mother liked to act American, but Nana kept to the customs of Vorobyovy Gory back home. ‘Zakuski,’ or snacks, accompanied the ever-present vodka and mixers. Her uncle Vanya, whom the family teased because of the play by that name, usually ate his share and a share of everyone else’s, causing her mother distress because she had to cook whenever he just dropped by for a visit.

It didn’t appear that Aleksandr suffered any such difficulties. The room just off the entryway spread along the front of the house, easily thirty feet long. Three separate conversation circles grouped in discrete sections split the room up, but could easily be reconfigured if necessary. Fifteen feet wide and carpeted in a rich chocolate with flecks of caramel, the room’s walls exuded wealth. Heavy carved wooden pillars lined the wall at eight foot intervals, and the area between them sported a rich ivory paint. Wall sconces perfectly centered between each one sparked the way only fine crystal could, and she shuddered to think of how much work went into dusting and polishing them.

A heavy claw-footed buffet stood along the wall to the left of the nearest circle. A silver ewer of tea held court over several plates of puff-pastry and single servings of salad.

Of course, the minute the aroma hit her nose, her mouth watered…

“Please, help yourself,” Aleksandr invited. He stepped ahead of her to pour tea and she lifted a plate.

Bone china, from the feel of it.

She wanted to cry.

She glared at Viktor, but he smirked faintly and got a plate. He said nothing, just waited for her to select some snacks.

If one could call such fare ‘snacks,’ of course.

The pastries still exuded steam and she selected one of each. The last had sugar sprinkled on top, so she set it to the corner of her plate for dessert. A table and three heavy chairs stood next to a huge picture window that overlooked a lush flower garden. She sat down and glimpsed a shadowy figure of a guard, pacing by outside. She shivered.

“Viktor tells me you are quite an investigator,” Aleksandr said by way of introduction. He set three glasses of tea down, one for each of them, and Viktor set a plate of pastries and a salad by his father’s chair. “I’m quite impressed.”

“Thank you,” she responded. “He’s told me little of you.”

The most powerful mob boss in the world gazed at her and then laughed, but a shiver went up her spine. It would not do to push this man too far, she guessed.

“I don’t doubt that,” Aleksandr purred. “But come. Tell me of my son.”

“Your son, sir?” Rachel echoed, glancing at Viktor. “Um…”

“No, of Vasily.”

“She doesn’t know, Father,” Viktor put in.

Aleksandr studied his son. “You keep many secrets, Viktor. Not all of them are necessary.”

“Perhaps,” Viktor grunted. “But until recently, I didn’t think she’d actually find him. They found her, which surprised me.”

“Indeed. How, I wonder?”

“Who?” Rachel demanded. “And who the heck is Vasily?”

“You know him as David Greene,” Viktor told her evenly, with no inflection.

She went cold from the chest out. “David Greene.”

“Yes.”

“Son of Constance and Doug Greene?”

“Yes.”

She sat back, chilled from head to foot. “Viktor, you never said that he was related to you!”

“I didn’t feel it would help the situation.”

“And now?”

“Now, I do.”

“So you drag me into the middle of your family drama?” she shouted.

Viktor just studied her, that remote stare he sometimes got that made her want to scratch his eyes out. Then she got a thought. “Doesn’t that make David your brother?”

“His name is Vasily.”

She ground her jaws together, trying not to shout at him again. “Vasily. Vasily is your brother?”

“Yes.”

Aleksandr chuckled and said, in Russian, “You are being purposely frustrating.”

“Yes, he is,” Rachel answered in the same language.

Aleksandr’s eyebrow shot up and he studied her. “You are full of surprises, Miss Carmichael.”

“Help me understand. Your son is missing, and you want me to help find him?”

“No, Miss Carmichael. I have other men looking into that. But the two who pose as his parents are a danger to you.”

“Why me?”

“They think you are connected to me.”

“Which now, I am!” she cried, glaring at Viktor.

“They already suspected it, Raych,” Viktor said in a placating tone. “This was the best protection I could think of at the spur of the moment. You already know they play for keeps.”

She frowned, flashing on her date. “Yeah.”

“How did they come to hire you?” Aleksandr pressed.

“I don’t know, honestly,” she admitted. “I hadn’t really thought about it at the time.”

He studied her, his dark brown eyes compassionate. “Perhaps you will now start doing so when new clients approach you?”

Her lips thinned. “Yes.”

He just smiled, that faint smile that reminded her of Nana, in this enormous house with its beautiful bone china and wood fixtures.

“Do you play cards, Miss Carmichael?” Aleksandr asked then.

“Yes, of course,” she answered before she thought. Then she frowned. “Why?”

Aleksandr motioned to the silent hulk at the doorway and the man stepped out, then returned with a wooden lacquer box.

Of cards.

Rachel dearly wanted to pump them both for information, but separately. As it was, she couldn’t think of a single useful thing to say, and so spent an hour playing whist.

By the time Aleksandr excused himself to sleep, she felt so turned around it seemed like a dream. And when the silent guard showed her the room she could use for the night, Viktor, predictably, disappeared.

Men!

One thought on “The Night Is a Harsh Mistress, Chapter 18: In the Belly of the Beast

  1. I love all their interaction with each other! Nicely done!

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