by Aleksandr Voinov and Barbara Sheridan
Rochev knelt on the ground, holding his broken arm tight to his chest, cradling it like a weapon. Blood dripped from his face, his breath ragged, wet through split lips. Nikita stepped back and lowered his hands. Unlikely he’d used them again—he didn’t expect the other man to get up very soon.
“You’re not making this very easy on you.”
“I told you,” the man on the ground said. “I told you he’s dead.”
Nikita felt the sudden urge to kick Rochev in the face for saying that. Dead. No. Simply no. But kicking a kneeling man in the face wouldn’t do his anger any good. Wouldn’t purge anything. He had to control that anger. Somehow.
He turned away, took a few steps to the car and took a water bottle, then drank deeply. Beating the shit out of a man who’d clearly learnt to take pain was tiring. His eyes fell on the folded newspaper. The Guardian. Cover story. Russian Crime Haunts Europe’s Streets.
And an image of Andrei Voronin, still alive. Taken from the website of the law firme had worked for.
Andrei Voronin, Corporate Law, Harvard Law School, advised on family trusts, off-shore trusts, mergers and acquisitions, international tax law. Nikita had memorized the profile. Every scrap of information.
He heard Rochev cough, ragged, uneven sounds, but it took him a while to realize it was closer to sobbing. He turned, eyes narrow.
“Don’t kill me.”
Nikita put the newspaper down and stood near the car for a while, studying the crumbled figure on the oil-stained cement floor. The headlights tore him out of the darkness, bent over, muscular neck bowed, on his knees. If not for the obvious pain and fear, the position would have been inviting, would have made Nikita think of sex. But this was just submission, without the kick, without the charge in the air. Nevermind that Nikita preferred his subs to be people he respected. No respect for a common criminal.
“God, please don’t kill me.”
“Shut up.” Nikita stepped closer, now irritated at the jabbering. “Tell me everything. How did you meet Voronin?” He didn’t call him Andrei Alexeyevich. Too personal, despite the fact that using the first name and patronymic was the polite form to address a Russian. Maybe, Nikita reflected, they’d all spent too much time in the West.
“He worked for Zaitsev, my boss. He was his lawyer.”
The past tense of those statement balled Nikita’s fists. Liar, he wanted to shout and punch Rochev, punch and kick him until he was flat on the ground, lifeless, beaten to a pulp rather than merely broken. Excessive force. Breaking his arm and kicking him in the balls could already be called excessive. Punching him in the face wasn’t, he’d mainly done that to stun him into compliance.
“Then he was attacked. It wasn’t us! You have to believe...”
“Just the facts.”
“Don’t piss me off.” Nikita stepped closer again, grabbed a handful of the man’s dark suit in his neck and pulled him up like a kitten to look at him. “Just tell me.”
“They shot him in his house in Monte Carlo. Zaitsev’s enemies did.”
“Zaitsev think it was Shkadov, he’s been messing with Zaitsev’s organization. We thought Voronin was dead, but he survived.”
Yeah, and you promised to protect him, Nikita. You promised him he’d be safe. While you were too busy, they shot Andrei. “And then?”
“Then he vanished. Zaitsev tried to track him. Next thing we know, he’s in Paris. And they say he doesn’t remember anything. That a bullet went into his brain and wiped out his memory. Zaitsev doesn’t believe it, he thinks Voronin has sold out to the law or Shkadov. That he wasn’t shot, that he was tortured to compliance. So he wants him dead. Hires a guy who’s watching Voronin to kill him. Next day, Voronin gets shot on the street in Paris and is finally dead.”
Nikita held back the punch and instead released the man with a sound of distaste. Finally dead. That fucker was on thin ice and didn’t even know it. “Who fired the shot?”
The man hesitated. “A man called Christopher Gibson.”
“Who is he?”
“Freelancer. Hitman. As far as I know. Somebody tasked him to watch over Voronin, but Zaitsev paid him five million American and he shot him, sorting out the problem.”
The problem. One way to call it, Nikita thought. He’d call it treason. Killing the man you were paid to protect because somebody made a bigger offer? Worst kind of scum.
“Thank you for the information.” Nikita couldn’t bring himself to smile. In the last half hour, they had left the realm of pleasantries way behind and had reached a deeper understanding. He reached inside his jacket.
“God, no, please don’t kill me. I told you everything!”
Nikita paused as if to consider it. “Would you prefer to go to a nice Siberian prison?”
“I’ve done nothing wrong...”
“Doesn’t count.” Nikita now bared his teeth. “You know what kind of scumbag you’re working for. You still do it.”
“God, I haven’t...”
“Shut up.” Nikita straightened and pulled the gun, let it rest in his hand, pointing at the cement floor. Clearly visibly in Rochev’s view. “You did cooperate.”
“I will...cooperate more. Please.”
“You’d betray Zaitsev?”
“I already did.”
“True.” Nikita let the silence drag on, forced his mind to focus on the present, rather than a future when a man called Christopher Gibson would kneel in front of him, just like this. And he would kill him.
“You will report to me. Every one of Zaitsev’s meetings, every movement he makes. You will tell me of them, and give me a list of his contacts.”
“Yes. Yes, I can do that. He trusts me.”
“More’s the pity,” Nikita muttered. “I’ll make sure that your cooperation will be noted. Double cross me, and we will continue our little talk here.”
“Yes, yes of course.”