Authors: Jamie K. Schmidt
by Jamie K. Schmidt
Copyright © Jamie K. Schmidt, 2013
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher.
This e-book is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are from the author’s imagination and are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental.
633 Edgewood Ave
Issued by Musa Publishing, September 2013
This e-book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of International Copyright Law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. No part of this e-book can be reproduced or sold by any person or business without the express permission of the publisher.
Head Editor: Aimee Benson
Editor: Daenariea Irene
Artist: Kelly Shorten
Line Editor: Jenny Rarden
Interior Book Design: Cera Smith
Thank you to my wonderful editor Daenariea, who was so patient with me throughout the process.
To my friends and family. Thank you for everything you do!
am Krupin hated leaving work after midnight. Harding General was in the “bad part of town,” according to her parents. While it lacked the pretty, sculptured lawns they were used to, it did have a certain demilitarized-zone charm. At least, that’s what she told herself in the daylight.
She punched out at two thirty a.m., on the dot. The swing shifts were killing her. It was almost ridiculous to have her hold office hours after midnight. But what the new administration wanted, they got. She blew out a frustrated breath. She just wanted to go home and fall face down in her pillow.
Passing through sterile white-tiled halls, Pam nodded at the night crew. She took a shortcut out the side door to get to her car. Pulling her trench coat tighter as a chill blew right through her, she kept her head down and hurried toward the parking lot. The light pole at the end of the alley seemed very far away. The hollow echo of her heels in the otherwise quiet alley made her uneasy. The dark, solitary trek had never bothered her before, but there was something odd in the air tonight. Pam kicked through the trash and crunched over glass. At this hour, an eerie quiet smothered the area around the hospital.
“Hey, lady? Got a dollar?”
Pam bit back a yelp as the bundle of trash in the darkness transformed into a man. She reached into her pocket for her taser, but relaxed when he remained crouched and swaying. Feeling a little ridiculous at her paranoia, she dug into her pocket. Pam handed him a crumpled five and some change.
His hands were like catcher’s mitts. One clenched a brown tattered overcoat together. The other folded over the money. His dungarees were grimy with mud and oil and appeared too thin for this cold weather. An old golfer’s beret was secured tightly over his ears. It allowed a few unruly strands of blond curls to pop out. He stood half in the shadows, so she couldn’t make out most of his features. Only that his jaw line was firm and unyielding, but grim and unshaven.
“If you need to stay warm for a few hours, the hospital’s cafeteria will let you sit for a while.” Pam went a little breathless at his green-eyed stare, but it might have been her lungs reacting to the cold air. She steadied her breathing and hoped her asthma wouldn’t act up.
“Thank you,” he said in a hoarse, strangled voice. “You’re a saint.”
“Yeah that’s me, Saint Pam. Please, do yourself a favor and get inside.” She touched his arm in concern.
“Yes, ma’am,” the man said, tipping his hat. “Good night.” Pam brushed the hair out of her eyes as the wind picked up. She could feel his gaze between her shoulder blades, and she lengthened her stride. At the end of the alley, three guys from the parking lot stalked toward her.
“Next time, take the front door,” she muttered to herself. But to be fair, they still would have been waiting for her by her car or at her apartment. They were dressed in long leather dusters. The sleeves, she knew, covered complicated tattoos that told their life story, marking them as dangerous men. As if she didn’t know that by the way they moved as a unit, like they were the lions and she was a gazelle.
“I’m not your darling, Piotr. Does your mother know you’re out this late?” Pam asked, palming her taser.
“Leave my mama out of this,” he said.
Piotr was the youngest one. His mother owned a tea shop that Pam spent most her Sunday mornings in. Pam knew she would have done anything to keep him unmarked, out of prison, and in a decent job. Instead, he’d followed his friends and the gang life, where prison was his new home. He was determined to be a made man. Unlike the mafia on television, the Russian mob had been started in Stalin’s gulags and was very protective of allowing new blood into their ranks. It was likely he’d only be a pawn and die young and stupid.
“We’re just here to escort you to your car,” Gregor said.
Gregor was a knuckle dragging thug. She had seen him running a line of girls, but couldn’t imagine why he was assigned to harass her. He didn’t care about being the Russian John Gotti. He wanted money and flashy cars.
“And then to Oksana. She’s concerned about what Nikolai has told you in this therapy he does,” the third, a bald man with dead eyes, said. Pam didn’t know him, but he sneered the word therapy as if it was a synonym to witchcraft. She heard every nightmare she ever had in his accented Russian. He was the bogeyman and, most likely, Oksana’s best enforcer.
That would explain what each of these men had in common. The petty thief with delusions of grandeur, the pimp on the street, and the bald man whose voice made her insides liquefy. They all worked for Oksana.
Oksana was the exception to the male-dominated rule. She had been a mistress of several
vory v zakones
over the years. She had buried them all, but not before absorbing their tricks and tips for making a living as a criminal and killing anything that stood in your way. But she had another side. The side that society knew her by. It wasn’t quite the kindly old grandmother who dabbled in philanthropy in her declining years, but it was close.
“I’ve already told Oksana that I can not reveal what my clients tell me during our sessions.” Pam and Oksana went way back. When Pam was young and stupid, she’d idolized the glamorous older woman. Dressed in furs and leaking diamonds, Oksana was the grandmother she’d never had, her fairy godmother. But all the little presents and cookies had stopped when Pam hit high school and started going out with her son Stefan. Oksana had grown meaner toward her and withdrawn.
Stefan and Pam were never meant to be, but remained friends. They still kept in touch. Oksana had never fully warmed back up to her, but had wound up giving her a job cleaning office buildings while Pam was working her way through grad school.
Oksana had once told her that she should give up her Reiki practice, that her toilets were never as clean as when Pam worked for her. It was as if Oksana took it as a personal insult that Pam didn’t want to be a neighborhood girl and marry a nice fellow and settle down. As long as it wasn’t her son, of course.
“You’re not a priest or a lawyer. You can spill your guts to the cops,” Piotr said.
Technically, so could the priest and the lawyer, but Pam didn’t think that would help her case any.
“You’re not even a real doctor,” Gregor laughed, advancing. Pam knew she couldn’t let him get close. He outweighed her by a good hundred pounds.
“My doctorate is real,” she said and shot him with the taser.
Gregor went down to his knees, his strangled scream echoing through the alley.
The older man pulled out a baseball bat from behind his back. “Only had one shot with that. So stupid to make an enemy of us. Now I’m going to break both your knees.”
Tasered the wrong one, dummy.
“You brought this on yourself. We were trying to be nice,” Piotr said.
“Stay away from me,” she said. Her hands groped for her keys. “I’ll take your eyes out.”
The older man laughed. “I like your spunk,
. I’ve faced men who would be begging me for mercy by now.”
“Do you think anyone will help you?” The older man swung the bat.
Pam turned and ran, but she was wearing a cute pair of heels that wouldn’t let her sprint. Still, she had to try. Her toes protested when she put her weight on them. Their footsteps thundered after her as they gave chase. The old man was almost on her. She could hear him wheezing Russian curses. He grabbed her coat and yanked her back.
From the shadows, a bulk pushed him off her and drove the bald man into the wall. Freed, Pam saw the man—the one she had helped—slam his meaty fist into her attacker’s face. Piotr jumped him before she could shout a warning, but without a wasted movement, the man rammed his elbow into Piotr’s nose. Bones crushed. Blood gushed, and Piotr was on the floor next to the still-twitching Gregor.
“Run,” her savior said, grabbing the old man’s bat and ripping it out of his hand before he could wind up for another swing. After jabbing it into the old man’s gut, he threw it down the alley.
Pam looked over her shoulder. The side door to the hospital had locked behind her. The problem was, her car was on the other side of the alley. She could go the long way around, but that would give Gregor and Piotr a chance to recover.
Inching her way past the brutal fight, Pam winced as the two men traded vicious blows to the body. Gregor grabbed her leg as she tried to dart over him. She screamed and kicked out at him. When he wouldn’t let go, she reared back with the other foot and stomped on his arm, breaking off her heel. Pam lost her balance and fell on her backside.
The homeless man finally put the old man down with a gut punch and a hard knee to the face. He turned on Pam, who was scuttling away from the sight.
“Don’t you ever listen? I said to run.”
“He grabbed my leg.” Pam forced herself to get up. Her pantyhose were shredded, and she was covered in debris from the alley. He had saved her, but the gleam in his eyes wasn’t quite sane.
Her breath stuck in her throat when he came closer. She stumbled back as her ankle buckled under the remaining heel. Pam was having a hard time breathing. Now was not a time for an asthma attack.
Where was her damn inhaler anyway?
Coughing, she batted at her pockets before realizing it was in her purse.
“Aw, honey, I didn’t mean to yell. I’m not going to hurt you.” He spread his hands, but continued to walk toward her.
Wheezing for breath, she clamped her hand around her inhaler. “S-S-Stay…”
, she tried to say, but there wasn’t any air. Her purse dropped from her shaking fingers. Makeup, spare change, and business cards spilled out over the alley. Sucking on the inhaler, Pam closed her eyes, only to force them back open when the man grabbed her arm. Panicked, she lashed out with a kick, catching him just below his kneecap.
He let go of her as he went to the ground, roaring in pain.
“S-Sorry,” she whispered, her voice hoarse. With her keys in one hand and her inhaler in the other, she didn’t stop running until she reached her car.
etective Drake Logan pushed open the heavy ornate wooden door into his godfather’s restaurant bar. The servers were gearing up for the lunch crowd. They acknowledged him with a look or a nod. He limped past the kitchens, practicing his mournful and hungry look. It had worked when he was a kid.
“Who hit you?” The head chef stopped berating her sous-chef for the state of the borsht to gasp in dramatic horror. She stormed over to Drake and held his face between her large hands. “I’ll kill him.”
“It’s nothing, Marishka. Nothing that some
wouldn’t fix.” He gave her a big grin, even though his face hurt.
Marishka was a stunning beauty and a force of nature in the kitchen. She was easily twice his age, but showed no signs of stopping. She was also nearly as big as he was. No one gave her any guff, not even his godfather.
“Shave the beard. You look like a reprobate.” She handed him a plate of meatballs, then slapped his hand when he picked one up with his fingers.
Taking the fork, he thanked her in Russian. “
Marishka beamed at his pronunciation, and he was twelve years old again. There was something about this bar, this neighborhood, that made him feel like he was still hiding from his drunken father.
The meatballs were so good, his eyes nearly crossed as the flavors melted against his tongue. “Why hasn’t Nikolai ever married you?”
“I wouldn’t have him.”
“If I could get a girl to cook like you, I’d rush her to the altar.”
Marishka raised her eyebrow at him, his devilish grin not moving her at all. “You’d be rushing her to the altar for an entirely different reason, Drago.”
“Does Nikolai know you are here?”
“Begging in his kitchens? No.” Drake chewed and swallowed. “But he’s expecting me.”
“Then you better not keep him waiting,” she said and decimated a goose carcass with agile knife cuts.
Making quick work of the snack, he put the dish and fork in the sink. With a forlorn look at the lamb that he wasn’t getting a nibble of, Drake limped through the opulent vodka tasting room, through the small dining area, and to the back office.
“Drago!” his godfather said, rising up from behind his desk to give him a hug.
It had been a running joke between them ever since
came out. Drake was no more Russian than Dolph Lundgren, but he had been a street punk who liked to use his fists. He’d stopped bullies from picking on Nikolai’s son, Andrej.
” Drake patted the man’s back.
Nikolai had always seemed ageless, but lately, he was beginning to look a little frail. His white hair was styled with care, and his blue eyes were bright and cunning. He dressed every day like he was going to a wedding. He probably had more shoes than most women. He smelled like Old Spice, and Drake again felt like he was a kid again.
“Who gave you the shiner? I should see the other guy, no?” Nikolai pinched Drake’s jaw and tilted his head to look at the various cuts and bruises.
“The other guy was Vadim Fomin,” Drake said.
Nikolai snorted. “No wonder you’re limping. Why are you starting trouble with him?”
“That’s what I came to ask you for.”
“Fah,” the old man said, waving his hands. “You only come here as a cop, not as my godson.”
“That’s not true.”
“I do not talk to cops.” He pulled out a vodka bottle and poured two glasses.
“It’s a little early for that,” Drake protested, but smiled at the label: Russki Standart.
Well, if he was going to pull out the imported stuff…
“Cops don’t drink on duty. Russians don’t let drink addle their senses. If you want to ask me questions, you ask me like a Russian, not a cop.” He pulled out a bowl from a mini fridge filled with assorted cheese, pickles, and meats. He shook a gherkin at Drake before crunching it down.
Drake eased down into the armchair next to the desk. “If you insist,” he said and saluted his godfather with the glass. “
“Cheers!” the old man said and promptly poured them another one.
Drake wanted to groan, but drank that one and one more before Nikolai relaxed back into his chair. Good thing he’d had the meatballs. Three Russian Standards on an empty stomach, and he’d be feeling it. He picked up a chunk of cheese and popped it in his mouth.
“So you were trying to beat a confession out of Vadim?” Nikolai asked.
“The good guys don’t beat confessions out of criminals anymore.”
“That’s what you think.”
“Vadim and two local punks tried to kidnap a pretty doctor. Your name came up,” Drake said, watching intently for a reaction.
“I don’t have to kidnap doctors. I have Medicare.”
“She’s a head doctor who practices some earthy crunchy Japanese energy healing.”
“Pam? Is she all right? I just saw her yesterday afternoon. Those bastards didn’t hurt her, did they?”
“They never got a chance. I stopped them.”
“Lucky you were there. They tried to grab a girl in broad daylight in front of a cop? Vadim’s not usually that stupid.”
“It was after midnight in the alley.”
“You just happened to be there?”
“I’m on a case. One that has nothing to do with Oksana and her boys.”
Nikolai winced. “She’s a witch. Someone should have put a bullet in her a long time ago.”
“Why does she care what you and the doctor talked about?”
“I don’t know.”
Drake poured two more shots of vodka and encouraged his godfather to drink. He didn’t have a shot in hell of drinking the old man under the table, but he wanted to loosen his tongue a bit.
“What’s the deal with the doctor?”
“I have arthritis. This Reiki, it helps. No bullshit.” He shrugged. “Oksana must think it’s like hypnosis and she’s reading my mind or something.”
“What information could you tell her that would make Oksana send Vadim after someone?”
“I don’t know.”
“How did you meet this doctor?” Drake stared into the shot glass and felt his stomach protest. Still, it was taking away from the pain in his knee.
“She’s from the old neighborhood. Her family moved away when she was a kid.”
Drake cocked his head to the side and tried to picture the leggy doctor as an adolescent. He’d like to think he would have remembered a curvy brunette with big eyes and a smart mouth. He was coming up blank. “Who did she hang around with?”
“She dated Stefan Bobrov before his mama put a stop to it.”
Now, that was information.
Drake straightened up in his chair. “Oksana didn’t like the doc dating her son? Was it just a matter of no one being good enough for the golden boy?” He tried to think of who Stefan used to have on his arm. But there had been a lot of girls, and Drake hadn’t really made it a point to notice. He and Stefan had run in different circles. Stefan had been the czar of the high school, and Drake had been an Irish peasant.
Nikolai shook his head. “She was a good girl. She still is. So you think she’s pretty?”
Drake didn’t like the calculating look in his godfather’s eyes. “She’s all right. A little on the flaky side for me.” He didn’t mention that he had been watching her walk down the alley that night with more attention than he usually gave people. She turned out to be pretty tough too. Kept her head when most other people would have just gotten into the car with the three bozos. And that’s how missing people happened. Drake finished his vodka and waved his hand over the glass.
“No more. I’ve got to drive.”
Drake knew he wasn’t going to get anything further out of him, no matter how much more vodka they consumed. Either Nikolai didn’t know anything, or he was keeping his cards close to his chest.
“Don’t let the Reiki fool you. She’s got more letters after her name than you will ever have.” The old man waggled a finger at him.
“Good for her. Are you sure there isn’t something you should be telling me? If not as a cop, then as your grandson. Oksana has never been concerned about you or your business before. The sudden interest bothers me.”
“It bothers me too. Especially if she’s sending punks like Vadim Fomin after innocent girls.”
“My partner is heading over to have a word with Oksana now. Maybe she’ll shed a little light on the incident.” He stood up to go. “It was nice seeing you. Thank you for the drinks.” Drake hid a burp behind his hand and made sure he wasn’t swaying when he stood up.
“Drago, wait.” Nikolai put an arm around his shoulders and walked out with him. “Is Pam going to press charges?”
“She named Gregor and Piotr—the local boys—but she didn’t know Vadim. She described him well enough that I’m going to have a car pick him up for questioning. But nothing’s going to stick. They got all the bruises, and she got away clean. Her word against theirs, and she’ll be persuaded not to take the case further.” The scenario was so familiar that he felt despair well up inside him.
Why did he even bother to try to change things?
Maybe it was just the vodka talking, but he felt like a hamster on a wheel.
“You’re a good boy. A cop. And my godson. No one from the neighborhood is going to mess with you. You need to protect her.”
“I have my own cases to work on.”
“Yeah, well, it was close enough to help her out last night. If she got away from Vadim, he’s going to come back after her. His pride will demand it.”
“I can’t guarantee I won’t be too late next time. If you have any idea what this is all about, give me some clue.”
“Go talk to Oksana.”
“As soon as my face heals up, I’ll pay her a visit. There’s no sense in advertising the fact that it was me facing off against Vadim last night.”
“Heck with that. You walk in as proud as can be. You put down her boy. Her dog.”
“I don’t need to make an enemy out of Vadim Fomin,” Drake said.
“What? You want to be his friend?”
The old man had a point. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Be careful, Drago. They don’t fool around.”