Fuck. My head hurt.
I don’t know what they’d injected us with to keep us compliant, but the fallout from it was rough. It felt like someone was hammering right in between my eyeballs and trying to force their way out from inside my brain. I groaned and lolled my head forward, but that only seemed to make the throbbing worse.
For a while, I just breathed through the pain and listened. I didn’t open my eyes yet, wanting to get a handle on my surroundings before I did anything rash.
A soft, shaky breath next to me caught my attention and I turned my head so that I could hear better. A soft distinctly feminine moan of anguish followed, and I knew that I wasn’t the only woman caught here alone. After a few more moments, I could count at least three women here in the room with me. Off in the distance, there were hushed voices.
There was no question in my mind that those were definitely male.
I pushed aside the pounding in my head and focused on making sure I was alright. I was sitting in a hard straight-backed chair. I slid my legs against it slightly. It was made of wood or something cheap. There was no metal that I could feel, which was good.
My wrists were bound behind my back with rope. I tested the knot and it seemed loose enough. Slowly, I began twisting my hands back and forth, gradually loosening my bonds in silence. I smiled a little at my success.
I opened my eyes finally.
My light blonde hair had fallen in front of my face. It would be a mess to comb through later. It was dirty and my scalp itched. I would bet money that the traffickers hadn’t bathed any of us since they’d stolen us off the streets of Belarus.
Well, they’d stolen the other girls. Not me. My presence here in Las Vegas wasn’t a mistake or a coincidence.
I’d gotten myself taken on purpose.
I glanced toward the floor. The tile was old, probably something from the seventies or eighties. It was dull orange and cracked in a number of places. There weren’t any windows, which probably meant we were somewhere underground. There was little that distinguished the room from anything else, but upon closer inspection, I started seeing small clues here and there as to where in the city I’d been moved to.
There weren’t any men in the room. Not even a guard. There weren’t cameras on the walls or anything indicating that we were being watched from afar either. This honestly surprised me because they’d spent so much effort in transporting us all the way here and had seemingly just left us here on our own.
Their arrogance would be their downfall. When they had enough money and power to get whatever they wanted, they sometimes forgot about one very important thing about people they’d hurt in the process.
Desperation made people reckless.
It also made them angry.
I licked my lips, surveying the room a bit more. There was a stack of old chairs likely identical to the one I was strapped to against the wall. The cheap incandescent light overhead flickered several times before steadying once again. There was a big pile of cardboard boxes against the wall. Most of them were blank, but there were a few with labels or some indication of what the original contents were. I narrowed my eyes, trying to make out the small text. The first letter was definitely a ‘T’ and the ones following looked like ‘rop.’ My mind raced, and my grin widened a bit more with a sense of victory. I knew where I was.
They’d taken me to the Tropicana.
In preparation for this day, I’d memorized the layouts of multiple hotels and casinos so that I could do what I do best. According to the Tropicana’s blueprints, I was somewhere beneath the casino floor or the theater. I wasn’t sure which yet though.
The other women hadn’t appeared to have woken up yet. They still seemed to be out of it. I worked my wrists a bit faster, hastening the loosening of the rope until it fell on the floor behind me. With a soft sigh, I brought my arms forward and rolled out the soreness in my shoulders from their disuse. With the utmost care, I stood up and listened more closely to the hushed male voices I could only just make out not far away.
“I’ve circulated the images of the women. We are lucky in that a few are virgins. They will fetch a very high price on the market,” a man said.
“Our profit margins need to be higher. The transport cost was more expensive this time around. Jonny kept referencing inflation and the like, but I think he’s getting greedy. We may need to deal with him at some point,” another muttered.
“Or just replace them. I know a guy.”
“You know guys everywhere, Vinny,” another answered, but he sounded amused.
“I can’t help it,” Vinny chuckled. “It’s just useful having a guy when you need one.”
I moved closer to the door, glancing at the vent down by the floor. The voices were coming from there and I dipped a bit closer, trying to overhear whatever I could before I went off to search for what I’d really come for.
It was no accident that I was down here in the slum basement of an old hotel in Vegas. It was all part of a perfectly engineered plan to force my way into the inner workings of the human trafficking route that went between Belarus and Las Vegas. I knew that the city was mainly run by several high-powered mafia families here in Sin City. Most people thought that the mob had vanished there after the nineteen sixties, but in reality, they’d just gotten smarter. They’d gone underground, hidden themselves beneath corporate CEOs and fancy offices in the penthouse suites of the biggest casinos in the city. They’d opened offshore accounts, laundered money in ways only a tech genius could figure out, and sold drugs through a complicated system of henchmen that powered the Vegas nightlife scene.
But… that wasn’t all.
They also sold women. Very pretty women from Eastern Europe. Exotic and slender Japanese women. Some from India. Korean. Chinese. Russian. You name it. They sold them all. All you had to do was pay them enough money.
At some of their hotels, it was a special add-on to the penthouse suite. At others, a special delivery service if you knew the right words to say to the right people.
These people had taken my sister. Her name was Irina Kotova.
They’d stolen her right off the streets of Minsk on her way to her very first class at the Belarusian State University.
It had taken every single one of my father’s KGB connections to ferret out the details of her capture. She’d stopped for a cup of coffee and had disappeared out the back of the shop. We’d followed every piece of evidence that we’d been able to find, and it had led us here. Now I just needed to find her and rescue her from the mob that threatened to tear my family apart. I had my father’s full backing, including a storage container nearby that had been filled with whatever weapons I would need.
My mind raced through the route from the Tropicana to that container. It would be no more than a fifteen-minute walk from this section of the strip.
One of the girls groaned behind me and I turned back. To my right, someone had stupidly left a box cutter on top of one of the pieces of cardboard and I slowly walked over to it. I closed my right hand around it and clicked it open. I couldn’t spend the time waiting for these women to wake up. They might panic and give away my position. That was too big of a risk for me to take, but I could at least make sure to give them a fighting chance to escape.
Carefully, I cut each of their ties so that their wrists were no longer bound. When I was finished, I bowed my head. If I could, I would come back for them, but right now I needed to focus on finding the kingpin who had stolen my sister. I needed to know where they had taken her.
I moved cautiously back to the door, listening carefully for sounds of anyone beyond it. I couldn’t hear anything. Not a peep from a single person other than the women here in the room with me. When I reached for the doorknob, I found it unlocked.
Idiots. It was lost on me how they’d survived this long.
I turned it and slipped out into the dark hall. Eventually I started hearing the sounds of men talking again. I made my way toward those voices, taking note that they were still jabbering on about how pretty the new stock of women were, which of them would take a turn fucking a virgin pussy, and which of them would enjoy the assholes after their friends were finished. I’d like to say I was surprised by it, but it was nothing I hadn’t heard before.
In my line of work, it wasn’t all pretty dresses and roses. Sometimes it took me below ground into the sewers and sometimes I had to deal with the vilest drivel of humanity.
Like these stupid, arrogant cocksuckers.
I was one of the best assassins in the world and I was paid very well for it. Since my father’s departure from the KGB, he had taken to dealing weapons instead. He made millions off the arms race, running guns and ammo and whatever else governments needed to fund wars and conflicts around the world and I was the eldest daughter in a family with no sons.
That meant that I had a responsibility to my family.
From a young age, I’d been trained to handle guns, knives, you name it. If you could kill someone with it, I’d learned how to use it. In many circles, it didn’t take much more than my name to send people running, which only made the chase more fun.
My father had sent me to save my sister. To me, there was nothing more important than that. She was innocent. She wasn’t involved in any of this like I was. She’d gone to school when I’d had private tutors. She’d gotten good grades in subjects I’d never studied, and she was supposed to be living her life happy and carefree as a freshman in college this year. It was my job to take care of her and I would stop at nothing until she was safe back home with me in Belarus.
I crept forward, closer and closer. I knew that there was a fancy meeting room up ahead that had been redone some years ago so that the mafia heads could feel like bigwigs when they met for poker night once a week.
It was all just a glorified dick-measuring contest.
I paused before I came around a corner, listening. Finally. There was someone in the hallway up ahead. Maybe I’d actually get to have a little fun.
I pressed my lips together to keep myself from laughing in open mockery of the mafia here in the States. It was nothing compared to the one back home, in the neighboring country of Russia. If the Russians came here, it would only be a matter of time until they took over. With the current state of things, it would probably take them less than a week.
The man I’d heard in the hallway was asleep. I could hear his heavy breathing, his occasional snoring and when I peeked around the wall, I could see that he was sitting in a chair at a weird angle that didn’t really appear to be that stable. If he wasn’t careful, he was going to fall flat on his face on the floor.
He had several guns in holsters on his waist. Now that could be useful.
Without hesitating, I flew toward him. I covered his mouth and used my other hand to jerk his head hard as he squealed in tired confusion. I heard the telltale crunch of his neck snapping and I guided him back down to the chair. I closed his eyes and leaned him so that he was positioned as if he was still sleeping.
I slipped the guns from his belt and tucked them into the back of my dirty blue jeans. I procured a knife and a Taser, fully arming myself to the best of my ability from this single guard. I’d killed people with far less. When I was through, I pushed closer to the door of the meeting room and pressed my ear against it.
This was the back service entry. There was a much nicer stairwell that led down from the casino floor in the VIP high roller section at the other side of the room. I knew it was likely that there was another fully armed guard at that entrance. Everyone inside would probably also all have guns too.
That didn’t matter.
The best way to kill was to take advantage of the unexpected.
I took a deep breath and slipped my arms behind my back. I glided both hands around the two 9mm Berettas and enjoyed the feel of them against my skin. I knew they were fully loaded by the weight. I used my pointer fingers to disengage the safeties and when I was ready, I burst inside the room with both guns held ready.
The shocked looks on the arrogant fat men’s faces were just as good as I had imagined they would be.
“What the fuck?”
“Isn’t that one of the girls?”
One of them was so intoxicated that he couldn’t even form words anymore. His glazed eyes stared back at me like I was a dream or something. I decided he was my first target. They needed to know how serious this was and that I wasn’t going to leave this room without answers.
Without a word, I pulled the trigger and shot just over the drunk guy’s shoulder. I didn’t clip him, but I came damn close.
The drunk man screamed, and it sounded shrill enough that he might have pissed himself. I didn’t sniff the air to check. Instead, I turned the gun on the individuals in the room, most of whom I recognized.
Vinny Genovese. The head of the reigning family here in Vegas, especially here at the Tropicana.
Joe Shapiro. Another big kingpin who allied with Vinny.
Tony Siegal. A third boss who held probably as much power as Joe.
There were two other men who weren’t famous enough to warrant me knowing them, but from the way they were leaning toward the man to their right, I could guess that were the right-hand men to each of the bosses there. The drunk guy must have been Vinny’s consigliere because he looked the most ticked off. I smiled and directed my guns at Joe and Tony next. I’d save Vinny for last.
“I’m looking for someone,” I began.
Vinny sat back. Of all the men, he was the one that didn’t appear to be flustered by this at all. This definitely wasn’t the first time he’d had a gun aimed at his face.
“Aren’t we all?” he answered brazenly.
I lifted my chin the slightest bit, sliding my gaze back and forth across the table. There was a stack of chips in the center. Most of them were orange. From a glance, I saw the number five thousand written around the edge.
High stakes. I wouldn’t guess anything less.
“I’m looking for a woman. Her name is Irina Kotova,” I continued. “If you tell me where she is, I’ll let you walk out of here alive.”
I wouldn’t, but I wasn’t going to tell them that until the very end.
“The polite thing to do would be to tell me yours,” Tony muttered, and I didn’t waste any time before I pulled the trigger again and took out his consigliere. “Motherfucker!” he yelled. Without any further delay, I spun quickly and locked the door I’d come through.
I circled around the table and kept one gun aimed at Tony as I kicked the other entrance shut. Upon its closure, a locking system engaged.
“I’m going to assume that this is something of a panic room,” I said confidently, and Vinny grunted in annoyance. “The walls are thick. The locks strong. The doors bulletproof. Am I right, Vinny?”
“Yes,” he sighed unhappily.
“I’d bet all the chips on that table that it was soundproof too,” I added cockily, and Joe growled with vicious anger.
“You little Russian bitch,” he screeched.
“Keep it up, Joe, and I’ll shoot you next. I’m here for answers and you’re going to give them to me,” I continued. “Oh, and for fuck’s sake. I’m not Russian. Your men took me from Belarus.”
He just sneered at me when Vinny cleared his throat.
“I want you all on that side of the table. Go. Move,” I directed.
Joe and Tony slid their chairs closer to Vinny. Their men followed.
“It’s five against one,” Tony blurted.
“I can make it three against one if you keep pushing me,” I answered. His lips smacked together comically fast. He was younger than the others. Probably freshly put in power and in all likelihood, this was probably the first time he’d ever been in any sort of real danger.
I slipped one hand backward and slid my finger into my back pocket with the gun still in my hand. I pulled out the picture that I knew would still be there.
It was a picture of my sister. Her hair was a lighter blonde than mine, straight and fine. Her face was delicate with high cheekbones and a pointed thin nose. Her lips were full and rosy. Her eyes were a sage green, like mine but brighter. She held the look of innocence in the most beautiful way. Not like me. I’d seen too much to look like that.
I tossed the picture on top of the stack of chips and Vinny reached forward to pick it up. A movement flashed to my side, and I realized that Joe and Tony’s men were trying something. I ended it.
I took out each of them without blinking. My shot was clean, straight between the eyes of both men, leaving only the three bosses to contend with me now.
No backup. To be honest, I liked it better that way.
“Don’t do anything stupid. I’m here for answers. That’s her. Irina. Where is she?” I pressed.
“What are you? Bratva? KGB? Something else?” Vinny asked.
I just smiled and aimed at the other two men at his side. Three dead. Three left.
“I’m the one asking questions. You are the one that’s supposed to be giving me answers,” I replied curtly. Joe glared at me, and I didn’t much care.
“You’re lucky we haven’t thrown you on the table and fucked you raw,” Tony blurted, and I cocked my gun threateningly.
“Such a reliable weapon, a Beretta,” I mused. “Well made. Steady. Doesn’t jam much, but it does on a rare occasion. Want to test the odds to see if they’re in your favor?” I stared at the younger man without even the slightest bit of patience.
He didn’t answer. Vinny cleared his throat, probably trying to rescue his friend from his own stupidity.
“I don’t have her,” he answered. “She’s not in any of our hotels.”
“I don’t believe you,” I replied and without a second’s hesitation, I took Joe out next without even giving him a warning.
Tony shrieked like a little girl. He ducked forward and covered his head.
“Want to try that again?” I pressed. I cocked my head expectantly.
Vinny looked a bit paler than when I’d first entered the room. Now that my attention wasn’t as widespread, I studied him a bit closer. His face was crisscrossed with heavy set-in wrinkles. Time had not been kind to him. I knew he was somewhere in his late fifties, but it looked like he was at least ten if not fifteen years older than that. He’d gone mostly gray with a few odd patches of darker hair in between. Bushy eyebrows that looked like caterpillars sat atop his dark brown eyes and his lips were set in what appeared to be a permanent grimace. Still though, he remained calm.
Tony on the other hand was maybe late twenties. He was cleaner cut, with stark lines cut into his beard. He reminded me more of a gang leader than a mob boss, but the Vegas Underground was as turbulent as one would expect in such a quickly changing city.
“I don’t,” he began, and I cleared my throat.
“Look at her picture closer. Really think before I just decide to kill you all anyway for wasting my time,” I spat and the two of them finally did what I asked.
For several moments, I let them study her face. It was rounder than mine. I always thought her to be one of the prettiest women I’d ever known. I didn’t let my worry for her show. In front of them, I didn’t make it personal. Instead, I lifted my chin and focused back on the two kingpins sitting in front of me.
“The chambers of these guns were full when I started. I’ve still got plenty of bullets left for the two of you. One for each arm. More for your knees. I’ve got so many body parts to choose from,” I warned, and Tony’s face went stark white.
“I don’t know who she is,” he screeched, and I got so annoyed with him that I just pulled the trigger and put him out of his misery. I grasped a chair and pulled it out so that I sat directly across from Vinny.
I leaned back and put one gun down while keeping the other trained on him. I watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he tried to figure out how best to handle me.
“It’s just us now. You know my name. Will you do the honor of telling me yours?” Vinny offered. This time, there was no challenge in his voice. I was seeing the real Vinny.
I grimaced. What did it matter? I was just going to kill him anyway.
“My name is Natalia,” I answered simply. I didn’t give him my last name.
“I take it that you’re more than just a simple woman off the streets of Belarus,” he said, treading carefully. He said it more as a statement than a question and I nodded, not offering him any more details than that. I gestured toward my sister’s picture with the barrel of the gun. He nodded, getting the message. Without the others here with him, he seemed more relaxed, and I knew it would be more likely that I would garner the information I’d come for.
“She looks familiar, but she’s not one of my girls,” he continued. “I was telling you the truth when I told you she wasn’t in this hotel or any of the others I’m connected with.”
I aimed the gun straight at his head. He didn’t flinch.
“I didn’t say I didn’t recognize her face though,” he ventured carefully, and I relaxed my wrist. I kept the gun aimed in his general direction. From this distance, there was no chance in hell that I could miss.
He sighed and sat back.
“You’re not going to believe me,” he started, and I peered back at him with a confused glance. I gestured with the Beretta again.
“Try me,” I replied.
“My kind doesn’t exactly run Vegas.”
“What do you mean by my kind?” I asked.
“The human kind. Us,” he continued.
“The mafia runs Vegas. That’s a known fact,” I answered.
“Yes… and no. The human mob has its hot spots, but it mostly belongs to another creature,” he added.
“Creature…” I echoed.
“Vampires. Las Vegas is run by the vampire mafia clans. I have my own stake here and I make a good life, but if they wanted me dead, all they would have to do is say it and I would be,” he replied with a heavy sigh.
“Vampires are a myth. A tale to scare children at night,” I scoffed, and he shook his head.
“They aren’t. They’re very real,” he replied.
He didn’t appear to be the type of man that would pull my leg about something like this. He seemed like he was serious, that he believed it himself. I felt at a loss.
“This isn’t a joke,” I said quietly, and he shook his head. His dark eyes were sad, almost defeated. He crossed his arms over his chest and began to tell me about the history of the city. I listened to his story and didn’t interrupt him.
Once it had belonged to the Genovese family, along with a conglomeration of smaller families that vied for the rich territory along the strip and its subsidiaries. Slowly though, the human mafia had begun to lose ground over the years. Certain important figures would disappear and before long, the city was overrun with allies that whispered of a new family.
They put their own political figures in places that directed federal authorities to capture strategic high standing figures involved in organized crime. Several kingpins were detained, jailed and some were even killed, which dealt a number of devastating blows to the men who had built Vegas up from the ground.
The weird thing was that it all sort of made sense.
“And you? Why are you still alive if the Asamire are in power? Why keep you around?” I finally asked.
“Because I would never dare to overstep my bounds. Banu Asamire would have my head on a platter if I did,” he answered.
“The Asamire kingpin I take it?”
“Why would you think they would have Irina?” I asked.
“The Asamire clan like to gather women, especially young ones that are untouched,” he replied, and I could sense the caution in his tone. I lifted my gaze toward his much older, tired ones and started to feel really uneasy.
“The vampires have a very great appreciation of virgin blood,” he clarified.
“How do you know that they have her? What if she’s just been trafficked to a different gang, or another part of Vegas? Maybe one of the presiding families already moved her to New York or even Chicago,” I countered, and he shook his head.
“No. My men took her from Belarus. We’d been watching her for a few weeks. She appeared to be residing there alone, that no one would miss her if she was taken,” Vinny continued. “I have a running roster of potential women that could fill my clients’ needs. I didn’t know that she was connected to whatever you are connected with.”
His eyes found mine and there was a glimmer of curiosity there, but I certainly wasn’t going to reveal my secrets to a man like him.
“When I bring girls here to the city, the Asamire send a representative to look over our stock. They take the ones they want and pay us for them. When they want a woman, we are not allowed to deny them. We did once and we paid dearly for it,” he explained.
“Do you have proof?” I pressed. I didn’t want to believe him. His story was absurd, but it was almost too insane not to believe. Vinny appeared to be a rational man. He’d been here in Vegas as the head of the Genovese family for more than twenty years now. There was no way he’d gotten this far by telling crazy made-up stories and it was most certainly not the first time he’d faced the barrel of a loaded gun.
“Do you see the shelf over there?” He gestured to the side, and I glanced at it before I turned back. I wasn’t going to let my guard down either. I was smarter than that.
From my cursory look, there were several binders of records.
“If you’d allow me, there’s a folder we keep of all the women that the Asamire buy from us. I like to keep it updated should anything ever go south, just so I have a record of everything. I know it’s old-fashioned to keep files that way, but it’s always seemed safer to me rather than keeping everything on a computer that can be hacked. At least if I ever get raided down here, I could just destroy them and no one would ever be the wiser,” he continued.
“The red one,” he replied, and I snorted.
“Fitting,” I said.
“I’d like to think so,” he smirked.
“Stay where you are. I’d like to not have to kill you,” I warned, and he nodded once. He folded his hands together and put them on the table. I pushed myself up from my seat and made my way to the shelf, quickly finding the binder he’d mentioned, and brought it back with me to the table.
“If my memory serves me correctly, they took her only a few weeks ago. It should be toward the front, as I sort it from most recent to oldest,” he explained.
I flipped it open and started thumbing through it. There were an alarming number of women, and this was only a small piece of it.
“This is just the ones that the Asamire took from you?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Lots of money to be made with the bodies of women,” I replied flatly. He was smart enough not to respond, but we both knew the truth.
I stopped when I came upon the face of my sister.
“We brought her here and had her examined by a doctor I trust. Whenever we find a virgin, we are to report to the Asamire. On the few pages of Irina’s file there, you’ll find a picture of her and the others they took from us that day. There’s another page with an acquisition contract signed by Banu himself. He has her,” he explained. I took several minutes to look over the paperwork. I confirmed everything he said. There was a picture of half a dozen women along with her at the center.
“They were especially excited about Irina Kotova. Banu especially has a taste for women of her descent. He sampled a taste of her blood and visited me personally about her,” Vinny continued.
“How do I know you’re telling me the truth, and this isn’t just some grand scheme?”
“My phone is in my pocket. I recorded the conversation. Let me play it for you,” he offered.
“Stand up and take it out. If I think you’re playing me, I’ll shoot you. I don’t miss,” I demanded.
He nodded and followed my directions. He carefully avoided the gun in the holster in his belt and reached into his pocket. He pulled it out slowly and placed it on the table before he sat back down. He made sure to keep both hands above the table after that and casually pushed a few buttons on his phone. I watched, ensuring that he wasn’t calling anyone. The sound of a man came over the speaker and I sat back and listened.
The voice had a thick accent, possibly Russian or Eastern European himself, but it was hard to tell. I recognized Vinny as well as the two began to speak about several women together. I was only partially listening when I finally heard my sister’s name.
“Irina Kotova is mine. I want her. For your time and effort in her acquisition, I offer you a boon of five million, just for her,” Banu offered.
“And the rest?” Vinny answered.
“Ten million for all the ones we discussed,” Banu replied.
“These ones must be special to you,” Vinny said cautiously.
“They are. I am on the hunt for more virginal females. Keep up the good work. I expect to see more with your next batch.”
“Of course. It was a pleasure doing business with you, Banu.”
“As with you.”
The recording cut off after that.
“That’s everything I have, Natalia,” Vinny offered with a sad smile. “What will you do now?”
“You’ve been very helpful, Vinny. I think you and I can come to an agreement of sorts that doesn’t involve your death,” I responded softly.
“I would appreciate that,” he grinned.
“I’m going to take this with me,” I said and pointed to the binder.
“Understandable,” he agreed.
“Pass me your phone,” I instructed and when he did, I sent myself the recording and programmed my number into his phone.
“You and I are going to be allies. If you hear anything from Banu, I want to know about it. His whereabouts, if he comes for more girls. No matter how insignificant a detail, I want to know. If I find out you neglected to inform me of anything, I will kill you.”
“Additionally, I want you to start spreading a rumor about a new badass in town. I want you to tell them that I killed everyone here in this room aside from you. You will leave out my name however,” I demanded.
He nodded one final time.
“I’ve never met anyone like you,” he whispered.
“Nor will you again,” I answered boldly.
“To next time,” he said, while picking up a glass of whiskey. He held it up in the air and took a big swig before I slipped out of the room and escaped from the lower confines of the Tropicana.