I leaned my head against the cold glass surface, staring out the window of the train car as lights flashed all around me. The brakes screeched, the car jerking as it slowed dramatically. From somewhere in the back of the train, I heard a distinct moan. Some drunk guy who’d been passed out the entire time was finally coming to.
Exhaling, I dragged the coat around me, loathing the chill in the air, the brisk wind that cascaded across Lake Michigan bringing bone-chilling temperatures. Lately, I’d been forced to remind myself this was the city I’d always planned on moving to, the dream job the only one acceptable to me. However, getting home at two in the morning, enduring the assholes lurking in the shadows as well as the wretched cold temperatures made me long for summer days.
As the train pulled into the station, I moved to a standing position, grasping the metal pole as the car vibrated under my feet. Maybe I should feel lucky my poor little car hadn’t been moved in almost three weeks. Between the subway system and being able to walk to my favorite destinations, I’d certainly saved money on gas. Thank God for that.
And for my glorious condo, the high-rise building capturing a perfect view of the gorgeous lake. Even though there was little furniture inside, it was mine. How it’d happened, I still wasn’t certain.
After stepping off, I slipped my hands into my pockets, keeping my head down as I walked up the stairs and onto the street, scanning the area before heading toward the secure building. Even in the upscale section of town, working late nights kept my anxiety high. There were far too many violent crimes in Chicago, enough I’d stopped paying attention to the news. I dealt with enough of blood and gore on an everyday basis.
I walked quickly, crossing the street and noticing just how deserted the road seemed tonight. Maybe because it was a Monday. At least I had the next day off, although I doubted that I’d have any energy to leave the condo. Maybe I’d just stay in my PJs, watching movies.
The noise echoed, but loud enough it gave me pause. I stopped short, taking a few seconds to look in all directions. Maybe a cat had turned over a trashcan. After taking another two steps, I heard a scraping sound, as if something metal was being dragged across brick. A trickle of fear skittered through me, and I walked faster.
Then I heard footsteps.
Oh, hell, no. I tried to keep from running, but as the pounding sound of heavy feet matched my own, I flew down the sidewalk, looking over my shoulder only once. While I couldn’t see who was following me, that meant shit.
Go. Go. Go.
I pumped my legs harder, grateful I had on running shoes. As I neared the building, I heard a distinct, deep and evil laugh.
And I could swear the bastard whispered, “Next time.”
I wasted no time smashing my hand against the security panel, suddenly grateful for the extra security. When I was safely inside, the massive glass doors shutting behind me, I stood just inches away, glaring out into the night. No one was going to scare me away. I’d worked too damn hard to get where I was.
Now I was no longer frightened, just pissed off. While I had a can of mace, I’d been thinking about getting a concealed weapon’s license. I knew how to use a gun and wouldn’t hesitate if it meant saving my life or that of someone else. Bad guys did exist in every walk of life. There were very few people who cared about their fellow man, and even fewer heroes.
Maybe I’d become too jaded since moving here.
I rubbed my temple and hurried toward the elevator. I could use a glass of wine after the horrible day. Everything was so quiet inside what I called the mausoleum, the building barely forty percent occupied. While gorgeous, the massive foyer exquisite with hundreds of thousands of dollars of marble, a beautiful fountain off to one side, it was cold.
Still, I couldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I was one lucky girl.
The elevator seemed to take forever but when I stepped onto my floor, I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I had plenty of food, wine, ice cream, and popcorn. What else could a girl need?
After opening the door, I struggled as usual to find the light switch, but even before my hand managed to touch the plate, a sickeningly sweet and pungent smell wafted into my nostrils. I’d know the odor anywhere.
Against my better judgment, I flipped on the light, not paying any attention as I pushed the door closed and walked further inside. My feet heavy, a knot formed in my stomach as I took several steps more.
I’d been a trauma nurse for almost three years, working the emergency rooms in two hospitals, including the one I’d recently been hired. The horrors I’d seen had created nightmares, but I’d found a way to push them aside, joyful when victims of catastrophic car wrecks or violent crimes were saved, allowed to enjoy the rest of their lives.
But this was something I would never, ever be able to forget.
Oh, my God. He’s dead. Dead. Someone killed him.
Blood. So much blood.
It was everywhere.
All over the walls.
I was woozy, unfocused.
Terror clawed through me as I tried to steady myself, barely able to keep standing.
What if the perpetrator was still inside? What if they were hiding?
The man was dead. Decapitated.
I moved closer, crouching down before I reminded myself there was no need to check for vitals. He was dead. Dead!
My God. I knew him. I… bile rushed into my throat, my stomach lurching. I’d just seen him, the good-natured guy wishing me a fabulous day just like he had from the evening I’d moved in. Who would want to kill a maintenance man?
After jerking to my feet, I pressed my hand over my mouth, staring down at the huge crimson stain on the floor. There was so much of it.
As I stood over his headless body, his lifeless eyes staring into my own, blood already coagulating on the new tile floor, I did something completely out of character.
I threw my head back and screamed.
The word meant secrets in Russian. There was no reason I had that single word imbedded in the forefront of my mind, but I did. My mother used to say it when talking about the old days—the years she’d grown up in Kazan before moving to Moscow.
Then she’d fled her native country without turning back. She’d enrolled in college, finding the man of her dreams and getting married, the perfect American dream. She’d kept her accent, something I’d acquired even after spending my entire life in Chicago. I’d felt closer to her than anyone else, my father always working, never taking the time to spend with his small but loving family.
Until his cold, calculating methods of handling business had been the only thing that I’d gained from our relationship. Now I hated him, his pretenses nothing but a joke given he was a soulless man, at least with regards to his only child.
Instead of following in my father’s footsteps, I’d made an alternative decision to enter the world of the Bratva, working alongside an uncle whose name had almost never been mentioned in our house. As the Pakhan of a ruthless crime syndicate, Ivan Novikov had held Chicago in the palm of his hand for almost twenty years. His power and influence only continued to increase, yet it hadn’t been without sacrifices or bloodshed.
It was the way of the Bratva and one I enjoyed. Some would call choosing the life of a ruthless mafia leader a foolish choice. I could have become a lawyer or an accountant, even a doctor, but I’d chosen the life of crime instead, infuriating my father to the point he’d basically disowned me. I’d fought my way into being involved with the sacred organization even though my mother had begged me to stay away. Her last words of warning I would never forget.
“Ivan will turn you into a monster. Everything he touches is destroyed. Everything he desires, he takes. You’re going to become just like him.”
Just like him.
That had been eight years ago, the ninety-six months spent learning my craft, proving myself to a brutal leader who had no problem gunning a man down in cold blood. I’d been cut from the same mold, our family ties only a small part of the reason I’d sacrificed a traditional way of living. Maybe what few stories my mother had told me about the old country, Mother Russia, had inspired me more than they should have. Whatever the case, I’d shed most of my American upbringing for the half of me that had never been allowed to fully explore my Russian heritage.
My methods of punishment were considered cruel and unusual, which often kept our enemies from seeking revenge. My cold-hearted abilities had also provided me the respect within the organization that I deserved.
However, it didn’t matter that I was Ivan’s nephew. Our close relationship just meant he held me to a higher standard. Especially given who’d sired me.
But I’d learned to enjoy the same merciless tactics, inflicting pain when necessary. Even the majority of other soldiers in his employ were terrified of me.
As if I gave a shit.
At least I’d earned Ivan’s respect.
This wasn’t about competition or forming friends. I couldn’t care less about anyone else working for the most powerful man in the Midwest. I had my own agenda to follow, a kingdom to run.
Darkness had become my way of life. Every action I’d taken over the last eight years, every thought entering my mind.
Very little calmed the savage beast lurking inside of me, which continued to horrify my mother. Nothing seemed to still the rage festering inside of me or the need to exact revenge on those who made my life complicated.
As I stepped out of my beloved Mercedes, I took a deep breath of the night air. Cold. Crisp.
My Capo pulled close beside, cutting the engine on the Escalade and immediately climbing out. “They’ve made progress.”
“Yes, but not nearly enough. Winter is setting in, which means additional delays.”
He snorted behind me. “I don’t mind lighting a fire under their asses if necessary.”
“We’ll see, Brick.”
I took a few steps away from my car, marveling at the sight of the project, construction almost halfway complete. Novikov money had funded the thirty-acre parcel, the incredible design coming from one of the most brilliant architects in the industry. When finished, the multi-use parcel would become one of the finest business, residential, and entertainment facilities in the city of Chicago.
Sadly, for the brainchild behind the project, he’d attempted to muscle out his deep pocket investors. Shame on him.
“Get him out of the vehicle,” I instructed my most trusted soldier, Brick, not only my Capo but a man I considered a friend.
“Gladly,” he said, a dark chuckle rumbling from his throat.
I didn’t wait for the asshole to be pulled out of Brick’s SUV. The draw of the construction site had already captured my attention. As I moved toward the newest addition, staring down at the black pit of the foundation, a smile crossed my face. As I reached into my jacket, pulling out both my weapon and the silencer, I wasn’t certain why I was bothering to eliminate the sound of the kill in the first place. Production had been shut down for the long holiday weekend, eliminating the possibility of anyone bothering me while doing business.
Still, it paid to be cautious, especially since we didn’t control the construction workers hired for the project.
Something that had troubled me from the start. While expanding our business was prudent, doing so without absolute control stuck in my craw. Recent events had been a prime example.
I heard the man’s screams through the gag as he was dragged in my direction and sighed. Some men faced their destiny with courage while others reverted to childish methods of begging for mercy. The latter irritated the hell out of me.
Even the stench of the man pissed me off. He reeked of cheap perfume, a product of his sexual proclivities, something else that eroded the concept of providing salvation for his crimes.
As I turned to face him, I gave Brick a single nod, my Capo ripping away the thick duct tape.
The man gasped, still struggling with the thick rope binding his hands. The bright moon lit up the sky, also highlighting the terror riding his face.
“Mr. Chamberlain. You’ve been a naughty boy,” I said with zero inflection. I had no emotion regarding my upcoming action whatsoever, but the irritation at disrupting my evening remained in the forefront of my mind. Gregor Chamberlain had been a major player in the world of real estate development for years. He was well educated, highly intelligent, and had a good nose for success. Sadly, he’d forgotten that loyalty was the most important attribute to have when doing business with the Novikov family.
“Mr. Calderon. Please. I’ve done nothing wrong,” he pleaded.
“Nothing wrong?” I shook my head, taking a few seconds to enjoy the stunning view. “Look around you. This is an incredible development, but there’d be nothing here but dirt if we hadn’t taken up your cause.”
“I… I know that, but…” He didn’t bother finishing his sentence because he knew there was nothing to say.
Brick continued grinning as he held the man by the back of the neck, enjoying every minute of the asshole’s weak attempts at making excuses.
“Not only did you attempt to push our organization out of the existing contract, but you ran and hid like a fucking rat, unable to own up to what you did. That’s unacceptable. I’m afraid that there’s nothing I’m willing to do to provide you with a reprieve.”
“This is my baby. Mine. You attempted to take control. I couldn’t allow that! You don’t own the place.” He dared to look away from me, ignoring my admonishment.
I took my time before answering. “Hmmm… Even worse, Gregor. That wasn’t your only mistake.”
He seemed confused, sputtering several times, even trying to take a step away.
Brick grabbed his hair at the scalp, a quick snap of his wrist yanking Gregor’s head to an awkward angle.
I’d grown weary of the game. I walked closer until I was only a few inches away, taking another deep breath of the fresh night air. “You were working with Samuel Rossi, the two of you planning on shoving us out of the project completely. Isn’t that the truth?” While I was taking a calculated stab in the dark, I could tell almost instantly that my intuition had been correct. Kudos to me.
Samuel Rossi had managed to extort a large sum of money right under Ivan’s nose. That had been seen as a significant weakness given Samuel had been the Bratva’s accountant for years, a man trusted with the family’s fortune. The man’s death for his betrayal had been vicious, sending a very distinct message to anyone thinking about betraying the Novikov family.
“I… No… I mean…” Gregor whined like a baby.
“Which is it, Gregor? Yes or no?”
He swallowed hard. “You don’t understand.”
“You’re right. I don’t but at this point, I no longer give a shit what you have to say. However, this project was your baby from inception, and I know just how important it is to you. Therefore, I’m going to make certain you remain a solid part of the foundation of the enterprise knowing the Novikov family will be moving forward without you.”
My Capo knew when to move away from the man, allowing Gregor to stumble toward me.
Then I fired a single shot, the bullet catching him in the throat. As he tottered to the side, his eyes open wide from horror, Brick gave his arm a single push, dumping him into the pit ready for concrete to be poured.
Maybe it was time to push the project along. I shifted my gaze toward the awaiting concrete truck, laughing softly.
“Let’s give our construction workers a little surprise when they return to work tomorrow morning.”
Laughing, Brick moved toward the massive vehicle. “You got it, boss.”
At least a certain amount of information had been confirmed. However, I had a feeling I should have interrogated the man even longer. Our former accountant had been working behind our backs for several months from what we’d been able to tell. Given what I knew about Samuel, that surprised me.
Unless he was working with another organization altogether. My thoughts returned to Gregor. That pissed me off even more.
As I headed for my waiting Mercedes, I turned and studied the construction site one last time. Maybe I’d changed my mind. It was definitely good to expand our business.
I stared into the dark brew, marveling at being able to catch a portion of my reflection in the track lighting bouncing against the side of the refrigerator. While I brought the heavy mug to my lips for a third time, the stench alone was enough to make my stomach lurch. Hissing, I pushed it across the counter, moving slowly toward a cabinet on the other wall, grabbing one of my four wineglasses.
Even the oversized galley kitchen was suffocating, the window with an incredible view of downtown Chicago doing no good. My pulse continued to race, the adrenaline rush I’d felt before ebbing.
Dead. A man is dead inside your condo.
I’d managed to block out most of the muffled voices coming from the other room, but the noise continued to give me jitters. There were at least eight people in my condo. Police. Forensics. Even a detective had already been assigned to the case. I was surprised the murder had taken a high priority, although no one was telling me anything.
As I poured a glass of wine, I realized just how badly my hand was shaking, strings of red wine trickling down onto the granite counter. I knew there might be a stain if I wasn’t quick to react, but my mind was like sludge, unable to process anything. I stared down at the kitchen floor, studying my bloody footprints. All I could think about was how difficult it was going be to remove the stains.
“Are you certain you want to do that?”
I almost dropped the bottle, the deep baritone of the detective’s voice shattering my last nerve.
“It’s either this or a few shots of tequila,” I answered, managing to grab one of my kitchen towels. “If you’d like to join me, Detective, there’s plenty, although at this point, I’m not certain I actually have enough to satisfy both of us.” I heard my nervous laugh and frowned. Nothing about this was funny. Finding a dead man—not just dead but slaughtered like some animal—was straight out of a horror movie.
“Unfortunately, I’m on duty and I still need to ask you some questions. Are you up for it?”
I turned to face him, studying his craggy face. He didn’t need to provide a resume to tell me that he’d seen more than his share of violence in his career. “Detective Declan. Do you really think there’s a right time to talk about the fact I found a dead man murdered in my condo after coming home from a long shift at the hospital? Would you like to start with the fact his head was severed from his body or that he’d been beaten to within an inch of his life prior to that happening?”
While I heard the anger in my voice, I didn’t care about being the nice girl at this point.
The detective chuckled and leaned against the counter. I was surprised he wasn’t taking copious notes. Maybe he was recording me for his listening pleasure later.
“Did you know the victim very well?”
I closed my eyes, doing everything I could to block out the repulsive vision. “I moved here a little over a month ago. While I’ve seen Mr. Springer on several occasions, I’ve only talked to him a couple of times. I wouldn’t say that’s knowing him very well.”
“Did he have any enemies?”
Sighing, I tried to thoughtfully answer his question. “Jack kept to himself. He was pleasant and from what I could tell, well liked. I have no idea how this happened given the building is secure.”
I rolled my eyes, trying to keep my temper in check. Adrenaline continued rushing through my system, although I had no doubt that I’d crash into a heap soon enough.
“What did he do in the building?” the detective continued.
“He was the maintenance man, but as far as his job description, I wouldn’t know.”
“Why was he in your condo?”
“I don’t know,” I snapped, shaking my head and taking a sip of wine. “I’m sorry, Detective. It’s not every day I come home to find a dead man inside.”
“Yes, I can imagine.”
I can imagine? If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was hinting at something. “I don’t know how else to help you, Detective. I worked long hours and barely had time for myself.”
“At Chicago Hospital. Is that correct?”
I tugged on my identification badge, glaring him in the eyes. “Do you need to make a copy?”
He lifted a single eyebrow, a slight smile curling on his face. He was amused. I was angry. Damn him.
“I’ve already confirmed you’re an employee,” he said, almost in passing. “Unfortunately, Ms. Sutherland, I do need to ask you where you were between the hours of ten p.m. and midnight.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I’m not in the habit of kidding with regards to a brutal murder. Can you please answer the question?”
My anger continued to increase, my patience level shot. While I knew he was just trying to do his job, I was incensed I was considered a suspect. I took another sip of my drink, cringing when all I could think about was the color of the wine. “If you really want to know, I was helping a well-respected surgeon in his attempt to save the life of a man who had three bullets lodged in his spine. While we were able to save his life, it’s still questionable whether he’s going to be able to walk again. If you’d like the name of the entire team who worked with me until I walked out the door at one thirty-seven a.m., then I’m happy to provide that to you.”
He didn’t seem flustered in the least about my outburst, but he finally retrieved a small notebook from his pocket, scribbling on the pad furiously. I looked away, images of Jack’s broken body remaining in the forefront of my mind. I walked away from him and into the doorway, my nerves shot. Daylight was already streaming in through my windows, the forensics team finally zipping the black bag around Jack’s body.
“Do you know of any reason why Mr. Springer had a gun on him?”
I opened my mouth, trying to remember if I’d noticed before. “Not really. The building is very secure.” Or so I’d thought. I envisioned the moment I’d found him and come to think of it, I had seen a weapon in the corner next to the floor-to-ceiling windows. Why hadn’t the murderer taken it? “Did he manage to get off a shot?”
He lifted a single eyebrow, the question obviously strange as hell. “As a matter of fact, he did.” The detective didn’t say anything else, but he continued staring at me.
“Oh,” I managed. Oh? My God. I was acting suspicious. Swallowing, I looked away, trying not to chastise myself too badly. Even coming from New York, I’d never been the victim of a crime or seen anyone shot.
“As you might imagine, this investigation is just beginning. I will need to confirm your whereabouts and I’m certain I’ll have additional questions for you after the evidence has been processed.”
Processed. He said the word as if this was just another day on the force instead of a man bloodily losing his life. For all I knew, Jack had a family, kids and grandkids. He’d been taken from them and for what? Who murdered a maintenance man?
“I’m sure you will and other than my day off tomorrow, you can find me at the hospital almost every day,” I managed, my voice little more than a whisper. “Am I a suspect, Detective? Do I need to hire an attorney?” I turned my head to study him. He continued to jot down a few notes, taking a full minute to turn his head in my direction.
“At this point, Ms. Sutherland, everyone is a suspect until I rule them out. As far as an attorney, that’s entirely up to you; however, I will need you to remain in town.”
My God. The man was staring at me like I was some femme fatale.
“But I can go about my life? You know, helping people?” I asked, although I had no clue how I could ever return to the condo. From where I was standing, the sight of the bloodstains wrapped around my mind like sharp claws.
He chuckled as he walked closer. “Of course.” He produced a business card and I couldn’t tolerate looking at it. “If you think of anything else, give me a call.”
While I accepted his card, I had a feeling he’d been the one hounding me. If only I had something more concrete to tell him. Jack had been overtly nice to me, maybe because I seemed out of my element, a girl who had no business owning a three-million-dollar condo. He’d checked on me several times, although my hesitation in telling the detective that bit of information surprised me. The older man had been sweet, almost like he’d been looking out for me.
Why had he been inside? I hadn’t reported any issues and there wasn’t any scheduled regular maintenance that I remembered.
“Of course.” I slumped against the doorjamb, shivering.
After he walked out of the room, he stopped, taking a few seconds before shifting so he could look me in the eyes. “I’m going to suggest that you stay with a family member for a few days. That’s going to be the only way you rid yourself of the nightmare.”
Another anxious laugh slipped from my mouth. “I doubt I’ll ever be able to get rid of the horrible sight, and I don’t have any family in town.” I chewed on my lower lip, realizing the only person I could call was a friend from the hospital, although we’d only recently gotten close outside of our work.
“Well, just a suggestion, but you will need to email me where you’re staying. My address is on the card.”
“Very well, Detective. I’ll let you know. When will I be able to return?”
“You should be able to gather your things tomorrow. I’ll give you a call.”
“I would appreciate that.”
“You may want to consider contacting a crime scene cleaner after we’re finished.”
I knew what he was talking about. I’d been forced to talk with several members of law enforcement during my career. I’d picked up on how a crime scene was handled. I’d just never expected to be in the middle of one.
“Thank you, Detective. I’ll consider that.”
He took another few steps then stopped again. “Ms. Sutherland, you seem like a very nice girl. I’m going to give you a piece of advice. Be careful. This is a dangerous city. There are people who enjoy the act of violence, murdering anyone who gets in their way. I wouldn’t like to see that happen to you.”
His statement was startling. What the hell was he getting at? “That almost sounds like a threat, Detective Declan.”
Huffing, he shook his head. “Not at all, Walker. Just a piece of advice after spending years picking up the pieces.”
When he walked away, all I could concentrate on was the sound of his loafers moving across the tile floor toward the front door.
After he left, I shifted back into the kitchen, sliding down the wall, the cold chill remaining.
And for some reason, I thought I could hear Jack’s screams.
I’d been responsible for my share of brutal deaths, the elimination of Novikov enemies necessary in order to carry on our way of life. And I rarely if ever questioned the reason why. I’d learned early on that a single moment of hesitation meant weakness, a trait I couldn’t afford. Given my penchant for violence, I’d garnered the respect of almost everyone in the Bratva.
However, a nagging feeling remained in the back of my mind and had since the incident with Chamberlain.
I took a deep breath before knocking on the door.
When it was opened a few seconds later, I tried to keep all emotion from my face.
“Cousin. Come in,” Vadim said, the usual hateful grin on his face. The fucker liked to lord over me the fact he was Ivan’s only son, prepared to take the Novikov throne when the Pakhan was either assassinated or arrested. That could be at any time, Ivan’s murderous rampage increasing any time an enemy dared attack us. Even now, there were rumors a turf war was set to begin, although the identity of the other player coming to the party had yet to be confirmed.
I cocked my head, narrowing my eyes but remaining quiet. I noticed he was favoring one of his arms, which I found curious. The man usually required his soldiers to handle his dirty work.
He laughed softly then opened the door wider, allowing me entrance, but not before murmuring his usual nasty condemnation in Russian.
“Grebanyy glupyy amerikanets.”
As if using the term ‘fucking stupid American’ bothered me in the least. From what I’d learned about the Bratva, my American upbringing had been an added benefit in securing our position within various powerful corporations, just like the development Chamberlain had owned. I could talk the talk, hiding the Russian accent gleaned from my mother at will.
But my heritage remained strong, an attribute that I never allowed Vadim to forget.
“Bespolexnyy russkiy pridurok.” ‘Useless Russian idiot’ was my reply. The fact I was fluent in several languages, including Russian, had intrigued Ivan as much as my Harvard education.
He seemed amused by our exchange, merely tolerating his son’s hatred of me up to this point.
Ivan usually sequestered himself behind his desk, puffing on a thick cigar. On this early morning, he stood by the window, which meant something, or someone had pissed him off even more than normal.
“Maksim. Thank you for coming on such short notice,” he stated. A man like Ivan never requested anything. He demanded it just like I did, refusing to accept anything less.
While I’d been given my own territory almost a year before, brought into the fold as if I were one of his sons, that meant nothing when he required orders to be followed.
“Of course. What do you need?” I asked, darting another glance in Vadim’s direction. He was studying me carefully. Was this nothing more than an additional test of my will and my loyalty?
Ivan took several additional puffs of his cigar, flicking the ashes onto the refurbished teak wooden floor. He didn’t care. He wasn’t the one who would clean up his mess, which is what I expected I’d been called into his office to do. Someone had failed him, and my merciless nature earning me a reputation as being born without a soul. He needed my handiwork.
“You managed to hunt down Mr. Chamberlain,” he said without any emotion.
I chuckled half under my breath. “New travels fast.”
“Even my Capos and other trusted men had been unable to do so. I applaud your efforts.” Ivan turned slightly, giving Vadim a dark look, one that told his only son that he’d failed the powerful man. I didn’t have to glance in my cousin’s direction to realize he was boiling from the acrid venom flowing through his veins. At some point, he’d send all that bitter hatred in my direction.
And I couldn’t wait for that moment to occur.
“Eliminating a problem was necessary,” I answered without bothering to give Vadim the time of day. Fuck him and his self-righteous bullshit.
“Yes. Now the project can move forward, but I want the damn construction site controlled and watched. That’s your baby, Maksim,” Ivan stated, taking another puff of his cigar.
I nodded, my instinct telling me Ivan was more concerned about something else. When news of Samuel’s termination had leaked in the streets, tensions had risen.
“I am curious. Did Mr. Chamberlain provide you with any useful information before his unfortunate demise?” Ivan asked offhandedly.
“He confirmed that Samuel Rossi was working with him,” I answered, watching Ivan’s expression turn from amusement to fury.
“The little cocksucker,” Ivan hissed as he finally turned to face us. “I should issue an elimination of everyone in Chamberlain’s company.”
“Mr. Chamberlain has powerful friends, Pops. You should be mindful of that,” Vadim told him. “I don’t think going on a killing spree is in our best interest right now.”
The sharp look Ivan gave him was one I’d seen many times. The man didn’t like to be questioned.
“First of all, I don’t think Chamberlain was working with anyone else within his company. Second, I doubt his friends will attempt to point fingers,” I said quietly. “Or attempt to issue trouble of any kind. Two warnings were sent. They will be heeded, at least for a period of time.”
“While that would usually be the case, I’m concerned we might have other issues to contend with,” Ivan huffed.
“That Samuel was also working with someone else.” My statement brought cold stares from both men.
Ivan took a few seconds to gaze down the length of me, still puffing on his cigar. “Yes, which is why the rumors keep sweeping through the streets of Chicago, something we can’t allow to continue.”
“Unfortunately, I think that’s impossible,” I said, Vadim laughing instantly before spewing out his thoughts.
“Samuel was a two-bit accountant at best. He didn’t have the nerve to do anything else underhanded against us.”
“That two-bit accountant managed to steal a significant amount of money. Might I remind you of that?” Ivan’s face turned beet red, the embarrassment of going over his losses again not something he was used to.
Vadim cursed, walking around his father toward the bar. “Then we eliminate everyone who might have been working with Samuel. Period. After that, we’ll have no more issues.”
Smirking, I had a feeling I knew what Ivan was about to say. Vadim was short sighted at best, unable to think about the future within our industry. Times were changing, the need to keep a low profile while handling business vital if we wanted to stay alive. Plus, there were other methods of eliminating issues when necessary.
“We’re not handling this like a bulldozer, Vadim. We need to tread carefully until we know what we’re dealing with. To that end, Maksim, I need you to carry out something else, but you’ll need to be careful.”
“I will do my best,” I answered, noticing the Pakhan’s voice was strained.
He chuckled as he came closer. “I have no doubt you will. You’ve proven to be very worthy of my trust, which is why I’m expanding your territory. It’s become clear to me that you do well with all our corporate venues while walking a fine line in ensuring our employees follow our rules. We’ll talk more about your heightened responsibilities after you finish this task for me.”
I could tell Vadim was furious, which pleased me more than it should. The man was a pompous pig with zero moral character and no understanding of the need for detail. “I appreciate the nod.”
Ivan walked even closer, taking another puff. “Rossi caused us too many problems, but it’s not over yet. I find it interesting that we never recovered the money. Not a penny. After everything Vadim put that man through, he continued insisting that he had nothing to do with the theft. I have to give him credit in the end. He had balls. That’s something I admire. Still, locating the cash is important to me. Given the fact he was successful in stealing from us has leaked onto the streets, the unrest continues to grow.”
“I understand. That doesn’t bode well for keeping control. Do you have any ideas what Rossi could have done with the money?”
“He had less than ten thousand dollars in his bank accounts when he died. There is no sign of offshore accounts or other investments. No boats. No expensive sports cars. Even though my Capo was given decent tips from a trusted informant, he ran into a dead end everywhere he looked. As you might imagine, that angers me tremendously. However,” he said as he held up his index finger, “all is not lost. I managed to find out he purchased a condominium in South Loop three months ago.”
“South Loop?” I questioned. The area of Chicago was known for exclusive and very expensive pieces of real estate. While Samuel had been paid well for his duties, the multimillion-dollar condos alone would have been a stretch for him.
“Fascinating given Samuel never wanted to leave the old house he once shared with his wife. It took me pulling in a favor to find that juicy piece of information since Rossi did everything in his power to hide the purchase and the transfer. So, I think it’s time for you to handle a brand new hunt, your expertise in these particular matters quite useful.”
Ivan grinned, his gray eyes twinkling.
“Who are we hunting this go around?”
“It would seem that there is another person involved, some cocksucker who just moved to the city. I just found out he’s staying in Samuel’s condo. And it would seem the place was deeded over to this individual after Samuel’s death. Even if the man paid cash, there is still at least three million unaccounted for.” Ivan cursed in Russian.
“Brazen asshole needs to be taken out. I can handle that for you, Pops,” Vadim suggested.
Ivan threw up his hand. “This isn’t just about eliminating the man, although that might become necessary. He’ll need to be manipulated until he provides the information we need.”
Manipulated. He meant interrogated, taken to a facility I’d designed for that specific use in mind.
“That can be arranged,” I answered, lifting a single eyebrow as Vadim continued to fume. He and I would need to come to terms with his increased level of anger against me sooner versus later. Questions started forming in my mind. Had Samuel paid cash for the unit? Why leave it to someone?
“Good,” Ivan huffed. “The asshole thinks he’s going to play me for a fool, using my own money against me. I need you to hunt this interloper down and find my freaking cash. Then I want you to seek revenge in any way you desire. Bespolezntt kusok ploti. Do you think you can handle that for me, Maksim?”
A grin crossed my face as I flexed then fisted my hands. Useless piece of flesh. That’s all the son of a bitch would have left when I was finished with him. No one stole from the Bratva. “No problem.”
“Just so you know. I had certain baggage handled beforehand, which should put the fear of God into the fucker, but I have a feeling the man doesn’t scare easily. However, do whatever is necessary. And I do mean whatever.” Ivan’s eyes narrowed, his chest heaving.
Chuckling, I shot Vadim one last look before a slight smile crossed my face. Perhaps Vadim had been the one assigned to ‘handling’ this piece of business and had gotten hurt. “I already have a few ideas in mind.” What continued to bother me was that if another player had moved into town, the fact Ivan had allowed such a huge sum of money to disappear could mean additional trouble including bloodshed. Loyalty was something that could be bought, allowing some of our employees to be hired by whatever organization that had dared to set foot in our territory. There was far too much information to be circulated that could prove deadly to the family. The shit would need to be handled quickly, issuing the kind of warning that no one would soon forget.
He patted my arm, giving me a nod of respect. “You will be paid handsomely for your endeavor. I’ll have my Capo provide you with the information and whatever else you need. Khoroshey okhoty.”
Happy hunting. It would be a pleasure.