63

It was past midnight, and in room 818 of the Peninsula Hotel in New York City, Konstantin Kirov was sleeping. The telephone rang. Instantly, he was awake, knocking back the sheets, fumbling for the handset. “Da? Kirov.”

“Wake up, younger brother. Trouble.”

“What do you mean? I thought you were in Siberia.”

“I am. But I had a few of my men keep tabs on the dacha. Gavallan has escaped. He took Katya and the other American with him.”

“Impossible,” said Kirov, sitting up, grabbing at his wristwatch, squinting to read the time. “I assigned my best man to look after them. There were four guards with him.”

“All dead,” said Leonid. “We found five bodies including Tatiana and, I imagine, your ‘best man.’ From what we pieced together, Gavallan had a dagger of sorts and used it to kill one of the guards and take his weapon. From there it’s anybody’s guess.”

Kirov tried to imagine Boris and Tatiana and the others dead. A quick rage ignited inside him. He knew why Leonid was watching the dacha. He had posted his men there to make sure Kirov did not spare his daughter’s life. “If you were watching, why the hell did you let them drive away?”

“An oversight on our part.” There was a pause. “We were able to track Gavallan to Moscow,” said Leonid finally. “I’m sorry to say we were unable to keep in contact with him afterward.”

“You lost him?”

“Regrettably,” said Leonid. “Have you heard anything from your contact at Black Jet?”

“Not a word. I finished dinner with them an hour ago. The deal is going ahead as planned. As far as they are concerned Gavallan is missing in action. Some think he may be involved with the murders in Miami. Others don’t dare to think anything. The deal is simply too important for their company.”

“Most probably he is still in Moscow with your daughter. Nonetheless, you may see fit to take precautions.”

“Precautions?”

“To eliminate any threats should they become localized. After all, Gavallan holds no concrete proof to stop the deal, does he?”

“Concrete? No. But from what I understand he doesn’t need any. A call to the right parties will suffice.”

“Perhaps we can assume Mr. Gavallan has decided to join with our side in this matter. From everything you’ve told me, he needs the deal as much as you.”

“And if does not?”

“There is no going back, Konstantin Romanovich,” came Leonid’s icy response. “Neither for you nor I. We will not embarrass the president. We will not disappoint the state. We will have our money.”

Leonid hung up.

Rubbing a hand over his face, Kirov wondered what else could go wrong. He knew he should be worried, but his sheer lack of options left him emboldened instead. He told himself that if Gavallan had wanted to cancel the deal he would have done it already. There had to be a reason he hadn’t contacted his partners, and that reason was that he wanted the deal to go through. He wanted his seventy million in fees. He wanted to keep control of his company. Kirov had always pegged him as a greedy one. Smooth, yes, silky smooth, but greedy, too. He was, after all, a banker.

There was no going back.

Repeating Leonid’s words, Kirov felt a steely resolve firm up inside him. Rising, he crossed to the desk and retrieved his electronic address book from his briefcase. He found the name he needed quickly. He dialed a Manhattan number and a Russian voice answered.

“This is Kirov,” he said. “Get your boss on the line. Now.”

Gavallan might be in Russia, but Kirov was not going to take any chances. If he could get away from Boris, he might be capable of any number of things. The American was more resourceful than he had anticipated.

A familiar Russian voice came on the telephone and Kirov explained what he wanted. After haggling a few minutes they settled on a price. Satisfied, Kirov hung up, then punched the console for a new line. The hotel operator answered immediately.

“Room 544,” he said.

The phone rang three times, four. Finally, a groggy voice answered. “Yes?”

“Some news concerning Mr. Gavallan. It seems he is no longer with my people in Moscow. Are you sure you haven’t had any word from him?”

“Lord no. Not a whisper. You’re certain he’s gone?”

“Still in Russia, no doubt, but out of my control.”

“Damn it, Konstantin…”

“Shut up. I’m calling to tell you to be prepared, that’s all. The offering will go through. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

Hanging up the phone, Kirov turned off the lights and went back to bed. It wouldn’t do to look haggard on the most important day of his life. Sleep came easier than expected. It helped immensely to know that when he visited the New York Stock Exchange in the morning, he would have plenty of friends with him.

***

Gavallan paced the tarmac at Shannon International Airport, tired, frustrated, and impatient. Salt and brine from the ocean laced the air, giving the predawn sky a welcome bite. He told himself he should be asleep in the plane like Cate, gathering his energy for the coming day. Lord knew, he was tired. But he was too keyed up to sleep.

Delays. Delays.

They had landed at two o’clock local time to top off their tanks before crossing the Atlantic. Three hours later, they were still there. A bulb in the starboard fuel gauge had burned out and the pilot had refused to take off until it had been replaced. Gavallan had tried to bribe him, but such was military operating procedure that the pilot would not consider the proposal for all the money in the world. The future tottered on the availability of a lousy ten-cent part. Gavallan wanted to scream.

A mist was building over the grass that bordered the runways. Soon it would turn to fog and the airport would be socked in. He looked up briefly, catching the blinking lights of another plane flying high overhead. He couldn’t know it, but inside the plane a short, wiry man slept, a blanket pulled to his neck. He was traveling to America for the first time. In fact, it was the first time he had ever traveled anywhere outside of his country. A matter of some importance had forced a hasty and unplanned departure. A business arrangement that needed squaring.

In his sleep, he was dreaming of the old country. Of the rough mountains where he had grown up. Of the rocky soil and rushing streams. Of the impoverished villages and the indomitable people who inhabited them. Some called it the “bandit country,” and in truth it was a land that robbed its people of much. But out of nature’s cruelty, they had learned to rely on themselves. To count on one another. In these mountains, a man’s word was his most valuable asset. He gave it sparingly and with his fullest commitment. While nature was capricious, man had an obligation to be steadfast. To break one’s word, then, was to break with his fellow man. Nature could not be punished for its whimsy, but a man could. And the punishment would be awful.

The man dreamt of such punishment.

In his sleep, he smiled.

Gavallan lowered his eyes from the sky. The twin beams of an airport jeep cut through the light fog, advancing rapidly on him. It was the pilot, and as he passed he held up a small cardboard box for his passenger’s inspection. “Five minutes and we’re out of here.”

Finally, thought Gavallan, jogging toward the plane.

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