Pavelich watched the waitress’ taut behind as he sipped his espresso, holding court in another corner of his empire. Behind his eyes squatted the twitching nerve of the boy he had been in Russia, who knew only the taste of stale hard bread and gritty water. His massive physique was a reaction to that time, shielding the boy within from further hurt by destroying anyone who sought to wound him.
There was a smudge of lipstick on the rim and he wiped it away from his lip, biting back an invective until he watched the waitress lean forward to see to Mrs Braverman and his anger went rushing out of him, replaced by sweeter hungers.
When the woman sat down, he did not acknowledge her. He looked at the two men sat by the door who apparently had failed to notice this development.
He looked at her, the soft curls of auburn hair, the baby nose and the glittering green eyes all of it poured into a business suit that showed off just enough leg and cleavage to allow for plausible deniability if you were caught looking.
The man wanted.
The boy needed.
‘Good morning, Mr Pavelich.’
Her voice had a hostess quality to it, a woman who sang her frustrations rather than shouted. She had no jewellery on apart from plastic rainbow coloured hoops in each ear, which was quirky enough to intrigue him.
‘Good morning, you have me at a disadvantage.’
She leaned forward and gave a controlled smile.
‘Which is why I’m here, Mr Pavelich.’
Pavelich frowned. His men started to get up, but he sat them back down with a wave of his hand. Power, he understood, lay in the smallest of gestures. She had sat down to sell him something, and Dmitri Pavelich always had an interest in what someone wanted to offer him.
Her smile darkened and she retrieved a white envelope from her jacket and handed it to him.
‘This will be of particular interest to you.’
He took the envelope, felt along its edges and the outline of something cylindrical beneath his thumb. He raised his eyebrows but the woman’s expression remained neutral but friendly and he tore it open with his thick, hairy tattooed fingers.
The cylindrical object was a.357 bullet. There were a few sheets of paper and he set the bullet on the table whilst he opened the papers up and retrieved his spectacles from the breast pocket of his jacket.
‘You are bold to put such a thing in front of me.’
Her smile faltered a little, but she recovered quickly.
‘The round alone was a touch theatrical, but you should read, Mr Pavelich.’
One of his cousins, Josef had been growing unsatisfied with the level of responsibility that Pav afforded him. He had outsourced his frustrations to a guy who operated out of Portland. The guy charged well above the going rate for the job and it was nothing to do with Pav’s reputation or status.
You paid for accidents. Random twists of fate that allowed you to see that someone was dead but that it could not come back to you, to anyone.
You paid for subtlety.
Pav folded the papers.
‘So, what’s the significance of the bullet?’ he said.
She chuckled and put her hands together.
‘Well, what if I told you that he had already made an attempt on your life this morning?’
Pav shuddered and took in a deep, harsh breath.
‘Don’t be ridiculous. I never travel alone.’
The woman sat back in her chair with her palms pressed together.
‘No, but you mow your own lawn, don’t you? Not even one of those drive on things but an honest to goodness lawn mower.’
Pav tasted the copper, chemical taste of the mingled adrenaline and caffeine. If he thought himself mocked, he would not be held responsible for his actions.
‘I had men no more than eight feet away.’
The woman put her hands on the table.
‘Do they check the lawn before you get the mower out?’
Pav chuckled to avoid his throat closing up from the gut-wrenching disbelief that assaulted him.
He looked at the bullet on the tablecloth.
‘So, I would run over this, and it would fire at me?’
She smiled and nodded.
She told him that the man from Portland had watched him for three weeks. From there, he identified the most probable accidents and decided on Pav’s perverse tribute to the dreams of his adopted country.
He looked at his men who would not meet his gaze, their shame apparent in their red faces and clenched fists. His heart pounded in his chest and he knew the boy’s fear again.
She took out a second envelope, slightly thicker than the first and set it on the table.
‘You will find a full breakdown of my services and costs. Consider what I’ve done an interview.’
He slid the envelope into his jacket. He could taste the grit on his lips and the slight grease of the lipstick.
‘I will consider your proposal.’
She got up and left with the poise of a straight razor.
Lauren allowed herself the luxury of fear once she was outside. Pavelich had ingested the diamond dust, embedded in the smudge of lipstick which would abrade against his insides until he bled out. She hoped that he would take care of Josef before he went, but that was a bonus.
She walked to where the Lincoln sat on the corner and climbed into the back seat.
Sometimes, she thought, as she lit a cigarette with trembling hands, you hit the target by missing it.