When his crime boss in Odessa, Ukraine, decides to up his game by getting involved in people trafficking, Nicolae Caramarin must make a choice. Should he turn a blind eye to the horrors he witnesses and carry on being a good soldier for the gang; or take his stand and bring them all down in the only way he knows how?
A fast-paced, tense and exciting crime/noir thriller. Contains scenes of a sexual nature, graphic violence, strong language and drug abuse. It is not intended for the easily offended or persons under eighteen years. You have been warned, so if you read on, don't blame me.
If Nicolae Caramarin was nervous, he didn't show it. Not when he was holding six **** he wasn't. And two nine spots in his hand. Drank from the vodka bottle and slid it back over. Opposite him, Nedelcho Videnov took a longer pull. Videnov glanced at his bodyguard standing just behind the players. The guard was leaning against the office wall with his hands in his pockets, next to a hastily wiped whiteboard.
Caramarin took a longer look at the woman in the corner. She was worth another look. Tied to a chair with a piece of duct tape gagging her is not the best look for any woman. As an image, it will never make the front cover of Vogue magazine. But you could see that she was beautiful.
"Your boss is branching out, then?" Videnov said. Money always interested the accountant. He liked being around it and if he could cut himself into a slice of any deal then he wanted his piece.
There was a disreputable air about the man. Only young, late twenties, but already balding. Pale blue eyes behind gold framed designer glasses. His silk tie was loosened and rode half way down his chest. He'd chosen his short cut to wealth by advising on tax evasion and money laundering for the underworld.
"Yeah," grunted Caramarin.
"Hear he got stiffed by the Georgian. Lost a lot of money?"
"Abkhazian, actually, comrade. But he's dealing with the matter," Caramarin said.
"Bit of a step up from money lending and protection to people trafficking?" Videnov took another pull from the bottle and slid it back again. The man's eyes glassy now.
Caramarin took another slug, saw Videnov trying to stare him down and took a deeper drink. The vodka burned its way down his throat. Only a cheap brand poured into an expensive bottle. Fooled no-one.
"He has contacts. From the time of the Bosnian War. He knows what he's doing."
"Word of advice," said Videnov. "And I don't give many of those for free. It's not as easy as it once was. The E. U. has toughened their border controls recently."
"He knows what he's doing. And it's me taking the risks while he gets the money. As always." Caramarin looked over at the woman. "She's a bit knocked about, isn't she?"
"Tried to get away. But she'll clean up fine." Videnov paused and drank again. "She's pure, too."
"Yeah. She's virgo intacta. Unusual, these days I know. That's why she costs more."
Caramarin raised his eyebrows. "Unless she's had that op I've heard they can do." He glanced at his cards again then dropped another hundred hryvnias onto the pile of currency on the desk. Euros, roubles, Ukrainian hryvnias and Turkish lira all lay mixed up together.
"I've a long way to go tonight," Caramarin said, stretching his back. "I'll see you now."
He turned over his three Queens and laid them out in front of him. Videnov turned over three Jacks and shrugged. Disappointment in his eyes. The man hated to see money leave his office. Unless it was heading into an offshore account. Caramarin swept up the cash and casually stuffed the notes into his combat jacket. Then he picked up a padded envelope from the floor next to him and tossed it onto the desk on top of the cards.
"It's all there. A kilo of Afghan brown."
"Surprised he could get it together so quickly," Videnov said. "Heard the Georgian - sorry, Abkhazian - really hurt him."
"Maiorescu's doing all right. He knows what he's doing. Looking to expand again now."
Videnov looked unimpressed. He knew as well as Caramarin that Eugen Maiorescu was in trouble. He called his bodyguard over.
"Open it, please. Make sure there are no nasty surprises."
The thick set man swaggered over. Slid the envelope over to his side of the desk. Caramarin watched light reflect off his shaved head as the man leaned forward. He picked up a package tightly wrapped with tape from out of the envelope and tossed it in his hand. Then a second package.
"Looks like it's all there. Weighs about right."
"You know, I may be wrong but I'm getting a bad feeling about this." said Videnov. "Where did a piece of **** like Maiorescu get this from? Let's check this out." Videnov leaned down and fetched a small Swiss Army knife from out of his desk drawer and passed it to the man.
"Test it," he ordered.
The guard jabbed the point of the blade into the first package and licked the powdered tip. He frowned at Caramarin and poked into the second package.
"You cheap weasel. As I thought, boss, it's cut to f**k - really low quality."
Probably the only one surprised in the room was Caramarin. Maiorescu had never let him down before. A split second of hesitation was all it took before his old paratrooper training took over. He jumped to the balls of his feet and slammed the cheap desk into Videnov and his guard.
Videnov fell down, hitting his back on the floor, his chair under him. The guard was caught off balance but with his boxer training recovered himself quickly. The thug leaned forward and slashed out at Caramarin with the Swiss Army knife, narrowly missing his face.
Caramarin snatched up the vodka bottle before it rolled off the desk and shattered it against the edge. He jabbed it full into the guard's face and twisted it. A shard ripped his cheek open, a flap of skin falling loose. The guard screamed and his hands flew to his face in agony. Blood poured from the open wound flooding down his white shirt.
Caramarin vaulted the desk and stamped on the still prone Videnov. He punched the guard twice in the gut, knocking the wind out of him and then smashed his bald head once, twice onto the desk top, a crack as his nose broke, then kicked his legs out from under him.
He turned to Videnov, grabbed him by his loose tie and sat him up. His glasses hung loose.
"You're f**king dead," said Videnov. His words were tough but his face betrayed his fear.
"I never know the H was fake. Maiorescu's always been okay before. You know that," said Caramarin. He dragged the accountant up. "Pick up your chair and sit down. Hands on your head."
Videnov did as told and Caramarin crouched, keeping an eye on the accountant. He picked up the Swiss Army knife from by the prone thug and gave him another kick to the ribs to remember him by. He opened a desk drawer; found just the usual office junk. The second held the roll of duct tape, car keys and an envelope full of cash. He pocketed the money and keys.
"Sorry about that. Sit still and it won't hurt." He pulled the accountant's arms down and quickly duct taped him to the chair, gagged him and went through his suit. Videnov's weak eyes bulged and he tried to say something. Too late for that now. Caramarin helped himself to the man's phone and the money in the wallet.
"Nice phone, that. One of those smart ones," said Caramarin patting the man's cheek. "Say if you need it. No?"
Caramarin knelt and wrapped more duct tape around the heavyweight's ankles and wrists. Safe for the time being he was about to exit the office when he remembered the girl in the corner.
"F**k!" He crossed the office to her. Her eyes widened in horror and she jerked her head back, making a muffled scream. Caramarin realised he was still holding the Swiss Army knife. With what she had just seen, she must think he was a devil straight from the pits of Hell.
"I'm not going to hurt you. Okay? You're safe with me, okay?" He spoke softly.
He cut away her gag. She made a liar of him straight away. The girl started to scream so he slapped her face. Not hard but enough to silence her. The sound whipcracked round the room.
"Don't make a noise. Come with me and you'll be all right."
She didn't look like she believed him. Not surprising really. He knelt and cut away the duct tape binding her arms and legs to the chair and helped her stand up. She rubbed her arms and legs, wincing as circulation returned.
She was taller than he thought, maybe one point seven five metres, slim and graceful. She was only wearing a black sports bra and pants and was barefoot. Her face was perhaps slightly too long but she looked intelligent. Above it, she had long blonde hair, possibly not from the bottle as he'd thought, tied back in a pony tail.
That was all he had time for at a first glance but it was enough. Caramarin took her arm. He paused by the door. Now the adrenaline was wearing off, he thought about saying something to the tied-up men but didn't. He just switched off the light then locked the door behind him.