Chimera (The Korsak Brothers #1)(5)

It would’ve been better if I’d been bearing a gun.

The room was where Gurov conducted most of his business and was soundproofed for all the obvious reasons. That was how three of our own could be lying on the floor with no one out in the bar any the wiser—lying there, motionless and bloody. Copper was thick in the air, saturating every molecule with slippery, gleeful fingers. It would’ve been easy to choke on the metallic taint and even easier to freeze at the sight before me. Luckily, my sense of self-preservation was stronger than that.

With my hands full, the gun resting in my shoulder holster may as well have been at home in my underwear drawer for all the good it did me. With the killer’s back to me, I had a split second to make my move. And I made it before I even consciously realized the identity of the one who propelled the motion. The vodka bottle in my right hand swung to a high arc, then plummeted down just as Gregori started to turn. It hit him at the base of his skull and dropped him instantly. The Glock in his hand was released by nerveless fingers and skittered across the tile floor.

Gregori . . . I’d like to say I didn’t believe it, but hell, I’d learned to believe anything. That loyalty could be bought and sold was a given on these streets—on any street for that matter. I recognized the killer just as I recognized everyone in the room. The three dead or injured on the floor were men I worked with almost every day. The one I’d laid out with the bottle, Gregori Gurov, was Konstantin’s cousin. Family. Konstantin himself didn’t look any more surprised by that than I did.

“You’re late,” came his gravelly voice. As I bent over to retrieve Gregori’s gun, the icy gray eyes fixed on me. Without a blink he’d stood facing certain death from his cousin. As Gregori had aimed his gun at him, Konstantin had calmly met his fate without emotion. When I’d walked through the door, there hadn’t been a twitch to betray my presence. Konstantin didn’t have ice water in his veins; he had Freon. Coolant for blood and a vacuum for a soul; that was the man who signed my paycheck—so to speak.

“Sevastian seems to have a problem remembering my number,” I said, kneeling to feel for a pulse on the guy nearest to me. “I guess we both owe the shithead, huh, boss?”

The skin beneath my fingers was cool to the touch and unruffled by a beating artery. I gnawed at my lower lip and shook my head. Paulie, goddamnit. This had never been the life for you. You should’ve taken that pretty girlfriend of yours to Vegas, married her, and made lots of fat babies. He’d been a happy-go-lucky son of a bitch who’d been born into the business, same as I. Always one to go with the flow, he’d drifted here, drifted there, and now had ended up facedown on a sticky bar floor. When you drifted, you risked getting caught in a rip-tide. Paulie had been sucked down and gobbled up by a merciless sea. If it hadn’t been for that pain-in-the-ass Sevastian, I’d have probably gone down with him.

The other two were just as lifeless, and I rubbed a hand hard across my face. For all my big talk, I hadn’t seen much death before, not like this. Before becoming a byk, a bodyguard, for Gurov, I’d gone to college for a few years and done some drifting of my own. In the end I hadn’t fought the recruiting of “Uncle” Konstantin. A friend of my father’s, he hadn’t cut me any slack. Clever and with an iron fist of control, he was a potent mix, and it tended to ensure that wholesale slaughter didn’t often happen. That sort of thing, he’d said on more than one occasion, wasn’t good for business—entertaining, but not profitable. The man had a style of management; there was no denying it.

“Go. Tell Sevastian to bring a cleanup crew.” Those transparent eyes moved from me to the stirring form of Gregori. “I wish to speak with my cousin.” The ice abruptly was stained the color of shadows. “Apparently he is unhappy with his current position.”

I left without a backward glance. One killer, two killers . . . and a bloodstained bottle of expensive vodka. It was like a very nasty version of a nursery rhyme, and I wasn’t particularly wild about catching the live show. It only struck me halfway to Sevastian and the door that I was still carrying one bottle of Mosko. Cracking it open, I took a swallow as I kept walking. It was going to be a long night.

Chapter 2

Watching the sunrise was a tradition for lovers, nature enthusiasts, or poets. It wasn’t for the likes of me. But I sat there anyway, on the beach with sand gritty between my toes. Rays the color of a beautiful woman’s hair spilled across the horizon, strawberry blond silk gleaming bright. Crimson and gold, it reflected onto the ocean, transforming it into a fractured kaleidoscope. The colors of the peacock and phoenix mingled into an incomparable whole. I laughed without humor. Maybe I was a poet after all.

I’d discarded my shoes, worn black loafers, at the water’s edge. They were probably halfway to Cuba by now. I had spent nearly a half hour standing in the water, the salt scouring the skin of my ankles and feet cleaner than they cared to be. If it would’ve helped, I would’ve dunked my head and let the salt scrub my brain. Last night was a memory I wouldn’t have minded having wiped clean—four bodies wrapped in plastic tablecloths and duct tape. I hadn’t been in the room when Gregori was “promoted,” but I’d felt the heavy weight of an erased life in my hands when I helped load his still body into a car trunk and watched as he and the others were carried away. Death no longer rode astride a pale horse. He’d traded up . . . Mercedes, Jags. The Grim Reaper had expensive taste. Now I sat, my legs unwilling to carry me back home. Drifting, I’d gotten carried into some damn black water, and I wasn’t sure I cared enough to try to swim out. Almost half my life had revolved around finding my brother. I hadn’t paid attention to much else, and this was where it had landed me.

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