There’s a knock on the door and I’m still in a towel. It’s heavy and curt, so I’m sure it’s Dima. “It’s open,” I call out while putting on some pants. I hear the door open and then shut and then lock behind him. Great, I think, I’m locked in my own apt with an enforcer for the Russian mob.
“Carl,” he enthuses. “You shouldn’t leave door unlocked liked that. You never know who is just going to come in off the street.”
“It’s a pretty safe neighborhood,” I say pulling a shit on over my head. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“It’s my job to worry about what concerns Vlad,” he points out. “How come you haven’t been back to the office?”
“All this extra work for Vlad, it’s been taking up all my free time time,” I say lighting a cigarette.
“I understand,” he smiles. “But all work and no play is no good,” he assures me. I shrug. “Come,” he says, “I wanna show you something. Vlad has new ideas for website,” he says, sweeping empty beer cans onto the floor and dropping a manila envelope on the counter.
I look at him inquisitively from across the room. He looks back at me expectantly. He doesn’t have to remind me there’s nothing I can do about it. I walk over to the counter.
“Open it,” he says, tapping a large middle finger on it.
I untie the tether. There’s a stack of photos and a pen inside. A note reads: “Say nothing about these pictures. Pretend to talk about something else.
“Hey, you want a beer?” I ask playing along.
“Nyet, it’s too early,” he says
“Would you mind passing me one,” I ask turning to the photo underneath. He humors me while I examine the photo. It’s a picture of the agent who was in the sedan outside the cafe this morning. A post-it note reads: “This guy has been watching the agency.” I now understand why they don’t want me saying anything out loud. I begin to sweat.
“I don’t know about this color palettes,” I say playing it cool. “They’re a little tacky. But I like the layout.”
The next picture is of the agent meeting Nelson. The post-it reads: “So we followed him to this guy.” My heart sinks. A lump rises in my throat.
“Maybe the sidebar could be a little wider,” I say.
The third photo is of agent Harris buying takeout from the greasy spoon around the corner. The fourth of him parked down the street. The post-it reads: “So we followed that guy and see that he is watching you.”
The sixth picture is of agent Harris talking to me at the bar. The seventh one is from this morning at the cafe. “But you already knew that,” the post-it reads.
Dima look menacing and I begin laughing hysterically.
“What’s so funny?” he demands.
“Remember when I asked Vlad if he was following me?” I ask. “Well these are the guys who have been. They’re private dicks. My ex-wife sent them because she wants more alimony,” I lie. “They’re following me around to try and figure out how many clients I have and how much money I make.”
“Then why are they watching us?” he asks.
“Because they’re bad at their job and think I’m a partner in the agency,” I retort.
“I don’t believe you Carl,” he sneers. “They look like cops”
“They probably were once upon a time, but were either too lazy or stupid to be any good at it,” I say. “But let me prove it to you,” I say. I drain my beer and slam the empty on the counter. Getting into character is everything. “Follow me,” I say.
I lead us out the back and we scuttle down the fire escape. Dima seems to understand that I’m sneaking up on them, and I’m praying that Nelson has been listening in and is ready to play along. We get to the end of the alley and I peer around the corner. The sedan from this morning is there, not the van.
“Give me your gun,” I say, holding out my hand.
“No,” he growls and suddenly I understand the metaphor of the Russian bear. It’s unsettling.
“Unload it if you want,” I say, “but if you want proof, I need a piece.” He shrugs, ejects the clip, pulls back and catches the single ejected round in mid-air. Dima hands me the pistol and I release the slide catch. The nickel-plated slide jerks forward and the weight tugs at my write. I smile and dart off toward the car. Watching the rearview mirror, I see that the sniveling joker from this morning sitting in the driver’s seat – not agent Harris – and I’m hoping that he plays along. I’m hoping he doesn’t draw his sidearm: mines unloaded.
I smash the driver’s side window with the pistol grip and the agent startles. “Get the fuck out of the car,” I say pressing the muzzle to his head.
He holds up his hands. “Okay, just don’t shoot,” he pleas.
“Nice and slow,” I warn him as he reaches for the seatbelt buckle. I hear it click and I fling the door open and pull him out by his hair. He tries resisting but I bludgeon his nose with the pistol grip. Then I clinch the back of his neck and drive my right knee into his liver. He crumples and folds into a ball on the ground. Dima walks up so I kneel on the agent’s neck and press the muzzle to his head.
“That bitch wants to follow me,” I say, “that’s fine. But you leave my fucking clients alone! You understand me you gumshoe piece of shit?”
“Yes,” he sniffles. “I understand!” He’s terrified. He didn’t expect this. He didn’t sign up for this. That’s probably why he was assigned to tail a drunken deadbeat hipster instead of someone more interesting. It’s funny how quickly these things get out of control.
“Good,” I say. “Now get better at your job because the next time I see you, I’m gonna put a fucking bullet in your face!”
The agent is crying and bleeding, sniffling on blood and snot, trying not to choke. Dima is laughing. I reach into the agent’s jacket, grab his sidearm, eject the clip, and clear the chamber. Dima catches that round in mid-air, too. I drop the government issue 9mm next to him.
“Now, how about that beer?” I ask Dima handing him his gun.
“Yes, I think it’s time,” he chuckles. I start walking back toward the apartment. “No, this way,” he says nodding toward his SUV. “It’s better if we’re not here right now.”
I don’t really feel like getting into a car with an enforcer who was just sent over to rub me, but what choice do I have? “You’re right,” I sigh.
We climb into the truck and the agent is still struggling to his feet. Dima laughs again. “Very good,” he affirms.
I watch us pull away in the rearview mirror. The agent is still standing in the middle of the road, confused and bleeding, and I wonder what kind of repercussions this is going to have. Well, at least I’m still alive, I assure myself, and for the moment, that’s the most I can hope for.