However, in me, he had found a kindred spirit, my citizenship was also complicated. I had never held Soviet citizenship, because once most of my family fled, they were outed as American spies. Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, had Russian Citizenship been bestowed back upon the Zeitzev family. My mother had married an Irish man. I held citizenship in Ireland, the US, and Russia. We were pretty sure I also had Tahitian citizenship after marrying Zeke, but we really hadn’t explored it much.
It was easy to hop on a plane with a passport and head to Tahiti. Less easy to hop on a plane and head to Russia, where VISAs were still required. We did know that my Russian citizenship had extended to Zeke once we were married. Since we had dual citizenship with Russia and the US, we didn’t need VISAs, we just had to declare we were here to visit family.
There wasn’t a working elevator which seemed like an oversight, since we trudged up the stairs to the seventh floor. I wasn’t huffing and puffing when we got there, but my thighs were a little sore. I had one flight of stairs in my house and I used elevators in public buildings with more than two floors to walk up. However, as I tried to stretch my thigh muscles a little, I realized why people used stair climbers and ellipticals. If my aunt decided to blow up the floor below us in the next ten minutes, I was not going to get out alive, my thighs were burning a little and felt a little shaky from the climb.
Mostly, I had gone soft in the last two years. Zeke could and did cook, almost every night, so I had put on about ten or fifteen pounds, plus I wasn’t working, so my exercise was mostly with the dogs and bobcats and that didn’t require stairs.
I made another mental note to myself, if I made it out of these meetings alive, I would exercise more, with stairs, as well as figuring out what it meant to be Russian. I seemed to be the only one bothered by the stairs up to the seventh floor. I definitely needed to get a gym membership or something. I had mostly quit smoking, which was good, because I wasn’t sure I would have survived the stairs if I had been out of shape and a smoker.
“You gonna make it?” Zeke asked me. I nodded not trusting myself to talk. I was still trying to figure out the bomb thing.
“Just a heads up, Nadine’s aunt placed a bomb in the office directly below this one.”
Apex solved my problem and I realized my aunt had whispered into the ear that held the communications unit Apex had given us, so he knew about the bomb and I no longer had to be clever and think of a way to encode the message to tell Zeke. I would have to talk to him about the timing. He’d had seven stories to mention it and had only just now decided to tell Zeke.
“Five guys on the other side of the door and none of them look happy.” Apex told us. I almost nodded confirmation but managed to catch myself before I did it.
For a moment, I wondered if seven guys were overkill and then realized I had Vasilli, Zeke, the three Chechens I had met last night, and Apex with me, plus Nikolai downstairs with my aunt. Maybe seven was too few for the mobsters. I was sure they had done some research before agreeing to the meetings, which should have told them that Zeke was a highly trained killer. I didn’t think my new Chechen friends were stone cold killers, but Zeke had been a Navy SEAL and Vasilli had been Spetznaz. Plus, whatever Apex was.
A goon walked past me to the door. I couldn’t think of anything else to call him. He looked like a goon. He was tall with long arms, broad shoulders, and too much muscle. Some men pulled off muscle better than others. I couldn’t imagine Zeke packed with muscles. He had them and they were defined, but he wasn’t the Incredible Hulk, which was a look these two guys appeared to be going for.
My cousin Vasilli also would have passed as a goon, until he started talking. As I understood it, Vasilli was very good at what he did, which was why people hired him, regardless of his tendency to spout off at the mouth and do his own thing, regardless of what people told him to do.
I suddenly realized I didn’t know how old Vasilli was. Nikolai was not the oldest sibling in my mom’s family, he was third or fourth. My aunt Tatyana was the youngest, even though Alex was considerably older than me. I might have been the youngest of my cousins, aside from the new one, that my aunt had managed to keep mostly hidden from us.
My mom was the second oldest and was the oldest female of her generation. It gave her a certain status, that one day, I would inherit, if I ever figured out what it meant to be Russian, beyond dealing with mobsters in my spare time.
“Nadine?” Zeke said my name softly and I snapped to attention. Everyone had entered the room with the five unhappy guys and I hadn’t noticed because I had been thinking about hierarchies in my family.
I took the ten steps to join them in the room and instantly regretted it as the door was closed behind me. There was a bomb somewhere under my feet. What could possibly go wrong?
“Nadine, you look like you might throw up, are you okay?” Apex sounded like he was talking into my brain, like a telepath. I wasn’t sure I liked these communication units. They were too discrete.
“Tea?” One of the goons in the room walked over to a cart and poured out cups of tea. I hated tea, always had. It tasted like dirty pennies smelled. It didn’t matter if it was hot or cold. There wasn’t enough milk, cream, or sugar to make it taste better either. Essentially, I hated it for the same reason I hated coffee, except coffee was just plain bitter, even white coffee was bitter.
“No, thank you,” I answered pointing at the floor. One of the Chechens I had hired put the bag he was carrying near my feet.
“All business?” I was asked by the mobster I was meeting with. “I have more of these meetings and I have family I would still like to see while in the country,” I told him and added in my head, because once I leave, I’m not coming back for a while, even if that meant flying my relatives to see me in the US.
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This book is a work of fiction. Any names, places, characters, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination and are purely fictitious. Any resemblances to any persons, living or dead, are completely coincidental.
Copyright © Hadena James 2016
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