"How is it that you haven't seen 'Evil Dead?' It's not like you haven't had the time since it came out," Eric Austen shook his head.
"When it came out, I was only five and live in Vladivostok. Was still Soviet Union then, so we don't get American films," Alexy replied, rolling down the Land Rover's window a crack and lighting a cigarette.
"Yeah, but you've been in this country, what, six or seven years now?"
"And in all that time, no one's said, 'Hey, Alexy, have you ever seen 'Evil Dead?'"
"They have not."
"Well, that's something we're going to have to fix. We get done with this thing, I'm having you over to my place. Beer, nachos, Evil Dead. You in?"
"Are you coming?"
"Sure. If movie is as good as you say it is."
"Oh, it's pretty much the best movie ever."
Eric and Alexy were driving down I-75 from Tampa to Miami. Julian had asked the two of them to go to a meeting with some Triad types -- Chinese mafia guys that Julian wanted to work with against the Russians. Despite being Russian by birth, Alexy seemed to have no problem with this -- his dislike of the Russian Mafia was what made Julian want to hire him, in fact.
Apparently, when he was a younger man and still living in Russia, Alexy had run afoul of the mob, and had lost his two sisters in the process. Now that he was in the States, he jumped at every chance Julian gave him to lash out against his former countrymen. His knowledge of their organization had come in useful more than once, and Eric had made it a point to learn as much as he could from Alexy Odoshevny.
"What do we know about the Chinamen?" Alexy asked, offering the pack of cigarettes across to Eric, who took one hand off the Land Rover's steering wheel and took one of the Dukats out of the box.
"Well, first, we know not to call them Chinamen. They really don't dig that," Eric laughed, lighting his smoke.
"Political correctness. Is bane of my existence, Eric."
"Second, we know that they're Triads, so they're well-organized and can be violent when they want to. I have the feeling that the less we say around them, the better off we'll be. It's like meeting your girlfriend's parents for the first time -- yes sir, no sir, please and thank you, all that shit."
"This, I can do."
"Good. We're just there to open lines of communication, so I don't anticipate any problems. We're supposed to invite them up to Julian's house in Tampa next week for some kind of get-together, and just sort of feel them out on a possible merger of certain operations."
"And I am here because?"
"Because Julian asked me to go, and I get bored on long car rides, so I asked him to send you along."
"You did not feel like talking to Russel the whole way?"
"I think you've noticed by now that Russel is rather limited, conversationally."
"That is one way to say it. Another is to say he is creepy," Alexy nodded.
The meet in Miami was at a South Beach restaurant, one that Eric was pretty sure he'd eaten at a few years before. He'd had no idea then that it was a Chinese Mafia front -- he just remembered it as being somewhat swank and expensive.
"Eric Austen and Alexy Odoshevny," Eric winked at the hostess, a cute blonde 22 year-old.
"Yes. Mr. Tong is waiting for you in the VIP room. This way, please, gentlemen," the hostess replied, stone-faced.
"Your game, I think it needs work," Alexy muttered as they followed the hostess.
"Apparently," Eric shook his head.
"Eric! Alexy! Welcome to Miami, guys!" Jian Wa Tong bellowed from his table. Jian Wa was young, perhaps 22, but already working on a middle-aged quality gut. He was dressed in a smooth black suit and black shirt and smoking a cigar.
"Hey, Jian Wa. Good to meet you in person, my man," Eric said, sticking out his hand. The young Chinese took it and shook vigorously.
Alexy offered his hand as well, and Jian Wa shook it with the same enthusiasm. He motioned to the table, a lacquered cherry-wood four-top, and as Eric sat, he saw for the first time the huge Chinese bodyguard just behind Jian Wa, almost completely hidden in the shadows of the room.
"Your man joining us?"
"Only if there's trouble," Jian Wa smiled widely.
Jian Wa opened a box of cigars, offering them to Alexy and Eric, who each took one and lit up.
"Something to eat, gentlemen? A cocktail, perhaps?"
"I'd love a gin and tonic," Eric said.
"The same," Alexy nodded.
"No vodka?" Jian Wa grinned widely.
"Never had the taste for it," Alexy grinned right back.
A waiter appeared from behind the huge guard, three gin and tonics on his tray. He set them down on the table. Eric took a sip from his -- it was a bit watered down, but acceptable.
"So, brass tacks, gentlemen. You didn't drive four hours on a Saturday evening for no reason. What can I do for you?"
"Brass tacks. I like it. To be blunt -- you have problems with the Russians. We have problems with the Russians. We've mostly driven them out of Tampa, but they're still fucking with our operations in Miami -- operations, I might add, that don't cross with your operations."
"Yeah, the Russians are assholes, no doubt. No offense," Jian Wa tipped his glass at Alexy.
"No, I tend to agree, sir," Alexy smirked.
"But what's to say that once we get rid of them, we don't have something worse to deal with? Your people, for example?"
"Valid concern. We don't intend to cross you, and if you don't intend to cross us, there's no problem there."
"You know what my father taught me? Never trust a criminal. Of course, he didn't think that one day I'd be a criminal, so I don't know how valid that advice was. Alexy, let me ask you something. Do you trust this man?"
"You seem like a trustworthy man, indeed. So here's what I'm prepared to do. I'm prepared to make this agreement, Eric, with you. If it goes well, you and I are the best of friends. If it goes badly, you're the one I blame. Deal?"
Eric couldn't help it, but looking into Jian Wa Tong's smiling eyes, he realized that nothing would make him happier than hunting Eric down and slicing him up.
"Deal," Eric said anyway, forcing a smile.
* * *
It was almost three in the morning by the time Eric had made it back to Tampa and dropped Alexy off at his Bayshore Gardens apartment building. Still, Julian had told him to come to the house and report as soon as he got back, and Julian never seemed to sleep, so he drove about a half a mile south down Bayshore until he got to Julian's neighborhood.
When he had first moved to Tampa, he'd joked that a lot of the houses in the Bayshore Beautiful neighborhood looked like "Colombian Drug Lord Houses." It made a certain kind of sense to Eric that Julian would buy a house here -- it was very much like him. Opulent, expensive, and a bit on the obnoxious side, but charming nonetheless.
Eric had stopped ringing the doorbell at Julian's place years ago. Julian rarely kept the front door locked if he was expecting Eric to drop by, as we was tonight, so Eric simply walked in and turned on the lights in the entryway. The place seemed empty.
"Julian? You home?" Eric called out.
"Eric, darling! In the kitchen. Hope you haven't just eaten!"
Eric assumed that Julian had been up late cooking again, which wasn't uncommon -- several times, Julian had told him that he would have been a chef if there was any money in it. As he walked into the kitchen, though, he saw that Julian had not, in fact, been making a tasty meal. Rather, he and Russel were making a bloody mess of the tile kitchen.
Eric had met the man strapped to the heavy oak chair once or twice before. His name was Jason, and he worked for Julian as a runner -- a low-level drug dealer. From the state he was in now, though, Eric was honestly surprised he recognized the man -- his face and torso were covered in blood, and large swatches of skin had been flayed away from his body. If Jason wasn't already dead, from the amount of blood covering the kitchen, he would be soon.
"Eric, you remember Jason. Jason seemed to think he could deal with the Russians behind my back, feed them information on us. Now poor Jason's had an appointment with Russel's Hissatsu," Julian shook his head sadly.
Russel held up the aforementioned knife, a long, thin, sick-looking modernization of a Japanese Tanto. It was slick with blood, and Russel was grinning that freaky grin again.
"Well," Eric shrugged, "Sometimes you have a human resources issue to deal with."
"See, Russel? This is why we like him. He gets us," Julian beamed.
Russel nodded, wiping the knife with what Eric assumed had been Jason's shirt.
"How'd the meeting with the Chinese go, my boy?"
"Looks like we can do business together. Tong will be up to meet and greet next week. I'm personally on the hook for this one, though, boss, so can we try and be nice to this guy?" Eric chuckled.
"But Eric, my boy. . . I'm always nice to everybody," Julian smiled, then looked over at Jason. "Well, except him, of course."
Eric finished his report on the meeting, making sure to mention the muscle Jian Wa had on deck even for a social call. Julian listened, nodding, and thanked him for the information. As Eric left, he tried not to step in any of Jason's blood on the way out.
It was no mean feat -- there certainly was a lot of it.