Page 48 of Beta (Alpha 2)

“You won’t get any judgment from me on that score, boss. Shit, I’d pull the trigger myself.”

Long minutes of silence, then: “Where are we going?”

“Airport,” Harris said. “We’re meeting Henri in Paris.”


“Yeah. He called me late last night. Karahalios burned him out. Torched the whole building his bar was in. Sent a couple of guys to his personal residence. Obviously, that didn’t work out so well for Karahalios’s boys, and now Henri is out for blood.”

“I’m sorry that he’s involved.”

He glanced at me. “Didn’t have much choice. They were gunning for us, and I didn’t know who to trust. I had to stash her somewhere safe while I worked out transportation to Greece.”

I nodded. “I know. I get it. I just don’t like it. He’s retired. He shouldn’t have to be in this shit.”

“Or any of us, for that matter.”

“Yeah.” I brought up the pictures on my phone, keeping the rage stoked. “How do we find her?”

“Henri brought some gear with him. I think he can probably track that phone number, unless she’s got some kind of encryption on it. We’ll find her. I promise.”

My phone chimed as we landed, indicating a text message: Val, my dear. I know you well enough to know you’re planning to rescue your little slut. Don’t. You’ll only make things worse for her. Much worse. Stay away until I summon you.

Harris’s phone beeped twice, and he glanced at it briefly, then at me. “We have to stop in Harlem,” Harris said, banking the chopper.

The stop in Harlem was brief. Harris found a landing pad on the roof of a building I owned, and left on his own. After a forty-five-minute wait, Harris returned carrying a huge black duffel bag and rolling a battered Samsonite suitcase. I helped him lift the bags into the chopper, and they were both very heavy. Weapons, clearly.

From Harlem we went to my private hangar at LaGuardia. Harris had obviously called ahead to have the Gulfstream prepped and a flight plan logged. The hours to Paris were the longest of my life. I spent the entire flight on edge and impatient, rage billowing through me with every breath.

A Mercedes was waiting for us when we landed, and Harris slid into the driver’s seat, guiding the vehicle away from the airport and into the narrow streets of Paris. Thirty minutes from wheels-down, we were stopped outside a hotel and Henri was sliding into the rear seat, buckling his belt and speaking to Harris in French too rapid for me to follow. Harris nodded and then responded, pointing at me, indicating my phone. Henri took my phone from my hand without a word. He pulled a laptop from a backpack and connected a cord from the phone to the computer, then began rapidly tapping the keys.

“Wish I could say it was good to see you, Henri,” I said. “Sorry about your bar. I’ll buy you a new one when this is over.”

“Non. I do not want your money, boy. I want the bitch dead. I want Vitaly dead. I can rebuild my own fucking bar. You know as well as I that you do not retire from this business. I was a fool to think I could.” He glanced up at me over the rims of his reading glasses. He looked like an innocent, kindly grandfather, until you looked into his eyes. “But it is good to see you.”

“Thank you for what you did for Kyrie.”

“It is nothing. She is a beautiful girl. And one with real spine, oui? She did not faint away when things got messy.” He tapped a few more times. “The bitch is arrogant. No security on her phone at all. This will be easy to find her. She is in transit, I think. Over the Atlantic.”

“You saw the photos and the message?” I asked.

He nodded. “Oui. I did.” His gaze met mine, direct, hard as granite and merciless. “You must decide, Roth. Do you accept her instructions to keep Kyrie safe? Or do you take whatever steps are necessary to take her back, and so risk her life?”

I wiped at my face with both hands. “What would you do?”

Henri was silent for a few moments, closing his laptop and storing it in his messenger bag. “She is an evil woman, Gina Karahalios. A spawn of the devil himself. She has no mercy. She has no intention of sparing Kyrie, nor you. I think, if it were me, if this were my daughter or granddaughter, I would not stop until I had her back, dead or alive. She will not live long in the hands of the Karahalios bitch. I think you know this.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I agree.” I ground my teeth together, and then blew out a breath as I decided. “We take her back.”

“At all costs.” Henri made a phone call, speaking in what sounded like French-accented Russian, and then hung up.

“Now. A private airport, and a flight to Sofia. I have several…acquaintances meeting us there.”

“Sofia?” I blinked, processing. “As in Bulgaria?”

Henri’s lips curled in a faint smile. “Certainment. One of my oldest friends lives there. He knows some people who can help us, no questions asked. Only need…oh, a hundred grand, U.S. Maybe two. Easy.”

“Cash?” I asked.

“That is preferable, I think.” Meaning, Obviously, you idiot.

“I brought cash,” Harris put in, setting a destination into the car’s GPS. “We’ll have enough.”

“These friends of yours—” I began.

Henri cut in. “Not friends. They are not the type you would be friends with, I think. But they are professional. Previously Spetsnaz, I believe, although I am not sure.” He shot me a piercing glance. “You trust me, Roth?”

“With my life. With Kyrie’s, more importantly.”

He nodded. “Well, then. These men will do.”

Enough said.

* * *

We landed on an airstrip in the countryside an hour’s drive outside Sofia itself. The airstrip wasn’t really big enough for the jet Harris was flying, but he brought us down and stopped us just short of the end of the runway. An old blue Mercedes van waited for us, smoke-filled, stinking of fish and body odor and stale cigarettes. The driver said nothing. Henri said nothing. No one said anything, not for the entire hour-long drive into the city. Henri and Harris carried the various cases of weapons with them, while I carried the briefcase full of cash that Harris had, somehow, had the foresight to procure.

I was falling back into a world I thought I’d left behind. Sullen, unwashed, unnamed drivers, acrid cigarette smoke curling in the thick air of a van. Suitcases full of weapons and cash. The complex cultures of southern Europe: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania. Dark purposes you didn’t think about too closely, acquaintances whose real names and INTERPOL records you definitely didn’t want to know about.