Page 49 of Beta (Alpha 2)

Kyrie had been sucked into this world as well now. Our interlude in Manhattan had made me believe, if only for a few hours, that we were okay. That I’d be okay. That I could take on the Karahalios clan and win without any casualties on my side.

I’d left Kyrie alone only for a moment. The talk with Harris was supposed to take five minutes, tops. I was going to get him moving on finding Gina before she found us.

God, I’d been such a fool. And Kyrie had paid the price.

I pushed the guilt and the rage out of my mind. I had to, or I’d be useless. I had to focus.

We met Henri’s acquaintances in a bar in the eastern end of Sofia. There were five of them, one of them an older man about Henri’s age who carried himself with the same air of calm, cold capability that Henri possessed. The other four were younger. Mid-thirties. Hard-eyed, lean, and muscular, dark hair and days’ worth of beard growth, smoking an unbroken chain of cigarettes. All four of them could have been from anywhere in Europe or Russia, even the Middle East, possibly, and as we sat down with them, I overheard them speaking to each other in at least three different languages. I didn’t speak any language fluently except English, but I could recognize and pick out words and phrases of most of the common European languages. I sat silently, sipping cheap Scotch and letting Henri and Harris do the talking. I was long out of this world, and I knew the best thing I could do right now was let the others get things moving. Henri, especially, was a man to whom you listened when he spoke, whose directions you followed. He’d made it to old age in a profession that you didn’t so much retire from as survive, and he knew the kinds of people we’d need on our side if we were going to have a chance of getting Kyrie back.

Harris and Kyrie had been lucky when they found me. Gina had been careless, arrogant. She’d assumed sweet, innocent, American Kyrie wouldn’t have a clue about how to find me, much less get me back. She hadn’t counted on Harris. But now…now she would be on high alert. I had to assume she knew where we were, that she was tracking our movements.

Henri and the ex-Spetsnaz boys conversed for several minutes. Then one of the mercs gestured at me with his cigarette. “You are Roth. I know you. I have heard of you.”

I lifted an eyebrow. “Doubtful.”

“No. You work for Vitaly. Many years ago.”

I sighed. “That I did.”

He nods. “I know this. Now he takes your girl? He is not a good enemy to have, I think.”

“Not him. His daughter.”

“Bitch.” The man spat on the floor, a gesture of contempt or disgust. “Even worse.”


“My cousin, he meet her at a bar. Athens. She fuck him. Then she kill him.”

I nod. “That’s her M.O.”

He dragged on his cigarette, exhaled smoke out of his nostrils, and rolled his lips to spew the rest. “Your girl. She is dead, I think.”

“Not yet.” I pointed at him with my glass. “That’s what I want your help with. Get her back alive.”

“It won’t be easy.”

Another one of them spoke up. “Or cheap.”

I glanced at Harris, who very subtly lifted a shoulder. I finished my Scotch. “Name your price.”

The four conversed in undertones, and then the one who claimed to know me tapped the table with a middle finger. “Fifty thousand each. U.S. dollars. Up front.”

I looked to Harris, who lifted his chin slightly in agreement. “Fine. But half now. Half after I’ve got her back.”

“No guarantee of her alive, now or then.” He shrugged. “With that bitch, there is no guarantee of anything.”

I squeezed the glass in my fist, and then forced myself to set it down before I shattered it in my hand. “True. But still. Half now, half after. Regardless of…what happens.”

“Da. This is good.” He lit another cigarette with the cherry of his previous one.

Henri had his laptop open on the table. He swirled red wine at the bottom of his glass, and then set his reading glasses on the table. “She is back in Greece. One of their little island places. The approach will be difficult.”

“Nyet.” The one who seemed to be the spokesman waved a hand in dismissal. “A little boat. Very fast. No problems. But security? That is the problem. Getting out is the problem. I don’t want Vitaly to come look for me when this is done.”

“No witness.” The man on the end, silent up until now, sought me out with his gaze, watching for a demurral.

I shook my head. “Whatever you need to do. I don’t give a fuck. But Gina is mine.”

“I would not go anywhere near her. Not for any money.” He shrugged. “Maybe with rifle, from a thousand meters.”

The spokesman shook his head. “Still too close.”

I tapped the tabletop with my palm. “Enough. What’s the plan?”

The next few hours were spent coming up with a workable solution. Ingress and egress routes, worst case scenarios. Supplies needed. Calls were made, brief, hushed conversations in half a dozen languages. We separated once plans were in place with an agreement to meet at the same airfield at which we’d landed, at dawn the following day.

Sleep was impossible.

I’d managed to avoid worry by keeping my thoughts on the present, on our plans. But with the lights out in a smelly hotel room in Bulgaria, all I could think of was Kyrie. In pain. Afraid. Alone. All I could do was imagine all the ways Gina would find to torture her, just to get back at me. To lure me in. We were walking into a trap. I knew it. Harris knew it. I think Henri knew it. The other four? They were paid enough to not care.

The mercenary had spoken the truth, though, as had Henri.

Kyrie was likely as good as dead.



I was in an empty room, naked, my wrists bound in front of me with zip-ties, and my hands bound to my feet, which were zip-tied as well. It was a painfully uncomfortable position, my torso pulled forward so my knees dug into my stomach, leaving me unable to straighten my legs or my back.

The room was bare stone, big gray flags of stacked and mortared rock. Old. Very old. Subterranean. Lit by a single bare bulb wired to the ceiling. I was gagged, a bitter, foul-tasting sock shoved into my mouth, duct tape across my lips.

Hours had passed. Or maybe just minutes. Days, perhaps? I had no way of knowing. There was no window, no indication of daylight. The room was cold, so cold I shivered nonstop. Hunger and thirst had long since become familiar aches. But yet, ironically, I had to pee. I’d been holding it for what felt like days. I refused to pee on myself, but I didn’t see much choice. I couldn’t hold it forever. I was lying on my side, the hard cold ground digging into my shoulder, hip, and knee.