Everything about the woman was a negative. No known drugs. No sex life that the informant knew of, either with men or women. Was not hooked on clothes or jewelry. There was a one-time credit card payment of three hundred dollars to the GAP, which any elegant Manhattan matron would have laughed at.
Rutskoi opened the attachments again and stared at her.
Why risk it? Drake was the most security-conscious human Rutskoi had ever seen. More than any of the Mafiya bosses back in Russia. More than Putin.
Why risk being defenseless for several hours a month? What could possibly be worth it? Drake was vulnerable not only while in the alley, but traveling there and back.
For what? Why?
It couldn’t be the paintings and watercolors and drawings themselves. He was scooping them up already. Wherever he had them stored, if he wanted them, he had access to them. No, it was more than the artwork. It must be for the woman.
Drake wanted to be able to observe the woman, unobserved. To risk so much, he must be obsessed. And he couldn’t afford to let that obsession show to his men. They were loyal, it was true, but loyalty in their world was bought. Drake didn’t have friends, he had employees. And employees could become disloyal. Look at the informant. He had just opened a huge hole in the armor plating surrounding Drake for a miserable fifty thousand dollars.
So here Drake was, obsessed with a beautiful woman who was unaware of his existence, completely defenseless, several hours a month. Grab the woman, force Drake to give up his codes, kill Drake and the woman, become one of the most powerful men on earth, all in one stroke.
This was it.
The decision was made. It was Thursday. He could have everything in place in a few days. This time Tuesday evening, he could be sitting in Drake’s place, king of the world.
Rutskoi picked up his phone. It was time to recruit a partner.
Alleyway outside the Feinstein Art Gallery
Feelings kill faster than bullets, that old Russian army saying, raced through Viktor “Drake” Drakovich’s mind when he heard the noise behind him. It was barely audible. The faint sound of metal against leather, fabric against fabric and the softest whisper of a metallic click.
The sound of a gun being pulled from its holster, the safety being switched off. He’d heard a variation of this sound thousands and thousands of times over the years.
He’d known for a year now that this moment would come. It was only a question of when, not if. He’d been barreling toward it, against every instinct in his body, completely out of control, for a full year.
From his boyhood living wild on the streets of Odessa, he’d survived the most brutal conditions possible, over and over again, by being cautious, by never exposing himself unnecessarily, by being security conscious, always.
What he’d been doing for the past year was the equivalent of suicide.
It didn’t feel that way, though.
It felt like…like life itself.
He could remember to the second when his life changed. Utterly, completely, instantly.
He’d been in his limousine, separated from Mischa, his driver, by the soundproof partition. In the car he never talked, and used the time to catch up on paperwork. It had been years since he’d driven anywhere for pleasure. Cars were to get from A to B, when he couldn’t fly.
The windows were heavily smoked. For security, of course. But also because it had been a long time since the outside world had interested him enough to glance out the windows at the passing scenery.
The heavy armor-plated Mercedes S600 was stopped in traffic. The overhead stoplight continued cycling through the colors, green-yellow-red, green-yellow-red, over and over again, but traffic was at a standstill. Something had happened up ahead. The blare of impatient horns filtered through the armored walls and bulletproof glass of his car, sounding as if coming from far away, like the buzzing of crazed insects in the distance.
A motorcycle eased past the cars like an eel in water. One driver was so enraged at the sight of the motorcyclist making headway, he leaned angrily on his horn, rolled down the window and stuck his middle finger up in the air. He shouted something out, red faced, spittle flying.
Drake closed his eyes in disgust. Even in America, where there was order and plenty and peace—even here there was aggression and envy. Humans never learned. They were like violent children, petulant and greedy and out of control.
It was an old feeling, dating from his childhood, as familiar to him as the feel of his hands and feet. Humans were flawed and rapacious and violent. You used that, profited from it and stayed as much out of their way as possible. It was the closest thing to a creed he had and it had served him well all his life.
Oddly enough, though, lately this kind of thinking had made him…impatient. Annoyed. Wanting to step away from it all. Go…somewhere else. Do something else. Be someone else.
If there were another world, he’d emigrate to it. But there was only this world, filled with greedy and violent people.
Whenever he found himself in this mood, which was more and more often lately, he tried to shake himself out of it. Moods were an excellent way to get killed.
Strangely out of sorts, he looked again at the spreadsheets on his lap. They tracked a 10-million-dollar contract to supply weapons to a Tajikistani warlord, the first of what Drake hoped would be several deals with the self-styled “general.” There was newfound oil in the general’s fiefdom, a goddamned lake of it right underneath the barren, hard-packed earth, and the general was in the mood to buy whatever was necessary to hold on to the power and the oil. When this deal went through smoothly, as it certainly would, Drake knew there would be many more down the line.
Years ago, if nothing else, the thought would have given him satisfaction. Now, he felt nothing at all. It was a business deal. He would put in the work; it would net him more money. Nothing he hadn’t done thousands and thousands of times before.
He stared at the printouts until they blurred, trying to drum up interest in the deal. It wasn’t there, which was alarming. What was even more alarming was the dull void in his chest as he reflected on his indifference. Not being able to care about not being able to care was frightening. Would have been frightening, if he could work up the energy to be frightened.
Restless, he glanced to his right. This section of Lexington was full of bookshops and art galleries, the shop windows more pleasing, less crass than the boutiques with their stupid, outlandish clothes a block uptown.