We drove Kira’s car to the outskirts of the city looking for the hiking trail marked on the map. Several other vehicles shared the parking lot with us when we arrived. We retrieved our gear from the trunk and walked down the groomed trail. One hundred yards later we reached a fork where a bench and outhouses were located. After the dojo incident the police would have posted an APB, all points bulletin which included its description and plate number. Miyamoto had stayed behind. Given the crime scene, the police were unlikely to immediately release Miyamoto. Not long after my name was shared, manslaughter charges would likely result despite the home invasion self-defence explanation. Law enforcement might have attempted to use the possibility of murder charges to gain Miyamoto’s cooperation. What had been an unusual abduction beginning with Odera had escalated considerably. The commonalities between the abduction, the cop’s death at Hidden Oaks, and now at the dojo were impossible to deny. I had no idea what Kira’s father would tell the police. Miyamoto Sasamori would act in our best interest.
I deposited a new pay-as-you-go phone number on Ace’s voicemail. And though it was impossible to use microwave towers to ping our location unless the police had the cellular number, voice recognition software paranoia kept me off the telephone and I kept the battery out during disuse. Practical sense and paranoia were not equal. The police and the Machine could commit mistake after mistake, and they were free to keep trying until they arrested us. It required but one mistake by us and game over. Such was the nature of our position. Every fifteen minutes I replaced the battery to check messages and removed it again.
Not much time had passed before a voice message said, “Near and far, 1742 Critter Street North.”
Old habits die hard. He used our old prison code. Since the first prison was built, prisoners have sent messages out of prison or sent messages from one prison cell to another where interception was a constant threat. To confound guards, prisoners developed private encryptions. Encryptions were memorized, not written down where guards could find them during random cell searches. I finished transferring the licence plates from the vehicle beside ours to Kira’s Hyundai, loaded the trunk with our gear, and climbed inside beside her.
Kira drove while I navigated.
A dark compact waited at the decoded address, which took the form of a two-storey parkade that transitioned into a commercial building above the parking levels. We transferred our gear to the waiting car. I flopped down in the front seat with a brief nod to the driver. Kira slipped into the backseat with her shorter legroom needs. The man who exited the vehicle we entered departed in Kira’s car without a word, destination unknown. Leave it to Ace’s paranoia to think of everything. It had been a long day. I reached into my pocket and brought out a package of cigarettes. My first of the day.
“Dis non-smoking wehicle,” said my Russian driver, who could not have been an inch under six-foot-six.
What was it with giants these days?
He must have tipped the scales at two-hundred and eighty pounds, without a neck, but with biceps like hams stretching the seams of his Men in Black suit. The bucket seat groaned on its steel frame when the colossus turned his hips to look at me.
“Cigarettes toxic to the body,” offered Kira helpfully. “Bad for yang.”
“Don’t make me hurt you,” I growled at the driver ignoring the backseat wannabe.
At his forthright appraisal of my inability to do anything more than piss him off in a fistfight, I stowed my cigarettes back in my pocket. Steroid monkey. He probably kept a bed in the weight pit.
“I like you, little man. You wise-guy comedian,” he announced and chuckled to himself. “You should listen to smart lady if you want to have iron like me in the engine.”
“Chew on any tasty bumpers lately?”
“Nyut, but I tie around necks.”
A thunderous belly laugh filled the car.
“I must have skipped that class.”
His infectious good humour and thick skin put a foreign smile on my face.
“Class? Nyut. I learn myself. Self-taught.”
“School of hard-knocks, eh.”
“Hard-knocks. Ha! Hard-knocks, I like dat. You learn there?”
“Yeah, but I never played well with the other sandbox kids.”
“Russians have snow box. Soviets steal sand.”
“Leave it to the Soviets to find wealth in sand.”
“Do you know the Soviet dictator’s practices?”
“Not firsthand, but I’ve been left holding the snow, only to have it melt, leaving me with nothing but wet hands.”
“Wet hands. Ha! You speak like Russian.”
He clapped my shoulder in what I am certain he considered a friendly gesture, but which nearly drove me through the seat springs. Grimacing discomfort from the hundred cuts his friendly pat evoked, I decided it wiser to close my eyes and enjoy the rest of the ride in silence. To my surprise, Kira and the Russian chatted amicably, laughing often. During two years of kendo lessons, I had never witnessed her interact socially. I discovered my view of Kira to be skewed. It never dawned on me she had friends and a social life. She was simply the old guy’s daughter and co-instructor.
When the car pulled into underground parking, my beefcake driver declared to both of us, but mostly to Kira, “They call me Samson. You call me Alexandrov. Need assistance, you ask for me,” and offered a bear-sized paw that swallowed Kira’s hand with surprising gentleness.
“Thank you, Alexandrov.”
I held the front seat forward for Kira to exit.
“Stay away from fire hydrants, you hear?”
“Yeah, yeah, I hear. Keep hands dry,” he laughed, banging the steering wheel hard enough that I feared it would bend in half. “Little funny man.” Looking at Kira, he said, “Police search for you, but they no say why. Dojo scuffle big news. Bigger mystery. Organized gangs given as reason for gunshots. Your father taken in for questioning. Lone survivor they say of a targeted gangland shooting.”
“Thank you for your concern. I am sure father will recover without further injury to his person.”
A less imposing man waited patiently beside a grey metal door leading into the building and the bank of elevators beyond. We dug our gear out of the trunk, slung the duffel bags over our shoulders and walked toward our escort. A second person carrying a leather briefcase, a woman, held the elevator doors open and then inserted a key into a slot labelled penthouse. She acknowledged Kira and me with quiet eyes and no words.
The man said, “A mutual acquaintance is waiting upstairs.” I nodded politely. “Did you enjoy the ride?” he asked trying not to openly stare at Kira’s freakish beauty.
Instead, he found himself ensorcelled by her luminous, dark almond-shaped eyes and coal-black hair that shone like glossy silk at the slightest movement. Right then and there I decided Kira’s hold over men is why Salem believed witches possessed magic with which to enthrall men. Even the woman with the elevator key and briefcase acknowledged Kira’s aura and physical looks with return glances.
“Sure. Samson’s a gifted conversationalist.”
I smiled to myself, recalling my response the first time Kira and I had met.
Chuckling lightly, my light-haired escort said, “Refugee. Ex-Russian Mafia. Loyal as hell. Since Perestroika, Russians and Romanians have been arriving by the planeload.”
“The car we drove to the meeting place belongs to this lady. Do you think you could ask your boys not to damage it? Also, we borrowed the plates on it from another vehicle. If it’s not too much trouble, the lady would appreciate if someone put them in a mailbox where they might find their way back to the original owner.”
“Sure thing. That would be no trouble at all,” he answered quickly and looked at Kira with puppy love eyes swearing eternal loyalty if she would only pat his head or scratch his belly. “I’d be happy to arrange that your car is returned to you in perfect condition. My name is Mark.”
“Very kind of you, Mark. Thank you.”Mark took the omission of her name in stride and remained silent. I automatically assumed he knew my name. News and media had most likely mentioned Kira’s identity, but that was not the point. His look said he had seen it all before. He appeared no older than mid-twenties. I was surprised to find him in Ace’s inner circle. That he chilled in the corner, that he had quietly accepted the omission of my handshake and Kira’s name as normal, and that he now stood quietly without asking further questions said a lot.