Dmitri was watching her with those piercing eyes as she cut into her steak. Bishop’s was famous for broiling their steaks in butter and Victoria could hardly wait to eat it. The massively thick porterhouse she had ordered was blackened on the outside but welled up blood as she sliced into it. She had ordered it rare and it was done to perfection.
“Oh wow, that’s amazing.” She closed her eyes, savoring the taste. “You really should have gotten yours rare, the flavor is so much better.”
Dmitri shook his head slightly, “I prefer medium. A tougher piece of meat is worth the added protection against pathogens.”
“I dunno, this steak might just be worth dying for.” She grinned at him. His face was inscrutable as he took another drink from the glass of straight vodka he had ordered. Her phone vibrated a message. She idly tapped into it with Adam’s Bluetooth connection and read it while continuing to demolish the meat on her plate.
‘Hi Tori, you need to call Eugene right now! Everything I had pulled up about this Global Enterprise Group has just been expunged from the web. That is impossible, nobody can just wipe things off the web! Whoever they are I think they have a little more muscle than I had initially anticipated, or maybe just more talent.
‘The only thing I have to go on is a ship called the Misery and a person called Seraphim. No surname, no title, no rank, just Seraphim. I am going to try and assemble the minions and burn into the night. Get ahold of Eugene as fast as you can and then get home so we can plan our next move.’
Victoria stood up, “Just need to go powder my nose.” She said, grabbing her purse. Dmitri watched her without comment but she could feel his eyes on her until she was out of sight of the table. She quickly pulled her phone from her purse and hit the third speed dial. Eugene’s phone rang three times and went to voicemail.
“Hi Eugene, just checking in to see how things were going. Life’s grand on my end you have my number if you want to hit me back.” She hung up with a sense of foreboding.
“Is everything OK Miss Scott?” Victoria almost jumped out of her skin; Ivanov was standing not three feet from her.
“Christ, you scared the crap out of me!” She exclaimed, “What the hell are you doing sneaking up on me like that?”
“My apologies Miss Scott I was just returning from the men’s room and noticed you here alone.” He gave her a penetrating look, “You are all right aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m fine, just a bit of a problem with a friend. Nothing to worry about, thanks for asking.” She went to the ladies room, touched up her makeup and was back at the table in a few minutes. When she sat down, Dmitri had a troubled look on his face.
“I fear for Dr. Arlington Victoria. He was supposed to attend a fundraising meeting earlier in the evening and apparently never showed up; very uncharacteristic for him. Also, he hasn’t returned any of my counterpart’s phone calls today which is completely out of character. Do you know anything that might assist us? I only wish the best for him you know.”
In spite of everything, Victoria was still reluctant to tell him everything. Acknowledging that there could be a problem risked exposing Yuen-Ja and that wasn’t something she was willing to chance.
“That’s strange, he hasn’t answered my phone calls either. If I find anything out, I’ll be sure to come to you for help first.”
Dmitri visibly relaxed, “It would be an insult to me if you went elsewhere. If I hear anything I will of course keep you apprised of the situation.” He glanced at his watch, “I fear it is time for me to bring you home. If I wish to remain in your family’s good graces I had better have you back on time.”
“I can hardly believe it’s that late. This evening has passed altogether too quickly.” Victoria gave him a genuine smile, “I really have enjoyed myself. Thank you Dmitri.”
“The pleasure my dear was all mine.” The waiter, who had blessedly been nearly nonexistent the entire night suddenly appeared by his left elbow as though sensing some unseen signal.
“What do you require sir?”
“Only the check please.” Said Dmitri, reaching for his wallet.
“I could never ask you to pay sir. You know that your meal is on the house. Please come back as often as you desire, I will always have a table for you Master Nikitin.”
“What a pleasant man. Who was he Dmitri? How did you manage to swing a deal like that?” Victoria was genuinely impressed.
“I procured the paperwork needed to secure this property and make it zoned for a commercial restaurant as opposed for residential purposes. That man was James Bishop didn’t you recognize him from the papers?” Dmitri didn’t act like it was a big deal at all. It was a matter of course that the owner of a new five star establishment would be bowing and scraping to his every whim. Just like it was in high school, he was totally out of her league.
Taking a deep breath to compose herself, Victoria laid her hand on Dmitri’s waiting arm and allowed him to escort her to the limo. Ivanov was there, already holding the door and still outlined by faint orange lines. She met his eyes and gave him a careful nod of acknowledgement.
Momentary surprise flickered across his face and he returned her look with what she would describe as cautious interest. If she was going to hope to keep the upper hand with someone like him she needed to be perceived at least as very smart if not a potential threat. Dangerous men that fit his profile tended to respect intelligence and hold threats at arm’s length.
Dmitri sat next to her this time instead of across from her. He leaned in close, smelling of alcohol, cologne and faintly of cigarettes. “You are a fascinating woman. I know you are hiding things, important things. I know Dr. Arlington is in danger and that you are aware of it. I am as certain of this as I am certain that you are sitting next to me. There is also the possibility that you know that I know and yet you have the guts to come with me, sit here in my car, under my power and show absolutely no sign of intimidation whatsoever.”
He leaned back and seemed to unconsciously pull a black cigarette case from an inside pocket of his suit. Taking a black cigarette with a gold filter from the case he gestured with it. “You even surprised Ivanov, something which I have only seen three times before. Something about the way your mind works balances decisions on a razor’s edge of logic and seems to always make the most logical choice.”
Damn, well if he knew about things it was time to come clean. After all he had a lot of power and influence. The more she kept from him the more he would likely imagine she was keeping from him and imagination was always worse than reality. That said, the situation needed to be approached from an angle that would more endear her to him than alienate.
“Honestly Dmitri, I just didn’t want to embroil you in my problems you know? A man like yourself has plenty of other things to deal with without having to –“
“Did I not say I would be insulted if you did not come to me for help first?” Dmitri’s eyes blazed as he looked at her.
“I haven’t gone to anyone for help. I tend to work alone, especially when I suspect the work is dangerous.” Victoria folded her arms, “If you want to be involved then you’re going to hear everything. Some of it you might not want to be exposed to, some of it might get you killed and most of it would get ME killed or at least put in a government laboratory somewhere for the rest of my life. Are you willing to take that risk?”
The car accelerated smoothly onto the freeway but the interior was completely silent for a few moments. Dmitri lit his cigarette and opened a small vent above his head that pulled most of the smoke out of the cabin. He was looking directly at her the entire time, smoking and thinking. She could almost see the thoughts clicking into place behind his eyes. When he had finished his cigarette he finally spoke.
“For now I think it might be best for both of us if I was not involved. I apologize for my former reaction; sometimes I allow my ego to overshadow logic. If you are in any immediate danger or have the need of something that you believe I can provide for you do not hesitate to contact me.” He handed her a black business card with simple white lettering.
“You have an unfathomable ability to read situations and come up with the solution that best benefits you nearly every time. Some time I would like to bring you in as a consultant for my business. You would make an excellent negotiator.” He smiled in earnest this time, but instead of looking mirthful it had the effect of sharpening his features to look more like a bird of prey or a mountain lion about to spring upon some hapless creature.
Victoria shivered, partially due to the danger of the look but also because his feral expression was so exciting. “I may take you up on that, it sounds interesting.”
He laughed, a mirthless bark. “Even now you leave your exits wide open. Victoria, I have not been bullied like this since my mother was alive. You are extraordinary indeed, this was a most enjoyable and fruitful evening. My father was wise to make this investment, it is sure to pay off a thousand fold.”