Art by Tim Foley
A ST. NICHOLAS SALVAGE & WRECKING GIG
by Dana Haynes
Katalin Fiero Dahar lunched in Madrid with her mother, in a sunny, street-side restaurant on Calle de Segovia, featuring an outdoor dining area under trellises heavy with pomegranate flowers, bougainvillea, and red carnations. She didn’t get to Madrid often; she and her business partner, Michael Patrick Finnigan, lived on the island of Cyprus. But it was always good to get home and to fit some time in with her famous journalist/activist mother.
Kadija Dahar arrived late and left early, but they had a full forty minutes in between, which is more than Fiero had had with her mother in better than a year. She took the forty minutes and called it good.
After lunch, Fiero stepped into the ladies’ restroom to freshen up before catching a taxi to the airport. Michael was in Brussels, and he had their company’s de Havilland Otter. Fiero was flying commercial on this trip, for the simple reason that her parents believed she and Michael to be low-level bureaucrats, churning out dull-as-dishwater reports for the European Union.
Low-level bureaucrats don’t own their own airplanes. Especially ones outfitted with an arsenal and false identifications and restraints in the cargo hold.
Fiero and Finnigan made their living as bounty hunters, tracking down the worst of the world’s worst criminals and delivering them—for a significant fee—to the various courts of Europe. The de Havilland and its pilot were part of St. Nicholas Salvage & Wrecking, a faux Cypriot marine salvage firm that served as a cover for their work.
Nice work if you can get it. Tough to explain to a leftist academic mother and a baron of Spanish industry such as her father.
After lunch, Fiero studied herself in the bathroom mirror, surprised, as always, by her chameleon skills when she visited her parents. Gone were her unusual selection of matchstick jeans, cropped black tanks, biker jackets, and boots. She was a tall, athletic woman; few curves, all angles; Spanish and Algerian. In her work clothes, as Finnigan often said, she looked like a sword in a scabbard. Safely tucked away, a threat to no one... for now.
For this visit, she wore a belted, sleeveless summer-weight dress of cornflower blue, low heels, pearls in her ears, and a simple strand round her neck. Her purse was Jimmy Choo. She wore a hijab, but not over her head; she wore it as an ivory scarf. Her Algerian mother wore the traditional hijab and, should journalists or academics stumble upon the famed Kadija Dahar dining with her daughter, Fiero could craft a quick head covering without making a scene.
She couldn’t wait to get home and to get out of what Michael insisted on calling “girl clothes.”
Back in the main dining area, a man in a fine beige suit and Spanish brogues caught her attention and smiled brilliantly. He was five ten—the same height as Fiero—with a thick, black mustache and hair swept straight back.
“Ms. Fiero. How do you do?”
He spoke English but with a Russian accent.
“Can I help you?”
He said, “The first thing to know is that Michael Patrick Finnigan is dead.”
Fiero froze. She felt her heart rate slow down; felt blood flow to her hands and feet. Finnigan often joked that other people had fight-or-flight mechanisms hardwired into their brain. Fiero had only a fight mechanism.
The man smiled and shrugged. “He is dead metaphorically, I grant you. But his death is a foregone conclusion unless steps are taken.”
He gestured toward a table, featuring a coffee urn, cream and sugar, and two fresh cups. “May I?”
He held the chair for her as she sat.
He sat, too, but not opposite her; at her right, a quarter way around the small table, so they could speak sotto voce. He made a snapping gesture with his linen napkin, slid it onto his lap. “The second thing to know is that there are guns trained on you right now.”
Fiero said, “I see.”
“The third thing to know . . .” He stopped and poured coffee into both cups. “Sorry. Manners. Cream?”
He poured. “The third thing to know is that we expect you to perform a specific act. That act, and that alone, will serve as a stay of execution for Michael Patrick Finnigan.”
He spoke the whole name slowly, enunciating each syllable.
“No, thank you.”
The man nodded. He pointed to his right ear and made sure she spotted his earjack. He turned over his lapel so she would see the electronics attached to the back of a small medallion, which served as a microphone.
“She is being most reasonable,” the man spoke to whoever waited at the other end of the communications gear. He waited and, having heard something over his earpiece, nodded.
He smiled to Fiero. “My superior is most pleased.”
She stirred her coffee. “May I speak to Michael?”
The man’s eyes unfocused as he listened to something coming through his earpiece. He waited, then nodded.
Five seconds later, another man crossed through the sunny restaurant and, en passant, handed the first man a tablet computer. In doing so, Fiero caught a glimpse of a Russian Makarov .380 auto in a belt holster under his linen jacket. READ MORE
Art by Kelly Denato
by Joslyn Chase
The secret burned inside her like the flickering candle at the center of the cloth-covered dining table, warming her from within. She watched the tiny flame as it guttered and glowed inside the crimson glass which held it, a small, licking tongue so benign when contained and so utterly dangerous if let loose.
The smell of hot wax enveloped the intimate table for two, but Serena scowled across at an empty seat. Gavin was late. She had no doubt, however, that he would show. She’d caught him looking at her with that intrigued expression in his eyes just as often as he’d caught her stealing glances at him. No mistake—there was something between them.
There always had been.
Serena buttered a slice of dark brown bread and bit into the tang of caraway and rye, chewing slowly, letting the flavors play over her tongue. She blessed her love for good literature. It had been the Bay Ladies’ Book Club that brought them together. Or at least it had brought her and Daphne together and the rest fell into place like destiny. Serena had been so pleased when Daphne volunteered to host the meetings. All the ladies had a good excuse for not doing it themselves—apartment too small, rowdy children at home, pets people are allergic to—but Serena wondered how many of the others, like she, harbored a hidden passion for Daphne’s sexy husband.
The hostess returned, a touch of smirk showing behind her solicitous smile.
“Would you like to order a drink while you’re waiting?”
“I would, thank you. Dubonnet, with a twist.”
She watched the hostess retreat to the bar, her hips swaying a little to the bossa nova beat. A faint stab of envy over the girl’s well-defined calf muscles troubled her briefly and she took another bite of bread. Glancing at her watch, she saw Gavin was now ten minutes late. Another five, without a call or explanation, would verge on rude, and Serena could not envision Gavin being rude.
Daphne always loved having him around, showing off her househusband. Serena—and the whole book club with her—rejoiced that his job allowed him to work from home. How else could he have been there to help serve up the refreshments when their literary discussions were concluded?
Over the weeks and months, Serena had found an increasing number of excuses for dropping by between meetings. She and Daphne became friends, dragging yoga mats into the living room or scrapbooking at the kitchen table. And Gavin remained ever in the background, offering his opinions, exchanging those surreptitious looks, until they’d practically become a threesome.
In fact, the three of them had been together the day the police discovered the first body.
* * *
Gavin dreaded this dinner appointment. He parked his car as far back in the lot as he could manage, under a drooping pine that looked like something from Dr. Seuss, and glowered down at the steering wheel. The ticking of the cooling engine reminded him of the warning a rattlesnake gives, just before it lunges with fangs outstretched.
His secret was becoming harder to keep. Some days he felt as if it was etched on his forehead and anyone who looked hard enough might read it there. He wondered if Daphne’s friend, Serena, had done just that. Is that why she suggested they have dinner?
If he’d known, really understood, how dark and twisted this path would become, could he have refrained from starting down it? He remembered the story about the frog who was persuaded to carry a scorpion on its back across a wide river. Halfway into the crossing, the scorpion sunk its stinger into the frog, dooming them both. With his dying breath, the frog asked the scorpion why he’d done it.
Because it’s my nature.
No, he could not have turned from this course, however challenging. It was his nature, and the truth was he relished it, every twist and turn. Except for maybe this one.
He cracked open the car door and threw out a leg, letting it stretch a moment before heaving the rest of himself onto the pavement. He was thirteen minutes late already and it wouldn’t pay to be rude. He crossed the rutted surface of the parking lot in loping strides, his boots setting up a rhythmic clatter on the asphalt. At the door to the restaurant, he took a deep breath and pushed inside, letting his eyes adjust after the burning glare of the streetlamps.
Careful to arrange his face into a suitably neutral expression, he located Serena and made his way to her table as the hostess arrived and took his order for a pint of Blue Ribbon. READ MORE