Authors: T. E. Woods
Dead End Fix
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
An Alibi Ebook Original
Copyright Â© 2016 by T. E. Woods
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Alibi, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
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colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
Cover design: Tatiana Sayig
Cover images: Shutterstock
Damn, he hated his life.
His hands were cramping like a son of a bitch. He'd been reaching and digging in this dumpster, trying to pull out as many aluminum cans as he could before some sawed-off loudmouth in greasy pajamas yammering something nobody could understand came out and screamed him away. He balanced himself on a row of wooden crates overflowing with fish heads, rotten cabbage leaves, moldy pork skins, and whatever else those funny-talking tiny people decided to throw out after cooking whatever slop they were selling as food in their jive-ass restaurant. He'd heard once that if you were around some strange stink and gulped in air real fast, your nose would overdose and just go numb. You wouldn't smell it anymore. Well, next time some smart-ass tried to sell him that particular piece of dope, he'd have proof positive it was nothing but bullshit. He'd tell him about the time he mined a dumpster on a hot afternoon, surrounded by Chinese, Japanese, who-the-fuck-cares-ese garbage and kept smelling the reek no matter how many deep breaths he gulped.
All to get paid.
Damn, he hated his life. Sometimes he thought no seventeen-year-old should have to work this hard just to put some food in his belly. It should be like in those TV shows. Kids his age talking sassy to their parents. Never getting the back of anybody's hand for it, either. Wearing the clothes. Eating at a table. Talking about school while a mom fusses and a dad reads the newspaper and looks wise.
But thinking about what the TV had to preach wasn't going to do him any good. His life was his life. Plain and simple. If he was going to eat, it would be him who got the food. And right now this dumpster was his best bet because eating took money. He couldn't let stink, cramped hands, or bugs buzzing in his ears get in his way. He kept his mind focused and his eyes open for anything the scrap man would buy. A couple of big sacks of aluminum cans would get him lunch.
He'd made himself a promise when he walked away from his last foster home that it wouldn't always be like this. Life just had to be more than getting from one meal to the next. Someday he would make it to a place where he could sleep at night, like normal folks. Not have to stay awake like some kind of vampire, waiting to sleep in the library or a gas station bathroom in the middle of the day. He would cook on a stove and make recipes like the ones he saw in those magazines at the checkout counter.
Two-Hour Beef Stew! Feed Your Family with Ease
. Yeah. He'd get there.
Once he did, he'd go see about talking to LaTonya. She wasn't like the other girls hanging around these parts. LaTonya kept herself clean. Dressed so that her body parts weren't hanging out for all the world to see. Wore little red clips in her hair. Held herself like a lady. Went to school every day and even read the books the teachers put on those lists. He'd tried to talk to her before, but she'd paid him no return other than a sweet smile as she walked away. Probably figured a juke like him wasn't for her.
But she was wrong. He'd have a life real soon. She'd know what it meant to be a queen because he'd treat her like one.
All he needed was for the 97s to give him a chance. Those boys knew how to roll. Wasn't a member of the 97s who didn't walk proudly down any street on their turf. Wasn't a person who didn't step aside when a 97 wanted to pass. He made himself available to them. Giving any 97 who took the time a chance to get to know the kind of skills he had to offer. All he needed was one good turn of luck and they'd give him a shot.
But that was someday. Today he needed to eat.
He raised his head when the stench threatened to overwhelm him. Caught his breath, watching the neighborhood go about its day. The old men shuffling to the park passed right on by without so much as a care for another teenaged black boy scrounging for his meal. He didn't mind. Let 'em play their checkers or sit around laughing about whatever good old days they lied about living. Same with the moms. Let the old ladies get on the buses and head on out to clean white people's houses on the fancy side of town. He even let the bad kitties pass on by. Another day he might have spent some time stealing a look at their tight clothes and their sashaying walks. But not this day. Yesterday all he'd gotten to eat was a nuked-out bean burrito. Today was all about getting enough for a chicken sandwich. Side of fries if he was lucky.
Something caught his eye. Crossing the street in front of him. What the hell was that doing on this block? Didn't that thing know any better? Dumb-ass Pico didn't have the sense God gave a goose, walking in broad daylight this close to 97 turf. He stopped digging and watched the thing strut his way, like it didn't have a care for anything.
Then came the sound everybody in this part of town knew meant it was best to duck or run. He decided to dive, pulling the lid closed over him. The stink didn't bother him at all this time. He was happy to have the rolled steel of the dumpster standing between him and what was going down out on the street. He peered out the crack just under the lid.
The first shot brought the Pico down. He watched, ignoring the screams of two Beckys across the street. A second shot stopped the Pico's arms and legs from twitching. He heard the squeal of tires but couldn't see any car speeding away. He stayed in the dumpster until he was sure the shooting was over.
A voice deep inside him screamed that it was time to act. His big chance had been delivered to him. Less than fifteen feet away. He threw the dumpster lid open, jumped out, and ran to what could be his ticket to the show.
He knelt beside the dead thing on the sidewalk. No tag. He looked around the concrete where the thing lay all bloody and dead. No tag there, either. It might be a long shot, but what the hell. At least it
a shot. He pulled a switchblade from his pocket. Three slices later he had what he needed.
Then he stood.
Then he ran.
He was six blocks away, sitting on a bench in front of a tattoo parlor, when he heard the sirens headed south toward that stinking restaurant.
He wasn't hungry anymore. He'd never be hungry again.
“Are we going to have that cake for dessert tonight?” The seven-year-old bent over, shook her head, and rained saltwater over the tiled entryway.
Her aunt closed the door behind them and laughed. “That would make how many pieces for you? Let's see. We got here two days ago. I seem to recall you had your first piece within the hour. Then it was another before bedtimeâ¦.”
“And yesterday at lunch,” Hadley reminded her.
“That's right. And another at dinner. You do know Cook can make many different kinds of desserts. Why not try something else?”
“Because that's what I want.” The little girl wrapped her beach towel around her waist and started an improvised choreography of raucous hip and hand movement. “Why should I try something different when I already know what I like?”
Allie Grant looked out at the turquoise sea shimmering beyond the white limestone terrace of her rented villa. Allie had visited any number of beautiful destinations around the world. The streets of London charmed her. Paris never disappointed. The ancient mysteries of Istanbul always stoked the romantic in her. But it was the endless perfection of the Caribbean she loved the best. Her niece was right.
Why should I try anywhere else?
I already know what I like.
Allie tossed her own beach towel over her dancing niece. “You're right, little one. And your wish is my command. Cake after dinner it is.” She pulled the towel away and wrapped the girl in her arms. “But for now, what do you say we get you into a shower and wash that sand off you. Did you have fun today?”
“Oh, yes! I loved those grobbos. I could have played in there all day.”
“Grottos,” her aunt corrected. “We were at Devil's Bay and we explored the
Hadley wiggled free of her aunt's embrace. The two had spent only a few days together, but Allie had already learned her niece did not care for being corrected. Still, Allie intended to show Hadley the world and she wanted the girl to properly recall each and every marvel.
“Shall we have dinner here or go into town?”
“Here, please.” Hadley pointed to the terrace. “Out there. With candles. The people down below will look up at us and wonder who lives in this castle.”
“And they'll wish they were us.”
“They sure will! And I can stay up late, right?”
Allie reached again for the girl, reveling in the health of her sturdy little body. “Of course, my lovely. Rules are not for you. Not for me, either. We two make our own rules. Can you remember that?”
Hadley's sun-kissed cheeks grew even rosier as she grinned. Allie wanted to linger in that moment, suspended in the warm, familial glow of aunt and niece, but a glance at the clock told her she needed to scoot Hadley out of sight. It would cost millions to give this phenomenal child the life Allie intended, and that meant taking care of business.
“Constance! Come take Hadley.”
A local girl in her late teens, dressed in a soft white sundress, appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Allie appreciated the kind of inconspicuous presence the nanny represented. When she'd arranged the villa, she'd asked the management company to provide childcare, insisting on the same quality they provided visiting royalty.
“This imp has brought half the beach home with her.” Allie touched noses with Hadley. “She'll need to be polished and scrubbed stem to stern. You'll find new dresses in her closet.”
“New!” Hadley squealed. “Can I see them?”
see them. And you may choose your favorite for dinner tonight.” Allie looked up at Constance. “And keep her in the west wing for ninety minutes, will you? I'm not to be disturbed.”
“Very good, Miss.” Constance held out a hand to Hadley. “Let's go, little princess.”
Hadley gave her aunt a tight squeeze.
“We're having a wonderful dish for dinner tonight,” Allie said. “Something I bet you're going to say is the whiz-bang best-tasting thing you've ever had.”
“And my cake! Don't forget my cake.”
Allie stood, promising she'd never forget, and waited until Constance and Hadley were out of the villa's main living area to prepare for her soon-to-arrive guest. She pulled a long silk caftan from the front closet, slipped it over her bathing suit, and tied a matching scarf into a turban over her damp hair. She checked the small bar cart, pleased to see Cook had outfitted it with all the supplies she had requested before she and Hadley left for the beach. She had just enough time to slip her bare feet into gold-strapped sandals. The knock at her door came at the exact moment she pulled a garish diamond ring from the lacquered box on the entry table and slid it onto the third finger of her left hand.
These Russians aren't much,
But they're always punctual.
She did a fast check in the mirror. The image staring back at her was exactly what she wanted them to see. Allie opened the door to her visitors.
“Fyodor Ratchikov! Welcome. How kind of you to come all this way.” She stepped aside to let her second-in-command enter. He was trailed by two broad-shouldered men. Each of the three was overdressed for the late-afternoon heat of early October in the Caribbean. She waited until Ratchikov mopped his brow with a cotton handkerchief.
“My queen.” The middle-aged man brought Allie's fingertips toward his heavy lips and kissed the monstrous ring. “I present my new men.” He pointed to the one nearest him. “This is Alexi. Alexi comes St. Petersburg. He is with us more five years.”
Allie held out her hand to the man. Blond, tall, midtwenties. “Alexi. How lovely to meet you.”
“My queen.” Alexi mimicked Ratchikov's kiss to the ring.
“And this is Misha.” Ratchikov pointed to the other man. Also tall and in his midtwenties, but with a head shaved and polished to a menacing shine.
“Welcome, Misha.” Allie offered her hand and the man repeated the ritual. It wasn't lost on Allie that he didn't address her as his queen. The daring look in his eyes suggested the omission wasn't an oversight.
“Come, sit with me, Fyodor.” Allie led him into the villa's main room. “We have much to discuss.”
You've brought two men with you, Ratchikov. Did it take two to replace your Vassily? Or is this a show of strength? Do you truly believe I would hesitate to deal with these two in any way other than how I dealt with your other one?
“I thought you were in Seattle long time.” Fyodor Ratchikov settled his stocky frame on the white linen sofa. “Your home. Your family.”
Allie blinked away the rage conjured by the memory of her family's rejection. “One thing you'll learn about me is that I move. In my country we have a saying.
I find my habit of not staying too long in one place serves me quite well.”
Ratchikov shook his head. “Connection to home is important. Is no good to live likeâwhat is you Americans call it?âlike
Allie registered the sneer in his voice when Ratchikov said “American.” She also suspected her lieutenant was fluent enough in English to know the slang for “whore.” She smiled.
“I believe the term you're looking for is âhobo.' Perhaps that's what I am.”
“I like Moscow. Is real. Family. Friends. I use same barber thirty years. Connection.”
” Allie used the Russian word for “perhaps.” She continued to speak in Russian. Partly to establish her credibility with her guests. Mostly to operate in a language that would allow Ratchikov to speak without filter.
“Let us drink before we begin our business.” Allie knew Ratchikov would be impressed with her ever-increasing fluency in his mother tongue. “The bar is there. Vodka for us both.”
Ratchikov raised his hand. “Alexi, you pour. Two drinks.”
” Allie looked past Alexi and stared at the man who dared to disrespect her in her own home. “Misha can pour. Three fingers for me. The same for my guest.”
Misha didn't move. He held her gaze. Allie could feel his disgust radiating across to her. She understood. She was a woman. An American woman. Who was she to give commands?
I am heir to Vadim Tokarev. This is my syndicate. And I'll hold on to it with the same bloody hands I used to take it.
“Misha.” Ratchikov's tone was that of an indulgent father. “Pour the drinks. Bring them to me.”
Misha heaved a disgusted sigh. He took a step.
” Allie continued to hold Misha's gaze. “Not on your orders, my dear Fyodor. Misha will get the drinks on
Ratchikov shoved his hands onto the sofa's cushions, levering himself to rise.
“Sit!” Allie barked. “Relax. You are in my home. Allow my man to bring your drink to you.” She kept her steady gaze locked on the man standing in the entryway. “Misha. Bring two vodkas. Three fingers for my friend. Three fingers for me.”
Misha hesitated. He looked toward Ratchikov, who sat in silence.
“We have much to discuss.” Allie's voice was calm. “Bring us our drinks. Then the two of you will wait on the front porch. My Fyodor will not be long.”
Misha stepped to the bar cart. The room was silent as he poured the clear liquid into heavy crystal tumblers. He crossed over to hand one to Ratchikov.
“I am served first,” Allie reminded him.
Again Misha looked to Ratchikov for direction but got none. The bald giant's jaw churned as he handed a glass to Allie.
” Allie said.
Misha handed the other glass to the man he thought was his boss and turned to leave.
“Misha.” Allie held out her left hand. “Allow me to teach you another phrase we Americans use. âMulligan.' It means a second chance.”
He took a hesitant step toward her. Allie held his angry gaze until it softened into compliance. Then she nodded.
And Misha kissed her ring.
“Wait for Fyodor on the porch.”
The two men left without another word.
“Your men are loyal, Fyodor.” Allie sat on the opposite side of the sofa from her second-in-command. “As you were to my Vadim.”
“As I am loyal to you, my queen.”
“We must not keep your men waiting. I'm certain you are eager to return to Moscow. What is so important you needed to meet? It's been little more than a week since we talked in Seattle. I was quite explicit with my expectations. Have you been unable to follow my instructions?”
“I am fully capable of running this enterprise.” He immediately softened his tone. “As you command me to, of course. My reason to see you has nothing to do with your directives.”
Allie's pulse quickened. “Abu Al Fared.”
“Yes. You have disappointed him. That makes it difficult for me to meet the goals you have set for expansion into his area.” Ratchikov paused. “He says you offered him a personal assassin. Easy enough to come by, I suppose. But Al Fared speaks of your vow to provide him one who is also a beautiful woman. One who will kill for him
heat his bed.”
Never promise what you can't deliver, Allie.
Her late mother's words floated into her memory. One word from Lydia would have convinced her father to let her be a part of the family again. But Lydia had become the surrogate daughter to Mort Grant. Allie's replacement. Her father had lovingly accepted an international assassin into his life, yet turned his back on his own flesh and blood. What had she done that was any worse than his sainted Lydia? And who was Lydia to deny her anything?
Allie needed her gone.
She also needed access to Al Fared's corner of the world. He was a member of a powerful clan operating with the tacit approval of several royal families in the Middle East. Al Fared's network provided a vast assortment of vices to the wealthy, titled, and privileged upper crust forbidden to ordinary citizens of the area's rigid fundamentalist society. Allie needed to demonstrate her ability to grow the syndicate she had wrested from Vadim Tokarev in order to assure the loyalty of her men. She had to deliver the increased wealth she had promised. Becoming the exclusive supplier of drugs and Western prostitutes to Al Fared's enormous customer base would accomplish that.
But Abu Al Fared balked at the idea of working with a woman. He respected Tokarev but saw Allie as nothing more than the late Russian's concubine. She needed to make an impression on him.
Never promise what you can't deliver, Allie.
Allie had seen a way to rid herself of Lydia
show Al Fared she could provide whatever he needed. He'd heard of the Fixer but was convinced the female sword of justice was a myth. Allie had assured him that not only was the Fixer real, but she was even more beautiful than the whispers described.
She had promised that the Fixer would be his.
Allie had sent her most trusted man. Staz had been her champion. Her protector. Her shield and her weapon. She had sent him to bring the Fixer to Al Fared.
Days had gone by without a word from Staz. The only way that would ever happen was if he was dead, while Lydia Corriger still smugly went about her life, filling the role of daughter to Mort Grant.
“You've cost this organization a valuable customer,” Ratchikov continued. “He's hurting our reputation. Spreading the word we aren't reliable. That we're vulnerable with a soft-headed woman as our leader.”
“The only people who are vulnerable are those who dare to cross me.”
“I tell you only what Al Fared is saying. His words are weakening us.”
“Within our own organization?”
Ratchikov looked down at his hands.
“You brought two men today. There was a time one was enough. Do you, Ratchikov, feel weakened by me?”