Alex Krycek squinted in the doorway of the dark, smoky bar. After a quick scan of the room, he shoved past the backs of at least a dozen men on barstools, towards the exit, where he knew he'd find the men's room, the cigarette machine, the pay phone, and a cluster of obsolete video games.
He studied his quarry from behind as he got closer. Faded black denim jacket and blue jeans, loose, but not so loose you couldn't make out the wearer's wiry build. Wavy black collar-length hair, tucked behind his ears, held back by the sunglasses on top of his head . Someday, Krycek thought, that long hair of yours is going to flop in front of your eyes at the worst possible time.
Dmitri was a decade younger than Alex, though he could still pass for a man in his twenties. He'd told Krycek he was from Montenegro, that he'd learned to fight in the Balkans in the '90's, and nothing Krycek had found out about him contradicted that. Parramatti didn't sound like a traditional Balkan name, but Krycek suspected that Dmitri was at least part Gypsy. In Southern California, people thought he was Mexican.
More to the point, he was a killer for hire, like Krycek. It had been almost a decade since Krycek had enjoyed the sponsorship of a legitimate national espionage agency. Several competing ones, actually, though when he thought about it, he had to admit that he'd always been a freelancer. Krycek liked working with Dmitri, but he knew better than to trust him.
Dmitri seemed not to notice Krycek's approach. Cigarette in his teeth, both hands furiously punched the controls of what had to be the last working coin-op version of Street Fighter II in Los Angeles.
"C'mon. We gotta go." Krycek started to reach out to touch his shoulder. Dmitri gracefully twisted away, eyes fixed on the electronic scoreboard.
He took the cigarette out of his mouth and looked at Krycek for the first time. "D'ya got four quarters for a dollar?" Each word came out with a puff of smoke.
"No. We've gotta go meet Yevgeny."
"Ma-a-an! Can ya go to the bar and get some? I've got 36,000 points! I've never broken 30,000 before!" Dmitri gestured towards the machine.
The whining assassin. Krycek snickered. For a Serbian mercenary, Dmitri had picked up the speech patterns of a spoiled Southern California teenager with alarming ease. "Work before pleasure. It'll still be there after we've finished the job. Let's go."
"No!" Dmitri protested. "Let's wait 'til tomorrow night. I'm on a roll. Look, I just scored a 600-point dragon punch! " Dmitri nodded towards the game. "I don't wanna do it tonight!"
Krycek knew Dmitri relied on his boyish appeal to trick victims into thinking he was harmless. He knew better, and he wasn't amused. "C'mon. Don't make me take off my belt. We've got half an hour to get across town."
"Why can't we do it tomorrow night? We know he has to stay in LA for a couple of days, at least. And it's not like there's anyplace else where he can get drunk in Russian, besides dives like this." He lit another cigarette with his chunky chrome lighter, and took a deep drag, watching Krycek.
For a moment, Alex though about giving in. Every so often, Dmitri reminded him of someone else he once knew in the game, a Fed he'd gotten sloppy enough to care about. The dark brown eyes were a different shape, but they could look just as puppyish. The voice had a different pitch, but once in a while, Alex heard the same rough catch.
But he wasn't in the mood to listen to bullshit. He sighed. "Because Yevgeny's waiting to meet us with the car tonight, and we agreed to do the job tonight, and after we do it, we're going to get paid tonight, and you can come back here and spend your whole share on getting a high score, if that's what you want. But I'm not willing to bet my payday or my ass on your hunch that he's going to hang around. He knows the outfit believes in getting even. Let's get the hell out of here. Now."
Dmitri looked longingly at the game machine. He blew a stream of smoke out through his nose, exasperated, but said nothing as he turned and followed Alex out of the bar.
The plan was a simple snatch. Alex, dressed the part of mob muscle, would scare the mark into running out through the back door of the club. Dmitri, waiting in the alley, would greet him with a gun muzzle between the ribs, and steer him into the back seat of Yevgeny's ride. Alex would follow him out, and get in on the other side from Dmitri. They'd deliver the package, and pick up their pay.
Alex was twisting the doorknob inside the men's room when the dance floor beyond started to sound wrong. He heard people shouting, and shoving past the door. He drew his gun out of his shoulder holster.
His first thought, as he pushed against the current of civilians trying to escape, was that someone else had taken the mark out of play. The house lights were on, and he could see he wasn't the only guy in the room with a gun.
He saw the sunglasses first, and the black hair fanned out on the white tile floor. Standing next to the body, he saw two holes in Dmitri's black t-shirt, one dead center in the chest, the other a little higher.
The blood flowed out, maroon against Dmitri's dark clothes and tawny skin. It wasn't pumping. Alex had seen enough lifeless eyes to know he wasn't waking up. He hoped Dmitri was enough of a pro not to carry any real ID. He couldn't risk being seen searching the body.
The first siren wailed in the distance as Alex ran out into the alley. Sweat prickled his neck as he looked around for Yevgeny's car, which was nowhere to be seen.
Doublecross, the first thought that came to mind. In his line of work, he'd learned to expect the worst. Ambush came next. He scanned the alley for dumpsters, empty boxes, anywhere a man could hide. He thought about running back into the bar. The sirens were getting closer. The alley was less risky.
He opened his jacket to holster his semiautomatic, shoved his hands in his pockets, and started walking in the shadows towards the busy street half a block away. He wondered what the fuck Dmitiri had been doing inside the club. Had he come in to warn Alex? Or had he met some girl, smoking in the alley, and followed her back in, figuring he had plenty of time before Alex made his play?
He turned right when he left the alley, away from the red and blue reflection of Mars lights flashing on wet pavement that came from in front of the club. He realized that he'd been humming.
It took him a few seconds to remember where he'd heard the tune. The fucking video game. It was the theme song of one of the fighters. Guile? Chun Li? He couldn't believe he even remembered any of the names. But the theme was something ascending, in a minor key, cheap chirpy synth, probably supposed to sound Oriental. What it sounded, to him, was hopeful. Which made no fucking sense.
Dmitri knew, even if he didn't know. That was what he'd been trying to say, when all Alex heard was a grown man bitching like a ten-year-old. Trust your gut was the first rule of survival in their line of work. And he'd pulled rank. He'd never thought he'd live long enough to become the guy on a job who pulled rank.
He had to figure the stolen car he'd driven to the club was being watched, if it wasn't already wired to blow. Safest to stay out of sight for a while, and then jimmy the lock to a new set of wheels.
He walked into an all-night convenience store. Cigarettes, cheap wine, lottery tickets, and porn near the front. Electronic sound effects came from the back, past several dusty rows of canned chili and macaroni and cheese in a box. He picked up a Slim Jim and a copy of USA Today.
"Give me a dollar in quarters." Krycek handed the clerk a five dollar bill. He put the singles in his wallet, and walked to the back of the store.
A brown-skinned kid, ten or eleven years old, wearing a backwards baseball cap, seemed not to notice Krycek's approach. Both hands furiously punched the controls of what had to be the last working coin- op version of Mortal Kombat in Los Angeles.
"You shouldn't be out this late." Krycek put the four quarters on the machine in front of the kid in a neat stack.
"Huh? What?" The kid was suspicious.
"Don't ask. Just play". Krycek stepped back.
The kid scooped up the quarters, and turned back to the game. He knew better than to talk to weirdoes.
The clerk bagged a bottle of Night Train for a guy with a wet cough as Alex walked back out into the night.