Ilze Berzins

Chapter 2

“Did I order this?” Misha frowned as the waiter placed a fresh drink in front of him. He didn’t expect an answer. He was asking himself. There was so much going on in his head, he couldn’t keep anything straight. A drink right now would put his mind completely out of commission—which could be a good thing. He craved oblivion, an escape, a vacation from his many problems. What he needed was not simply a drink but a bracer, a snort of coke, an anesthetic. But he knew that  would solve nothing.

Sitting at “his” table near the kitchen, Misha looked around the restaurant and his frown deepened. The place was not as crowded as it should be on a Saturday night. He was losing business. He felt failure coming at him and was afraid to imagine how far he’d go for a much needed infusion of cash. Just thinking about it gave him the creeps. He  picked up the drink in front of him and tossed it back in one gulp.

Misha had decided to take his own sweet time getting back to his filthy stinking rich American lady. She certainly was intent on throwing around her money—money she herself hadn’t earned. Mafia money. Besides, she wasn’t serious. Misha could tell she was just playing, just daydreaming, fantasizing. She had no idea what was involved in opening and running a business. Her whole life must be fantasy, her only worry being how to spend someone else’s money. Misha shook his head. He couldn’t believe it. So much money and she wanted to blow it all (although he had no idea how much that all could be) on something so totally useless and absurd as an art gallery! As if Riga didn’t have plenty of those. Hadn’t he himself just hosted Arsy and his art? Nothing to it. But there sure was no money in it.

What she really needed, Misha decided, was someone to manage all that beautiful money for her—in such a way as to give him a piece of that beautiful pie. He grimaced at the implication. That someone would have to do a lot of romancing.  And here was the snag. Sure he could flirt with her but there was a limit. He toyed with possibilities. A handsome hetero man. A lawyer. English speaking. Someone he could trust.

He rolled his mental Rolodex. Ah! There was Ivars. The guy had cut his teeth on expat ladies wishing to regain property confiscated by the Soviets. Those had been largely naïve and unattached women. But would Ivars be up to it? This case was a bit trickier. Vika Zito was no fresh flower child. She was smart and canny and had already found friends. He knew Arsy (not a problem) but was a bit worried about the tall Latvian they called Eggy. Then there were the women. He sniggered remembering the ungainly Simone and the doddering old aunt. What did they know about high finance or anything important at all? It was too much to think about.

Misha couldn’t stand just sitting there and worrying for a moment longer. He left the table and moved towards the front of the restaurant. One of the few remaining guests nodded at him. Misha gave a quick answering nod. He wasn’t in the mood for schmoozing. He said goodbye to the bartender, put on his overcoat and headed for his car.

* * *

This wasn’t the kind of deal you could put together over a cell phone. They’d have to meet in private. Misha decided on a quick call to ask Ivars for a meeting.

Ivars had done well for himself. Fresh out of law school in the early nineties his clients paid him well—for consultation. Ivars hadn’t been able to pass the bar exam and had to be employed by another lawyer. And did he ever luck out! He had found the perfect partner. An expat female lawyer from Chicago. They made a great team until his partner succumbed to alcoholism and eventually returned to Chicago. By then Ivars had largely taken over her practice. Somehow he hadn’t been caught acting for clients even though he wasn’t fully qualified.

But then the lucrative work dried up. “Lady Luck has to step in and take my side,” he had told Misha the last time they’d met for a drink. “I’m almost broke.” As expected, Ivars was glad to hear there would be “work” and immediately invited Misha over for drinks, coffee, whatever.

Ivars was made-to-order for the job. Still youngish at the age of fifty, tall, fit, skilled in English and experienced when dealing with foreigners—especially with clueless females eager to start a fresh new life in a new (yet familiar) country.

The Latvian suburb of Marupe had reinvented itself. Formerly mainly farmland it had become a posh address for ambitious Yuppies and, while not exactly “young,” Ivars fit right in. In fact the neighborhood he lived in was called Old Captain Club Village. But how long could he afford to stay there? His entrepreneurial magic had waned as the chaos and uncertainty of the nineties was replaced by functioning laws and regulations.

What karmic unfairness, Misha muttered to himself as he parked his car in front of a well-maintained town house. He himself had more or less obeyed the law, had worked hard and yet all he had was a small apartment on the sixth floor of an un-renovated building in Purvciems. Maybe it was time for the tide to turn.

Ivars came to the door smoking a cigar. “How about a drink?” I’ve got some nice Glenfiddich single malt,” he said. “Go on into the living room. I’ll bring it in.”

“No, thanks. Just coffee for me.” Misha was a tad nervous. Coffee would steady him.

Suave was the best word to describe Ivars. Yet underneath the air of affluence and self-confidence Misha could detect shimmers of anxiety. They were, after all, both on the cusp of financial ruin.

Ivars blew a smoke ring. He had placed himself and his drink on a cream-colored love seat while indicating the sofa for Misha and his coffee. Misha dove right in.

“It’s a money managing situation.”

“Whose money?”

Misha made a noise which could pass for an abbreviated laugh. “Not mine. There’s nothing much left to manage but I do know someone…”

“Someone rich, I suppose,” said Ivars prodding the air with his cigar.

“Yes. A very rich American lady. Her heritage is Latvian—” Here Misha stopped for a few seconds.  “But her background is basically Mafia.”

Ivars took the cigar from his mouth and studied the coal end. He was nodding his head and concentrated as Misha told him about Vika Zito, about her money and plans for an art gallery.

“She asked me to find her a lawyer who could help with the technicalities. As you can imagine it’s complicated. She can’t even speak Latvian, let alone Russian.”

“Interesting…” said Ivars as he got up to refresh his drink. He looked at Misha who nodded. He had made his pitch; he had earned the Glenfiddich. Misha took a long gulp of his drink and relaxed against the plump sofa cushions. This could work, he said to himself and closed his eyes for a moment. When he reopened them to find  Ivars leaning forward with that damn cigar. It was beginning to give Misha a headache.

“I wonder if she’s still connected to the mob. That could get tricky,” said Ivars as he rested his cigar on a large cut glass ash tray where it continued to stink up the air Misha had to breathe.

“Don’t know.”

Ivars shrugged. “Ah well. Just a thought.”

Misha sat up straight. “Come to think of it, that could be a problem. Maybe. She was involved in getting mob boss, Juris Lapins, put away. She did the same to her husband back in New York. She has guts.”

“And she is still hanging around here? Lapins is sure to have set a price on her head.”

Misha gave a stunted sort of laugh. “Unless he has other plans… Still, all the more reason to get a move on. God only knows how many are out there interested in this ballsy little lady with all that cash.”

Ivars smile was more like a sneer. “But how the hell do you know she’s loaded. Up to now she’s eaten in your restaurant a few times. Must have left a big tip! And about those diamonds. How do you know they’re real?”

Misha paused, stopping the drink on the way to his mouth. “Hey,” he said. “Sounds like you don’t want the job. Should I look for someone else?”

Ivars rose to his feet. “You kidding me? I’m in!”





Chapter 1

Vika felt like a society lady sitting at her favorite table in the Hotel de Rome. She had taken the same chair at the same table and in the same elegant five-star hotel where she had confronted Mafia boss Juris Lapins and had him put away for a very long time. She had even ordered the same very expensive Veuve Clicquot Brut and this time her mother was joining her. Savoring the warmth and safety of the elegant cafe on this cold, sunny, winter day, Vika felt such relief and happiness that it almost frightened her.

“Um-um. This is so good,” Irena said lifting her glass. The sun coming through one of the windows created a honeycomb of light across the table, making the crystal shimmer and the bubbles in her glass sparkle enticingly.

Vika wasn’t yet ready to make her happiness permanent. You never know, she said to herself. Did she really have the right to feel so good? Of course she wasn’t going to allow herself to feel powerful, even though she had singlehandedly broken up an international crime syndicate—and gotten rid of her husband in one fell swoop. At least this is what she liked to tell herself. In reality she had disrupted the crime spree of only a few players. There were others out there. She chose not to consider this. And why should she? Intoxicated with so many possibilities, she was starting a fresh new life—and planning a career.

“I’m going into art,” she told her mother.

Irena’s eyes widened. She looked quizzically at her daughter.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, Riga should be another New York. The art capital of Europe. Paris is dead as far as exciting new art is concerned.”

“But you don’t know anything about art.”

Vika was defiant. “I do so. I’m a collector. I have two Arsys.”

Irena couldn’t help laughing. “Two Arsys! That’s a hoot!”

“Mummy dearest, there’s nothing to laugh at. He’s very talented. Have some more bubbly and then I’ll order lunch.”

Irena shook her head. “I don’t feel like eating, Vika.”

“Try to be a ray of positivity, Mum.”

They rarely quarreled. Irena smiled at her daughter. “No, it’s not that.  I’m still a bit jet lagged. I think I’ll just go up to my room and rest a bit.”

Vika smiled back. “That’s fine. Have a little nap. There’s always room service if you change your mind.”

Mother and daughter kissed affectionately. Vika hoped she wasn’t wrong about feeling safe. It was still a new feeling.

* * *

Well-heeled, freshly divorced and brimming with unflagging enthusiasm, Vika had decided to open her own art gallery. It wasn’t long before she started hunting for premises.  She shunned little side streets and headed for the heart of Riga. It had been over two months now that she had been living there. She was no longer an absolute newcomer and had never really been a tourist.

Having explored her favorite part of central Riga, her eyes had alighted on a building on the corner of Barona Street and Elizabetes.

“Let’s hit the pause button,” Eggy said lighting a fresh cigarette. They were having coffee at Sam’s and Vika had excitedly told him of her plans.

“Here’s the reality facing you. You need to get a Latvian permanent visa or a passport  (which means citizenship) in order to own or rent property in Latvia.”

Vika smiled. “Let’s back up a bit, Eggy. I was hiring you as a tour guide and we both know how that ended up. Now I’m offering you a new opportunity. Will you be my…” she stopped as something occurred to her. If she married Eggy all the bureaucratic morass would go away. Eggy was looking at her intently. Vika  thought for a moment, then continued, “… will you be my social coach?”

Eggy took a sip of his coffee. in his mind’s eye, he heard a voice. It sounded like his mother. “What are you getting into, dear son?”  He was about to answer Nothing as he always did when she was alive. Now he wondered if he should be more mindful.

“Well…” he hesitated. “I’d have to think about it. First you have to learn the language. And citizenship would take ages. Permanent visa a bit faster, maybe.”

Vika frowned. “Really? Then how do the Russians who don’t speak Latvian get property in Jurmala?”

Eggy laughed. “You are a newbie, aren’t you? Payoffs, of course. And knowing the right people.”

Vika was still frowning. “You mean bribes?”

“Sometimes yes, but If you meet the proper financial threshold there are plenty of legal loopholes to bypass the system that is meant for mere mortals.”

Now it was finally time for Vika to grin broadly. “There’s no threshold I can’t meet, my friend. So, is that a yes? Will you take the job offer?”

“Let me sleep on it.”

“Sleep on it? You should be paying me for teaching you colloquial English.”

Vika knew Eggy was teaching English and had his own group of devoted students. She bet he did well with those bedroom eyes of his.

Vika chuckled. “Maybe you’d like to book me as guest lecturer.”

Eggy was not amused. “I’m getting a headache, Vika. I’ll think about your situation—and about your job offer. Now I have to get back home and make supper for my father. I’ll text you tomorrow. Either way you’d better start learning Latvian. Find yourself a good teacher. ”

“But Eggy…”

“No, Vika. Not happening. Goodbye for now and good luck.”

Whatever, Vika said to herself and gave Eggy a short finger wave. Next she ordered herself a gin and tonic and looked around. What she really needed was a bodyguard, social coach and language teacher all wrapped in one gorgeous hunk.

Just then Misha winked at her. “Your drink is on the house, dear lady.”

“Thanks, Misha. But please sit down. I need to talk to you. Some serious stuff.”

Serious? What could be serious for this rich American? Misha asked himself. Playing for time he replied. “Let me just make sure everything is alright in the kitchen and I’ll be right back.”

Vika sipped on her drink thinking that perhaps she should eat something. She still felt a bit of a buzz from the Veuve Clicquot she had shared earlier with her mother. A bit of rest and they both would be doing major exploration of Riga. No tour guide needed. It was bound to be exciting for both of them. And Irena did speak some Latvian. Not good enough to teach her the language but good enough to ask for directions and order in a restaurant.

She stopped daydreaming as Misha approached with a nice dessert. “People tell me this is the very best we have. I’d like to know if it tastes good to Americans too.”

“Up to now, Misha, everything in this restaurant was delicious.” Vika smiled as she eagerly polished off the almond pastry drizzled with Armagnac. “But this…this  is sensational!”

Misha glowed at the compliment and signaled to the waiter to bring him coffee.

Vika continued. “Right now I need your advice about some business.”

Misha nodded his head several times and looked attentive.

“You do own this restaurant, right?”

Misha was startled for a moment. Where is this leading?


“So, here’s the thing. I am going to open an art gallery here in Riga. I’m thinking of buying part of the building on the corner of Barona and Elizabetes. The ground floor.” Just as she said this it occurred to her that possibly she should buy the whole building. There’d be room for her to live and a nice suite for her mother as well.

Vika was so involved with telling him her plans that she hadn’t noticed Misha’s look of surprise. A look that said just how rich is she?

“I will need a lawyer to do all the necessary paperwork. Can you recommend someone I could trust? I need someone I can trust. Someone trustworthy and connected.”

Misha let out a soft chuckle. “And you trust me to tell you?”

“No. Listen. Joking aside. You will help me, won’t you?”

“Sure. Don’t worry. I know a good lawyer. And you will need good insurance. To keep your gallery safe.”


“We call it insurance. Just so that nothing bad happens. No fire or anything that might ruin your enterprise.”

“Well shit! It looks like I just can’t get away from mobsters.”

“C’est la vie, dear lady. That’s how things are done here. Just like in New York, they say. You did ask for my advice, didn’t you?”