Ilze Berzins

Chapter 4

Whiskey was a chameleon, a cat of many faces. He would sit quietly, diligently washing his paws and looking adorable. But this side of him vanished in a heartbeat when any stranger dared to enter his kingdom—especially one that was messing up his air.

“Sorry, Eggy. Whiskey’s allergic.”


“I mean he doesn’t like smoke.”

Eggy shrugged and threw the cat an indifferent glance.

What!? Whiskey’s eyes narrowed, becoming mere slits as he shot the stranger a lethal glare. Breathe your last breath, filthy human!  

Didn’t he know that having the run of the house was Whiskey’s God-given right? Well, he’d soon find out. Turning his back, tail held high, Whiskey took himself off to the kitchen.

“Oh, just a minute,” his house slave said, rushing dutifully after him. It didn’t take more than a little swat with his paw to get her to open up his favorite gourmet food. He liked it from a new can. Always fresh. Vika smiled fondly as she scooped out a generous portion and placed the hand-painted ceramic bowl on a colorful placemat next to the water dish. Whiskey sauntered over. Sniffed.  Walked away. That’ll teach her.

Vika retreated to the living room. “What were you saying, Eggy? I’ve just been so busy with my new computer that I haven’t kept up.”

“My father died last night.”

Stunned silence. Vika felt turned to stone.

“The funeral is the day after tomorrow. Just a very small gathering of relatives…”

“Oh, Eggy…” She walked over to embrace him. Eggy responded by pulling out a fresh cigarette. Vika dropped her arms. A hug seemed so inadequate. She took a step back and realized how self-involved she had become, not even spending much time with her own mother who was left to happily explore Riga all by herself.

Eggy drew in on his cigarette and exhaled a stream of smoke. “He was an old man. Never happy since my mother died. He wanted to join her.” Eggy closed his eyes for a moment  and sighed. “Now they are together.”

Vika felt a stab of sadness—for herself. She had never known marital love. Bernie had been someone she had married. Lived with. But she would not grieve his death. She always—Stop it! she ordered herself. She couldn’t fall victim to self-pity. It wasn’t always about her and her feelings. Here was her friend Eggy standing before her, mourning his loss. She squinched her eyes shut for a moment, then opened them and focused on Eggy.

“Eggy, please let’s go to Sam’s. For coffee or a drink. They’ll let you smoke.”

Whiskey glared at the two of them. She’s not even saying goodbye, he noted bitterly and filed this little misdemeanor away for further consideration.

*  *  *

Misha saw her right away. She was with that tall Latvian chain-smoker. Heads together, huddled over their coffee, what were they up to? He decided not to approach right away but kept an eye on them as plumes of smoke wafted from the table. He knew he was taking a risk but he had attracted all the coffee-loving chain smokers in all of Riga and he needed the business.

Should he send over complimentary drinks? Was it too early in the day? Maybe a dessert? Vika had promised to call back about her plans for the art gallery. Had she forgotten? Should she be reminded? It was tricky. He couldn’t look too eager. After all, he was just helping her out, not setting her up for a scam.

Misha stopped pacing aimlessly around his restaurants. They were leaving. So soon!

Vika glanced up. Saw Misha. Surely he wasn’t coming over.

He did.

“Wonderful to see you again, Mrs Zito,” he said with his very best fake smile.

“Hello, how are you?”

Misha’s smile-mask cracked. He was startled by the perfunctory greeting.

“I was just wondering—”

“This isn’t a good time, Misha.”

“Yes but…”

Vika sighed heavily and relented. She did remember asking about a lawyer. That must have been way back when she was thinking of an art gallery.

“Yes, yes. I’d like to meet the lawyer you’re recommending. Sometime very soon.”

Misha clasped his hands and bowed slightly. God she was infuriating! She had to be pinned down.

“Mr Mazutis is a very busy man. I feel we should set up an appointment.”

“Okay fine. Text me with the time and place,” Vika called over her shoulder as she and Eggy exited  the restaurant.

* * *

Ivars scowled. He was rolling a cigar in his mouth.

“I don’t like it. She’d better not be playing with us.”

Misha gave a shrug. “Take it or leave it.” He hated to see his plan unravel but he wasn’t going to plead with the guy. He couldn’t look weak.

Ivars lit his cigar, inhaled and let out concentric rings of smoke. “Okay. I’ll give her a chance. Or rather, I’ll give you a chance. As long as you’re not going to waste my time.”

Misha’s laugh was more a snort. “You calling the shots?”

“Right now I am. You’re sitting in my living room, drinking my Scotch, telling me stories about this woman who has either changed her mind or is playing hard to get.”

Misha rose, as if to walk away. But no. He was merely stretching his legs and wondering how he could get Ivars excited about the project again. The problem was that he himself had no real plan in place. Not yet anyway.

He said, “I don’t want to meet at the restaurant. Not at my place, nor yours. I think I’ll ask if we could meet at her place. What do you think?”

“If she agrees. When?”

Misha was glad his buddy was on board again. Take-it-or-leave-it always worked. He pulled out his phone. “I’m texting. Her place at noon tomorrow. Of course, if she agrees she’ll have to give us her address.”

“Hold on,” Ivars raised his hand. “Tomorrow, noon? I’d like to see how she responds to that one.”

Misha gave him a quizzical look.

Ivars smiled. “My guess is she’ll tell you to shove it. These American women, you start dictating to them and you end up standing on the railway platform to nowhere, holding a suitcase handle and no suitcase.”

Misha snickered. “Okay, lover-boy. So how would you handle her?”

“Easy.” Ivars leaned back on his couch and took a gulp at his drink. “Find out what she likes. Invite her to a special dinner. Act like you’re interested in her and not her money.” Then he chuckled. “This could be hard for you since she is not your type but try to use your imagination.” Ivars was having fun. “By this time in your life you should have figured out that you may need to charm a woman or two if you want to get at some money.”

Misha didn’t appreciate the lecture. He had to get back in control of the situation again. Vika was his mark. He was the boss. He got up and approached Ivars who was splayed out on the couch. He looked  down at him.

“Fine, smarty-pants. What should we do?”

With a grin, Ivars continued. “Text her with a romantic invitation to a classy restaurant like 3 Pavaru Restorans. Someplace her smoking scarecrow of a guy can’t afford.

“Oh him! Not likely he can afford anything. She pays his way. But about the restaurant. What if someone recognizes me there?”

Ivars smile was wolfish. “Hardly a chance. This place is on a totally different level.”

Misha was getting royally pissed off. “So that’s what you think of me!”

This time Ivars didn’t hold back. He gave a hearty bark of a laugh. “Don’t get your knickers in a knot. You have to think big if you’re talking about real money. From what you tell me the effort will be more than worth the big prize.”

Misha gave a snort. “Alright, big shot. What do I do at this overrated eatery of yours?”

Ivars got up, walked around a bit and planted his cigar in a huge crystal ashtray on the coffee table. He put a friendly arm on Misha’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be there with a classy escort at a table close by.  Once you have her seated we’ll meet “by chance.” Ivars grinned and indicated air quotes. “Then my date and I will join you at your table.”

Misha though this over. His brow furrowed.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Text her the invitation. And send her flowers. That always works.”


Chapter 3

Vika sighed happily. She didn’t mind that her precious fur baby had taken over her whole life, such as it was. That was to be expected. She had read somewhere that, in ancient Egypt, cats  were worshipped as gods and she couldn’t agree more.   It was also well known that  cats were thought to be one of God’s better gifts to spinsters, widows and divorcees all over the world. Vika had to laugh. Here she would be, growing old and alone, a big fat cliché—just another crazy cat lady. Oddly enough, she was quite happy to join the ranks of all those lonely gals who had found the perfect companion.

Her days had become completely routinized. When shopping for the very best in cat food, she considered, Would it be Royal Diet, Fancy Feast, or plain old Purina Chow? She tried them all to see which her whiskery-face preferred. Then there was endless play-time with cute little feathery toys she had purchased at Zoo. And grunge work as she kept his king-sized litter pan clean and fresh, adding baking soda to eliminate any unpleasantness. Vika even thought of getting a gold fish to keep her cat amused. And one of those tree constructions to play on. She’d have it custom built. And perhaps he needed a companion cat. That was something to look into. There certainly was no shortage of felines slinking about in the cold, hoping for food and a warm loving home. She was prepared to do everything to make him happy, and, in return, Whiskey had granted her the position of honorary cat, allowing himself to be petted and pampered. She was the lucky one.

For the time being, Vika had decided to stay in her pied-à-terre on Valdemara Street. When she wasn’t waiting on her cat hand and foot, she planned her future. The art gallery had been a brilliant idea. But perhaps a spa or a fitness center? Or, better still, a state-of-the-art cat shelter? Or, to be more serious, she could write a book. I Screwed the Mob. She liked that idea, having worried about all the stuff Misha had told her she needed if she were to open an art gallery. She wouldn’t need a lawyer to write a book. Maybe an agent. And she could have it translated into Latvian. It would be a bestseller and they’d even make a movie from it. Or a TV special like The Sopranos. This thinking got Vika excited. She looked around for some paper, found a notebook and was ready to go. This would be easy. The great thing about true life is that you don’t have to make anything up. She’d start right now. Just then her cell twittered. Damn! Thinking, What fresh hell is this? she said hello.

“Sorry, dear lady. It took me so long to find you a lawyer.”

She thought, What the hell? “A lawyer?”

“Well, yes. To help you with the art gallery. Remember? You asked me.”

Vika thought back. Shit! Did she ask him that?

“Yes, Misha. I do recall asking you for advice,” she said a bit coldly.

“But, ah… there was question of a lawyer. I found someone very reliable.”

A brief silence.

“I don’t know…” she hedged.

“His name is Ivars Mazutis. Perhaps you’d like to meet him. Discuss your plans.”

“Perhaps. Listen Misha, it’s almost time for Whiskey’s supper. I’ll have to get back to you.”


“Yes. Bye for now.”

Vika was annoyed. She wasn’t in the mood to meet anyone new. Especially not a lawyer she had decided she didn’t need. But Sam’s was one of her favorite eateries. No point in making enemies. She’d call him back once her plans firmed up. In the meantime she went back to her notebook and started an outline. Should she write under a made-up-name? She knew it was called something else. A pseudonym? A  nom de plume? So what name should she choose?   Roza Zito? Perhaps… But Zito wasn’t much of a made-up-name. How about a Latvian equivalent? Maybe she’d chose a male name. Victor Zito, or just Vic Zit. Hmm… maybe Eggy could help. Then she could write in cafés like all the great writers did —altho she wasn’t really familiar with “great writers” but she knew some of them wrote in cafés.

And perhaps a lawyer could also be a literary agent. Another hmm…  Maybe this Ivars would do after all.

Once she started, it wasn’t long before Vika’s notebook was full. She felt like a natural. It was common knowledge that serious writers hunkered down with a tumbler of liquor and cigarettes. Vika wondered if creative juices flowed better with booze and cigs. Perhaps. She’d try, but for the moment words rushed through her mind so fast she’d have no time to puff on cigs or imbibe. She’d have to buy herself another notebook. But wait. Didn’t writers use typewriters? Nowadays it must be computers, she told herself. She’d have to get one. And so a new world would open. The Internet. Facebook. Not for a moment did she think of what would happen once her tell-all book was published. She’d have to enter a witness protection program for sure. Silly Vika!

* **

Eggy’s head was spinning. What fun it was to shop with someone who had all the money in the world! He gasped in amazement at all the shiny new models as he   shepherded Vika around Riga’s electronic hubs.  At Datortehnica on Brivibas Street she simply said. “I want the best.” And the best she got. A MacBook Pro for a tad under 5k. That plus Roberts (or Robbie), a computer coach, who would deliver the item, set it up and provide instruction.

Robbie soon became Vika’s best friend. Computer geek extraordinaire, he was a tall gangly fellow, complete with wall-to-wall tattoos and ear plugs, who spoke  English quite well and had decent manners.

Vika had designated a sunny corner of her living room as her study. Here she would put her brand new computer and create her bombshell of a book. She  watched fascinated as Robbie connected wires and installed whatever he was installing. He worked like a wizard, clicking away at the keyboard. Vika realized that he was typing, something she didn’t know how to do. Whatever.

“Peck away at it using one finger. You’ll soon get to be a real speed queen,” Robbie reassured her with a grin. Next he called to set her up with an Internet connection and began to teach her the basics of using a computer. What could she do without him? Robbie’s initial visit was included in the five grand she had paid and anything more would be on her—which was certainly no problem. She booked Robbie for a dozen consecutive sessions and hired him as her back-up tech.

Robbie thought of everything. He’d come back with a printer, paper, and all  things an aspiring writer would need. For fun and entertainment she’d need Facebook. Vika had certainly heard about Facebook but she had thought it was just for kids.

Robbie chortled. “Not in Latvia, it isn’t. Even our president is on Facebook. You’ll love it.”

Vika mused. “Then everyone would know who I am…”

“That’s the idea. You’ll make friends and share stories. It keeps people connected. You could find writing groups and learn a bit about how things work, or don’t work, here in Latvia.”

“Yes, but…”

“What’s wrong?” Robbie gave her a confused look. “I mean, that’s up to you. You can forget about Facebook. It’s not a big deal.”

“No. That’s not it. You see—” Vika hesitated. Robbie looked like a sincere hard-working guy. No way would he have anything to do with the mob. “I’m writing an exposé of organized crime. Here in Latvia and in New York.”

“Wow! Man, that is way cool.”

“Well, yes. I’m not planning on using my real name. I’m making something up. Not sure yet.”

“No problem. Forget about Facebook for now. Let’s get you comfortable just typing out your story. You’ll see how easy it is to edit and find synonyms. The computer will even correct your spelling mistakes. It’s a dream!”

Just then Whiskey decided it was safe to come out of his hiding place. He was hungry. And he didn’t like strangers. He glared at the interloper with angry yellowish green eyes and plotted how to send him packing.

It didn’t take much. The world reshaped itself. Seeing Whiskey’s angry eyes, Vika dropped everything, ran to the kitchen, rummaged around for a tin, filled his bowl and hurriedly said goodbye to the stranger.

Whiskey smiled.