Ilze Berzins

Chapter 10  

Five o’clock and the much-awaited Happy Hour finally descended on Riga’s parched inhabitants. What could be better than a very, very dry martini, double, stirred not shaken and offered up in a well-chilled crystal cocktail glass? Well, the only thing better would be two or more of these divine martinis. And Happy Hour could well be stretched out to two or more hours seeing as it was held in such high esteem by just about everyone here on God’s green earth. All it took was a drink or three to smooth out the rough edges of the day and then to usher in a leisurely dinnertime with plenty of wine and easy conversation—the truly civilized way of drinking.    

But instead of gin, rum, or whiskey, Irena was serving up chamomile tea to Vika  who was sprawled out like a log on the sofa with Whiskey kneading her chest and drooling all over her neck—half cat, half love-crazed masher.

Things were no better across town where a nurse was injecting meds into Misha’s arm. He had not yet opened his eyes and his case was fast becoming a medical mystery.

* * *

Vika took a sip of the tasteless lightly-scented brew which her mother had handed her and sighed. She had slept through the day. She was still groggy and her thoughts were unclear, as if her mind was operating underwater. New York and especially Central Park were lovely in springtime. All she had to do was book a flight; then she’d be home. She let her thoughts run free until they became dark and murky. Back home to what? She felt a swell of fear but managed to shoo it away. There was no going back.  

Even though her husband was in jail, he still had buddies around who were glad to do his bidding. Vika was sure that a contract had been put out for both herself and her mother. Sure she could be mugged and robbed in Riga but she knew of no overt mafia directive to finish them off. But that didn’t reassure her really. Could Juris Lapins have been a part of the attack? But then she’d have been seriously injured if not killed. Still, by having been the one to get Lapins sentenced to jail, she had saved him from the rival gang. Now Lapins was probably conducting his business from his cell. Instead of revenge, Vika figured that she had been the victim of a thug-level robbery—not at all uncommon in Riga these days. Lying there safe and fairly sound with her cat all over her, she still felt all kinds of doubts and fears creeping around her body, swelling her mind. Was she suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder?

She had a lot to process. Was Misha involved in her mugging? Who else could have been a part of the assault? The gold Rolex was the least of her worries. It was insured. Her phone held data which could eventually be replaced. It was in the Cloud. The diamond studs were nothing. She had another pair. The damage was to her sense of self. She had been reduced to a helpless victim. Was there anyone she could trust?  Was there even any sense in contacting police? Well, she’d need a police report for the insurance, wouldn’t she?  

Something inside her had changed. Something had been knocked out of her. Her world had shifted, changing form. A feeling of  emptiness remained and it frightened her.  Where do I belong?  She had no answer. Suddenly her face was wet, tears coming for the first time in a very long time. She was glad that her mother had stepped out to do some shopping.

* * *

Eggy couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being followed. Did he know too much? Had he overheard too much? Or was he being paranoid? He couldn’t  put out of his mind the conversation he had heard on Vika’s phone between Misha and some man called Ivars. They had been talking about Vika and about her disappearance. He had also heard Misha being mugged before Vika’s phone had run out of juice. He had saved the conversation on his phone and was wracking his brain about what he should do with this information.   

Five o’clock and Sam’s should be hopping. There was even an outdoor patio with heat lamps now that spring was finally settling over Riga. Eggy looked forward to sitting with a coffee and his cigarettes and sussing out whatever he could from the wait staff. Surely they would know what happened to Misha.

Eggy took a seat on the patio and, a few minutes later, noticed that a man he had not seen before had sat down at the adjoining table. For some reason he looked out of place at Sam’s. Too rough-looking, too furtive—certainly not a regular, more like a goon or even a hit man. He was wearing the ubiquitous gangster-wear– black leather jacket, jeans and heavy ass-kicking boots. Dipping his head, the dark-haired burly man lit up a cigarette and disappeared behind a curtain of smoke.

Eggy was no slouch when it came to lighting up. Before long, one side of the patio looked as if it was on fire. As usual Eggy was dressed all in black. Not gangster-wear but stylish skinny dark jeans, a black turtleneck and a dark blue denim jacket. Instead of boots he was wearing a pair of sensible sturdy walking shoes. Eggy was famous for his mop of lush salt and pepper hair and his signature soul patch. Despite the hostile vibe these two shared a stylistic brotherhood. Super-cool, minimalist, understated.  

A waiter approached to take orders. Eggy asked for a coffee. The man at the adjoining table did the same. This was not the time to ask about Misha. Eggy would wait.

Eggy took a sip of his coffee and almost choked when he heard the man speak in accented Latvian.   

“So, where’s your American friend today?”

Recovering, Eggy frowned and blurted out. “What?”

“You know who I mean. The lady you’ve been seen with around here.”

Eggy’s forehead creased in deep dislike. Who is this creep and what does  he want? Eggy always chose to avoid confrontations. He wasn’t a fighter but he was no pushover either. He couldn’t get a bead on the guy.

He half rose out of his chair. Fight or flight. “What the hell do you want from me?”

“Just being friendly,” came the reply. The words were followed by a rheumy smokers laugh which ended on a gasping hacking cough. The guy sounded as if he was about to stroke out or have a heart attack.

Eggy chose his moment. He leaned forward in his chair, shooting smoke at his interlocutor. “Why don’t you mind your own damn business,” he said angrily before quickly adding, with a smirk, “If you don’t mind me saying so.”

The guy had recovered from his coughing fit and continued his fake friendly approach. “But, my friend, it is my business. I’m very concerned about this lady. About her well-being, that is.”

Eggy let out a snort. “Concern yourself with your own well-being and leave me alone. “ With that he got up, preparing to leave the patio.

The stranger also got up and opened his hands in a gesture meant to appease. “Come on now,” he coaxed. “Bring your coffee over and sit down at my table. I can explain a few things.”

Eggy hesitated.

“Let me introduce myself. My name is Alex and what I have to say is for your own good.” He paused to light up a fresh smoke, took a deep inhalation and his black eyes bored into Eggy’s wide-eyed suspicious expression. “And, more importantly, it’s for your friend’s well-being as well.”

Eggy shrugged. His instinct told him to be careful. But he did want some explanation. So, still frowning, he reluctantly took a seat. His mind was a hive of questions. Was this guy one of Juris Lapins’ men, tasked to keep an eye on Vika? Surely Lapins must want revenge. And now she had disappeared. Maybe this guy knew something.

“What I can tell you is that I have information that some guy was trying to fence a gold Rolex with the name Vika engraved on it.”

Unable to control his astonishment, Eggy gasped.  He felt his mouth going dry.

Alex met Eggy’s eyes dead-on and asked the magic question.

“Where is she?”