Boris had been in plenty of bangups before. He knew how to take the crunching jolt, to relax his shoulders and go loose, to throw his elbow up at the last second to soften the crummy airbag pop.
Truth was, the rear-end collision was more of a sideswipe, really. A little accordion action, true, and a bit of jump and hop, but all in all nothing major. Just enough impact velocity to take the ego cosmetics straight to hell.
Skip Matthews roared.
Matthews climbed out to see if some old lady or some hot-looking soccer mom or maybe a goon larger than his gym-soft musculature had nailed is precious toy. When he saw Boris’ gaunt Slavic features and the extra crappy rose-colored Dodge Neon he slammed him with, Matthews decided to go hardball and for the throat.
“Look what you did, asshole!”
Boris staggered sideways from the Neon, nose bleeding. “Look,” he garbled, his fingers slickening with blood leaking from his nose. “I’buh sorry.”
Gawking morning rubber-neckers snuck around the accident scene. Taillight glass twinkled on wet pavement and hold-out October oak leaves chattered in the suburban New Jersey trees.
“You’re sorry? Sorry?! This is a brand new Pebble Beach Edition Lexus Sport Coup, shit for brains!”
“A brand new—pebble wha—?”
“Two weeks off the lot special order. Look! Look at my car!”
“I am sorry—your car.”
“I ought to kill you.”
“Please. Calm down. An accident.”
Matthews jabbed a finger an inch from Boris’ bloody nose.
“I am so suing your ass.” He started to catalog his intentions with his right thumb, “First, I’m going to get your license, then I am going to lean on your insurance, then I’m going to make sure that whatever traffic judge assigned to your case is going to throw maximum weight on your reckless, pathetic existence. What’re you? Russian or something?”
“No! Not Russian. I am—”
“Fuck it. Whatever wage pissant job you have, Igor? Forget it. I’m going to be all over it. Kiss that job goodbye.”
Boris looked down at his Adidas. “But the road,” he said sheepishly. “It is wet, no? Please. I pay.”
Matthews rubbed his neck. Great, he thought miserably. Muscles getting stiff already. This guy is so frigging toast.
“You hit the wrong guy, Igor. Worst day of your life.”
“My birthday …”
Skip Matthews paused, digesting this nugget of information, then he leaned in for effect.
“Happy birthday, asshole.”
A week later Boris sat in the well scrubbed lobby of Skip Matthews’ law offices in Passaic, New Jersey, smoothing his slacks, waiting on the man.
Obviously, the law firm’s decorator had eaten out at Nobu in Manhattan one too many times. The trickling fountain, the karesansui rock garden, the tall planters of bamboo…one half expected to hear the morose notes David Carridine’s Kung-Fu flute piped in on the XM satellite feed.
The receptionist, a mousy, blonde, flat-chested girl dressed for a Nazi funeral, asked Boris again if he would simply like to leave a message for Mr. Matthews. Boris said no, he would wait. Again, the receptionist insisted Mr. Matthews was tied up in meetings all day, but Boris politely smiled and said no again. After a half hour of flipping through every page of every magazine in the lobby, Boris cleared his throat with force. The receptionist tsked.
“You really should have made an appointment with his executive assistant.”
“Pizda… mind your own business, eh?”
Pizda? This snapped the receptionist’s patience for the cheaply dressed man. Within moments she discreetly made a few manicured clicks between incoming telephone warbles and greetings. A minute later a door at the far end of the lobby chirped and swung open.
A dark suited, gray templed man of about fifty years of age with a no nonsense neatness about him approached. Boris stood up from the lobby’s low slung leather sofa and a small rush of dizziness bloomed in his head.
“I am Darrell Walter. Head of security here at Reed-Powell.”
Boris extended his hand.
Walter ignored the gesture.
“If I understand correctly you are here to see one of the partners here at our law firm. Mr. Matthews?”
“Did you make an appointment?”
The receptionist hid her lip-bitten smirk.
“I see,” Walter said, “Well, I’m afraid you really should have made an appointment. It’s protocol to make such arrangements, Mr. Rugova. Unapproved visits are treated as a security issue here at our firm, you understand.”
The Japanese fountain gurgled.
“I called. I left messages.”
“Yes. Twelve messages, apparently. Or so I’ve been told.”
“I have been calling each day.”
“However, Mr. Matthews’ assistant informed me you are being sued by Mr. Matthews, isn’t that correct?”
“I only want to talk to him. I straighten this out, yes? Maybe make a deal,” Boris held up a manila envelope, “I want to— ”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Rugova,” Walter cupped Boris’ elbow, “I’m afraid you’ll have to leave the premises.”
“You do not understand.”
“No, I do understand, Mr. Rugova. You do not have an appointment.”
Another chirp behind them.
A beefier man appeared from the same doorway Walter had entered. Muscled, imposing, but slow in movement. Too dim to be ex-police or fed like Walter, but okay enough to fill out an appearance of robust security.
“Mr. Hayes here we see you to the building’s exit. Let’s not make a scene, shall we? If you return again without an appointment we will notify the local police. Thank you.”
That night Boris leaned against the bar, dead-eyeing Wolff Blitzer and the CNN crawl, drinking vodka and cranberry. Boris’ stomach pinched when he watched people complaining on television about how conditions are not as good as they should be in America.
Boris snorted. Americans always complain.
Try starving under communism.
Milo Dragoslav arrived just after seven-thirty. Without even looking at each other both men stalked to the back of the bar and took a booth.
Dragoslav dipped his shaved head, “I heard from Matthews this afternoon.”
Boris sighed and finished his drink.
Dragoslav wrinkled his forehead and held out two fingers in a “V.” “Long message. I listen. Twice. You think he is thorough, this man Matthews?”
Boris shrugged, “We are thorough, Milo.”
Dragoslav chuckled, “Ah. Yes. Yes, we are.”
Then both men laughed heartily and waved at the bartender for drinks.
Outside his health club the next morning, Boris tapped Matthews on his shoulder as he toted his squash bag toward his Lexus loaner.
“You? Christ, what do you want, Rugova?”
“Mr. Matthews, only a moment. Please. I need my job. My employer fired me.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“No, you called him.”
“Free country. I call who I want.”
“But he fired me.”
“You should’ve thought of that before you slammed into a lawyer.”
“But I need my work to pay you. No matter how long it takes I will pay you, I promise this.”
“Thanks, but no thanks.”
“Please. I am begging.”
Boris pointed at a skinny, raven-haired woman and a pasty girl of about twelve years of age sitting on a bench on the opposite side of the street. The girl wore a stained hooded pink parka, the woman a grey sweater yanked in to conserve warmth. Both looked hungry.
“That is my wife Anna and my daughter Christina. Please. You have a family, no? As a family man, as a Christian, I will work off my debt. Please, I beg you.”
Boris started to get down on his knees.
Repulsed, Matthews stepped back.
God this shit was getting embarrassing.
“Come on. Quit. Quit it,” Matthews said, “Get up. Get up and stop humiliating yourself on the street. What exactly do want me to do about this, huh? You broke the law.”
“I beg you. Call my employer. If you call I know he will listen to you. My family needs a working father.”
Matthews sneered, “Oh, I get it. Playing the family card are you? So what’s the plan, I get all misty and drop the suit, huh? This is America, Rugova.”
“I swear on my child’s soul I pay. Please. I ask nice of you.”
Matthews rolled his eyes and glanced over at Rugova’s little girl again. Not much younger than his own daughter, dark ringed eyes, totally malnourished. The girl started hacking out a ragged cough he could hear clear across the sound of passing traffic.
Rugova’s gray eyes pleaded.
“I’ll think about it.”
Boris and Dragoslav sat in the bar booth prying open a mound of salted pistachios.
Boris munched, and swallowed an inch of his vodka and cranberry.
Dragoslav pulled a frown, “Time is always precious, Boris. We must make alternate arrangements as soon as possible.”
Three hours later Matthews froze in midstep to his loaner as Dragoslav and Boris stepped out from behind the chipped parking garage pillar.
“Mr. Dragoslav! Hello! How are you? What brings you out here to our offices this late? I’ve been meaning to call you to discuss the second land development project you forwarded—” Skip Matthews’ eyes flicked toward Boris, “Wait—what’re you doing here?”
“Boris? Boris is my cousin.”
Matthews’ face twitched with this remark, the words detonating all opinions and reasons structured tenuously in his brain. His mouth dried instantly. He croaked a nervous laugh.
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“No. Boris is my uncle’s son.”
“But wait, wait, just a second. Mr. Dragoslav, this is the man who rear-ended my new Lexus two weeks ago.”
“Correct. I told him to do so.”
“You told him to do what?”
Dragoslav stepped aside, his shiny black shoes snapping on the concrete, “All this is a test, yes? I sought your legal counsel on your reputation and on a referral from a man I no longer trust. He told me you were ruthless in your profession.”
“Wait a minute….”
“In our first meeting you assured me this too was true, so I trusted you. Trust and honor are important to us Serbians, and yet you let my cousin persuade you to show mercy in such a small matter as a job.”
“Mr. Dragoslav, I don’t see how this has any bearing on our professional relationship.”
“But I do.”
“Wait—this guy had a family. I saw them.”
“My niece and my granddaughter.”
Dragoslav then rolled his eyes at Boris.
A mason’s hammer. Nine bucks at your local hardware store. Three pound doubled faced steel with a varnished hickory handle. Boris swung low and smashed thirteen of the twenty six bones Matthews’ left foot.
Matthews screamed and puked through Dragoslav’s gloved hand clamped over his mouth. Boris then rattled a series of black and white photographs in front of Matthews sweating face as Dragoslav growled in Matthews’ left ear.
“This first photograph, your wife, your health club shower. Tragic she could not hold her youth but not a bad looking woman. She tries, yes? Now this one. Ah. Your daughter. This was taken at her expensive school. See the white van, the one in the distance with its rear door open? Look closely.”
Lots of heavy, sour breathing through the glove. Matthews’ eyes bulging, blood draining from his skin, vomit dripping down his neck.
“That is a rarity in this country, Mr. Matthews. That is the barrel of a Zastava M93 modified sniper rifle. Boris was in the White Eagles in Bosnia. Beautiful skills, my cousin. Had Boris squeezed the trigger there would be no head left on your daughter’s body.”
“I am going to let go now, yes? You scream, you die. Right here. Right now.”
Dragoslav shoved Matthews to the concrete.
“You will never speak of this. Ever.”
“And we will need a referral from you for a new lawyer. Someone we can trust.”