He could sense the nervousness of the man as soon as he entered the room. It was written all over him.
This wasn’t really surprising. A lot of people who came here asking for his services had a certain air about them; always on edge, always on guard.
But this man looked like he wanted to sprint from the room from the moment he walked in. He was twitchy, and his eyes kept darting around the dimly-lit room, as if he expected there to be half a dozen police lurking in the shadows, waiting to arrest him on the spot.
“Take it easy,” Dmitri finally said. “There’s nobody else here but us.” He gestured towards the chair on the other side of the desk. “Care to take a seat?”
The other shook his head. “I’ll stand.”
“If you insist.” He shrugged, once. “So, tell me the specifics of this job. Who do you want killed, and why?”
“Why do you want to know why I want it done?” the other asked. “Does it really matter? Will it affect whether you agree to take this job?”
“No, not at all. I'll take the job regardless of the reason,” Dmitri said as he removed his glasses and polished them on the front of his waistcoat. “I'm a curious man, you understand. If you need someone killed badly enough to come calling on my association, there has to be a good reason, right?” He put his glasses back on and looked back at him. He did not speak, only looked his client in the eyes, and before long the other cracked.
“It started about a year ago. I was going through a rough time in my life and I needed money…”
“Let me guess, you borrowed money from someone and now you can't pay it back,” he said as he got out of his chair and turned towards the bar behind him. “Now he’s hounding you to make you pay him back.”
“It's worse than that,” the other said, removing his hat and twisting it in his hands. “He's trying to kill me. He's sent a few guys after me now. I've gotten away from them all, but I’m afraid that they'll catch up with me.”
“You're fortunate that they haven't already,” Dmitri said as he reached over to grab a bottle of scotch and a clean glass. He looked over his shoulder at the man. “You want a drink?”
The other just shook his head.
“Suit yourself. I’m having one.” As he poured his scotch, he glanced over at a file folder that, unbeknownst to the man, sat open on the surface of the bar. He knew who the man was, of course, and he also knew that if the man realized what was going on, he would be gone before Dmitri could turn back around. He plunked a few ice cubes into his drink and went on. “After you contacted me, I had my resident computer nerd look you up online.” That wasn’t entirely true, but it would make for a good explanation for why he knew as much as he did; presuming, of course, that the man didn’t think too much into the story he was being fed. “From what I read, on three different occasions someone came after you. The first two attempts you ran away, but during the most recent attempt you subdued your assailant. Is this correct?”
“Pretty much,” said the other as he put his hat back on, now seemingly unable to look up from the floor.
“I have to admit, I’m surprised.” He kept his voice emotionless as he spoke, but on the inside he knew he had to be careful what he said. “These men were trained killers, and yet here you are, still very much alive.”
“I got lucky.”
“Obviously. Otherwise you wouldn’t have eluded them so easily.” He took a sip of his scotch, was silent a moment. “I’m familiar with the men who came after you. By all rights, you should be dead right now.”
The other had nothing to say to that.
“Actually, I've worked with these men a few times.” He picked up the file folder and sat back down. “So I'm more than familiar with their skills. The fact that they failed is actually a massive disappointment to me. It makes me think twice about working with them again.” He put his feet up on the desk, took another sip of his drink, before setting the glass down. “But again I have to ask, because you didn’t actually answer my question earlier: who do you want killed, and how do you want it done?”
It took the man a minute to answer.
“His name is George Frederikson. He runs a small gambling den down in the Lower East Side.”
“I believe I’ve heard that name before. Bad-tempered little man from Jersey, right?” He did, in fact, know exactly who the man was referring to. “I can see why you want him dead. He can be downright insufferable.”
“How do you know what he’s like?”
He could feel the faintest hint of suspicion starting to creep into the man’s voice. Keeping his own tone neutral, he replied, “I run an underground criminal organization, and I’ve dealt with all types. A few of my men frequent his little establishment. I’ve had to shake him down a few times for treating my men badly.”
“So you would have no problem killing him, then?”
“If I did, we wouldn’t be discussing this,” he pointed out. “Now, how do you want it done?”
“I don’t really care how.” He could hear the man’s voice start to shake. “I just want him out of my life. I can’t keep running like this. I’ve barely slept in weeks. I can’t stay in one place more than a day or two. I’m going to lose my mind.”
He did look one step away from a nervous breakdown, Dmitri noticed. Now that he really took a close look at the man, it was plain to see.
“Consider it done.” He tossed the file, open, onto the desk.
“Don’t you even want to know how much I can pay for the job?” the man asked. “I mean, I don’t have much, but-”
“No need for that,” Dmitri said. Behind the man, he watched as the door opened without a sound and a lone figure slipped into the room, closing the door as quietly as she’d opened it. The man didn’t even notice. “Our business here is finished.”
“What do you mean?” asked the man as he looked down at the file. “How can you take the job if you don’t even- wait, why is my picture in this file?” He looked a little closer at the file and his face went white.
“I was wondering how long it would take for you to catch on,” Dmitri said as he reached over and closed the file. “Those men were sent after you on my command.” He looked the man in the eyes and said, slowly, so the meaning was not lost on him, “Frederikson contracted the hit to me.”
No response. The man just stood there, visibly shaking.
“I already know how you knew to come to me. If you had dealings with Frederikson, then that means you already had contacts in the underworld. His gambling setup is far from legal, the kind of place that’s only frequented by the criminal element. You got my name from a contact in the gambling den, didn’t you?”
The man did not respond, could not respond. But the look in his eyes gave him his answer.
“The contact is one of my men,” revealed the Russian mastermind as he reached for his glass. “I told him to point you in my direction, and then I arranged this meeting, knowing you wouldn’t be able to refuse.” He took a sip of his scotch, before continuing. “In hindsight, I should have done this in the first place. But Frederikson didn’t want to pay top dollar for one of my best hitmen, so I had to send third-rate gunmen after you.” He set the glass back down with an audible ‘thud’. “Now, I abhor failure. I can’t live with it, I won’t tolerate it. I let Frederikson know that after the third failed attempt, and finally he gave in. Now here you are, and I can call this job a success.”
The man went to run for the door, but before he could get there he was grabbed from behind and slammed to the floor by the figure that had slipped into the room only moments ago.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she growled as she reached for her blade.
“Not in here, Eiric.” Dmitri shook his head “Take it outside. I don’t need that kind of a mess in here.”
Only once the doomed man had been marched out of the room to meet his fate did Dmitri pick up the phone and make the call he had been waiting to make.
“Frederikson, this is Mikhaylov. I've got your man right here. Shortly he will no longer be your problem.” He listened for a moment. “No, it was easy enough,” he went on. “He quite literally walked right into my hands.”
He listened a moment longer before hanging up the phone, unable to help feeling a distinct sense of satisfaction with the way this turned out.
Not necessarily with the end result; the satisfaction never came from the act of taking someone's life. It didn’t even come from the large amounts of money people were willing to pay him. The satisfaction came from the game he was able to play with his targets. It came from the challenge of making them play right into his hands, like pieces on a chessboard.
To him, that was a game worth playing.