‘Crap,’ Ludo swore stuttering to a stop on the pavement, car keys clasped loosely in his hand.
The man was huge. At least six and a half feet tall and built like a barrel through the chest and shoulders. He was wearing a hunter’s cap, the bill long and peaked at the front so it extended over his face like a visor, the earflaps were tied up, making it look like he had stubby furred ears growing out of the side of his head. He wore a long dark woollen coat and muddy brown trousers.
‘Do you know him?’ Yasha asked. Although the man’s pose was casual there was nothing accidental about his presence.
‘No.’ Ludo looked alarmed. Yasha didn’t blame him. The man resting against his car screamed danger.
He shot a look across the road. A side street, too narrow for cars, cut between buildings directly opposite. They could make a break for it. ‘C’mon,’ he said grabbing Ludo’s sleeve.
‘That’s my car.’ Ludo protested pulling away. ‘My baby.’ He strode off down the street toward Ivanonka and the man menacing the heap of junk.
‘Oi, mate,’ he called in an impressive show of bravado. ‘You want to get off my car, or what?’
The brute’s face was mostly hidden by the peak of his cap and the upturned collar of his coat. The effect had to be deliberate as his entire ensemble was too hot for the summer and too rustic for the city. 'Which one of you is Yasha Alukov?' he asked laconically.
Yasha’s guts dropped to his shoes. All hope that this wasn’t his fault dying. ‘Me,’ he sighed. ‘I’m Yasha.’ There was no point denying it.
He thought he saw the man flash a grin just before he lifted his head. His face was flushed with broken capillaries across his sunken cheeks and the tip of his several times broken nose. The bones of his face were narrow and sharp but hard living had given him a puffy, jowly appearance. He was older than Yasha and Ludo, but Yasha couldn’t tell by how much. His pale eyes were clear, lucid and sharp with assessment. 'Yer comin' with me kid,' the man rumbled, pushing away from Ivanonka. Straightening up he seemed even taller, as if he was growing in stature.
Yasha backed up away from the curb. ‘I don’t know what you’ve heard about me,’ he said, ‘but my mother told me never to run off with strangers.’
The man chuckled. ‘Matriev sent me,’ he said, which surprised Yasha not at all. After all, who else could it be? ‘Name’s Lstimer and you don’t want to get on my bad side,’ the man continued, sounding completely at ease and entirely confident in his dominance.
Yasha believed him. In fact, he was entirely convinced he didn’t want to be on any side with Lstimer. Sadly it didn’t look like he had much choice. ‘That may be so,’ he conceded, ‘but look at it from my perspective. I’ve never met your boss. I don’t know what he wants. What I do know is he had ‘Ladni try to possess me and now here you are, with your not-so-subtle threats. I’d be pretty pit damn stupid to go anywhere with you without assurances.’
Yasha risked looking away from Lstimer. Beside him Ludo was stiff with tension, eyes locked on Ivanonka, checking her paint job for the faintest of scratches. Clearly, he was going to be no help. Yasha scanned the street, taking note of the pedestrians and vehicles passing by. He started calculating his odds.
‘Kid,’ Lstimer said with the first hint of strained patience as a woman walked by dragging along a wailing toddler. ‘I ain’t got time for stalling. Come with me or I’ll make you.’
‘How?’ Yasha demanded, gaze darting between the street and the man threatening him.
‘What’cha mean?’ Lstimer was a little surprised by the question.
‘We’re in public,’ Yasha said, ‘and it’s two against one. How are you going to get me to come with you? Kill me, or break my bones, and I’m no good to your boss.’
Lstimer grinned, revealing strong white teeth, th...