“Please sit, Mr. Mashir,” the older man gestured to one of the plush leather chairs in front of his desk. “I will have some tea brought in for both of you while I get those updated numbers for you.”
With his hands casually resting inside both pockets, Roman let his gaze travel placidly over the dark woods of the opulent office furniture before settling back onto Amin Chopra. Roman was here to discuss a potential partnership of the man’s the data collection business he had operating under the guise of an information technology consulting firm, not to drink tea and relax. Chopra tried to keep his face impassive at Roman’s cold gaze and oddly disarming smile, but Roman could see the man’s subtle flinch. Very slowly, Roman let his smile grow wider, knowing the effect it would have over the man. Nodding nervously, the man quickly turned and left the room.
Pulling away from the wall, where he had been standing, Dimitri gave a rueful chuckle as he began walking the perimeter of the office, occasionally picking up items.
“The man is in over his head. It was fine a few years ago when his business was smaller, and he had far fewer clients, but now,” Dimitri paused, turning back to Roman, he gave him a knowing smirk. “Now the man is close to thinking he wields some real power and has no idea how close he is to drowning.”
Nodding, Roman took the previously offered seat and let his long legs stretch out before him. Staring down at his feet, Roman let his gaze get lost in the thick pile of the Turkish rug as he thought about his captain’s words. Amin Chopra was a small-time criminal, but over the past two years, the man had unknowingly started to cut into Roman’s market here in Boston. An understandable mistake actually, a mistake Roman wanted people to make. To the common citizen, Roman Mashir was simply a Russian businessman who owned a handful of restaurants, nightclubs, and car dealerships. To the criminal eye, he was king and gatekeeper of all that was corrupt in Boston. If you needed a mercenary crew of hardened criminals for a job, then Roman was the man to contact. Roman had the means to funnel in every and any thief, murderer, and psycho from Eastern Europe as he saw fit. Those were the images he wanted people to see. Drugs, fencing cars, turf wars: all of that was for smalltime criminals who wanted to get either killed or put away. Those days were behind him.
The thrill of nearly getting killed every few weeks died in his twenties and as for going to jail— Roman swore to himself when he got out the last time he would never go back in, no matter what. Information was king now. Valuable information was worth more than gold—and Amin Chopra was starting to cut in on his territory. Today’s connection would be cementing the final details of their partnership, and after some time and a false sense of security, Amin Chopra’s business will fully be acquired by Roman whether Amin wanted it or not.
Looking up and past the giant hand-carved wooden desk, towards the large bright windows, Roman studied the clouds. “And the son, Amit Chopra?” He asked Dimitri, knowing his captain had all the information memorized.
Spinning a glass ball, he picked up from the bookshelf carelessly in his hands, Dimitri’s smile shrunk a little. “He may be an issue. He is Amin’s oldest son from either by a previous marriage years ago or an affair. Either way, the boy has some bold ideas about his father’s business. As you know, Amit runs his father’s luxury car dealership as a front shell-company, similar to yours…”
Without turning his head, Roman let his eyes cut over to Dimitri with glacial warning.
Setting the glass ball back down, Dimitri raised his hands in mock surrender as he grinned. “Okay, okay, not like yours, but he does run a luxury car dealership as a front.”
Ignoring him, Roman stared back out the window. There was no comparison between Amit’s cheap dealership and Roman’s imports. Last year in a state of severe ennui, Roman poured his time and money into the business, taking it from a simple front to an exclusive referral-only dealer of exotic cars. He highly considered shooting Dimitri in the leg for that goad if it wasn’t for the glaring truth it reminded him of: that lately with each passing day the novelty of his hobby was wearing away. Boredom was quickly starting to creep back in at the edges of his life, and his prize dealership was becoming just that—a simple dealership.
“Just make sure Amit does not become my problem,” he ordered brusquely.
Picking up the dangerous change in his mood, Dimitri nodded obediently. “Yes, sir.”
The sound of the office door opening behind him interrupted them. Knowing Dimitri was facing the door, Roman glanced up to see his captain’s eyes go wide with startling intrigue. Roman had never seen that look on Dimitri’s face before in all the years the man had worked for him. It didn’t take long, however, for the source of his mesmerization to come around to greet him.
“Hi there, sorry it took so long,” the girl’s voice was rich and upbeat as she set the silver tray on the edge of the ornate desk.
Both men watched silently as she grabbed the silver teapot and poured the amber steaming liquid into the cups.
“This is milk,” one long, graceful finger pointed to a small matching silver pot. “And this is sugar,” she pointed to another small pot with a lid. “Do you want sugar? I recommend it.”
Her waist was practically at his eye level and unless this chair was lower than Roman thought it was, the girl was extremely tall. Slowly, Roman’s eyes followed up the length of the young woman until he reached her smiling face.
“Yes, I’ll take sugar,” Dimitri answered, stepping a little closer to the desk, also intrigued by the visitor.
She stood nearly eye to eye with his captain. Glancing back down, Roman noted she wasn’t wearing any shoes, just a pair of mix-matched socks. Roman was tempted to stand up, he knew he would still be taller than her since he still had eight inches to Dimitri’s six feet; but it was still an unusual feeling to be towered over by an equally unusual female.
Wearing a pair of cutoff denim overalls and a yellow T-shirt, she stood at his right and leaned carefully over his outstretched legs to hand Dimitri, who was at his left, the porcelain cup. With her attention momentarily preoccupied, Roman was able to fully observe the girl. Long wavy jet-black hair trailed from a long ponytail down to the middle of her back, contrasting well with her deep bronze skin tone. When he first walked into Amin’s house, Roman had quickly noted the long hall of photos he passed as they were led to the back office. A mistake that could be very costly to Amin if he continued to work in this business. A man should never show his enemies their most valuable asset—family. From the photos, Roman took in the various features of Amin’s children and from the quick assessment, Roman knew that this was one of Amin’s three daughters, the one in the ballet photos.
“And I’ll leave your tea here,” she looked directly at him while one of her short gold-painted nails tapped the side of his cup for emphasis. Looking back up at her, Roman expected to see her excuse herself out of the office, what he did not expect was for her to look directly at him with a growing grin as she casually pulled a velvet lined tray that was sitting at the edge of the desk closer to her. The velvet tray held various rows of neatly placed car keys all lined from one end to the other.
“Okay, so before my father gets back, I have a request,” she glanced up from the tray of keys and met his gaze with an air of composed excitement.
Sitting back comfortably in the chair, Roman gave her a cool assessing smile as he waited to see where this was going.
Her thick black eyebrows furrowed a bit as she gave him and Dimitri a curious smile and then nodded. “Yeah, request. You’re the car guys my father is meeting with, right?”
That was the guise of their meeting but certainly not the topic. Roman arched a brow, wordlessly signaling for her to continue.
“Okay, so right now,” she glanced up towards the office door cautiously as she lowered her voice to an excited whisper all the while picking up each car key and reading the handwritten tag, presumably looking for a particular key. “I’m forced to drive an old red Volvo, which I hate. Can you try to get either a pink or mint green Fiat or a sporty BMW in either of those colors?”
“Why would I do this for you?” Roman allowed, noting the way some strands of her hair escaped her ponytail and hung down messily around her face.
“Because you’re the car connection guy,” she said as if it was painfully obvious. “And if you do it, I’ll be sure to talk you up to my dad so he will use your services again in the future.” She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively as if she really just offered something deal-breaking. Finding the key, she wanted with a satisfied smile, she sat it down on the edge of the desk near the tea tray and stared back at him with a waiting smile.
Narrowing his eyes, Roman tilted his head back and studied the girl. There was something about her that bothered him. Her denim overalls looked as if she stole them off some farmer and cut off a portion of the pants just below the knee. Her nails were cut short and blunt, and her hair was messy as if she had just been running down the street. She was nothing like the women he was used to. The fact she could give him such a large vibrant smile after giving him such a ridiculous offer told him she was nothing like the shy, demure wives of his fellow business partners in his organization. Five minutes in the girl’s presence was starting to feel like five minutes of defusing a live bomb.
“You’re implying you hold some real weight in your dad’s decisions?” Dimitri asked.
Turning those large almond-shaped eyes from him for the first time, she looked to Dimitri and smirked, waving a hand dismissively at the doubt in his voice. “Of course, I do.” Turning back to Roman, she gave him an eager look, waiting for his decision.
“Then why are we having this conversation instead of you simply speaking to your father and more importantly, why are you whispering?” Roman couldn’t help but ask.
Leaning further back against her father’s desk, she folded her arms as her eyes filled with the spark of challenge. “Because I feel that some arrangements deserve a little bit of discretion, Mr…” She let the end of her statement trail off as she looked at him expectantly.
“Mashir. His name is Roman Mashir,” Dimitri offered, far too happily. “My name is Dimitri.”
Ignoring his captain’s flirtatious smile, the girl lifted one jet black eyebrow back at Roman demandingly. “So, are you going to play ball or am I going to have to do this the hard way, Mr. Mashir?” Her tongue rolled the R to his surname perfectly.
The girl had no idea who she was playing with right now. Casting a glance towards Dimitri, Roman watched as his captain’s eyes widened with shocked delight as he hid his grin by taking a sip of his tea. Looking back to her, Roman smiled, a large toothy smile of genuine enjoyment. A smile that usually sent a clear message of absolute warning to people on the receiving end.
What he did not expect was her own smile to widen and her eyes to fill with anticipation. Hell, the sudden eager look in her eyes threatened to make his own smile falter. Leaning forward, she was opening her mouth to speak when they all heard the sound of the doorknob turning. Her eyes went round in fear as she stood up straight from the desk and looked around in a panic. Both Roman and Dimitri waited as the seconds ticked before she made her seemingly ultimate decision.
It turned out to be a poor decision.
With a skilled vault, the tall girl was up and over the large wooden desk within seconds. As the door to the office opened, Roman watched her drop to the ground in a blur completely disappearing on the other side of the desk.
“Ah, here we are gentlemen,” Mr. Chopra waved a manila folder in his hand as he stopped next to Roman, handing him the documents. “And I see that Rahina brought the tea, good.”
Rahina, the name echoed in Roman’s head as he mentally repeated it. Opening the folder, Roman passively glanced at the data as he surreptitiously watched the older man walk around his desk to sit down.
“As you can see Mr. Mashir, our numbers show that we are pulling in a considerable profit and a steady flow of valuable information.” Mr. Chopra glanced from Roman to Dimitri with a plastered on confident smile while unbeknownst to him, his daughter rolled silently from underneath the desk and crouched just below the long front overhang of the desk and at Roman’s feet. “I hope that you are prepared to offer a reasonable offer in terms of a partnership today.”
“Well, you see Mr. Mashir, you must understand my position,” getting up the older man gave him and Dimitri a far-off look before he began. “When I came over from Bangladesh, I had nothing. I…” The man began to set up his back story for his pitch. Normally, Roman would have cut the man off, but he was far too preoccupied with the young woman huddled at his feet.
A bold gleam glittered in her eyes in warning before she lowered herself flat to the floor and looked beneath the desk toward the position of her father’s feet. Currently, the man was standing at the window with his hands clasped behind his back as he droned about his immigration to America. Seeing that he was turned around, she sat back up and stuck one hand boldly over the edge of the desk and blindly felt around. Roman watched with interest as her hand neared the Mercedes fob, she had purloined earlier from the velvet tray. Catching her eye, he held her gaze boldly as he reached for the fob and moved it far out of her reach.
Shocked outrage colored her gaze when she realized what he had done.
Dimitri covered his laugh with the clearing of his throat before interjecting on the old man’s story. “Regarding the offer, Mr. Chopra,” he reminded the man impatiently.
Roman halfway listened as Amin spoke with Dimitri, he was much more interested in the phone screen the girl was thrusting angrily towards him.
“Text me!” Next to the all caps demand was a ten-digit number.
Pulling out his phone, Roman texted the number.
“Give me the key.”
(You want the key or do you want to escape?)
She shot him another glare as her thumbs tapped furiously on her screen. “Both!”
(You get one.) He gave her an amused smirk.
Narrowing her eyes at him, he could practically feel her debating the question as her thumbs hovered over the screen for a second, rapidly she typed in her answer. “Key. I’ll get out once he walks you to the door.”
Giving Amin an obligatory look of interest as he spoke, Roman remembered when she came in earlier and how she picked out the Mercedes key on the tray and replaced it with the key from her pocket. Grinning wider, he leaned forward and reversed the action before handing her the key. The look of brief triumph on her face twisted into one of outrage when she realized what he did. Roman nearly had to bite back a laugh of his own.
“I’m going to kill you,” she texted.
(From underneath the desk? You can certainly try. Now do you want to take my offer and escape or do you want to test me and see what I will do next?)
The look she gave him said she would rather die before she said that.
Nodding slowly, Roman looked up to the older man and held up the manila folder to one of the pages of data. “Tell me, what does this line refer to?”
A myriad of confused emotions bounced around the room. Dimitri gave him a question fueled look, as Mr. Chopra glanced down earnestly at his own papers, preparing to walk over to where Roman sat, while the most important person in the room gave him a terrified look. Clenching her fist on either side of her legs, she gave him a tightlipped grimace as she mouthed the word, please.
“Never mind,” Roman stood up from his chair blocking in the girl between the desk and his legs, while looking directly at Amin. “I think I got what I needed. Now let us get down to business. Can you give me a digital version of the same files?”
Fearing he may be losing the deal at Roman’s abrupt change, Amin nodded with a courteous smile. “Of—of course let me get my son, Riaz, to put it on a flash drive.”
Walking around to the door, the older man didn’t even consider looking down. Once he was gone, Roman stepped back and held out a hand to the huddled young woman. Feeling her soft hand wrap around his, Roman pulled her up until they were face-to-face. Surprise lit her eyes as she tilted her head back to look up at him.
“Wow, I didn’t realize how tall you are,” she murmured, seemingly forgetting the whole point of this was for her to escape.
Not saying anything, he tugged her to the window behind the desk and opened the latch. Standing on the other side in the flower bed was Mosca. Moments before, he texted his lieutenant to be ready by the window. Turning to her, Roman grabbed her by the waist, and just like he suspected the dancer in her complied instinctively. Placing her hands on his shoulders, she allowed him to lift her up and through the open window into Mosca’s arms. Roman was pulling the window shut when she stopped him.
“Hey,” still in Mosca’s arms she leaned towards him through the open window. “Just grab the Mercedes key real fast.”
Roman all but slammed the window in her face as Dimitri laughed behind him.
“Here we are,” Amin announced as he stepped back into the office. Handing Dimitri the flash drive, he looked to Roman who was standing in front of the window near his office chair. “As I was saying Mr. Mashir,” Amin began nervously, trying to retake control of this floundering meeting.
“Let us speak frankly Mr. Chopra” Roman cut the man off before he could start rambling again. Roman had to force himself to turn away from the view of Rahina outside the window, who was currently talking exuberantly to his confused lieutenant. Now that she was gone it felt like he had somehow survived a tornado that blew through the office. He realized what it was about her that bothered him. She was like a bursting firework to his gray, dull life; her very presence felt like a reminder of everything he was missing out on and it pissed him off.
With cold eyes and an even colder smile, Roman turned from the window and met Amin Chopra’s stare. “You’re not necessarily in the best position to negotiate.” He ignored the man’s astounded look and continued past his attempt to interject. “We know that your oldest son, Amit, went out and bragged to the Italians about your newly found success in the data collection business, and to no one’s surprise other than you, the Italians now want to muscle in on your business.” Grim resignation reflected on the older man’s face at Roman’s hard-hitting truth. “I have been watching you for some time, Mr. Chopra, ever since you started this venture, and I am well aware the last thing you want are the Italians in your life.”
Sitting heavily in the same leather chair Roman sat in previously, Mr. Chopra gave him a tired look. “What are you offering Mr. Mashir?”
“Ten percent of your profit,” Roman replied, letting his gaze pass over the family photo on the man’s desk. It was a photo of all the women in Amin’s family, all dressed in traditional Bangladeshi garb. Roman could tell the photo was old, taken maybe four to five years ago. He spotted Rahina’s face immediately out of the similar looking women. The exuberance and dynamic energy practically radiated from the glossy photo. No one should have that much damn energy, he thought.
“Ten percent?!” Amin choked, the look of disbelief and wariness intertwined on his shocked face. There was an unspoken “is that it” in the man’s voice.
“Ten percent and all the data you collect,” Roman said, watching as the understanding settled over Amin.
Nodding, Amin accepted the deal with a sigh. Ten percent of his profits will be paid to Roman as well as a twice a week data dump to Roman’s servers. In return, Roman wouldn’t kill him and nor would the Italians.
As the older man walked them back to the front door Roman paused.
“Take down these photos,” Roman looked pointedly to the huge family photo near the door. “And control your son or I will, and most importantly,” and for the first time that day Roman let his smile fade away, staring at the older man with obvious anger. “Never send one of your daughters in to serve tea to a pair of criminals.”
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