Rain pelted the ground in sheets of cascading waves just beyond the alcove of the Flaming Hat Pub & Grub. The place was one of those dives built on sincerity and hope, and when that died, it attracted the same flies every elderly tavern’s corpse was prone to.
Yan Federoff wasn’t one of the flies though. In fact, he hated bar flies and the Flaming Hat more than most people stuck there against their will. Part of it was the name; it was a stupid name, more than likely a contributor to its own downfall. It was never intended as a homosexual establishment, and that made “Flaming” all the more pointless– especially given the bigoted owner that often tended the bar.
Maybe it was the air that always stank of stale beer and stagnant piss. That seemed more likely, Yan thought. He exhaled a long plume of smoke through the waterfall pouring out decades-neglected gutters. His smoke disintegrated into the sheeting rain, and he suddenly knew that was it.
The place was like an old cesspool of bile and death, and you couldn’t smoke in it. That was why he hated the place. It didn’t help that every time he was supposed to contact someone there, everything inevitably went tits-up.
His mind started to broach the subject, but he stopped before it could. Too many bad memories, too much life left to live. Dwelling wouldn’t change the past, and he didn’t believe in regret anyway. As he saw it, if you hated life, you changed it. Otherwise, quit bitching, ’cause hindsight’s always 20/20.
A new-model auto-car rolled along the street from somewhere in the distance. It was sleek, all curves and plastic, like a beauty pageant contestant with more intelligence. The door opened unceremoniously. In the dim recesses of the car’s rear bench-seat, an old, white-haired man was leaned sideways. He looked into Yan’s eyes, gestured him into the car.
Yan did his best to appear formal and stiff as he plunged through the storm for the car. Last thing he wanted was to be wet, but appearing soft in even the slightest way could spell death for his business. The last thing he needed was someone joking with wannabe world-dominating buddies about the guy “afraid of a little rain.”
He slipped into the car, directed to the bench-seat opposite the man’s. Even after twenty years, it was eerie to sit in a car with no driver or cock-pit. All of that stuff had been phased-out, replaced by state-of-the-art computer processors and navigation software. Most cars were just a couple of bucket-seats and a pair of doors now, everything else was under the hood. Pissed the auto-mechanics off something fierce when their industry went totally belly-up, save those few lucky enough to be employed by corporate garages.
Yan took his seat across from the man whom thumbed a cell-phone to punch in an address. Its information was transmitted via wi-fi to the car, read by the processor, and its door shut. A short ding sounded, and the car began to roll forward.
“Mr. Federoff,” the old man said. His voice was gravel in a tin can, rattling out sounds rather than speaking. “You have something for me?”
Yan reached into his jacket pocket, produced a small flash-drive. He handed it over, “As requested, everything to be found on Moscow’s heads of state.”
The old man took it, slotted it in the car’s armrest. A holo-screen appeared in front of him, projected from a diode in the ceiling. It tracked his eye movements as he shuffled through active windows for the drive’s contents. He settled on one, nodding slowly to himself. Sub-folders opened in a cascade of detailed documents and various, image files.
“Very good, Mr. Federoff,” he rattled off. “Very good, indeed.”
“And my payment?” Yan asked, his face blank.
The old man fished a similar flash-stick from his front blazer-pocket, leaned through the projected screen to hand it over. Yan took it. The car rolled to a stop and the door opened on pouring rain.
“Thank you for you work, Mr. Federoff,” the old man said stiffly, cutting off the diode’s projection. “Now, please leave.”
Yan remained still, indifferent, “After I verify the credits.”
He dug a cell-phone out of his pocket, hovered it over the flash-stick. The old man chewed his teeth with a half-snarl, aggravated at the implication that he might stiff a man for his work. Yan didn’t care. He’d seen enough weasels in high-end cars with caviar tastes on off-brand, box-wine budgets to know cred-transfers were the only ways to verify their stories.
A bar flashed on the screen to acknowledge the old man’s claim. Yan leaned forward and half-walked along the car and out into the rain. He stepped out, instantly soaked by the storm.
“Pray we never meet again,” the old man warned.
If Yan were younger and more flagrant or arrogant, he’d have laughed at the insinuation. It was posturing, a lashing out of wits at his implication. Yan had learned the hard-way what that could do to future prospects though– or even present bodily blood-content. Instead, his jaw tightened, added a harsh angle to his left jaw. He gave a micro-nod, and the door shut. The car pulled away along the street.
Yan stood, drenched, on the sidewalk to rubberneck the area. A couple of younger Asian women were hobbling together beneath an umbrella, trying to keep in-step with one another, but it was otherwise empty. He slipped into the shadows of an alley before they could get a glimpse of his face or figure, keyed up his internal comm with a thought, and dialed a number from his mental directory.
A tone sounded a few times before a tin-rattling gravel voice answered. He was silent as the old man repeated “hello” a pair of times.
He sensed the tone about to go dead, “Izmennik.”
Thunder cracked as if a lightning had struck the street ahead. A fireball erupted through the downpour. Windows shattered along the buildings. Glass shards melded with rain, indistinguishable. Screams from the Asian women told Yan all he needed to know. He slipped under a door-way’s overhang to light a cigarette, then fished the hood of his sweatshirt from beneath his jacket, pulled it over his head.
“Piz da,” he muttered.
How could the guy have really expected him to blackmail every one of the heads of state? That was as good as declaring war on Russia. More importantly, it was putting himself directly in the cross-hairs of every agency in the country. He needed them more than the payday. The SVR alone was one of his best suppliers of information, his trade. The last thing he needed was some brown-nosing rich bastard trying to make a name for himself by outing politicians, or worse, puppeteering events through them.
But he couldn’t turn down the money. Who could? Who would for that matter? Instead, he cooked up the scam with a few friends in the FSB, fattened his bottom line, and took out a problem for the government. No one would be anymore the wiser for his betrayal, and if it did come out, it would only seem logical. After all, anything else was just bad business.