The Insider – Part 17

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“You sure it’s safe here?” Russel asked as the elevator doors pinched shut behind him and his son.

 

Their well-dressed host turned and lifted his arm to indicate the wide hallway walled with polished oak and the opulent penthouse suite spread out beyond it.

 

“You mean this?” He spoke with a modest Irish lilt as he walked inside. “As safe as anywhere else.”

 

The unseen current of cool air stirred the edge of the man’s slate gray suit jacket. Russel followed, keeping his right hand clamped tight around Dustin’s bicep. The boy followed closely, fidgeting every few seconds and tugging the sleeve of his shirt just below his father’s grip.

 

To either side, the room opened up to reveal tasteful furnishings, spaced far enough apart to emphasize the dimensions of the dark wood floor between them. A modern silver-framed couch with black velvet cushions took up a crescent-shaped quarter of the living room. Bands of white and dark blue slid across their host’s suit like the stripes of some hunting cat as he eased himself onto the couch beneath the glow of a seven foot tall aquarium.

 

“Don’t fill me with false confidence,” Russel muttered, looking sidelong at an hourglass shaped case filled with old-looking books.

 

Their host pushed one smooth black leather shoe off, then shook the other off with a gentle kick.

 

“So,” he began, scratching at the patch of black hair just above his chin, “what are you looking for in the home of Dominick Doyle?”

 

“I’ve got something to move,” Russel said at once, reaching into his jacket.

 

Dominick blinked once as Russel pulled forth the long tube from his pocket. His thin lips parted into a very white grin. He laughed once as he looked away. Russel watched the man’s bright blue eyes carefully.

 

“What is that, some new light saber from your new day job?” Dominick kept smiling, but his eyes locked on the device as soon as he looked at it again.

 

Russel stayed silent, watching his host until Dominick finally lifted his gaze to break the stretching silence.

 

“Well?”

 

“I don’t know,” Russel admitted. “But they were still testing it. It doesn’t even exist as far as the market’s concerned, and it’s not even in use in the field.” He held up a hand when Dominick opened his mouth to speak. “We were in the nano lab when we got it. It’s some kind of new ‘nite.”

 

“We?” Dominick looked away from the device and scrutinized Dustin from head to toe. “Is this your son?”

 

“Yes.” Russel offered the Irishman no more than the growled reply.

 

“I see.” Dominick nodded once to himself as Dustin stared past him at the rainbow-scaled oddities in the fish tank with his lips slightly parted. “So are you going to tell me how you got this piece of equipment away from Unlimited and why you are suddenly so eager to have done with your bloody corporate paymasters or am I supposed to wait until they show up at my door with sheets of plastic and some kind of syringe? This whole meeting’s a little unorthodox, you know.”

 

 

“So,” he began, scratching at the patch of black hair just above his chin, “what are you looking for in the home of Dominick Doyle?”

 

 

“Money, for starters.” Russel let go of the boy and gave him a nudge toward the couch. “Sit.” He sank into a seat opposite his host on the crescent-shaped sofa. “Every other nanotechnology, pharmaceutical or military would kill to get their hands on one of these prototypes before U.D. gets them to investors or men on the ground.”

 

“And the mortal danger is meant to pique my interest in this merchandise?”

 

“If you walk into one of their offices and make them an offer like an idiot, they’ll kill you,” Russel said. “Ask you to meet them in at some lake front property alone maybe. But if you’re smart… There’s wealth on the line. Not just cash to spend. Enough to make you important—in a legal way. Hire kids with less to live for to run this end of this business for you if you can’t give it up. The kinds of contracts that these companies have on the line put entire countries to work. Or out of work.”

 

“Sounds like I’ll be making more enemies than friends no matter what I do with that,” said Dominick.

 

“I didn’t tell you to go into this business.” Russel leaned forward, letting his muscular forearms rest on his slacks. “You keep trying to drive the price down, but I’m telling you, you don’t even know the value yet. There’s enough zeros on the end of this score to make half well worth it. It’s moving it without getting yourself killed that you should worry about.”

 

“Don’t sweat up your shirt fretting on that matter,” Dominick said, reaching toward the end of the long glass table between them for a half-full bottle of whiskey. “I already have a buyer lined up. He knows the value of your lost and found, even if I don’t, and the account he has ready to transfer to me is just as sweet as you say.” He filled two glasses pulled from a black wooden drawer beneath the table and pushed one toward Russel. “To clean beaches far, far from here.”

 

“No, thanks.” Russel kept his hands in his lap. “I still have to see this through.” He turned his head at the sounds of metallic clinking beside him.

 

Dustin was stretched over the couch, lifting a set of various-shaped steel rings from a small stand. The rings dangled from his fingers and chimed as he turned around.

 

“Been working on that piece for the last couple of weeks, boy-o,” said Dominick. “Still can’t sort it out quite.”

 

“Dustin,” Russel hissed, but Dominick waved him back, flashing a ring of diamonds and gold.

 

“Be good if you could sort it out for me.” The Irishman smiled.

 

Russel gritted his teeth quietly and watched him tip the glass to his lips.

 

“And how did you get this out?” Dominick asked, pushing his back up, straight against the velvet cushion. “Is Unlimited looking for it?”

 

“I’m sure they are,” said Russel.

 

“That’s why you’re here, trying to sell this before they catch up to you. I assume they know you have it.”

 

“One of the researchers asked Dustin to hold it.” Russel glanced over his son who held the puzzle up at face level by a finger through a single ring.

 

The rings made a brass hiss as he slid them first one way, then another along the circumference of the one he held.

 

“I’d just finished getting an earful and demotion from the owner himself—”

 

“Hart?” Dominick asked, leaning forward.

 

Russel nodded.

 

“Thought my command would be better put to use under this short-sighted ex-Marine with only four years in the field,” he said. “His first blood’s barely even dried in the sand and Hart wants to put everything he owns in the kid’s hands. I stormed out. Dustin had the tube in his pocket. I didn’t find out until we were halfway home, in the car.” Russel shook his head. “My time was over there anyway.”

 

“Some upstart, hmm?” Dominick nodded rhythmically, narrowing his eyes as he glanced over Russel. “Mike told me you’ve been in all the hot spots: Ganarouge, Japan, the Middle East…”

 

“Things were a lot worse the first time, when I signed up years ago,” said Russel. “That was before Korea. Now, though, there aren’t enough people left to cause much trouble, not after the Flu. And with a common enemy in Egypt the place could be civilized in a century or two. But Mike’s got a big mouth. All of that shit, that was while I was still in the service. You want to know real hell, go into the private sector. The things I’ve seen men do working for Burton-Lesk or Halifan made me realized how civilized real war really is. Make shit out of all the pretty poetry about grenades, and those speeches.”

 

Russel shook his hand. He had the glass of liquor off the table and up to his lips before he’d realized he’d picked it up. Dominick was watching.

 

Fuck it, Russel thought. He drained half the dry whiskey in a single tilt.

 

Dominick waited for the rest of the story, but Russel kept his mouth shut, feeling the melted ice and liquor run down his teeth, breathing in the smell of alcohol. He looked at the scrawny Irishman across from him then, looked at him like he’d looked at men through trees and sandstorms and the sights of his scope and measured him.

 

He was a boy. Russel recalled men with less years on them tearing apart soldiers with white-hot bucking machine guns, but as he looked into the unwrinkled, untroubled blue eyes across the table he decided that it wasn’t years that made Dominick young.

 

For a gun runner, he hasn’t seen much killing, Russel thought. He tried to imagine the boy with him in the hills of Korea. Sergeant Hennessy’s throat suddenly became a font of blood and the snipers sent rigged mines rolling down the grassy slopes. His unit had all held, though only three of them had survived the retreat, but Russel could only imagine Dominick stripping the striped fatigues from his chest and running, rolling down the hill where rifles blew the guts out of John, James and Dennis. Even in his mind, Russel couldn’t make the Irishman crouch down in the dirt and fight.

 

 

Dominick’s jaw tightened. His blue eyes looked sharper out of the aquarium light. Russel saw a spark of the fight he’d been looking for earlier in the Irishman.

 

“It doesn’t work that way,” said Dominick. He kept his eyes steady on Russel’s, but Russel could feel the slightest quaver in the man’s hands through the length of the tube.

 

 

Dustin hunched over in his focus. The sound of the rings clinking together one after another filled the silence like ticks of a clock. Dominick sighed and put his drink on the table.

 

“So they know you have it. In fact, since you were so high up in the bloody organization, they were probably watching you already.”

 

“My house.” Russel shrugged. “My car. Phone and internet probably. Don’t get nervous; I took the subway halfway here and a cab the rest.”

 

“You leave your phone at home?” Dominick arched one dark brow.

 

“Until a few hours ago, I was the guy all those conspiracy nuts are afraid of,” said Russel. “Of course I left my phone at home. Keys too.”

 

The Irishman’s eyes widened at that, then he chuckled, nervously.

 

“What’ll they think of next?”

 

Russel balanced the tube carefully on the table between them.

 

“Would you like to find out?” he asked.

 

Dominick eased back in his seat, ruffling the back of his short hair with a hand. He blew air through his teeth and stared at the tube.

 

“Oh, that’s the question, isn’t it? Do I want to be caught holding this damned thing when your previous employers show up, or do I want to have nothing to give them when they come anyway asking where you are?”

 

“So you might get shot whichever way you go,” said Russel. He drank the rest of his whiskey impatiently and slid the glass back across the table. “You might as well try to make a profit.”

 

“Until you leave here and mother cat comes snatching you up by the back of the neck and wanting to know where her favorite toy has gone,” Dominick said.

 

“Enough.” Russel pushed to his feet. “If you’re scared—”

 

“I’m not scared.” Dominick crouched forward again. “I just want to hear that you have some kind of plan.”

 

“I won’t be in the city tonight,” said Russel. “Out of the state by tomorrow. Most of his men are busy elsewhere. They won’t bother looking for me once word gets out of your sale. And word will get out.”

 

“Fine.” Dominick set his glass down and stood. “I can do twenty percent. Wired to accounts on the scummy island paradise of your choice. Two million in cash now as a gesture of good faith and I hold the item to show prospective buyers.” He bent down to grab the tube. “I’ll make the exchange and deliver your cut on a predetermined schedule.” He fell silent as Russel snaked a hand out and clamped his powerful grip around the device’s other end.

 

They straightened together.

 

“You’ll find me a buyer,” Russel said.

 

Dominick’s jaw tightened. His blue eyes looked sharper out of the aquarium light. Russel saw a spark of the fight he’d been looking for earlier in the Irishman.

 

“It doesn’t work that way,” said Dominick. He kept his eyes steady on Russel’s, but Russel could feel the slightest quaver in the man’s hands through the length of the tube.

 

“It works however I say it does.” Russel removed the device from Dominick’s hand with a tactical twist and brought it back against his chest. “I have the product.” He watched the Irishman’s hand drift toward the bulge of a shoulder holster beneath the gray suit jacket. Shaking his head, Russel moved his free hand toward his own pistol. “Don’t.”

 

“I don’t care how busy your old guards are, UD is going to kick in every men’s room stall and every shitty hotel room in this city looking for that metal brick,” Dominick said slowly, keeping his hand out. “They’re going to find you with it and bury you or you’ll drag it halfway around the country at best trying to find a buyer before they put a bullet in your head.” He jerked his chin at Dustin who was still on the couch, pulling at the tangled rings. “Or his. That thing’s worthless to you, just another liability until you sell it. You won’t make this sale in time without me.”

 

“I disagree.” Russel opened his jacket and stuffed the tube into a pocket inside. “As long as I have this, I can still say I didn’t know what it was or what to do with it. I still have something to give up.”

 

“They won’t believe you.” Dominick shook his head. “They don’t exactly need evidence, you know that.”

 

“It’s insurance.”

 

“It’s bullshit,” Dominick spat back. “You’re wasting my time. Take your kid and your shiny thermos and get out of my goddamned flat. I’ll make twice as much money giving you up to your old boss as I would waiting on your good graces to deliver my half of this take.”

 

“Half?” Russel asked. He scoffed. “You won’t call Hart. I’ve seen you staring at this thing like you were going to stick your dick in it the minute we left.” He placed a hand over the tube in his jacket pocket. “There’s more money here than you’ve seen running guns to slum dealers or chemicals to would-be extremists in your entire scheming life. You’re not even sure you can make the connections to sell what I’ve got. But trust me.” Russel reached down and pulled Dustin up from the couch by the elbow. “They buyers will come looking for you.”

 

Russel took a step back, watching Dominick’s hands. Dustin stumbled back clumsily, still holding the puzzle.

 

“You’ll do it,” Russel said. “Call Mike when you have a buyer. He’ll let you know where I am so you can set up a meeting. We can all show up and watch out for our own interests.”

 

“Generous in your victories aren’t you?” Dominick pulled a battered pack of cigarettes from his pocket and pulled out through the hole in the top with his teeth. He stood up and swept one hand toward the elevator.

 

The sound of his thumb flicking the top back on a black metal Zippo rang sharply off the corners of the room as Russel stared back. Together, they turned and walked to the elevator, side by side.

 

“I don’t much appreciate your coming in here and telling me how I’m going to do business,” Dominick said, “but if I avoided everything that pissed me off I wouldn’t be selling shitty imported firearms to rap stars with more balls than brains, pound for pound, and a pittance of that at best. Still, this is going to cost you. Negotiate all you want, but I’m not a man to fuck with, Mr. Schaefer. I intend to work with you only so long as it continues to be safe, easier, and more profitable than hiring someone to shoot you and take that item for me.”

 

Russel waited near the elevator, tuning out the hum and the sound of his son’s play.

 

“Trust me,” Russel said as the elevator chimed softly. “there are few things less safe or easy than pointing a gun in my direction.”

 

“Disagree,” a smooth voice said as the metal doors slid open.

 

Russel turned his head and saw Ty standing in the elevator with four other men. He recognized two of them immediately. They’d taken orders from him to escort a team of technicians across town three days ago. They filed past Ty and into the room as Russel looked from Ty to the MP5 in his dark hands. Ty grinned.

 

“What the fuck is this?” Dominick raged, already backing away from the men as they trained their submachine guns on him.

 

“Hostile takeover,” Ty said. To his men, he said, “Don’t bother searching him. We know he’s armed. Just point your damned guns at him and shoot if he reaches for anything.”

 

“Shouldn’t you be out looking for that girl?” Russel asked. He grit his teeth and clenched his fists until Dustin squirmed and he realized he still had a hold on the boy. He let go and took a half-step to put himself in front of his son.

 

“Dad?” Dustin asked. He cringed and went silent when Russel flung a hand in front of the boy’s face to silence him.

 

“I have a lot more freedom as Chief of Security,” Ty said. “Enough to pay back old debts and secure my future position as it turns out. Hand me your firearm or I’ll kill you here and lock in my pay grade for good.”

 

Russel could barely resist the urge to fling the pistol in Ty’s face as he handed it over.

 

“Don’t feel too put out,” Ty said, turning his attention to the Irishman. “We can’t let you sell sensitive company property to our competitors, but that doesn’t mean Mr. Hart doesn’t have work for you. Word has already been passed around certain circles that our latest tech is up for sale. We want you to deliver an inferior product. Follow our instructions and there’s no need for you to miss this payday.”

 

Dominick pulled the cigarette from his lips and glanced from Ty to Russel and back. Frowning, he shrugged.

 

“Yeah.” He glowered at the men in his suite. “Fuck it.”

 

“We’ll be in contact,” said Ty. He gestured to the elevator with a nod of his head, keeping the gun steady and aimed at Russel’s gut. “Get in.”

 

Russel dragged Dustin into the elevator with him. The armed guards followed, leaving the Irishman and the penthouse behind them along with the six metal rings all separated neatly and dropped to the floor.

 

 

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