"Can we dispense with the blindfold now, gentlemen?" Djvonic asked.
No response. He wasn't completely sure these guys even spoke English. One of them said, "Put this on" about an hour ago, thrusting the blindfold against Djvonic's chest, but that might have been a learned phrase. Since then he had been bundled into the back of a van and driven through endless back streets and into what felt and sounded like an underground car park. To the best of his reckoning, he was now in an elevator that was most curiously going down, rather than up. Secret underground lair? Who did this asshole Lazarus think he was? Fucking Blofeld or something? Resolution: if he has a white Persian cat, I'm outta here!
"Congratulations, your secret lair is still a secret," Djvonic sighed. "We're about a fucking mile underground but otherwise I have no idea where we are, so can we put a lid on the fucking 1980's cloak and dagger bullshit?"
"Shut up." That sounded like the same voice as Mr Put-This-On, or as Djvonic had come to think of him: The Man With No Neck. "Don't make me kill you," he finished. Must be feeling chatty.
He felt the elevator slowing and then glide to a stop. He was led down a corridor – long and empty by the hollow sound of their footsteps – and then one of them gripped him above the elbow, swinging him through a door and into a room.
"Wait," Neckless The Second grunted, then they both left and shut the door behind them.
Djvonic heard the lock engage after the door closed. He sensed that he was on his own and pulled the blindfold off.
"Thanks for the lift," he called, his voice laced with deadpan irony. "Can I have your card? I like a driver who appreciates the old-fashioned values like indifference and discourtesy." No response; just fading footsteps. Probably just as well, he could maybe take Neckless on his own, but not his less loquacious friend as well.
Was all this supposed to intimidate him? The blindfold, the goons driving him in circles, the secret location? It seemed more contrived to Djvonic than intimidating. Did Lazarus have any idea who he was dealing with? Surely he'd done his homework; he'd know that men have died for much less than the disrespect he was being shown. And if Lazarus didn't live up to the rumours Djvonic had heard, then dead was exactly how he would finish up. Oh, but if those rumours were true? Well then, high-end prostitution was about to take a very exciting upward turn, my friends, and I'll control it all. For that, he figured he could tolerate a couple of disrespectful goons.
Djvonic looked around the room; it was some kind of post-modern waiting room, decorated in neutral tones with a few chairs and side-tables. There were artless geometric prints on all walls except one, where there was a huge, opaque glass panel. Two-way mirror? Probably not; the room wasn't brightly lit and besides, the glass was opaque, not mirrored. More likely, it was that fancy privacy glass that turned clear at the flick of a switch. But when the glass cleared, who would be looking at whom?
He checked the door (locked) and quickly scanned for security cameras without finding one. Didn't mean there weren't any though; damn things were just too small and easy to camouflage these days. Safer to assume that eyes were always watching. Djvonic sat down and checked his phone. No service, no GPS. Quelle surprise!
He waited. Lazarus had better be a fucking magician.
"Mr Djvonic, a pleasure to finally meet you. Has anyone offered you a drink?"
A young man swept into the room; early twenties or thereabouts, tall and good looking with a shock of undercut black hair that was so bedraggled it must have been styled that way. The tailored t-shirt and slim jeans completed the picture: hipster. Great, Lazarus was employing his fucking nephew as an office boy. The fifteen-minute wait had done nothing to improve Djvonic's humour, and this kid was not helping matters. Man, he hated hipsters. Fucking quinoa-munching, pot-smoking, organic gardening socialists who choke up the inner suburbs, sitting outside their fucking macrobiotic cafes in their fucking Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, sipping fucking fairplay single origin lattes through million-dollar orthodontic smiles that their Baby Boomer parents gave up their retirement to fund. His daughter Mandy had just finished high school; God forbid she turns into another fucking hipster.
"Please tell me I didn't go through all this to meet Lazarus's fucking cock-polisher," Djvonic said flatly. "Turn around and go get your boss, son. There's a good boy."
"I beg your pardon, Sir," the smile slid off the hipster's face as he turned back to the door. "I'll be just a moment.
He disappeared through the door as quickly as he'd arrived, but then a second later it opened again with the hipster back, his white smile beaming all the more brilliantly.
"Mr Djvonic, a pleasure to finally meet you. Allow me to introduce myself; I am Lazarus, CEO and founder of Heaven Can Wait." The hipster was holding out his hand in greeting, but Djvonic hadn't taken it yet. He wanted to bitch-slap the precocious little prick, but an alarm bell from his subconscious – that intuition that had saved his life in a dozen bad deals as a teenager and countless turf wars as an adult – warned him to hold back.
"Lazarus," he said, inclining his head and raising one eyebrow sceptically. "Really?" He thought that showed the right amount of incredulity at meeting a twenty-two-year-old underworld boss without being overly rude ... just in case.
"Shake my hand, you fat cunt," the hipster said mildly, his smile still gleaming. "Or I'll strangle your daughter's cat."
Figure of speech? Or did he know Mandy had a cat? If this kid wasn't Lazarus then he had brass balls the size of grapefruits. But if he was, then now they were even for his "There's a good boy" quip a moment ago. Playing it safe, Djvonic shook his hand. Neither of them tried any me-on-top mind fuck or macho bone-crusher bullshit, which was a positive step considering how this meeting had started out.
"Marvellous!" the hipster beamed, his eyes dancing with a psychotic light that made Djvonic nervous. "I think we're going to be fine friends, don't you?"
"Do you know who I am?" Djvonic asked in a low voice. He wanted the other guy to keep talking while he worked out who was in charge here.
"Of course I do, Mr Djvonic," he grinned. "That's the third time I've addressed you and we've even shaken hands. I would say we're well met, wouldn't you?"
Fucking smart-arse hipsters. Djvonic sighed and then opened his mouth to speak when the kid butted in.
"Andrej Djvonic, 53, born in Balmain, Sydney to Serbian migrants Mladen and Petra. Grew up in the inner suburbs dealing heroin on street corners but never established a gang affiliation. Six months in juvie when you were seventeen, but no adult criminal record. Your post-juvie career in pimping around Kings Cross hit a snag immediately when New South Wales legalised prostitution in 1979, but you moved to Melbourne and peddled whores in St Kilda for another six years before they too legalised the industry. You used your bankroll to move back to Sydney and bought into a legal brothel in Paddington, which you stuck with long enough to collect and train four of Sydney's most beautiful and exotic young whores, whereby you cashed out and started Australia's most prestigious high-end escort agency.
"Much to your parents' disgust, you married a Croatian, Allessandra, in 1995 and fathered Magdalena the following year. You're still engaged in mostly legal prostitution and mostly illegal human trafficking, and you spend three months of each year in Eastern Europe or South America looking for beautiful but disadvantaged young women whom you teach English, manners and fucking, in no particular order and then put them to work in your agencies."
Djvonic remained impassive through this, trying to hide his surprise so as not to give this cum-splat the pleasure of seeing him rattled.
"And what about me, Mr Djvonic?" the kid calling himself Lazarus asked. "Surely you too have done your homework?"
"Well Mr Lazarus, if that's who you are," Djvonic began, choosing his words carefully to mitigate his great lack of useful information. "With apologies to Winston Churchill, you are a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Beyond eight years ago, there's no trace of you, but since then you've cropped up in identity theft and long cons. In the last year or two, rumours began to do the rounds on the subject of mind control and personality imprinting." Djvonic was watching Lazarus for any signs that he was right or wrong, but the younger man was giving away no clues.
"Which brings us to our current problem, Mr Lazarus," he went on.
"Just Lazarus, please," he said, his smile so broad Djvonic wanted to punch it.
"Which brings us to our current problem, Lazarus," he repeated. "If my intel' is right – and for what I paid, it'd better be – then I'd guess you were about fourteen years old when you came to prominence as a criminal overlord in Sydney, which I reckon you'd agree, warrants some kind of explanation."
"Oh, Mr Djvonic, I assure you your research is indeed correct, although it is lacking in my less recent history," Lazarus explained, guiding his guest to a chair and taking the one opposite for himself. "I got my start in identity theft around the same time you got yours in prostitution, although back then I was mostly reselling stolen credit cards and passports. Notwithstanding my current youthful good looks, it's true that we are in fact the same age."
.... There is more of this story ...