A Long Time Ago, Maybe Not Too Long Though
It seemed a long time ago since I had been in LAX, a very long time. It was Monday now; I had gotten the call from Uncle Vicenza less than twenty-four hours ago, asking me for a favour.
God, like family, real family, not ‘famigila’ would ever deny anything. In many ways, I was glad to do this. My Uncle had been there for me when I was younger, this seemed like I was just starting to repay that debt, and felt I owed him a lot more than this.
Besides, I had not seen Cousin Gina in a while. She must be what, 15 or 16 by now. I had planned an agenda for us to do things for the next several weeks, I was that excited. For too long I had devoted every waking hour to re-claiming my father’s business. Uncle, even though still in the old country had provided all I asked for and even more to make that re-claiming happen.
Now the business was once again secure, it would have be a well-deserved holiday except there was a lingering unpleasant thought about how this need of a favour had to have happened. I had hurriedly told Uncle that I would meet Gina’s fight in LA, and then take her to my home. She was attending school outside Zurich and now out for the summer. I had to laugh a bit, all she was told was that her cousin Marc would meet her plane, Swiss Air 55 when it landed in LA. She was to go with him; he would take care of her until he could meet up with her. Those words alone were all she needed to look forward to the trip. The excited feeling on both parts seemed to be mutual.
It was strange and if things and the timing had not needed to be done so hurriedly, I would have not thought anything was wrong. It was a gut feel however that I just knew there was more to tell of this story. I also had a feeling that Gina’s trip to the US was not just a vacation. When I left home in San Diego, six extras went along, two of them female to make Gina more at ease. Yvette and Traci were in their early 20’s, one never asked a woman their exact age, they both should be able to relate to Gina’s needs better than I could.
Because of that ominous feeling I had, arrangements were made for three cars to meet the plane plus an additional local escort team for cover to and from LAX, even though it was a short trip from the public to a private airport where the helicopter would land. In my experience, that lingering doubt about why she would be coming was not to be ignored.
Marc had grown up in LA, mostly on the west side of town. His father was an importer and distributor of Mediterranean products throughout California and Nevada. Unlike some, he and the family had lived a simple life and kept a low profile. Their home, his school, car and clothes were much the same as the other kids.
Looking back, Marc would have wished that maybe his life might not have been so normal. In the LA area, normal kids never got the girl, nor invited to parties and certainly could not expect things to change to lead the good life when they got older. It was the price his family was willing to pay for safety though.
That safety was a myth. He was barely 18-years old when all Hell seemed to break lose. That living Hell was what changed his way of thinking, rather his way of living. His father had tried to live a simple and quiet life. Marc saw just how safe that turned out. They say revenge is sweet, in this case, Marc changed too, and he no longer would stay in the shadows. With the help of his Uncle, those who would try to take what was his would pay a heavy price and sweetness would not describe what he had to get it back.
I was told what the old ways were when something like this happened. That entire families, no, entire bloodlines were eradicated was a hard pill to swallow. It changed me; the biggest was the loss of some portion of my humanity. I also realized that if that approach had been taken against my family that I would not have been around to get everything back.
One would not recognize Marc today from the kid he was 8 or 9 years ago. He had to grow up quickly and in some cases painfully. Seeing Gina again would be a bridge for him, the way he once was to today. He wondered what she would think. She was, after all, a part of the family and had grown up knowing what went on.
When he left home on the way to LAX, he would have time to think. The Augusta had enough range if he chose to take her to Vegas first. He also thought about Krista, and what he would say to Gina about her when they met. The place in San Diego was home to his family. Now that consisted of he and probably Krista now, the staff plus 60 or so male and female guards plus 60 of the dogs to watch over them.
Home was a misnomer. He had purchased an entire un-built sub-division, built the housing and facilites they needed and ensured privacy in several ways. His parent’s murder had taught him that any money spent for safety and security was a wise investment. The guards were free to pair up or live as they choose with their own partners. Krista had been with him over a year and had become the de-facto alter ego at home. Her word, when he was not around was law; it was so partly because she never abused that power. He had taken her home one night from a bar and she never left, nor had he wanted her to. They seemed to fill a void in each other.
From an outsider’s perspective, it would be easy to see that Marc was attempting to create a family around him. He wanted people to stay because they wanted to, not because of fear, prestige or the money they were paid. Krista and two or three of the male guards were perfect examples of this; if there were such a thing as better than friends, they would meet those qualifications.
It was funny the way he met Krista. They were at a not too popular San Diego Bar and Restaurant. Krista was a pretty girl and looked to be near the same age as Marc, perhaps a bit younger. The conversation between them however was not what one might expect at a bar.
At first the bodyguards seemed to hover over them, That Marc had chosen to sit near her at the bar made it possible to begin a conversation. She would never have been allowed to be the one to get that close to Marc. His opening remark, “Nice place?” got a raised set of eyebrows and a “Whatever” from her.
Not exactly the kind of lines that would replace those in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Subsequent lines fared about as well until she seemed upset and asked the barkeep for her check. One look from Marc delayed that event. He, after-all, had just acquired the place.
Marc’s comment of “I don’t know what you don’t like about here, I sort of think it is neat” got her to turn back towards him and she began to tell him what she really thought of the place.
For the next two and a half hours, she talked and he listened. The bartender kept filling her glass and Marc soon had a new perspective on the place. There had never been a consideration of how a woman, even other men would view the place. A lack of parking, too loud at the tables, no separate rooms for dancing or socializing, drinks were priced too high, food quality and selection not varied at times of the day or different in the bar from the restaurant.
The final aspect that he never considered was a need to have a place for a girl who had too much to drink to lie down or rest without being bothered. Added to those things, she felt couples should have a reserved area, singles another.
‘When I worked here the owners kept telling me they were going to expand, get closer parking and keep the drink crowd and food area isolated from each other. They never did. Recently the place went up for sale. I lost my job but...”
“You still like the place, huh?”
“Does it show much? Yeah, I think it has great potential, Ha, a few million dollars and some luck, we’d ... Oh never mind; whatever.”
It was in her eyes; Marc saw in them her conviction on what she was saying. He also realized that the things she was saying were, in effect, aspects of the place he had never considered.
The place was acquired in from people that for lack of a better word shall we say, made some serious errors against Marc. It was never meant to be a big or a public place. His original intention was to have a place where he and the family would go and enjoy themselves, more like a private club would be. What she was saying though might apply, except for more parking that he would not need.
It may seem strange to some but this ‘family’ Marc had created numbered over 200 souls. Add to that their SO’s, guests, friends and even relatives and it was easy to see where a private club might not be a bad idea.
Looking back: How Krista got home, his home that is, she could not remember. Waking up in a bedroom that was as big as the entire house she grew up in did leave an impression on her though as did the knock on her door and someone asking her if she would like breakfast brought up or would she be joining them on the terrace. Those kinds of options were not quite the way she was raised.
She looked at what she had on, which was nothing and meekly told the girl she was not certain if she had any clothes here. Camille (Name Badge) shook her head, opened one closet on the wall opposite the bed and with a wave of her hand indicated that something in the closet would be appropriate. The closet on the left was for later in the day and was dressier. Nope, she was certain now this was all a dream and definitely not the way she was raised.
Krista got up though, went to the closet and just stared. Clothes lined both sides, all arranged by size, colour and accessories above and below on racks or shelves. There even was a step stool/chair and a full length mirror. “Ahh, getting ready just might take a few, is 20 minutes OK?”
“Jacques will be outside your door to escort you whenever you are ready” Camille indicated.
When Camille left Krista started crying. In her whole like, 22 years, she had never been treated this way; it was as if she was someone or something special, which she knew she was not. She hurriedly dressed, did her personal things in the largest bathroom she ever saw, checked herself one last time in the mirror and satisfied she would pass muster, then opened her bedroom door.
She almost screamed. There a man stood, a big man. By him, one on either side was the largest dogs she had ever seen.
“Ma’am, ‘Prince and Princess’ guard this floor of the estate. If you would please extend your hand slowly, palm side down and allow them to sniff your hand they will remember your scent and know you belong here. I am Jacques by the way and Camille has asked me to escort you to the terrace for breakfast. The dogs always remain on this floor, only a few guests will ever be here with you but it is to insure your safety.
The dogs and that he was more than a foot taller than her and his loosely fitted shirt did little to conceal what appeared to be a sub-machine gun on his right side made Krista wonder what army would be invading here. His question if she preferred the lift or stairs raised another question as just where exactly was she.
“Is it far to go?” she asked.
“No, not very!” Jacques responded. Regular meals are usually at the house or the compound. It’s only if outsiders are present will we go out to dine away.”
‘Dine’, now she really was unsure if this was a dream or what? Walking to the end of the hallway, she chose the stairs. Jacques extended his arm for her to take while Prince and Princess stayed at the top. ‘Things like this did not happen in real-life’ she thought.
When they got to the bottom of the stairs she looked around. It might have been a museum or an art galley from the looks of it.
“The terrace is right this way Ma’am. Breakfast is a buffet so help yourself. We are informal until dinner but the staff will bring you whatever you want if it is not on display. Marc has asked if you would be so kind as to join him at his table this morning.
The terrace Jacques led her to would better be described as some large country garden. Fountains, statues and fashioned greenery extended several hundred feet in all directions. There seemed to be 100 people milling around talking or seated eating their meals. Children of all ages were there too. From the looks of foods on display, one could think this was a meeting for the UN. There was Miso soup, rice balls, hard, soft and sweet rolls, cheeses, various cold cuts, boiled eggs, jams and spreads of all types in addition to the normal breakfast fare. Fresh fruit, an assortment of chilled juices and various pots of teas or coffees, all labeled and with the appropriate sides were nearby.
Krista had worked in a posh hotel one summer and even there the selection and quality of the fare could not compare to what she saw today.
She was so nervous that holding a plate with almost nothing on it became a chore; her hands were shaking so much. As she approached Marc he nodded, stood up and before she knew what happened a man was holding a chair out for her to sit on. She heard Marc.
“I’d like to introduce Krista to everyone. She will be joining the family and be living in the house, She has accepted the position of manager for our new club downtown.”
Yep, this was all news to her. In her befuddled brain, he could have said ‘pigs had wings’ and she would say nothing to dispute him; besides, she really, really could get to like this place.
His “Thank you Krista for joining the family, I know you will like it here” almost floored her. As she sat down, he walked up to her, kissed her cheek and walked away. There were only a few who paid much attention to that kiss. Even here, four men she had not even noticed before walked with him.
And now, an almost familiar face sat down where Marc had been sitting with five other people at their table who continued to talk and eat their meal.
“I thought you might have a question of two, Master has, as usual, done another fine job of explaining things.” Camille made certain Krista’s plate remained full and relayed the series of events that brought Krista here.
Yep, she had agreed to join the group (read Brigade or family) that night, to manage the new club and according to what Marc had said and live at the house for a while. Krista said that she had nothing else so he wanted to let her do what she wanted. Camille made it clear that her duties as head of the non-bodyguard staff was not included. She liked her job very much as it was, thank you, but no thanks girl.
That brought out a laugh from both of them. It took about six months before Krista and Camille settled into a routine. Rolf and Jacques were responsible for the guards and dogs, Camille the working staff and Krista the club. By default when Marc was not available, our Krista seemed to be the one people turned to for an answer. By the second year she was there for ‘business’ meetings, ‘Bratva business’ which became her duty when she had to go to represent Marc and ‘speak for the family’ on things she had known nothing about. She would learn though.
Marc Malenkov was far less important to the ‘Brotherhood’ (Bratva or Russian Mafia) than his Uncle Vicenza was. This would be something he would come to realize after Gina arrived. His Uncle bore an Italian name, had married the daughter of one of the ‘Don’s’ of the Italian ‘Five Families’ thus solidifying the Russian and Italian connection and making the move into the US and Canada easier. Gina would be a subtle reminder to everyone of that closeness.
There were many places where Bratva and their allies (There were a lot of allies) were stronger other places than in California and Vegas, however there were many more enemies there too. Vicenza had several problems though. The old ‘KGB’, now ‘FSB’ made only Moscow and Georgia a safe place, he had no son and try as he would Gina would never be able to take over and hold on to the empire he had created. No, Russia would need a man to take that over. Marc’s training began with his own Brigade’s issues. He was sending Gina there to, what do they say, ‘sweeten the pot’ or ‘test the waters’ between them. His own thoughts were that Gina would need little if any convincing of a need for a union between them. Marc, he felt, needed to better understand how things were done though; after all, there would be more than 40,000 people affected by any decisions made.
Back at the ranch: We had a party at the club the night before Gina was due to arrive. I walked into the party and no, not everything stopped. A client, or I should say a previous and satisfied client had asked me if I would come tonight.
There were a few faces that seemed familiar, one when I saw her; I knew it very well. Her grandmother must have been feeling a lot better since she told me she would not be able to see me that night because her grandmother needed help with something; oh well.
I put in my appearance, thanked my old client and carefully exited stage right without interrupting Julie’s escapade. I almost made it out; close but no cigar. Marcia was coming in as I was leaving, along with her friend Sheila.
“Well, if it isn’t ‘Goodtime Charlie’ (remember my name was Marc though), you come to grace us ‘poor peasants’ with a moment of your time, how quaint?”
“Hello Bitch! You park your horse and carriage all right, or did you fly in on your broom tonight?”
That verbal exchange got me a hug and a kiss from both of them.
“Sheila, if you were a few years younger or I was a few older I still wouldn’t like you!”
That was not entirely true but it allowed my escape without any more questions. Sheila was one of the good ones actually. It had been a tough week and to find out Julie felt the need to lie; took the starch right out of me.
If I had to take Gina back, a trip home first would be essential; I’d need older clothes, you don’t go to some places in Russia with western clothes or more than you can wear and, heaven forbid, nothing new or clean. If it did not fit in a carry-on grip, it did not go. It made it difficult at times to do what I sometimes had to do but, then again, if a rifle or a bomb would do the job they would not need to pay me the big bucks for an alternative.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself though.
In reality, Julie meant nothing to me, hardly even a friend with benefits like Krista had become. I was trying to just not fill my life with any more distractions. Now, I thought ignoring her (Gina), her father, the whole kit and caboodle of that part of the family was in order, I even thought it would be easy to do. Guess I was wrong.
They say ‘every good deed does not go unpunished’. That was an understatement. Here I was, a man with no social, religious, political, business or governmental loyalties and ‘she’ got to me, got to me big-time. It all started heading to at LAX to pick up Gina. I never made very far though. Three guys came out of a restroom towards the group walking right towards of me. They cold-cocked the two guys on the right then started on the one in-between them, the one next to Gina. I hoped it was Gina; she had certainly grown up and out, if you know what I mean? She was a tall girl almost as tall as the man still standing.
Long story short what appeared to be a simple mugging almost turned into a helluva lot more, at least for me it did. I guess the scene of five bodies laying on the ground and a guy being held up, bleeding all over with a bunch more around them went beyond what TSA considered a normal day.
As late as it was no local yokel wanted to leave the nearest doughnut shop to come out and investigate, so, off we went to a corner and tried to ‘explain’ what had happened. Like ever try to explain something to a high-priced TSA drone (not) why ‘we’ obviously did not attack those on the ground except the three who attacked my cousin first.
Right, it would be the job of some judge within 72 hours to decide what to do with ‘us terrorists’ according to what the TSA goons’ could figure out ‘Gitmo’ maybe was where we should go instead.
Yep, that was where I met Victor, the first part of the Russian ‘Troika’ that would attempt to rule my life.
That third guy (Victor) shook his head, mumbled something about ‘Chechens!) then held out both hands and reached into his left coat, inside pocket and with two fingers pulled out his ‘FSB’ id, badge and passport, saying two other ‘FSB’ agents were still lying on the ground with three terrorists. They needed help now, so get it and to call the Russian Embassy and their lawyers in this country now, they were guarding Miss Malenkov until she was handed over to her cousin. He pointed to me and my team.
He did not wish to make this an international incident but Miss Malenkov and they had diplomatic immunity and they were now taking the ‘Terrorists’ that attacked them back to Russia. Their next action better be sanctioned by someone a bit higher on the food chain if they insisted on playing games.
Close but no cigar. At least no tie wraps, handcuffs or pepper spray were visible but after a phone call or 12 somebody either was called out of bed or finished their dozen jelly doughnuts because were told. “Ahh, we need to straighten out this mess, so we need to take you all down to the...”
“Listen Asshole, ‘we’ have diplomatic immunity and by extension these other folks are here to take over guarding Miss Malenkov, so they do also. We, none of us are going anywhere. If you wish a legal solution to this fine, arrest diplomats but you do so at your peril. You have jelly and powdered sugar around your mouth, which makes you look even more of a clown. Why haven’t my men received medical treatment? Why haven’t you taken those terrorists into custody yet? Have you contacted my Embassy yet?”
They say the best defense/defence is a good offense/offence so ... in the background Traci was on the phone making a few phone calls while Bruno, one of mine was using a Sat phone to call Moscow.
I’m not certain how much time had past but we got Gina and the girls sitting down when the proverbial ‘excrement hit the oscillating blades’. D.C., the California governor’s office, the CIA, and State Department started the phones ringing about the same time 2 lawyers, 2 Embassy types (Spetsnaz) a CHIPS uniform officer and 2 of our lawyers arrived. Most were holding a conversation with somebody on their phones.
TSA goon no 1 started to make a fuss that this was ‘their collar’ and no ... when an id was shoved into his face. Long story short: No, we were not under arrest. A police, incident report and verification of ids and permits were made. An arrest was made of the three original attackers. All five of the men were still on the ground and were going to hospital. What would happen to the non-diplomats would be up to a judge the next day or so. Me and my team were not held after identifying ourselves and our counsel being right there. An official protest was made by the Russian Embassy and someone from Moscow had called someone in Washington to verify that the US was once again harassing Russian diplomats before charges were made in Geneva?
My, my, my.
I took Gina home, shook hands with Victor, wished him and his team well and took off. This mess was not our problem, it was ‘FSB’s’. It would not be the only time Victor and I would meet. On the ride to the helicopter, I called Vicenza. Our conversation was continued on Russian Sat phones on the way back home. Sorry NSA, it was supposed to be a private conversation.
Poor Gina fell asleep on the short flight home. Well, no one could say it had been a boring day.