To start at the beginning go here.
Sarti led me out of the Abbatoir, through the Factory’s main floor, and back out the front door. Anyone caught in the path of Sarti’s convoy moved out of the way as if a Humvee were bearing down on them. The bald giant at the entrance had been replaced by another of Sarti’s men who fell in behind us as we made our way down the alley.
After a few yards I sped up a bit to walk side-by-side with Sarti, who made his way with a quick gait of his short, pumping legs, oblivious to the dirty water or trash. Flanking each other, we moved west. I said nothing, feeling Sarti occasionally shoot me a sideways glance. The bass of the club faded away, leaving the silence of the night only cut by the rapid tapping of our feet as we moved further and further away from occupied civilization.
We crossed under the bridge, moving in a formation of synchronous footsteps, before Sarti spoke. “How is Atwell?”
Sarti was kind enough to speak softly, but the mention of Atwell around so many still made me instantly nervous. Back in the States knowing that any criminal was cooperating with a government agent, no matter what government, would have meant a death sentence, or at least a severe beating and ostracism, by his peers. In this city, though, Sarti had no peers. Or at least he hadn’t before Mitnick arrived. In Sarti’s eyes, and by extension the eyes of his men, he was using Atwell, not the other way around, so I was Sarti’s property, not Atwell’s.
I shrugged, trying to roll the knot of anxiety out of my shoulders. I wasn’t going to pretend to understand how the influence game worked here, or anywhere else for that matter. What I had seen of it was all pre-9/11, then there had been the Marine Corps, then Cheryl’s illness, and then prison. Each of those chapters had taught their own lessons, but they all basically amounted to be observant and keep your mouth shut. With that in mind, I followed the shrug with, “He seems fine.”
Sarti chuckled. It wasn’t a happy sound, not one that suggested he was glad to hear Atwell was doing well, but a noise like the subject of it had failed to start the engine of his mirth. “That weaselly little bastard would never be fine,” he added. Arrangement or not, Sarti’s opinion of all law enforcement, particularly those who worked in the gray area between cop and informer, was the same as most professional criminals. “He’s too busy running around, frightened he might not know what’s going on, to ever be fine.”
I smiled without reservation, large enough that Sarti or anyone else who was watching me could see it. I appreciated someone else expressing my own dislike for the little bastard, and I was fairly certain Sarti already knew I shared his opinion. It may have been one of the reasons he gave me a job, albeit a shitty one, at the casino when Atwell asked him for the favor.
I thought about Atwell’s attempt at nonchalance in the car but it had been a risk for him to pick me up out by the Promenade. Not for him, personally – I doubted very much that Atwell would ever take a risk that would put his own well-being in danger. Had the right person spotted us, though, I would have been compromised and that would have nullified a great deal of work that he had done. “He’s worried,” I replied.
Sarti didn’t let the conversation stop him, my reply only producing another rolling chuckle as his legs continued to work. We were headed west, I noted, towards the river. The cobbled streets had started a slight declination that would continue to increase as we headed further that way. “My little show at the casino upset him, yes?”
“It frightened a lot of people.” I thought about that now and how much Sarti has risked with his stunt and wondered how far he would have gone.
He seemed to enjoy the thought of at least scaring people as his chuckle this time sounded more genuine. “Such displays are necessary from time to time.”
“Why?” The question popped out, floating up on any number of scenarios I thought of on how Mitnick could have been handled. Some place private, some place quiet.
Watching my feet on the cobblestones, slick with morning dew and a wind coming up from the river, I could still feel Sarti’s sideways glare at me. Even for a man unaccustomed to being questioned, it felt like a strong reaction and I wondered then if there might be bigger repercussions to just killing Mitnick then Sarti didn’t want to deal with.
I knew I had at least temporarily escaped the repercussions of Sarti’s anger when he answered me. “It show outsiders like Mitnick who’s in charge. And it keeps everyone else in line.”
It was my turn to glance over at Sarti, my longer legs stretching out to keep up with him, none of the conversation having interfered with the pace he was setting. I could see now that Sarti had been prepared to go all the way in the casino, prepared to kill Mitnick and as many of his boys that he had with them if they had put up a fight. If Mitnick had sensed any weakness Sarti would have been done in the city right at that moment. Which meant either of them would have been prepared to accept any collateral damage, the deaths of however many tourists that had just shown up at the casino to play at being James Bond for awhile. Sure, there were the high-rollers too, but how many of them were benefiting from some kind of relationship with Sarti?
A part of me wanted to thank Sarti for reminding me that he was just a different kind of monster. I thought about the brothel rumors and wondered how many of the Ukrainian girls that inhabited them were brought in by his crew. Maybe he could be involved in the girl the Corsican had been asking about. Instead of that, though, I asked, “So where are we going?”
“To the river.” I wondered then if he had decided it was time to get rid of me. I relaxed, though, after a moment. I was a nobody, not a man of stature like Mitnick. If Sarti wanted to get rid of me he would have just sent someone.