Monday, March 4, 2013
Two Assassins Walk into a Coffee Bar
Since moving to Talbot’s Peak, Marissa had gotten used to seeing all kinds of weird beings. This new one made even her do a double take. Close to seven feet tall, pea jacket straining over broad, massive shoulders, a body without an ounce of fat visible anywhere, a lengthy fringe of thin white-gold hair pouring out from beneath a knit cap, a thick moustache of similar gold that could make a walrus weep with envy. He looked like he should be toting a broadsword or a war hammer, with a horned helmet perched on his head.
He strode to the counter. The stools trembled briefly. Marissa swallowed and hoped the floor would hold him. After a thorough contemplation of the menu he spoke, in a voice that sounded like a cement truck trying to be polite. “Chocolate Latte-licious, extra large. You can make it dark chocolate, yah?”
“I think we have some. I’ll have to check.”
“And two doughnuts. One apple, one raspberry cream.”
A hiss rose from the tables behind him. “St. Piotr’s beard. My poor stomach does the flip-flops just listening to that.”
The Viking with the sweet tooth whirled. “Sergei? Is that you?”
“And my offended stomach. Do you even know how to eat actual food?”
“Like that poisonous black tea you drink? No, thank Olaf.” The golden warrior boomed a laugh and reached Sergei’s table in a single stride. Their hand-clasp instantly turned into a bout of arm-wrestling. Marissa stood by anxiously, in case the table gave out.
The two finally let go without declaring a winner, and the table survived the assault. Marissa released only half her held breath and went to prepare the Viking’s order.
The Viking crammed his butt into a chair that creaked a loud protest, but held him. “Sergei, you old alley cat. Still working for the tabbies, yah?”
“They think I am,” Sergei replied. “And you? Still taking orders from the little deer?”
“The little deer pay big bucks.” He stripped off his cap, revealing a bald pate shinier than his hair, and tossed it onto the table beside Sergei’s broad-brimmed black hat. “Easy money for elk.”
“Moose. In America they call you moose. Here elk is some other big ugly deer with ridiculous horns.”
“In America, a tiger is out of place. So why are you here?” He grinned and elbowed Sergei in the ribs. “I know. The old cat’s found some poosy, yah?”
“Torvald Halvarssen, you mind what manners you have left.”
“Of course, old cat. Of course.” He winked broadly. He aimed a second wink at Marissa when she brought him his latte and doughnuts. Sergei politely declined Torvald’s offer of the raspberry cream.
“To old rivals,” Sergei said, clinking his teacup against the moose’s latte mug. “And old friends.”
“Skoal.” Torvald downed the steaming drink like swilling a chug of mead. “Ah. Hits the spot. I like America.”
“You are hunting, yes?” Sergei asked.
Torvald nodded glumly. “As always. Not you, so get your hackles down. The Roebucks couldn’t pay me enough to take you on. I’m after a horse. Know any?”
“This is Montana. Land of cowboys. Are horses everywhere.”
“This one is Irish.” Both of them shook their heads and grumbled their disgust. “He helped himself to the old buck’s granddaughter. Like that’s any feat. That one’s been letting men graze in her pasture since she was thirteen.”
Sergei sipped his tea. “You will kill this horse?”
“The old buck says not yet. Bring him back alive, make him pay for his crime. But it’s a long way from here back to Boston. He could break a leg and have to be put down. You know horses. So delicate.”
“Not the horses I know. You need help?”
“With a horse?” Torvald snorted explosively. “The day I need help to take an Irishman, you can put me down.” He ripped his apple doughnut in half and jammed a segment into his mouth. The other he offered to Sergei. Sergei shook his head.
Torvald chewed thoughtfully, and swallowed slowly. He lowered his voice. “As long as you’re here … I have heard word of Mikhail.”
Sergei’s eyes turned to ice. He glowered down at his teacup. “Mikhail is dead.”
“My sources say different. There were rumors in Budapest and again in Paris.”
“It isn’t him.”
“Yah, Paris could have been a false alarm. He hides well, but when the Black Tiger surfaces he’s hard to miss.” His gravelly voice softened. “He has his father’s eyes.”
“He is dead.” The teacup shattered in Sergei’s hand, spraying tea onto the tabletop. A thin line of blood welled up across his snow-colored palm. Torvald jerked backward, snorting.
Sergei rose abruptly. “I must go. Work to do.” He snatched up his hat and slapped it onto his head. He didn’t even bother to wipe from the blood from his hand. “It was good to see you, Torvald. Good luck with your hunt.”
He stalked out of Java Joe’s at a speed Marissa had never seen him use before. When he had gone she cautiously approached the table with a rag in her hand and ready to bolt if she had to. “What was that about?”
“Cheap foreign-made cups. They’re not crafted for a man’s hands.” Torvald tugged the rag away from Marissa and wiped up the tea himself. He pressed his empty mug at her in return. “You bring me another of these, yah?”