Thursday, July 4
Yuri Davidov peered at his cards through a cloud of cigarette smoke. Queens full of aces—a full house. He looked over his cards at Tony Heng, a skinny Asian gangster whose uncanny string of luck had just run out. Yuri tossed a packet of money to the center of the table. “That’s your thousand plus two. Want to count it?”
One of Heng’s bodyguards reached for the money, but Tony waved him off.
“I trust you, my Russian friend. After all, according to my uncle we’re business partners now, aren’t we?” Heng’s thin lips spread into a toothy grin.
Davidov narrowed his eyes. “So I’ve been told.”
Heng touched his chin and pondered the cash in the center of the table. “Such a large bet. Perhaps I should fold?”
“I’d expect as much from you.”
Heng grinned. “Ah, a taunt. Is it because you have a strong hand or because you’re bluffing? Russians like to bluff, don’t they?”
Yuri put his cards facedown on the table and tapped them. “It’ll cost you two thousand to find out.”
Heng reached into the pocket of his designer jacket and pulled out a wad of cash. He peeled off twenty one-hundred-dollar bills and threw them on the table. “Finding out is worth two thousand. You Russians like to bluff; we Chinese like to gamble. Let’s see what you have.”
Yuri flipped his cards over. “Full house.”
Heng cursed. “And all I have is two pair.”
Yuri took a turn at grinning as he reached for the pot.
“Hold on,” Heng said and laid down his cards. “I have two pair of fours. I believe four of a kind beats a full house.” Smiling, Heng scooped the discards into the deck along with his four of a kind and pushed the deck to Yuri. “Your deal.”
Davidov tightened his jaw and balled his hands into fists. “You cheating scum! I discarded a four. There are four fours in a deck, not five.”
Heng’s eyes darkened. “No one calls me a cheat!”
“I’ll do more than call you a cheat.” Yuri growled, reaching across the table. He froze midtable when Heng’s hand darted into his coat. The punk is actually going for his gun. Yuri snatched his own pistol from the small of his back and leveled it at Heng.
But Heng continued to draw his weapon.
In an apartment across the street, Special Agent Ali Marcoli pressed her earpiece to her ear. “Sam, you better listen to this. Davidov just caught Heng cheating at cards.”
Sam Perkins turned from the telescope at the window and rushed to the table. He picked up an earpiece and fit it in. “Not good.”
At the crack of the gunshot, their eyes locked.
Perkins jumped to his feet. “Call for backup. And stay put.”
Ali opened her mouth, but Sam bolted out the door of the apartment before she could utter a word. She pulled out her cell phone, made one quick call to Seattle police and another to the FBI, then headed for the door. Stay put? Not a chance.
She dropped down the building’s worn wooden steps two at a time and burst out onto the street. Ali squinted her eyes against the hot July sun. She’d left her sunglasses upstairs. Ali looked left, then right—no sign of Perkins. She bit her lower lip, trying to decide what to do.
Two Asian men, Heng’s bodyguards, popped out of the building across the street, one bald and the other with close-cropped hair. They looked up and down the street while they talked, then Baldy went to the left while Brushcut went to the right.
Where is Heng? Ali wondered. He never went anywhere without the bodyguards—unless he didn’t need bodyguards anymore.
If they split up, it could only mean one thing. Davidov had shot Heng, and to save their own skins they had to find and kill Davidov.
Perkins must have seen Davidov come out the front door and followed him. What Sam didn’t know was that one of Heng’s bodyguards was on his tail.
Ali needed to act fast. Sam would be defenseless if the bodyguard surprised him from behind. Which one should she follow? Ali put herself in Davidov’s place. If she’d just blown away a crime lord’s nephew, which way would she run? Most likely toward the downtown section and get lost in the Independence Day festivities.
Ali shadowed Baldy from the opposite side of the street. The heavyset man peered into the window of each business and poked his head down each alley. After two blocks the bodyguard ducked into an alley.
Ali heard sirens echoing from the way she’d come. The police would go to Heng’s apartment, but she needed them here. She reached for her cell phone then realized Sam could be dead by the time she made the call.
The rookie FBI agent cut across traffic, using her badge as a shield. Adrenaline coursing through her, she followed Baldy into the alley where tall buildings on each side washed it in dimness.
Halfway down the alley Sam struggled with two men, Baldy and Davidov. Ali reached for the Glock tucked in her hip holster and paused with her hand on the grip. She couldn’t fire when the three men were wrapped up with each other. Ali sprinted toward them and shouted, “FBI!”
Baldy released Sam, who continued to struggle with Davidov, and turned to her, his lips twisted into a grin. A couple inches shorter than she, but with beefy shoulders and sledgehammer fists, Baldy presented an imposing image. Ali whipped out her weapon and trained it on the man. He grinned and held open his hands. “I’m unarmed. A man wouldn’t need a gun to take me.”
“Shoot him,” Sam grunted then tumbled with Davidov to the ground.
Baldy put himself between Ali and the two men fighting on the ground. He continued to advance. “Shoot,” he said. “But if you miss, or if the bullet goes through me, who will you hit?”
Baldy was right, and Ali knew it. She holstered the Glock, then turned her body sideways. She held up her hands loosely and beckoned Baldy to take her on.
“Don’t be a fool, Ali,” Sam shouted. “Shoot him.”
“It’s okay. I can handle this,” she said. Like a cat, she focused on Baldy’s advance. He moved in a classic martial arts position—one hand high, the other low. If he got a direct hit, she’d suffer for it. But behind her waited a great equalizer.
Baldy ran forward, swinging fists and throwing kicks. Ali shuffled back until only six feet separated her and the flying sledgehammers. She sidestepped a kick and grabbed an empty metal trash can. When he punched, Ali held up the can and felt his fists thud into it. Howling in pain, Baldy shook his hands. Ali threw the trash can at him, and as his hands went up to knock it away, she side-kicked Baldy’s right knee. His leg buckled, and Ali fired two quick snap kicks to his chin. He rocked back and forth on his heels then dropped like a sack of potatoes.
Ali looked over at Sam, who now had one knee in Davidov’s back while he handcuffed him. He shook his head as Ali rolled Baldy onto his chest, cuffed him, and then rolled him again.
Perkins hauled the lanky Davidov to his feet, then shoved him up against the brick wall of the building, patting him down but finding no weapon. Ali spotted Perkins’s gun off to the side, picked it up, then walked it over to him. Perkins grudgingly took it and shoved it into his holster.
“What happened?” she asked.
“I had my gun on this idiot, who didn’t see fit to tell me that your guy was coming up behind me. He kicked me in the elbow, and I dropped the gun. Next thing I know, the Asian guy was on me. Davidov tried to run, so I grabbed him, and then you showed up. I guess I should say thanks.”
“It would be nice.”
“I told you to stay put.”
“Would you have?”
Perkins rubbed the back of his hand across his sweaty brow and smiled. “Nah. Thanks.”
“So what’s your story?”
“I called for backup like you said, then I followed you to the street. No sign of you, but I saw Heng’s bodyguards looking up and down the street. They split up, and I followed this one figuring if Davidov was on the run, he’d be heading toward downtown.”
“Good thinking.” Perkins turned to Davidov. “You and I are going to have a little chat.”
“I’m not saying anything until I speak with a lawyer.”
“Assuming you live that long,” Perkins said.
Davidov’s eyes widened. “What do you mean?”
“Well, there were four people in Heng’s apartment. One bodyguard is out cold after meeting my partner, who happens to be the Pacific Northwest ladies kickboxing champion, and the other is off looking for us. You’re here, which means the gunshot in the apartment was for Heng. I’m pretty sure he’s dead, and you’re in big trouble with his uncle. If you want any kind of break at all, now is the time to start talking.”
“I want my lawyer.”
“Fine. We’ll put you in the general population of the local jail, and you can call your lawyer. Maybe Heng’s uncle won’t care that you shot his nephew. You’ll probably be okay in there. In fact, maybe we’ll have you released on your own recognizance and see how you fare.”
Beads of sweat popped out on Davidov’s forehead. “It was self-defense.”
“Sure it was.”
“Really. Heng was cheating at cards, and I called him on it. He went for his gun. I got mine out first, figuring he’d stop when he’s staring down a barrel, but he just kept drawing. I had to fire.”
“Uh-huh. So where’s your gun now?”
Davidov went silent.
Perkins chewed on his lower lip. “You’ve got a real problem here. I don’t believe you’d leave anyone—dead or alive—with a weapon. I figure you took Tony’s and ditched it along with your gun. Now, I had a good eye on you the whole time you were outside, so that means they’re in that building. The only way you can prove Tony was armed is to tell me where the guns are. Am I right?”
Davidov looked away.
Perkins turned Davidov’s face to his. The man’s angular features were in a state of panic. “This is a onetime offer. I give you my word we’ll do our best to keep you alive if you cooperate with us. We’ll even do what we can to back up your self-defense claim.”
“You have witnesses,” Perkins said.
“Yeah, but they work for Heng. They’re never going to tell the truth.”
Perkins glanced back at the moaning form of Heng’s bodyguard. “Don’t be so sure. Knowing Heng, it won’t be long before there’ll be a way to convince our friend it would be in his own best interest to talk.”
Loud voices fueled by a well-liquored lunch crowd made quite a din. Josef Grachev shouldered his way through the bar crowd, ignoring the pounding music to peer toward the back booths. The strapping Russian mobster spotted the lithe form of Billy Heng in a booth against the oak-paneled back wall. At a nearby table were four men, three Asian and one white—Heng’s bodyguards. Grachev had brought his own, two men built like NFL linebackers. Like him, they were former KGB, and if trouble started, they knew how to take care of it.
He crossed the bar, ignoring the welcoming looks young women cast at him. In his midforties, Grachev looked more like his late thirties with his dark, handsome features.
While his men took position at the table across from Heng’s men, Grachev seated himself in the booth opposite his counterpart. He waved away the waitress who started toward him.
“We have a problem,” Heng said in a soft voice.
Whereas Grachev’s voice was excessively masculine, Heng’s was almost feminine. What the Triad saw in him, the Russian couldn’t understand.
“No kidding.” There was no trace of an accent in Grachev’s voice. He’d spent a lot of time in the States, during and after the KGB era.
“My nephew is dead.”
“He probably deserved it,” Grachev said.
Heng’s eyes darkened. “He was my brother’s only son. He did not deserve to die. What should be done, that is our concern.”
“Well, Davidov has been with me a long time. I’m not about to just shoot him.”
Heng stood. “Then it seems we have nothing to talk about. Maybe we will just carry on our business without you.”
“Sure, you do that. Go back to smuggling people into the U.S. in those rust buckets that you call ships. How many did the Coast Guard intercept last year? All but four, I believe. Not one shipment has been intercepted using our freighters. Is your nephew really worth that much?”
Heng lowered himself back into his seat. “Are you saying nothing should be done? We are to continue trusting you when your man shoots one of ours? Are you willing to give up the healthy fees and additional cargo we pay you for using your ships to protect one murderer?”
Grachev tapped his fingers on the table. They were getting a lot of cash and drugs from the Triad for delivering would-be refugees from the Far East in Russian container ships. The Coast Guard wasn’t as willing to stop and search Russian-flagged vessels as they were the boats the Triad had been using. “Well, what does your man say?”
Heng’s expression relaxed a bit. “He says Davidov was cheating at cards. When Tony caught him, Davidov got angry, pulled his gun, and shot him.”
Grachev clenched his jaw. There was no way Davidov would have just shot Tony. Something had to have happened. He hated being lied to, especially to his face. “I’d like to talk to your man myself.”
Heng smiled. “That is no longer possible.”
“What do you mean?”
Heng shrugged his shoulders. “He failed in his duty to protect my nephew. I do not tolerate mistakes.”
“You just made a big one.”
Heng lifted his eyebrows. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Grachev shook his head in disgust. “You’ve given the FBI the leverage they need with the bodyguard they have in custody.”