I leaned back on my sofa, crossing my legs, my glass of wine in hand, and let my eyes sweep the room. Across from me was Jerome Scott, as smooth as silk and colder than ice, like a banker needed to be; beside him were twins Nicholas and Luke Foster, real estate agents who, with their dark hair, dark eyes and English accents, were rather like British versions of the Property Brothers, albeit shorter. The last of our group was Dmitry Khvostov, whose soft, calming voice lured many into his business deals, mostly beneficial for him, of course. Of them all, it was surprising that Jerome was the one shifting uncomfortably.
“We’re one short tonight,” he observed, his usually charming voice slightly strained, “and we all know why.” He shook his head, clasping his hands together. “I don’t like it, someone’s caught on to us.”
“Someone’s caught on to something,” I agreed. “But you can’t let it shake you, or they’ll know they’re on the right track.”
“Look, James,” Nick spoke up, “we all know you’ve been around the block a few times with stuff like this—”
I raised an eyebrow.
“—but the rest of us aren’t used to it. We’re all clean.”
I chuckled mirthlessly, taking a sip of wine before speaking again.
“You consider insider trading ‘clean’?” I asked. “Blackmail, loan fraud, buying low and selling high?” They all squirmed at that, and I laughed again. “No, I thought not. The moment you think yourself safe simply because you haven’t done time for your actions is the moment you get careless, and wind up like Colin.” My voice grew stern by the end of the sentence, and I leaned forward again. “Now take my advice and pretend nothing has changed. Colin had a heart attack, nothing more.”
“But the murderer will come looking for us,” Dmitry pointed out. “Colin was a warning.”
“Only if we give him something to look for,” I told them. “And if we go looking for him first, we’re home free.”
They all exchanged looks and leaned toward me, all eight eyes focused on mine.
“You have a plan,” Dmitry comprehended.
I gave a cold smile.
“Indeed I do, gentlemen.”
I took a moment to enjoy their anxiety, then spread my hands, reclining in the chair again.
“Not that I can go into it here and now,” I said sardonically. “After all, if the murderer is aware of the members of our little circus, he may very well be listening in.”
They squirmed in their seats, glancing around as if expecting someone to jump out of the shadows with a meat cleaver.
“Relax,” I ordered. “If you act like this the rest of the time, it’s as good as a neon sign on your forehead. You may as well start now while here with me.”
“How do we know you don’t have something to do with this?” Luke demanded suddenly, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. “It wouldn’t be a first for you, would it? Make a contract invalid by removing the other party from the equation.”
My eyes grew cold, blue ice staring into his dark eyes and he shrank back.
“I am a business man,” I said in a low voice. “Not a murderer. As for contracts,” I added with a mirthless smirk, “if they are only verbal, there’s no proof you’ve broken them.”
That made them exchange looks again, and I heaved a sigh, rolling my eyes.
“Well, gentlemen, if all you intend to do is sit on your hands and whine and question everything, then I say this meeting is concluded.” I stood up, setting my glass on the table. “It was risky to meet in the first place but you don’t see me whinging about it. Good evening. I believe you all know how to find the way to the door, yes?”
They stood up, Nick and Luke leading the way out of my sitting room. Jerome shot me a glare, and followed in their wake. Only Dmitry lingered, walking up to me so he could speak in a lowered voice.
“You really don’t have any leads, do you?”
“None,” I muttered back. “And I hate it.”
He chuckled, reaching inside his jacket and removing a cigarette.
“Ah, ah, outside,” I reminded him.
He scoffed, and hit my arm.
“I’m not staying, don’t worry. As for your little problem, I’ll keep my eyes open.”
With that, he started to walk away as well. I knew they couldn’t have made it far when the power suddenly cut out. The house fell into pitch blackness, and gunshots rang out, followed by a cry. I darted out of the sitting room, kicking an ottoman in the darkness, but unhindered, continued out into the hall.
I collided with someone, and Dmitry’s voice was the one that spoke.
“It’s Luke, they got him in the arm.”
I looked around but without the lights, I had no hope of finding the culprit, even with my excellent night vision. Still, I reached inside my own jacket, pulling out a revolver.
“Come on,” I ordered hoarsely. “Out the back.”
Dmitry (or at least I assumed it was him) and I rounded them up, ushering them back the opposite way, toward the other side of the house. It was times like this I hated that my estate was so large, but as quietly as possible, we crept through. Luke was doing a good job of keeping silent, though his breathing had grown ragged.
“What’s in the back?” Jerome hissed. “Going outside won’t help at all without a getaway.”
“No, I never would have thought of that, Jerome, how kind of you to point that out,” I retorted.
We were close now, I knew, and I could only hope our assailant had no idea how the house was laid out.
We had just crossed the threshold into the back entry hall and again, another few rounds were fired. I shot back in the general direction, and they stopped. I didn’t trust that I’d hit them, but at least they were aware they weren’t the only one armed.
I fumbled with the knob, managing to pull open the door, and there, setting in the driveway, was my white Jaguar. With my other hand, I pulled my keys out of my pocket, and led the way to it.
“Luke, Nick, Jerome, in the back seat,” I instructed. “Dmitry, up front with me.”
They did as they were told, no longer in the mood to question my judgment or authority, and I slid into the driver’s seat, stowing my gun away.
“Are you sure it’s wise to put that away yet?” he queried.
“We’ll see, won’t we?” I returned.
The engine purred to life, and I threw the car into reverse, smoothly speeding back out onto the road. With my foot on the gas, I started us forward, revving the engine into a growl.
The last shots fired after us, missing as I floored it, taking us out of reach in no time. I took the curves at a dangerous speed, wanting to put as much distance between us and the opponent as possible.
“Wait a minute,” Nick objected, looking out the windshield. “What are you doing, the hospital’s the other way!”
I could hear the concern for his brother in his voice, but it made no difference to me. I continued staring ahead at the road, maintaining my speed.
“We’re not going to the hospital.”
I saw Dmitry look over at me from the corner of my eye and a small smirk touched my lips.
“We’re paying an old friend a call.”