A half-empty dining room greeted us, but I stopped in mid-stride and stared.
Don’t believe my eyes.
Tanya was the last person I expected to see, and the last person I wanted to see. And I didn’t believe in coincidences.
Hannah touched my sleeve. ‘Meester Charles … problem?’
I gripped her arm and turned her away. ‘Headache. Let’s take a walk in the fresh air.’
A lame excuse, and my self-esteem faltered.
Hannah wriggled free. ‘It’s raining outside.’
Bollocks. Time to face up to my misdeeds, and have it out with the Thai bitch. But, before I moved in for the kill, a heavy-set man sporting a walrus moustache walked out of the cloakroom and plonked himself down beside her. Shifty eyes as well, I took an immediate dislike to the fat pig.
I looked away, caught Hannah by the hand, and led her to a far-away table. Not far enough, though. While we perused the menu our waiter came back with an invitation to join the couple — he pointed at Tanya, who waved at me.
Tell them to fuck off. On the other hand, my curiosity got the better of me. I returned the wave. ‘We’ll be delighted,’ I said, looking at Hannah. ‘Won’t we?’
A brief discussion between her and the waiter, and Hannah nodded, stood up. ‘Okay,’ she said.
‘On my tab,’ said Kostya, introductions completed, ‘order what you like.’
Pity it wasn’t the Bel-Air. I adopted a casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude, while the two women appraised each other. ‘So what’s the occasion?’
Kostya coughed up a deep-throated laugh. ‘Call it a reunion, Charlie,’ he said, his accent definitely Eastern European. ‘We have much to discuss.’
I didn’t rise to the bait. ‘I’m sure we don’t,’ I said, ‘unless whatever it is you want, it comes with a money-back guarantee.’
Kostya slapped his hand on the table, his face a wreath of smiles. He nudged Tanya. Hear that, sweetheart? ‘Money-back guarantee. Very amusing, Charlie.’
‘Hmm.’ Tanya, more interested in Hannah. ‘She’s very pretty, isn’t she?’
‘Later, sweetheart, later.’
I let the threat — definitely a threat — hang in the air. Providing I took great care, no danger to either of us in the restaurant, even if spiked drinks were on the menu.
Our waiter returned, addressed Kostya. ‘Ready to order, sir?’
‘Beef satay skewers, peanut sauce dipping, and…’
I tuned him out, focused on Hannah. She smiled at me, hesitated. ‘What Tanya chooses.’
Tanya followed Kostya. So I ordered beef satay as well. After all, it was a reunion. Of sorts. Drinks came next, bottles of water for the women. Kostya had stronger tastes.
‘…a bottle of vodka. Stolichnaya, plenty of ice.’ Kostya closed his menu, beamed at me. ‘Stoli is to your liking?’
Too bad if it isn’t.
‘In moderation.’ My “lying-through-my-teeth” expression made Kostya chuckle. Loudly enough to draw attention from a few nearby patrons. He glared at one couple. They looked away. Tanya and Hannah excused themselves for a cloakroom visit.
With the women out of sight, his piggy little slits refocused on me. His walrus twitched. ‘I have business interests in the Bel-Air, Charlie.’
‘Credit cards, mainly. The rest’ — he made a throw-away gesture — ‘is candy-floss.’
My money, my Rolex. Candy-floss? I tried to interrupt but he motioned for me to wait.
‘When my production line pauses, I become—how do you say it?—hands-on. And you Charlie, are the spanner in the works.’
He folded his arms. ‘My English is good, no?’
And the punch-line?
He answered before I could speak. ‘Bel-Air’s image is at stake. My assistants are concerned that a repeat of last night’s incident would put their jobs at risk. So am I.’ He unfolded his arms, put palms upwards on the table to show nothing concealed. ‘Involving the police was a mistake—it should never have happened.’
‘And it wouldn’t have if your Tanya had kept her mouth shut.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘If you remember correctly, I was also a victim of your sweetheart. My credit card plus my Rolex and money. It wasn’t candyfloss, Kostya. So when I tried to prevent her doing the same to the sauerkrauts she told them my name.’ This time I held up my hand to quash his response. ‘And then your idiot assistants searched my room before hauling me off to the police station.’
Kostya’s expression hovered between disbelief and despair. ‘Fuck,’ he said.
We sat staring at each other until the ladies returned, followed by the waiter. Kostya ate a mouthful of his meal in silence, before putting down his knife and fork, and beckoning to Tanya to follow him. They were gone ten minutes, in which time I’d helped myself to the bottle of Stoli, and told Hannah she looked great in her new dress.
Tanya didn’t return with Kostya. ‘She had a headache,’ he said, before adopting his open palms performance. ‘Charlie, I want you to forget what happened at the Bel-Air.’ He paused, grimaced. ‘Naturally, I’ll recompense you for your losses.’
‘And if I don’t accept?’
He nodded at Hannah, pointed one finger at his eyes and then at mine. ‘She’s a pretty girl, Charlie. Don’t be blind.’
Threat messaged loud and clear. He extracted his chequebook, ripped out a blank cheque and signed it. Placed it on the table in front of Hannah. She stared at it as though it would jump up and bite her.
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘On one condition.’
He inclined his head, listening.
‘Write another, payable to St. Michael’s, Lake Toba. Call it your absolution.’
Kostya laughed. ‘And this one?’
‘Call it mine.’
I pocketed Kostya’s (generous) donation to Father Angelo, and told Hannah to keep her cheque. What she did with it — I pictured a better life for her mother and Louise — was not my concern any more.
Our dinner, now cold, was pushed aside. Kostya, poured out the last of the vodka into our two glasses.
‘What’s the toast, Charlie?’
I explained that a reunion is never complete without a final farewell. We both stood and raised our glasses. ‘To absent friends,’ I said. Friends I never wanted to set eyes on again, but the sarcasm was lost on him.
As he echoed mine, I suspected my next encounter would promise as much trauma as he had caused.
Delcie and Mary? No more procrastination.
I switched my phone back on.