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Broken Whispers: Chapter 9

Bianca

The room I wake up in seems vaguely familiar. I sit up in the bed and look around. Mikhail’s room. Me, in Mikhail’s bed. I smile and fall back onto the pillows. God, just thinking about last night makes me want to run out of the room, find Mikhail, and drag him back to bed with me.

The clock on the nightstand shows 7 a.m. Where is he? Did he seriously leave me here and go to work out as he does every morning? You don’t do that after giving a woman the best sex of her life the night before. Where is the cuddling? Showering together? A second round?

I get out of the bed, go to the closet on the opposite wall, and steal another of Mikhail’s T-shirts. If I remember correctly, the housekeeper is coming to do the big cleaning today, and I don’t want to flash her if she’s early. When I exit the room, there is no one around. No housekeeper, and no trace of my husband. I proceed to the guest room to take a shower and wash my hair, then go to the kitchen to make coffee.

I scroll through my phone while drinking the dark elixir and see three messages, one from Milene and two from Angelo, all dated to last night.

21:12 Milene: What are you getting Nonna? Please tell me you are not buying her another hat.

Damn it. With all that’s happened, I completely forgot Nonna Giulia’s birthday party.

I open a new message window and start typing a message to Mikhail.

07:29 Bianca: I forgot that my grandmother is having her 96th birthday next Sunday. I have to go buy her a present.

I open Angelo’s messages next.

23:44 Angelo: DAD LET THEM MARRY YOU TO MIKHAIL ORLOV?!

23:45 Angelo: Don’t fuck with me Bianca! It’s not funny.

I stare at the messages. Looks like Angelo knows Mikhail, and is not a fan.

07:31 Bianca: I’m not fucking with you. How do you know my husband?

The door to the gym opens and Mikhail walks out. Why is he wearing a long-sleeved shirt again? No one in his right mind wears long-sleeved shirts in June, and I know for certain he has at least twenty T-shirts, minus the two I stole. He comes into the kitchen and goes to the fridge without even looking at me.

“Sisi will be coming around three with Lena, so if you need anything, just make her a list and she will buy it along the way.” He takes a bottle of water, closes the fridge, then heads toward his bedroom. “We can go buy the present for your grandmother on Friday if you want.” He looks at me over his shoulder.

Seriously? No good morning kiss or anything? Well, fuck him and his collected self. I’m done playing this hot and cold game. He wants to pretend nothing happened last night? No problem. I can do the same.

I nod and turn my attention back to my phone.

* * *

“But I want Bianca to come, too.”

I put down the box with the spices I’m organizing and look at Lena. She is standing at the door with Mikhail crouching in front of her and zipping up her jacket.

“Bianca, Bianca, come with us. If you are good, Daddy will buy you a donut. He always buys me a donut if I’m good in the park.”

Mikhail watches me for a few seconds, and when I don’t make a move, he turns to Lena.

“Some other time, Lenochka. Bianca is busy.”

Yeah, Bianca is busy with tidying an already impeccable kitchen, trying to distract herself from mulling over all possible explanations for her husband’s strange behavior. I sigh, take my phone out and send a message to Mikhail.

17:13 Bianca: I don’t have a jacket. Most of my clothes for cold weather are still at my father’s house.

I didn’t expect the temperature to drop so much. Most of the boxes which Denis brought from my home had dresses, summer clothes, and my stage outfits that I didn’t want to leave behind. I only have my elegant coat here with me, and I planned on asking Milene to pack the rest of my wardrobe.

Mikhail’s phone pings. He takes it from his jeans pocket, looks at the screen, then starts typing. My phone vibrates a second later. Really? I snort. We are less than ten feet apart and he messages me back?

17:14 Mikhail: You can borrow one of my hoodies.

I look up and I nod. While he goes to his bedroom, I put the spices back in the drawer and head toward the door  to put on my sneakers. Lena is jumping around me, babbling about donuts, when I feel Mikhail’s hand on the small of my back and turn. He’s holding a folded gray hoodie in his other hand. It looks like he does own something other than black clothes.

I put on the hoodie, then look down at myself. The hem almost reaches my knees. The sleeves are at least another hand’s length beyond the tips of my fingers. I look up and find Mikhail watching me. He is trying really hard to keep his expression serious, but his lips are tightly pressed together. He crosses his arms, places his fist over his mouth, shakes his head, and then bursts out laughing. It’s rich and throaty, and I can’t take my eyes off him. He is so beautiful when he laughs.

“Hold out your arms,” he says.

I raise them, and he rolls up the sleeves for me, the left one first and then the right. He is still smiling, and I want to kiss him again.

“Bianca, Bianca, you look funny in Daddy’s clothes.” Lena giggles next to me.

There is a mirror on the left of the door, so I take a few steps and glance at my reflection. I look even more comical with the sleeves rolled three times. Mikhail stands behind me, and our eyes lock in the mirror. He is not smiling anymore, only watches our reflections for a few seconds before abruptly turning away.

“Do you want us to drop by a store first? To buy you something in your size?” he asks without looking at me and opens the door.

I think about it for a moment. Do I look like an idiot? Probably. Do I care? Nope. I turn, take Lena’s hand, and start toward the elevator. Hopefully, it’s not his favorite hoodie, because I am keeping it.

 

Mikhail

 

I fucked something up, and I’m not sure what. Bianca has been mad at me since this morning for reasons I can’t understand. I’ve spent the whole day trying to figure out what I did wrong, and still have no clue. Although, it looks like the worst has passed, because when I took her hand as we were leaving the building, she didn’t pull away. She did, however, gift me a pointed look through narrowed eyes.

Sitting on the bench at the edge of the playground, I watch Bianca as she chases Lena around the sandbox. They have been fooling around for an hour. First at the slide, and then in the small children’s house, where Lena prepared a make-believe lunch out of leaves and rocks she collected. Bianca pretended to eat them. My wife looks even younger in my several-sizes-too-big hoodie, and for a moment, I feel a pang of guilt. What if Roman was right? Maybe I should have let Kostya have her. He is closer to her in age, so she would probably have more things to talk about with him than with me. I don’t talk much anyway. The two of them would have been much more suited as a couple.

I can’t stop thinking about the moment before we left my place, when I stood behind her and saw our layered reflections in the mirror. Bianca, even wearing that ridiculously large hoodie, appeared so beautiful and sophisticated. And then there was me, looming over her like a hideous monster. I knew we were a bad match, but up until that moment, I didn’t grasp how much.

“Daddy, Daddy!” Lena shouts and motions with her hand at me. “Come, Daddy!”

I stand up and walk toward the sandbox. “What is it, Lenochka?”

“You are the wolf now, Daddy. You chase. Me and Bianca will run away.” She giggles and dashes toward the other end of the playground.

I turn to Bianca who is standing a few paces away, watching me with a question in her eyes. I take a few steps until I’m in front of her, bend, and whisper in her ear. “Run, my little lamb.”

She tilts her head up at me, her lips widening in a mischievous smile, then turns on her heel and runs to Lena, who is hiding behind the slide. I take the first few strides in their direction, and when Lena sees me coming, she yelps and dashes to the left, giggling. I run after her. It takes me less than ten seconds to get to her, and she squeals in delight as I scoop her around her middle. I place a kiss on her cheek, then hold her under my left arm and turn toward Bianca.

There is a smug expression on her face as she watches me, but it transforms to surprise when I run toward her with Lena laughing madly under my arm.

“Faster, Daddy!”

Bianca dashes toward the kid’s house on the other side, and she is rather fast. However, I’m faster and my strides are much larger. I catch up with her just a few feet from the playhouse, grab her around her waist with my free arm, and pull her against me. She is laughing, I can’t hear it, but I can feel the way her chest moves under my arm. I lift her from the ground and carry them both to the small coffee shop across the street from the park.

 

Bianca

 

I am still laughing as the double sliding doors open and Mikhail carries us into the coffee shop. A few people around the room look up at us in surprise. An older couple sitting by the window smiles and turns back to their teas and cakes. On the other side of the shop, a middle-aged woman sitting with another lady gawks at Mikhail’s face without shame, then nudges her friend with her elbow and tips her head in our direction. The nerve some people have.

Mikhail lets me down, and taking my hand in his, walks toward the cash register.

“Coffee, no milk?” he asks, and I nod. He remembered I drink my coffee black.

“Daddy, I have to pee,” Lena whispers.

“Just a second, Lenochka.”

Mikhail orders a coffee for me and orange juice for Lena, tells the cashier to make it to go, then hands me his wallet. “I have to take Lena to the bathroom.”

Holding the wallet in one hand, I point to myself with my free one, offering to take Lena, but Mikhail shakes his head.

“It’s okay. I’ll take her,” he says and leads Lena toward the restrooms.

I prepare the amount shown on the register and look up to find the guy on the other side watching me while he’s pouring the coffee. He casts a glance toward the bathroom, where Mikhail just went in with Lena, then back to me and smiles. I don’t reciprocate.

“Your dad is a really scary guy,” he says and nods toward the bathroom.

I roll my eyes. Seriously? Mikhail might seem a few years older than thirty-one at first glance because of the eyepatch and scars, but it’s more than evident that he can’t be my father.

“You think he’d let me take you to a movie or something?” The barista leans forward and winks.

Is this guy for real? He’s barely seventeen, if even that. Idiot. I place the money on the counter and turn just as Mikhail and Lena exit the bathroom. I size him up, noting the way his black jeans fit him perfectly, and how his black sweater molds to his rock-hard chest and stomach, remembering how it felt to be pinned against the wall by that magnificent body last night.

“Ready to go?” Mikhail asks when he arrives at my side.

I smirk, take Lena’s juice from the counter and give it to her with the straw. Then, I place my hand on Mikhail’s chest, and collecting a handful of fabric between my fingers, I pull on his sweater. His face is expressionless, but I catch slight confusion in his eye as he bends down. When his face stops a few inches above mine, I raise on my toes and press my lips to his.

It was meant to be a quick kiss, but the moment I feel his mouth on mine, all reason flies out the window. The next thing I know, I’m clutching the back of Mikhail’s neck while he crushes me to his body. My feet dangle above the ground, and we are kissing like there’s no tomorrow.

“Yucky!” I hear Lena exclaim and my eyes snap open.

One impossibly blue eye is regarding me with such intensity that, for a moment, it feels hard to draw breath. I don’t remember anyone looking at me like that, ever.

Ty luch solntsa v pasmurnyy den’, Bianca,” he says into my lips, kisses me again, and slowly lowers me to the ground.

It feels like I’ve just run a mile, because my heart is thumping in my chest like crazy. I take a deep breath and turn to take my coffee from the counter. The barista is staring at me, his eyes wide.

“Eyes off my wife, kid,” Mikhail says behind me.

The guy blinks, looks up at Mikhail, then takes a step back.

“Daddy, Daddy, can we go buy donuts now? Can we Daddy?”

“Sure, zayka.” Mikhail bends to scoop Lena up, takes my hand, and leads us toward the exit.

 

Mikhail

 

My phone starts ringing just as we enter the apartment.

“Wash your hands, Lenochka.” I point to the paper bag holding her donut, which she’s clutching to her chest. “And dinner first. You can eat the donut after. Okay?”

“Okay, Daddy!”

I pull out the phone, look at the screen, and turn to Bianca. “It’s Roman. Can you help Lena? I have to take this.”

She nods, brushes her hand down my forearm, and hurries toward the bathroom. I still find it hard to process how much I enjoy her touching me.

“Pakhan?” I say into the phone.

“I need you to go check on Sergei,” he says. “He hasn’t been answering his phone since this morning, and he has a meeting with Mendoza’s men tonight. If he isn’t in shape to take it, I need you to go instead.”

“I’ll be there in an hour.”

I put the phone away and go to the bathroom where Bianca is helping Lena dry her hands.

“I have to go.” I reach out and remove a strand of hair from her cheek. “I’ll call Sisi to come to watch Lena. I don’t know how long it’ll take.”

Bianca looks up at me, shakes her head, points to her chest, and then to Lena.

“You sure?”

She nods and takes Lena’s hand.

“Lenochka.” I bend and brush her chin with my thumb. “Daddy needs to go to work. Bianca will stay with you, okay?”

“Okay, Daddy.” She beams and turns to Bianca. “Bianca, Bianca, can we have a pajama party. Can we please?”

“Dinner first, zayka. And be good.”

“Yes, Daddy.” She takes Bianca’s hand and starts pulling her. “Come on Bianca. Dinner first, then donut, then pajama party.”

Bianca lets Lena lead her out of the bathroom and toward the kitchen. I follow them with my gaze, then head into my bedroom to change in case I end up going to that meeting later.

On my way out, I take a small detour to the kitchen where the girls are sitting at the breakfast bar, making sandwiches.

“Listen to Bianca,” I tell Lena and place a kiss at the top of her head.

When I look up, I find Bianca watching me. God, I want to crush my mouth to hers so badly, but I don’t dare. I have no idea what happened in that coffee shop earlier to urge her to kiss me, and I don’t want to push her. It can’t be easy for her, so instead, I just brush my finger down her cheek.

“Message me if you have any problems with Lena,” I say and turn to leave.

When I’m at the door, I glance back and find Bianca watching me with narrowed eyes. I might be wrong, but it looks like she’s mad at me again.

As I am starting the car and wondering what the fuck I’m going to find when I get to Sergei’s place, I hear my phone ping with an incoming message.

19:31 Bianca: You haven’t eaten.

I stare at the message. I haven’t. And she noticed.

19:32 Mikhail: I’ll grab something along the way.

19:32 Bianca: We will prepare a sandwich for you and leave it in the fridge. Just in case.

19:33 Mikhail: Thank you.

I leave the phone on the dash and drive out of the garage. Somewhere along the way, I hear another message arrive, but I don’t open it until I park in front of Sergei’s house. When I do, I sit behind the wheel for five minutes, staring at her message.

19:52 Bianca: From now on, I expect a goodbye kiss too. Please keep that in mind, Mikhail.

 

Bianca

 

After dinner and a quick bath, I tuck Lena into bed and cover her with her flowery blanket.

“Bianca, Bianca, can I have a story? Please, Bianca.”

I take my phone, browse for the online channel that has children’s stories, and lay down on the bed with her. God, she looks so much like Mikhail, I wonder if there is even one feature she got from her mother. Maybe her nose, it’s very tiny. I reach out to arrange her blanket better.

She turns to me. “Daddy likes you.”

I smile and brush her cheek. She can’t know that. Even I’m not sure what to think about Mikhail’s behavior.

“Daddy kissed you. And he held your hand. I think Daddy really, really likes you, Bianca. Daddy doesn’t like to touch people.”

My hand on Lena’s cheek freezes, my whole body going still.

“I like you, too, Bianca. Do you like me?”

I brush her cheek again and nod.

“Bianca, why can’t you speak? You hurt your mouth? My daddy hurt his eye. Noemi says my daddy has only one eye but she’s lying. Daddy has two eyes. I asked and he showed me. Noemi says my daddy is ugly. Is daddy ugly, Bianca?”

My breath catches. I place my hands on either side of Lena’s face, shake my head and mouth, “No.”

“Daddy says he is a little ugly. I asked him. But you are so pretty, Bianca. You are like a princess. I like your hair. Will my hair be long like yours?”

Lena switches to retelling what happened in day care, something about a toy truck one of the boys broke, making the other boy cry, but I find it hard to focus. There was one sentence Mikhail said last night. It slipped my mind at that moment because I was too absorbed with his kisses. Something about how it would be easier if I was not so pretty.

Oh God. I close my eyes and shake my head. The long sleeves, the distance he’s been keeping, all those hot and cold signals . . . Things make much more sense now.

 

Mikhail

 

“Sergei!” I hit the door with my palm the third time. “If you don’t open this door, I’m going to break it down.”

The alarm buzzes and the lock clicks. I grab the handle, open the door and step inside.

“Don’t you dare shoot at me!” I yell into the empty living room. “And rein in that beast of yours.”

“You can’t break a reinforced door that costs more than a car, dickhead.” I hear Sergei’s voice from the kitchen and head that way, then stop in my tracks at the threshold.

Sergei is sitting at the table in the middle of the kitchen, with a disassembled sniper rifle in front of him, polishing one of its parts and whistling. The whole surface of a six-seat table is piled with weapons of various kinds. Guns, knives, automatic and semiautomatic rifles, and God knows what else is there.

A few feet away, on a folded blanket next to a wall, lays a black dog the size of a small calf. It watches me for a few moments, then looks up at Sergei and goes back to sleep.

I take the phone from my pocket and call Roman.

“When and where is the meeting with the Mexicans?” I ask the moment he takes the call.

“They will be at Ural around eleven.”

I look at my watch. Half past eight. “It will probably be me going to the meeting. Let Pavel know.”

“Fuck! How is he?”

“I just got here. I’ll call you later.” I cut the call and take a seat across from Sergei.

“Pakhan sent you?” he asks without looking at me and continues to polish the rifle part.

“Yes. You weren’t answering your phone. He worries.” I nod toward the table. “Doing inventory?”

“Kind of. Can’t sleep.” He places the polished piece into a box that is sitting at his feet and contains the rest of the sniper rifle parts, and closes the lid.

“Since when?”

“I stopped counting. Three days. Maybe four.”

“Jesus, Sergei.” I shake my head. “Have you been eating?”

“I think so, yeah. I have some cans in the pantry.”

I turn around, looking for his seventy-year-old butler-gardener-cook. “Where is Felix?”

“I sent Albert to a hotel for a week.”

Ever since I’ve known Sergei, he’s never called Felix by his actual name. It’s always Albert. I have no idea what the deal is with the two of them, but Felix has been living in a small apartment above the garage since Sergei bought the house and joined the Bratva four years ago.

“Why send him away?” I ask.

“He was getting on my nerves. I was afraid I might kill him by accident.” He snorts, reaches for the gun closest to him, and starts disassembling it.

“Maybe you should go visit a shrink?”

He looks up at me, leans back in his chair, and crosses his arms. “For the shrink thing to work, Mikhail, you need to actually talk to the guy about the things that trouble you. For most of the things that bother me, I signed documents saying I’d keep my mouth shut or end up in jail. Or worse.”

The most dangerous thing about Sergei is that most of the time he doesn’t look crazy at all. His eyes are clear, his movements controlled, his voice is steady, and to someone watching from the outside, he seems like a perfectly balanced person. Until he starts killing people. Even now, if it wasn’t for the weapons scattered around the table, the only thing anyone would see is a clean-cut guy in his late twenties. Relaxed.  Just chatting away as if nothing is bothering him.

“What about sleeping pills?” I ask.

“Don’t you think I already tried those?” He sighs and resumes cleaning the gun. “It doesn’t work. Nothing fucking works.”

“Did you consider quitting? Leaving the Bratva and going to some deserted island or whatever?”

“Yeah, it wouldn’t do it for me. Without work, I would probably flip completely.”

And God save us all if that ever happens. If Sergei does flip at some point, someone will have to put him down like a rabid dog.

“How about swapping with Pavel? You could take the clubs. Less stress there.”

He looks up at me and bursts out laughing. “Can you imagine our polished put-together Pavel negotiating with Mendoza? Don’t get me wrong, Pavel does a great job with the clubs, but Mendoza would eat him alive. We would lose millions.”

We probably would. I still find it hard to understand, but Sergei is exceptionally good at what he does. It seems that in order to do good business with unhinged people, you need to have your own lunatic who speaks their kind of crazy.

“And what about the meeting with his men tonight?” I ask. “Can you handle that, or should I go instead?”

He looks up at me and smiles. “You hate meetings.”

“Yeah, well, Pakhan’s orders.” I shrug. “So?”

“It would be best if you go. I’m not sure how much shit my sleep-deprived brain can deal with at the moment. Roman doesn’t like my way of showing displeasure.”

“Like trying to cut off Shevchenko’s hand when he asked for better terms?”

“What he asked for was a steal.” He reaches under the table, takes out a big metal box that looks rather heavy, and places it on the table. “Do you know what they do to thieves in some countries? They cut off their hands. I like that practice.”

Why am I not even slightly surprised? I look at my watch. “I better go then.”

Sergei nods. “Don’t let them lead you on. We already set up the rates and quantities for this quarter, I’ll text you the numbers.”

“Alright.” I stand up. “Call me if you need anything. And please start taking Roman’s calls.”

“Sure.” He shrugs, opens the lid of the box, and takes out something that looks like a small grenade launcher.

“You don’t have a tank stashed in the garage, do you?”

“A tank? Why the fuck would I keep a tank in the garage?”

“No reason. I was just wondering.”

“If you need a tank, I can ask Luca. He has the best shit.”

“Luca Rossi?” I look at him. “If Roman finds out you are buying guns from the Italians, it won’t end well. You know we agreed on exclusive for weapons purchases with Dushku.”

“I can buy my personal guns from whomever I want, Mikhail.” He smirks. “But it would be for the best if Roman doesn’t find out. He’ll probably throw a fit, you know what a drama queen my brother is.”

I shake my head. “Call me if you need anything.”

“I will. Let me know if you change your mind about that tank.”

When I get back to my car, I call Sisi, then Denis, and after that send a message to Bianca.

21:19 Mikhail: I don’t know when I’m coming back, probably in the morning. Sisi will come early to help Lena prepare for day care. Denis will come to take you to your ballet class after he drops them off. I will be waiting for you when you are done. Just text me the address.

Afterward, I call Roman to update him on Sergei, put the phone on the dash, start the car, and curse. The only thing I hate more than business negotiations with our suppliers is clubs.


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