By ALEXI VENICE—
Today’s blog post is an excerpt from my second book in the San Francisco Mystery Series, Amanda’s Dragonfly. In this scene, Amanda lunches with the powerful Russian, Dimitri Ivanov, who is the father of the murder victim. We see that Amanda is at her wit’s end in her battle against the Italian mob, is desperate as hell, and walks right into a professional and moral dilemma.
Contrary to the cover, this book is about so much more than Jen and Amanda’s relationship. The conflict in the story stretches Amanda’s soul, exploring the depth of her resolve and her sense of morality, as illustrated in this chapter. If you like this scene, I think you’ll enjoy this series.
If you want to know more about the characters (and why I created the series), check out my article entitled, “Creating Jen, Tommy and Amanda for The San Francisco Mystery Series.”
Excerpt from Amanda’s Dragonfly, The San Francisco Mystery Series:
Hall of Justice, San Francisco
Marty drove Amanda to the restaurant in The Beast. As they rolled up to the entrance, the passenger side was on full display, and the valet’s shock was priceless.
Dimitri stood next to the entrance, smoking a cigarette and blending into the background in his mysterious Russian way. He had seen the news report at Moffett, but the footage had glossed over Amanda’s car; instead focusing on Jen’s. He smirked at the damage, then buried his stub in a cigarette stand and walked out from the shadows.
Marty held the door for Amanda, and she emerged from the back seat.
Dimitri stepped forward with outstretched hand, his carriage heavy with the loss of his girl, comporting himself with rounded shoulders and a clown’s sadness drawn across his down-turned lips
“Hello, Ms. Hawthorne,” he said.
“Mr. Ivanov, thank you for meeting me.” They shook hands and Dimitri stepped back to admire The Beast. “I like your car. It reminds me of the way we did business in the old country.” His Russian accent punctuated the truth.
“Put it this way—it survived, and it has the battle scars to prove it. And, so do I,” she said, a menace in her voice he hadn’t noticed from their prior conversations.
He registered her dark mood. “Shall we go inside?”
Marty followed them in and strategically selected a seat at the bar overlooking the dining room. His perch gave him an excellent vantage point of the front door and the open windows to the street.
The maître d’ showed Amanda and Dimitri to a table along the wall, across from the windows and French doors to the street. Dimitri was as likely to sit with his back to the windows as a bull shaking his ass at a matador.
Albert Petrov was already sitting at a table for one, next to their table, effectively providing cover from all angles. Amanda hadn’t met Petrov, but correctly guessed he might be Dimitri’s muscle by the way he was dressed—bulky black blazer, grey slacks, open-collared shirt. Similar to Dimitri, he was a large man who had a broad forehead and a silhouette that looked like it was carved out of granite.
Dimitri ordered a bottle of white wine, and Amanda protested that she had to return to work, but he insisted. Drinking alcohol at lunch was a first for her, like all the events in her life the past week. She told herself she would return to work to prepare for the trial, ignoring a tiny voice in the back of her head telling her that the afternoon would be better spent outside the sarcophagus known as the Hall of Justice.
“I’m surprised you’re in San Francisco,” she said. “How long are you here?”
“As long as it takes,” he said.
“As long as what takes?” she asked, suspecting she knew the answer.
“As long as it takes to bring Sangiolo and Nutini to justice for killing my Natasha.”
“I’m so sorry, Dimitri. The pain of losing a child must be unbearable.”
Tears sprang to his bloodshot eyes, but he successfully fought them back. “Nothing compares.”
Amanda nodded in sympathy, and they sat in silence for a minute. The server appeared and poured their wine.
Amanda raised her glass. “To justice.”
“Swift justice,” he amended.
The server set a cutting board of bread on their table with garlic butter, then inquired whether they were ready to hear the specials. They declined.
“Describe for me what’s happened to you recently,” Dimitri asked. “I’ve seen bits and pieces on the news.”
“I’d be happy to. First, Lane Wallace went missing and his sailboat washed up on Tiburon point. I assume he’s dead.”
Dimitri raised his eyebrows at her presumption, which she interpreted as tacit agreement.
“Second, Nutini’s thug, Eddy Valentine, shot at my fiancée, Jen Dawson, while she was swimming at China Beach. He then shot and killed my security detail and friend, George Banks. He shot at me and one of his bullets grazed my arm. I shot Mr. Valentine a few times, then asked him who hired him. He said ‘Nutini,’ so I killed him.”
If Dimitri was surprised, his heavily hooded eyes didn’t show it. He concentrated on his glass of wine while Amanda sipped generously of her own before continuing.
“Third, another Nutini wise guy, Tony De Luca, tried to kill Detective Vietti, Jen Dawson and me in Hawaii. Tommy’s father, Cy, and I shot De Luca and his buddies. I only wounded De Luca in the hand, though. I wanted to kill him, but Tommy stopped me,” she said.
“Morals, I suppose,” she said, thinking it an odd question.
“Anyone else in Hawaii?” he asked.
“Funny you should ask—Tommy’s girlfriend, Vhina. It was her place. When I pointed my Glock at her head and asked her who she worked for, she admitted she worked for Nutini. I gave her a wad of cash and told her to move along to a new job.”
“How did she react?”
“She was amenable. Very cool customer—that one. Didn’t flinch once when bullets were flying around her. She didn’t even take cover. She either had a death wish or knew none of the bullets were intended for her. That’s what tipped me off that Nutini must have hired her. No fear. More importantly, however, she knew the police officers who came to the scene, so that was helpful.”
“It’s always useful to have a local on the ground.” He sipped his wine.
The server appeared, and they patiently listened to the lunch menu. To expedite his departure, they both ordered the special.
Amanda continued. “We brought Tommy back from Hawaii. When we arrived at Moffett, Jen went to her car in a parking lot near the hangar. She started it, but realized she had forgotten her purse. She ran into the hangar and caught us before we drove off. We popped the trunk of my car, and, just as I was leaning in to get her bag, her car exploded. Even though it was some distance away, the bomb blew a hole in the hangar wall, sending shrapnel inward—directly at us.”
“A delayed start to the bomb. Probably sixty seconds. Very common.”
“Yeah, well. I took a piece of metal in my leg and Jen is lucky she’s alive.” Amanda’s throat tightened
“You and Jen Dawson are engaged now?”
“Yes,” she said, meeting his eyes.
“I thought she was Detective Vietti’s girl.”
“I see you’re capable of gathering information. She was. Now, she’s mine.” She inclined her head at him, almost challenging him to dispute her possession.
Instead of pursuing the topic of Amanda’s love interest, Dimitri refilled her glass. He waited a minute before asking, “Had you ever killed anyone before this?”
“No.” The banality of her answer was corrupted by her jagged voice.
He exhaled slowly, indicating that he was about to make a profound statement. “You become a different person after you kill a man. The immediate guilt—it tortures you, but it fades in time. If you killed for the right reason, which you did here, your conscience will relieve the pain you feel in your heart.” He patted his chest, emphasizing his familiarity.
She blinked hard, fighting back the tears.
“Are you sleeping?” he asked.
“Yes, but the nightmares are horrible.”
“Those will fade, too. Remember, it was either you or them. You’d be dead if you hadn’t killed them.”
“I know,” she whispered, taking little solace in his kinship.
The server appeared with their food and they dedicated themselves to eating, or at least in Amanda’s case, admiring the presentation. Dimitri ate with gusto, not bothering to maintain conversation.
Amanda picked at her food for several minutes, glancing around the full restaurant, watching the passersby on the sunny sidewalks outside—the tourists gabbing about the street cars on Nob Hill. She patiently waited for Dimitri to demolish his ravioli.
“I expect there’s a reason you asked me to lunch,” he said, after emptying his large, flat bowl.
“There is. I’m gathering the courage to vocalize it,” she said in a small voice. “The wine is helping.”
“Ask me, Ms. Hawthorne. You have to trust someone when you’re in the middle of a war.” He set down his fork and wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin.
Amanda rested her hands in her lap and looked at him, her soft brown eyes now as vulnerable as they were piercing. “I want Nutini dead.”
Dimitri held her stare for several seconds, seeing if she would back off her wish. He knew a moral war was raging inside her—a DA who wanted to circumvent the judicial system for a quick end to an adversary. It was one thing to think such a sin; another to verbalize it. She had come a long way from the imperious prosecutor with whom he and Elena originally had met after Natasha’s death. Part of him was relieved that she was this engaged and committed to avenging his daughter’s death. Another part of him screamed caution, knowing she was steeped in her law and order, and her values—buried deep within her—presented risk to him and his empire. When she snapped out of her revenge mode, she could turn on him.
“You have no idea what you’re asking,” he said.
“Don’t test me. We both know I do,” she said.
“Am I immune from prosecution?”
She swallowed hard, not averring her eyes. “Yes.”
“What? I didn’t hear you.”
“Yes,” she said louder. “You’re immune from prosecution.”
She saw the man at the table behind Dimitri nod in acknowledgement of her statement. “I assume he’s yours?” She nodded toward Petrov.
“Yes. Is he immune, too?”
“You’re not the only prosecutor in this city,” he observed.
“But, I’m the boss of them,” she countered.
“How about the police? You aren’t the boss of the Chief of Police.”
“True, but I have indirect influence. You’ll have to trust me, Dimitri.” She used his Christian name for the first time since making his acquaintance.
Her attempt at familiarity wasn’t lost on him. “In Russian tradition, I must warn you that, if I go down, I’ll be pushing your head under water in front of me.”
He nodded. “It’s the smart play. You can’t let a guy like Nutini hit you without hitting back.” He looked into her eyes, challenging her to disagree. They sat like that for a full minute, making an unbreakable pact—an unspeakable act—binding them in their battle to avenge Natasha, George and Lane’s deaths.
The server shattered their sinful conspiracy, asking if they wished to consider dessert, although Amanda’s barely touched bowl should have signaled otherwise.
“Bring the check to me,” Dimitri ordered.
“Wait,” Amanda interjected. “Please divide it.” The waiter sped off.
Resistant to the concept of a woman paying, Dimitri gave her a confused look.
“I’m sorry, in my position as the DA, I’m ethically forbidden from accepting lunch. It isn’t personal,” she said, the half-smile on her lips not reaching her troubled eyes.
“Of course. Then, you can buy me lunch so we don’t breach your ethical duties.” And, that’s where this tortured woman decides to draw the line of integrity, he thought, at a free lunch? Alas, she isn’t so different than the government bureaucrats in Russia. They, too, maintain a hypocritical fiction of self-image. She’ll soon learn that every problem in life can be fixed—except death. No one can fix death—in fact or fiction. Especially, by more killing. One does not cure the other, as tempting as it might be to think so.
“I’d be happy to buy you lunch,” she said, tossing her plastic on the small tray before the server could set it on the table.
“Thank you. After lunch, we’ll walk to my house. It’s only a few blocks from here.”
She didn’t bother hiding her surprise. “I beg your pardon?”
He smirked. “I have something I want to show you.”
“I’m in a relationship with Dr. Dawson,” she said, her tone returning to its original formality.
“I got that. This is business. It’s important. You need to see it.”
“Okay, but Marty is coming with me.”
“He’s with SFPD, right?”
“You’ll want him to remain outside. It would be best if he didn’t see this. As you said, ‘trust me.’”
“Okay. I’ll tell him.” When they rose from the table, Amanda swayed slightly. Dimitri reached out and held her elbow until she steadied herself.
“Are you all right, Ms. Hawthorne?” he asked.
“Yes. Just a little lightheaded from the wine.” She quickly regained her composure.
They moved swiftly through the restaurant, climbed the stairs, and Amanda slipped into the women’s room while the men waited.
She washed her hands, letting the ice-cold water stimulate her senses, rubbing it up her forearms and patting her cheeks with her cold palms. In the mirror, she recognized only a shadow of her former self, so she averted her eyes and toweled off. The grief she had known over George’s death had transformed into guilt and remorse over the men she had killed, and the plan she had just hatched. Best to wear sunglasses, she decided, hiding her soul from the world, or at least herself. She hoped no one would recognize her as they walked to Ivanov’s house.
She met the men outside, and they proceeded up the street, Petrov leading and Marty bringing up the rear in a classic diamond-shaped security pattern.
They walked casually, two people used to security and the stares from regular folk who wondered if they were movie moguls or foreign politicos. Either way, Amanda wasn’t amused. Daylight and city streets had become a vulnerability for her, and she was growing increasingly uncomfortable with each passing step. What could Dimitri possibly have in store for me at his house?