Winston watched John’s star rise in their dark little world as he moved on from being Marcus’ protégé. He came and went with grace, keeping the switchboard busy, accumulating quite the tidy pile of coins and favours. Winston wasn’t thrilled that a significant portion of that came from contracts John fulfilled for the Russians, but it was no place of his to say anything. Not even when the man limped into the Continental and requested the services of The Doctor.
Despite his increasing status, John remained the same darling boy, quiet and polite. He would still stop at Winston’s booth to have a drink, catching him up on recent events and occasionally delivering messages from other owners. It was a test of sorts. Owners liked to feel out the players, know their clientele and their personalities. Risk assessment. John never failed to be perfectly accurate and congenial, and he didn't expect compensation for small things like messages despite adhering very closely to the rules in general.
Winston felt it would be fair to say that John Wick was considered an ideal guest among owners. He, of course, had a soft spot for the assassin. Margaret was exceedingly amused by his bias.
He’d heard the staff refer to her as his “work wife”. It was true in a way. Margaret managed the Switchboard, which had become the central Western hub for contracts, and was highly regarded. With the two of them at its head, the staff were a family of sorts. Whether literally, from families who had been in service for generations, or by choice, those who had entered into the service and been figuratively adopted, the staff supported one another. Safety. There was a code. Rules about how they were treated. Staff were not to be interfered with by the High Table or its employees. It was an old agreement.
Despite all this, Tabitha bled to death in the lobby.
She was a contract girl, one of those plucked out of the gutter by Margaret and trained up. Winston was very fond of them. Margaret was an excellent mentor, stern but kind, and the girls were almost unfailing loyal given the pay and protection the job offered. Tabitha had been with them two years. They’d given her tickets to Hamilton for her birthday.
Now she was dead, lying on the floor while the Doctor determined the cause of death. She’d been attacked somewhere close to the hotel, the amount of blood trailing across the marble a testament to the violence of her injuries. Margaret stood grimly to the side. It was going to be a difficult night.
“Winston?” He turned to see John at his side. When had he arrived? “What happened?”
“I’m afraid there’s no knowing just yet.” Possibly not ever, though if there was a way Winston would find it.
John peered down at the corpse, “She was one of yours?”
“I’m sorry.” Had it been anyone else, Winston would have brushed off the sympathy. Jonathan, however, was unfailingly genuine.
“Thank you, Jonathan.”
“Was it a hit?”
“No… No, that’s not permitted.”
“Are you sure?” John looked at him askance, clearly seeing something Winston did not.
He shook his head, covering his mouth with one hand. Margaret was surrounded by the girls now, drawn out by the commotion, some stoic while others were in tears. Winston stood alone save for John. At least Charon would be arriving next week. Perhaps then he could indulge his own grief.
“Winston,” John caught his elbow.
“I’m sorry,” he said, drawing himself up. It wouldn’t do to show weakness now. The staff would need his strength. “Did you need a room?”
Jonathan blinked at him and gave a tiny shake of his head, “I’m fine. I’ll go get a drink.”
Winston watched him leave, picking his way through the crowd of employees and vanishing unobtrusively.
Whether John had eventually stayed or not he didn’t know. The rest of the night was a blur.
Winston used every available means to determine and track Tabitha’s killer. It hadn’t been a contract, the Switchboard would have known, but it had been an assassin. A man who’d taken a liking to Tabitha and refused to be rejected. Given the rules, there was little penalty Winston could impose on him as the act hadn’t occurred on hotel property. And he couldn’t set a contract himself. No, he would have had to smile and provide Tabitha’s killer with the excellent service that The Continental was known for.
Jonathan was apparently not so bound. Winston never did discover how he’d known. He’d no idea what had been going on until Charon had called him down to the lobby, urgency in his voice.
Half the staff were clustered by the windows.
Winston approached. It was dusk, the sky rapidly darkening, and on the street were two men. John Wick and a far lesser known assassin.
Abby, the contract girl turned bartender, gripped his arm, “That’s him isn’t it?”
The man who’d killed Tabitha. Aleksander Nils. “I believe so.” The man was recognizable despite his swollen face.
They were in full view of the hotel, though quite clear of the grounds themselves. Rules were rules. John likely hadn’t ambushed the man on his way to the Continental, Mr. Nils had no reservation nevermind that it was considered bad manners, and had instead herded him here. Towards an audience.
It could have ended quickly. A clean shot to the head. But John had other plans. Looking for a challenge, or perhaps because he’d seen the damage inflicted on poor Tabitha, who knew? Whatever the reason, he’d done away with the guns. The fight was conducted with fists and knives.
John struck the man again and again with a fierce intent, occasionally allowing him to pull away and regroup, giving Mr. Nils the slightest hope of recovery only to grind him down again, spilling more blood to slicken the pavement beneath them. Winston admired his form. His lethality. And there was no small amount of satisfaction in seeing Jonathan make the man suffer as Tabitha had.
“I’m beginning to see why you like him so much,” Margaret whispered beside him, passing him a lit cigarette with a shaking hand.
Winston took it and put his arm around her. Not for the first time he wished he’d had the opportunity to hire Jonathan into the Continental family. He’d have made an excellent Sentinel and he clearly valued relationships. Ah well. One couldn’t deny his skill at this instead.
Eventually, Mr. Nils could take no more and John, his suit barely creased where the other man’s was visibly split and torn, stepped back. Aleksander Nils slumped awkwardly on the ground. It had gone on long enough. Soon, even in this buffered neighbourhood, people would gawk. Police would be called.
John glanced at the hotel and then, with a slender black stiletto in hand, stepped forward to make a swift calculated slice across Mr. Nils neck. He neatly avoided the spray. The body was left in the street as he walked towards the hotel.
“Charon-” he called, only to find his right hand at the ready behind him.
“I’ve already called the Cleaners, sir.”
“Good man.” Winston cleared his throat. “Back to work please, everyone.”
The staff began to file away as the doors opened.
“Jonathan. How lovely to see you.”
“Winston,” John smiled grimly.
“Mr. Wick? Would you care to have your accessories serviced?” Charon held out a handkerchief lined hand for John to deposit his blade in.
Charon nodded and backed away, allowing Winston to lead John further into the hotel.
“I don’t suppose you have a room available?” he asked. As if there was ever a doubt.
“As a matter of fact, I do. Give me your jacket, you’ve something just there.” A small stain on the cuff, a bit of unavoidable splatter. It would be no trouble for laundry. “Now, have you eaten?”
“Would you prefer the bar or your room?”
John looked around at the few lingering staff watching him, “My room.”
“I’ll have it sent up.”
He didn’t need to ask for requests. The kitchen would know his preferences from previous stays. Winston might add a bottle to the meal as well, the bourbon he had stashed away would do.
A perturbed server was dismissed back to the kitchens so that Winston could deliver the cart himself to John’s room. A rarity to be sure, but if there was ever an occasion for it, it was today.
The door swung open after a quick rap on the wood. John’s brow was creased, his shoulders sagging. Exhaustion. Likely both physical and emotional. He must have had some emotional investment to have gone out of his way to make an example of Tabitha’s killer, wanted to do right by the hotel. Did he worry that any of them would see him differently? They would, of course, but only in the best possible way.
“Thank you,” he reached for a coin but Winston waved him back.
“Are you working?”
“No,” John hesitated. “Personal business.”
“I hope I… haven’t caused any extra work?” John looked so concerned, that the grand favour he'd done them might have caused them inconvenience. Winston repressed the urge to embrace him.
“Oh no, Jonathan. Quite the contrary. We’re all very glad to have you back again at the Continental.”
John smiled, just a little, and nodded.
“I’ll leave you to your meal. Have a good night.”
Winston arrived in the lobby the next morning to find John at the front desk attempting to check out.
“I am sorry, Mr. Wick, but you are mistaken. Your account has been settled.” Charon smiled blankly.
“No, I’m sure I’d remember-”
“Jonathan,” Winston approached. “I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay.”
“I always do.”
“And you will always be welcome.” There wasn’t a staff member at the hotel that would offer John anything less than the highest of standards now.
“I still owe you-”
“Nothing, Jonathan,” Winston patted his shoulder. “Not a cent this time. Don’t you know better than to argue with the Owner?”
“I suppose I do.”
“Good.” He didn’t make a habit of such things, but it was the barest of compensations that Winston could offer given the rules.
Or perhaps not, he plotted as he watched John go. The Owners had quite the whisper network between them. A few words in the right ears would let John's unprompted good deed be known. And if in future, the rules needed bending on Jonathan’s behalf? Well, he was sure they’d find a way.