Fuck! Mickey cursed under his breath having lost count of how many times he’d rolled his lower lip between his teeth to really emphasize how frustrated he was feeling.
One goddamn thing after another was going wrong on this security detail. First, their usual driver, Tico, called in sick and they had to bring in a pubescent newbie named Nelson Fong to cover his ass. Then, an emergency services vehicle stalled on Roosevelt partially blocking traffic, which ultimately put them behind schedule. Now, the manager of this upscale jewelry shop was fucking around with the safe trying to get his goddamn password to work.
The hairs on the back of Mickey’s neck were standing straight on end. That was too many coincidences for his liking. Hell, one anomaly was too many. Three was a fucking neon sign that shit was going to go south, but all Mickey had to go on was his gut telling him something was off. Nothing had actually happened though, and that was why he continued to chew his lip rather than call command centre and get Liz to send a back-up vehicle.
They just needed to get some fancy ass necklace and matching earrings to a rich bitch who decided she needed something shiny to brag about at a political fundraiser tonight. The job was to deliver the jewelry to her house, escort her to the event at Navy Pier, keep an eye on her while she hung on her politician husband’s arm, then escort her home.
Basically, they were dealing with Security 101. A job Mickey had done countless times over the last three years, logging over 50,000 miles as a protection agent. Sometimes they were protecting jewels, sometimes art, sometimes humans, one time a thoroughbred racehorse named Babe. Whatever people found valuable, he was hired to transport and protect, and his track record was pristine. He planned to keep it that way.
Tonight’s event was a three-man job, even though one of their men was a fresh-faced baby. That left him and his partner, Slava, with the experience. Apparently though, the kid had been hired by Elite Security because he was some sort of street racer, and he had ultimately gotten them to the rear parking lot of Morgan Jewelers on Michigan Avenue in record time despite the traffic jam. They’d parked the Escalade, leaving the baby race car driver in the SUV with the job of keeping an eye on the back alley.
At the moment, Slava stood at the reinforced rear door of the store monitoring the exit, his hand on the gun holstered to his chest and half hidden beneath his dark suit jacket. They were all in dark suits and white dress shirts because tonight’s gala was black tie, and they needed to look professional although Slava couldn’t contain the tattoos that creeped out from the neck of his dress shirt and the cuffs of his jacket. A thug in a monkey suit was still a thug.
Mickey knew his own tattoos and overall demeanor were part of what made him a successful armed escort. He looked like he’d rather shoot you than look at you. With Slav at his side, you’d think twice before fucking with them.
Typically, Slava provided back-up while Mickey was in charge of the physical transportation of the goods, which meant he would be handcuffed to the briefcase once the goods were officially transferred to his possession. Then Tico got them wherever they needed to go, with additional vehicles as back-up if the job was big enough.
Mickey watched the uptight store manager run a hand over what had to be a fucking toupee as he took a deep breath, readying himself for another go at the safe. To encourage the dude to get his ass in gear, Mickey opened the steel enforced briefcase and laid it on the cherrywood desktop.
It was hard to tell if the manager was more nervous about releasing 2.2 million dollars worth of diamonds or about being in the same room with two ex-thugs strapped with Glock 19 semi-automatics. However, they had Elite’s reputation behind them, so they were going to walk out the back door with a necklace containing 55 carats worth of Forevermark diamonds and matching round solitaire diamond earrings…worth enough for Mickey to retire to a seaside town where sandals, shorts and a taste for tequila were the only requirements.
In another 30 years, maybe.
Glancing over his shoulder at Slava, he watched him lift his wrist unit to his mouth to check in with Nelson and, a moment later, give Mickey the all clear signal followed by a couple of hand pumps indicating he should hurry the fuck up. In response, Mickey gave him the hand gesture to go fuck himself. They shared a quick grin, then he turned back to the store manager, who had finally gotten the safe open.
He brought the velvet jewelry roll to the padded display in front of Mickey, gently unrolling the pouch for his approval. Ironically, Mickey wouldn’t know a piece of fucking glass from a 20-carat diamond, but he nodded at the guy like he picked out jewelry for a living. As far as he was concerned, once the release was signed and the manager’s thumbprint was scanned into the biometric device on the briefcase, whatever was locked inside with the GPS tracking device was his responsibility. He couldn’t care less what it was, and he sure as shit couldn’t believe than anyone else would pay that kind a dough for a chunk of fancy glass.
The manager slid the jewelry roll into one of the pouches in the briefcase, then returned to the safe for a small box containing the earrings, which he exhibited to Mickey with a flare completely unnecessary as Mickey was unlikely to be buying them. Eventually, they made their way into a different pouch, and the briefcase closed with a click.
They scribbled their signatures on both copies of the release form, and Mickey placed his in the inner pocket of his suit jacket. With the paperwork complete, he snapped the handcuff around his wrist and wrapped four fingers around the handle. The store manager’s eyes widened at the sight of the four letters tattooed across Mickey’s knuckles, then he glanced at the knuckles of the other hand.
“Scare tactic?” he asked Mickey.
“Poor decision making.”
With a ghost of a smile, he offered Mickey a final “good luck” and turned back to the safe. Stage one complete, Mickey moved across the room toward Slava, who ran his thumb almost lovingly over the grooves in the pistol grip before removing his hand from the gun to unlock the back door and push it open. Glancing around the quiet lot, he lifted two fingers signalling to Mickey that the coast was clear. With unease still crawling along his spine, Mickey unsnapped the cover on his own holster giving him quicker access to his weapon. He’d shoot first and ask questions never.
The rear end of the SUV was about five feet from the door, and he and Slava split up so they could each access a car door intending to sit together in the backseat. Mickey reached the driver’s side backdoor and squinted to see through the tinted glass, but the sun was deep in the horizon making it impossible to see inside the vehicle. He heard Slava’s door open. “All clear, Mick.”
Glancing left and right one final time, he tugged on the door handle with one hand, gripping the briefcase in the other. His eyes met Slava’s when the door fully opened, and he hefted himself into the backseat, the leather warm under his ass from the residual heat of the day. Placing the briefcase on his lap, he let out a breath, relieved when the door closed.
“Nelson,” Mickey snapped at the back of the dark head in front of him, rolling his eyes once at the ridiculous ponytail, “you waiting for a fucking invitation to start the car?” But his question came from a throat that was suddenly drier than desert sand. He tried to swallow around the dryness, but the effort didn’t seem worth it.
Just as the realization came to him that something was fucking wrong, the snick of all four door locks engaging filled the Escalade. “What the fuck?” He coughed a little to clear his throat while he watched Slav pull on the door handle, but the child safety mechanism prevented the door from opening.
"Blya." The Russian curse coming from Slava sounded like it was traveling through water.
Mickey reached a hand to Nelson’s shoulder to shake him out of whatever stupor he was currently in, but when his hand touched the soft material of his suit jacket, the kid’s head slumped to the side.
“Try the front,” Mickey said hearing the slurring in his words while he hit the window button repeatedly. But neither he nor Slava ever made it to fresh air, whatever they were breathing in zapped all their strength. The last thing he remembered before blackness took over was the sound of the locks disengaging.