Girls walk to Soho, less than two miles down Grand St. Katya has the street map of Manhattan in her head.
Ellen, "That place was good, I never had Thai food before, only Chinese."
Katja, "Da. I like garlic sauce they use on feesh. We will find something at home, Asian restaurant all over."
It's ten Manhattan time, only eight Houston time.
Ellen, "Seems early to go to bed."
Katya, "Maybe sex will help adjust time zone."
"There you go, help adjust something anyway."
A few vodka shots and a couple of sex toys Ellen was prescient enough to bring, they are happily unconscious by midnight.
Up early, follow Wilton to work. Now to search for a spot to terminate his banking career.
Katya, "Wait here, I am going to pick up package."
She walks three blocks down and a block over to a UPS store. She set up an account in one of the fake names, shows her fake license and fake credit card, collects her packages. They're in reused Amazon boxes, nobody is going to pay much attention to yet another in a flood of Amazon packages. One is the Ruger, the second is a dozen rounds of ammunition. It's a .38 caliber, more than lethal enough for a head shot, lightweight and compact. Cheap enough, this one free, they stole it.
She returns to the others.
Katja, "Nothing, still inside. Gun ees okay?"
"Da. Ellen, you have phone ready?'
"All charged up. If we split up, I got the GPS for yours, you got mine."
"Do not use GPS, do not even turn on phone, it can be tracked if it is on. If anything goes bad, smash it, make sure sim card is destroyed, go to hotel, wait. You remember sim card?"
At twelve thirty, Frederic comes out of the building and walks to a food cart on the corner. Katja is in line behind him.
Thirty seconds later he walks off with a bag and a soda.
Katja decides it smells good, gets the skewered pork and vegetables wrapped in pita bread. Easier to eat standing on the street.
Katya, "Is good?"
Katja hands it to her, she takes a bite, goes to the line with Ellen, they return with one each and two Diet Cokes.
Ellen, "From a truck on the street, who knew? Second day in New York and I have two things I never ate before. Thai last night, what kind of food is this?"
"Well good for them, good for me. Two countries in two days, I’ma international bitch."
Katja, "Target ees going to be in office all day?"
Katya, "No way to know. We will wait," she looks up at the sky, "maybe rain later."
It's near spring, at least not hot or frozen, Katja looks down the street, "Guys near corner haf umbrella for sale."
Katya, "Drugstore also," she nods to one of the ubiquitous Duane Reade stores that seem to be on every other block.
Ellen, "Never heard of Duane Reed, sure have lots of ‘em."
"Walgreen bought Duane Reade a few years ago. They kept name, a hundred fifty stores in Manhattan."
Ellen, "Why do you know that?"
Katya, "Read someplace."
"Does Katja have a photographic memory too, is that what it's called?"
"Katja nyet, da, some people call it that. I don't try to remember everything, no point. Sometimes there is random information, like drugstore numbers."
The afternoon passes, it's hardly boring. The streets are busy with people from what seems like every nation on Earth. Houston is big, but not so compact, here it's people in waves of perpetual motion. The sheer size of the buildings fascinates Ellen. Every half hour two of them walk around the block while one stays to keep an eye out for Frederic. The girls speak Russian to give Ellen a chance to improve her fluency. A drizzle starts, they take shelter in a recessed doorway, Katja goes to buy umbrellas.
When she returns, Frederic appears across the street, pops open his umbrella, looks around. The odds of snagging a taxi at the close of business is miniscule, in the rain less than zero. He resigns himself to a wet walk home.
Except he doesn't go home, on the way, he decides a drink is a better idea and slips into a tavern.
Katya, "This is our chance."
They wait ten minutes, Katya goes in a small boutique, comes out with a black fedora and a pair of lightly tinted sunglasses, puts them on Katja, then Katja goes in the bar. It's not a hook-up spot, it's a standard drinker's bar, a place to socialize or anti-socialize depending on mood. Dark wood counter and bar stools line one wall, small booths the other. A half dozen beers on tap, another dozen bottled options, shelves packed with liquor bottles, mirror behind so it looks like twice as much and it makes the small bar look bigger. The place isn’t half full, almost all men, a few with women, three women in a booth laughing, enjoying the freedom of not getting hit on.
Katja sits two stools down from Wilton, bartender cards her. He stares at the license, looks at what can't be more than a sixteen year old girl, looks back down at the license. She slides the sunglasses down her nose for him to see her eyes.
Katja, "Happens all the time. I'm in the lucky gene pool, see, here's my credit card."
"You want it on the card?"
"No, cash, just more proof that I'm legal," her accent has mysteriously disappeared, she plops a twenty on the bar, "vodka, any top shelf, on the rocks with a dash of bitters."
He sets down the drink, Wilton nods, Katja manages a glimmer of a smile; it's nothing she practices, it feels stupid.
"You live in the city?"
Katja, "No, visiting. My friend has a date tonight, left me on my own. Started raining so I came in here."
He makes small talk, she says she's a student UC Davis, a school Katya fed her. Nobody ever knows anyone who went to UC Davis.
"A California girl, you look the part."
She fakes another smile, this is getting tedious, she asks about his job, how did he decide on banking as a career. He does a bit of bragging about the money. And he's next in line to be partner, his income will skyrocket.
Katya, "Maybe guy behind him wants to be partner without the wait. Rain has stopped."
Katja hops up to open the door, looks out, back to the stool, "Quit raining," she chugs the rest of her drink, "nice to talk to you."
"Hey, how about dinner? I was just on my way to," he shrugs, laughs, "wasn't just on my way anyplace but home, but I know all the places around here. How about it? Just eat, bat the breeze, no hassle."
Katja, "What did you plan to eat at home?"
"I don't cook. Usually, I get a delivery, every place in New York delivers. Don't even have to go get it."
"You have vodka at home?"
He grins, "Sure, Grey Goose, bitters too, and lots of good wine."
"Then we can have a drink and you can figure out what to order."
Wilton decides the gods love the crap out of him. As they leave the bar, Katja walks past Katya, feels the revolver slip in her coat pocket.
An hour later, at the hotel, Ellen asks, "I can't be in your head, how did it go?"
"Simple. He makes drink, I toast, he is on computer ordering Italian something. Before he ees finish, I have gun in pillow, he ees dead, no much noise, a pop only. Computer screen ees bloody mess. He haf six hundred dollars, no gun. Three thousand five hundred in sock in dresser. Didn't take time to look for more."
Ellen, "I'll be glad to get paid, but woulda been nice to see more city."
Katya, "We can hang around town another day, then we have to leave."
Ellen, "You think the bartender is gonna put anything together?"
Katya, "Katja was disguised, even if he remembers name on license, it doesn't mean anything. Plus, cops have to put together man dead in apartment and bar five long blocks away. He did not know anyone in the bar. Just go to wait out rain. Camera at apartment entrance shows Wilton and girl in coat, glasses and hat."
Katja, "When I leave, I also open umbrella, all camera sees ees umbrella. Gun, hat, glasses and umbrella all disappear in drains and dumpsters. And none on the way to hotel. I went south from his place, got rid of everything, then west to Broadway and here."
Ellen, "I gotta remember all this, make sure to be decently disguised, get rid of evidence away from the scene and away from where I'm gonna wind up. Hide from cameras, them things are everydamnwhere. Makes a killer's life trickier than it oughta be."
Katya, "There is no chance police will piece together Frederic with Katja. Frederic and some girl, maybe, but for all they know, he and a woman happened to come in building together. They can't even put her in the apartment. Sherlock couldn’t make a case."
Ellen, "So, nobody's had dinner, what country can I visit next?"
They shower, dress up a bit, skirts, heels, silk blouses and long coats. A stroll around Soho and they come on David Burke Kitchen. Place is full, but there's a bar. Katja tells the hostess they'll take their chances on a table opening up, hands her a fifty.
Cocktails ordered, three hot girls in snug skirts, heels and elegant silk blouses get noticed even in Soho. Ellen banters with the bartender.
"We're just rubes, it's my very first time in New York, I am lovin' it."
He wants to be cool, but silken light brown hair, dark sapphire blues and a dazzling smile make cool hot, he grins, "Your friends having fun too?"
Ellen, "Yes, not sos you can tell less you know 'em like I do. They keep to themselves, twins can be like that."
Katja and Katya aren't dressed identically, but their hairstyles are the same, straight, shoulder length, ash brunette. Same silver sprinkled grey-blue eyes, same narrow upper lip and fuller lower one, same amazingly symmetrical face. Eyes just far enough apart to match up with cheekbones tapering down to a square chin, straight nose, exactly proportionate to the face. Silky satin skin.
Bartender, "They should be models, twins that beautiful would be rolling in the bucks."
Ellen, "I'll mention it to them."
The hostess appears, "Table for three, ladies."
Took all of fifteen minutes, Katja figures they'd have been seated immediately for a hundred.
They spend the last day wandering further north, 5th Avenue is wall to curb people, mostly Asian and European, street jammed with taxis, limos and bicycles. Rockefeller Center is arm and elbow with people trying to squeeze family into a photo nobody will look after one glance at a Facebook post.
Ellen, "Christ, they got enough stores here, one luxury brand after another, course we got all that in Houston."
Window displays full of things that cost fifty bucks to make and ship, three thousand to buy retail. The girls are having none of it, splurge on coffee and black tea from a street cart. Walking up 5th, they take a left at 57th, pass 6th Avenue and come to the Russian Tea Room. This is a splurge they can appreciate.
Ellen, "Cool, now I get Russian food."
Vodkas arrive, naturally they have Russian Standard, Katja raises her glass, “Za zhén-shsheen,” (to women)
Ellen and Katya toast in kind, they knock back the shot.
The waiter smiles, "Otlichnyye tost damy.” (excellent toast ladies)
Katja, "Spasibo,” (thank you.)
Katya orders Beluga blini. Blini are yeast crepes, more like a thin pancake. Beluga caviar and sour cream accompany. Streak of sour cream, then add caviar, roll up and enjoy. Red borscht, beet soup with braised beef pirozhok, beef wrapped in a pastry shell.
Ellen, "Dang, this is good. Another vodka maybe."
In Russia, it is considered civilized to toast every drink, this time, "Za schast’-ye.” (to happiness, Ellen’s toast, the twins don’t grasp happiness)
Entrees are Boeuf à la Stroganoff, red wine braised beef short ribs with thick noodles tossed in mushroom and black truffle cream sauce. And Kulebiaka, salmon with slow cooked onions, mushrooms and vegetables wrapped in pastry, served with roasted baby beets.
They share tastes, Ellen gushes, "I gotta make Stroganoff at home, that is just too damn perfect."
Katja, "Da, salmon cooked with so many vegetable ees also good, Stroganoff best."
She starts nattering away with the waiter in Russian, the chef comes from the kitchen with a plate of Pelmeni, a Russian ravioli with seasoned ground pork wrapped in a shell of unleavened dough.
Chef, "My treat, and perhaps another vodka, da?"
He joins them with his own toast, "k krasote.” (to beauty)
They finish a third shot.
Chef, "My food, you enjoy?"
Katja, "Vy khudozhnik.” (you are an artist.)
Chef beams, all Russian men believe they're artists, perhaps it's true.
He bows slightly, "Da blagoslovit vas dorogoy, spasibo.” (bless you dear one, thank you.)
Chef returns to his kitchen, a plate of cheese and cherry blintzes with vanilla ice cream appears, the waiter says, "Our gift, enjoy."
Ellen takes a bite, offers the waiter her most devastating smile, "So good, that’s real nice-a you mister."
He nods, "My pleasure," he goes off to take care of other tables, the girls finish up the blintzes.
Ellen, "Wow and double wow. Such an amazing lunch. I must be turning Russian, three vodkas and I don't feel buzzed, just real happy."
Katya, "We ate enough food to soak up three more vodkas, but we will walk instead, just a short distance is Central Park."
Katja pays the tab in cash, leaves a thirty percent gratuity. Healthy and appreciative without being absurd. They wave to the waiter, Katja points to the money, he nods. They hit the street. Need a long walk to settle the big lunch.
Katya hikes them all the way across the park, from Columbus Circle, diagonally to 5th and 81st. And there is the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art.
They wander the rooms, dutifully taking in old masters, Chinese calligraphy and a special El Greco exhibit.
Ellen, "Lot of religious stuff, not just El Greco, buncha the others too."
Katya, "In order to live, artists had to be sponsored, have patrons. Those people wanted religious art, virgin and child, crucifixion, last supper."
"Oh, makes sense, gotta paint what pays."
They shoot the afternoon. So much to do in Manhattan, but it's the only day they have to hang out. May as well see something thoroughly rather than blitz all over town. Katya leads them to 77th and Lexington, they catch the 6 train downtown to Spring Street and walk over to the hotel on Broadway.
Ellen, "Sheesh, my feet hurt."
Katja, "Da, me too. We will put hot water in tub and soak."
Three girls line the edge of the tub for foot relief, when the water cools, they switch to the walk-in shower then slip into t-shirts. It's pressing seven o'clock.
Katya, "We have eight twenty flight home. Need to be at airport for seven, leave here for six maybe. I am arranging hire car, more comfortable than taxi."
Ellen, "Good, can we get something light in the room? If I have to walk again you can shoot me now."
Katja, "Threw away gun, I can smother with pillow maybe."
Ellen kneels between her legs, "I know something else you can smother me with."
Hotels and girls, always a sensual combination. Ours are no different, new environment, new sights and stimulations, call it travel foreplay.
*Note to men: A little not so secret secret. Want to spice up the sex? Take her on a trip, good hotel, room service. Then she'll take you on a better trip.
The black town car is waiting, they are whisked to JFK, check in, do the security line, plane takes off about ten minutes late. Home before noon.
Katja, "We are going to big shop, maybe one of the others. For dinner, look for good Asian place, we will take out."
Ellen, "Great. Leave the luggage right there, I'll take care of stuff, see you later."
Katja and Katya take the Honda and go to check on their stores.
Maria, "Welcome back, have fun?"
"Okay, we looked at property in Phoenix, nothing interesting. They don't have much in the way of good donut stores. We rode all over, found two acceptable, both Asian owners."
Since they went to New York to assassinate someone, the trip has to be elsewhere. Katya went online to read up on donut shops. It was evident from the listings and Yelp there isn't much in Phoenix. The miracle of the internet, you can be expert on places you've never been. If not expert, at least reasonably well informed, unless it's a blog, who knows what truth is on those things.
Maria, "Never been. You going to open up in another state?"
"Thought about it. But it means long distance management, not a good idea. Maybe we move someone from here who knows how to run shop, but to do it, we need to open more than one. For now, Houston is enough."
Maria, "I have too much family here, moving won't work."
"If we want, we can expand in Houston. We just want to see other cities, maybe some other opportunity, rental property, like that. Maybe we buy something, hire rental agent to operate. For now, just exploring America, a few days someplace else."
"Sure, she is easy to travel with, goes along with whatever. Good company."
Katja calls Ellen, "You remember story?"
Ellen, "Yeah, we went to Phoenix to hang out and see what's what, decided against opening a store. I found a place to get take out, right now I'm restocking Russian Standard and a few bottles of wine."
Katja clicks off.
Ellen laughs, the twins don't say goodbye, see you later or bite my butt. When they're done, they disconnect. She pushes the cart to the checkout.
Maria, "Sales are steady, kids will be in from school soon."
Katja, "Cookies done?"
Maria, "Yes, cooling in back, I need to get them in the case.”
Kids start to file in, there's no time to chat until quarter to five. Katya returns from another store.
"Business is good. Tomorrow I will go to the others," she looks at the display case, almost empty, “business is good here too."
At home, Ellen is working the rowing machine, the twins stretch and tumble, walk around on their hands, flip across the floor. They installed martial arts mats in the exercise room, excellent for cushioned landings. After a half hour, showers, then Ellen delivers drinks.
"I found a place called eight-eight-eight, reviews were good,” she's online, "how about shrimp with garlic sauce, pork fried rice, orange chicken, wonton soup," should be plenty.
Katja, "Da, okay. You make order online?"
"Yes, we're a bit past their delivery zone, I'll go get it," she slips on jeans, jacket and sneakers, "back in a bit."
Close proximity and a second shot of vodka leads to affection, Ellen comes in to the twins making out on the couch.
"Damn that’s steamy."
Katja comes over to help with the food, kisses Ellen, "I will open wine, maybe white tonight."
Ellen goes off to relieve herself of jeans, sneakers are left at the door, they don't wear street shoes in the house. When she returns, this time it's clothing free. She stands next to Katya's chair, earns the tingle of free roaming hands.
"I said you were getting me hot, we can figure out how to cool down later."
Half way through, Katja says, "Won Ton zoup ees good. Shreemp wiz garlic also. How ees cheeken?"
Ellen, "Tasty, here have a bite," she spears a chunk and feeds Katja, "nice, white meat and gristle free, we can order from again sometimes."
Katya, "Best is for Ellen to cook."
Ellen smiles, Katya isn't free with compliments.
Katja, "We are een killing business together, you are sister, not anymore servant. Still take care of house, your job so we haf time to do our beezness. But equal, we haf decide."
Ellen starts to say something, nothing comes out, just a jaw working with no words.
Katya, "You look like fish drowning in air, lose voice?"
Ellen bites her lower lip, a tear sneaks down her cheek, then another, she's smiling and crying, "I don't know what to say. Like, I've only had a screwy mom and her useless perv boyfriends since my granny died. Now, I got people I care about."
Katya hands her a clean napkin, "Luchshiy ulybka prikhodit so slezami.” (the best smile comes with tears.)
Ellen sniffles, grins, cries again.
Katya, "We have a job."
Ellen, "Goody, where we going? Guess I should ask if I'm going first."
"Phoenix. I am going to pick up first payment and details from Penny today."
Katja, "Book flight?"
"Nyet, let me see who and what. Southwest goes several times a day. Phoenix is a big city like Houston, I want to find out where the target is so we don't drive all over the place."
Penny still doesn't know that Katya has a twin. Penny doesn’t know Katya, she knows Vika. If Penny somehow finds out about a twin, Katya will tell her it was for her sister's safety, that she isn't part of the contract business. Any accidental mention of twins as contract killers narrows the list of suspects dramatically.
Katja spends the morning at the big shop, then a quick tour of the others. Katya is already home, clicking off the miles on the stationary bike.
"Job is in Scottsdale, easy drive from the airport."
Ellen, "I thought it was Phoenix."
Katya, "Scottsdale, Gilbert, Tempe, Chandler, Glendale, Mesa are all Phoenix. They have different incorporation, but if you look at a map, it is just one big place. Seems inefficient, different government, different police force, fire department, school and library systems. Duplicate departments all doing the same thing."
Ellen, "You know, I never thought of it, but that's what they do, I wonder why?"
Katja, "So who ees target?"
"His name is Jack Joubert, he owns a gun shop."
Ellen, "Then he's gonna be carryin’."
"Da. In Arizona, you can carry a gun open or concealed with no permit. Just not concealed into a public place, like a restaurant. Kind of stupid, who is going to conceal gun walking down the street but take it out when they go into a store? It is anyway easy to get a permit, then you can carry concealed anyplace unless prohibited, like a court or any place that says no weapons. A gun shop owner will have a permit."
"I wonder if he shot someone, or maybe sold a gun to someone who killed someone else and this is revenge for that."
Katja, "Everyone we keel haf someone wiz reason, revenge, money, or maybe ees afraid. We get paid, person dies."
Ellen, "True. And knowing makes for questions. Does somebody want them dead for a justifiable reason?"
Katya, "No second guessing. Better not to know. Katja asked one person. It didn't matter, we kill him anyway. California child pervert was obvious. Pointless trouble to interview targets, have to trap someplace, ask questions. Maybe the person escapes, then we have a big mess. Shoot and come home, somebody knows why, just not us."
They fly to Phoenix, rent an SUV, drive to Scottsdale. Joubert's is in a strip mall, big sign 'Guns,' which pretty much explains what's for sale inside.
Katja and Ellen wait in the car, Katya goes in, it's the middle of the week and the place is empty. There's a camera over the counter and one in the front corner covering the floor space. She's wearing a fedora and sunglasses, baggy jacket, loose jeans and black sneakers.
Joubert appears from a room behind the counter, he's got a big Glock on his hip, "Help you?"
Katya, "Never been in a gun store before, never owned a gun. I want protection, not a giant gun like yours, something more manageable."
Joubert, "Got just the thing. Most women make the mistake of too small a weapon, a .22 is lightweight, but it isn't going to stop a determined attacker. The smallest caliber I'd use is .38. Got enough stopping power to do the job, and you can get one in either a revolver or semiauto. A revolver is bulkier, but they seldom fail, like a bullet jams in a semi. You understand?"
"I looked up a few things. I know about revolvers and semiautomatics. I was thinking revolver."
"Good. Now they come in a couple of types. Single action and double action. Single means the trigger only drops the hammer, you have to click the hammer back first. That's not smart, two steps instead of one in a scary situation. Double action, the trigger pulls the hammer back and releases it to fire the bullet. It's also safer. A double action has a harder trigger pull, less likely to go off if you don't intend to shoot. I mean like if you drop it. A revolver is also smaller, harder for someone to take away."
He shows her a few, she looks them over but doesn't touch anything.
"You can handle 'em, not loaded."
He demonstrates, she takes one and duplicates the dry fire, click, click, click, the cylinder rotates around. He turns to get another one from the case, Katya wipes her prints off the one she'd handled.
"Now this is a semiauto, just so you know. See, it's not as fat, and it can take a magazine, more bullets. You ready to buy, or you want to try one? Got a small range in back."
Katya, "No, you have been most helpful. I want one and I'm kind of scared of them, need to think it over."
"Hope nobody confronts you while you do."
"Me too, thanks for your time."
She leaves, walks down the block away from the car, turns a corner. She didn't see any cameras outside the store, but there's an intersection with traffic lights and CCTV. It's not unthinkable that one catches the storefront, particularly given the nature of the business.
Katja pulls over, Katya gets in, they drive to a coffee shop.
"Hard to do in the store. He has a security system, and not a cheap one with a recorder under the counter. It goes to ADT. Disguised it would be hard to get a description of us, but better not to be on camera at all. We will follow him tonight when the store closes."
Ellen, "We aren't gettin' back today, gonna need a room."
Katya pulls out her phone, "Three Hampton Inns nearby, any one of them will do. Let's get a room while we have time to kill. And we will pick up a second rental. Better not to have three girls in the same car."
Car and hotel room acquired, Ellen goes to a supermarket for a few essentials, like vodka for after the work is finished.
They kill the late afternoon with TV news which is news to nobody, people whining about the economy, immigration, minimum wage, abortion. The Middle East is tense, several wars are going on, everybody's to blame, nobody's to blame.
At five thirty, Katja and Ellen take one car, Katya the second. They surround the gun shop from a distance. Katya and Katja can communicate mentally, no need for phone calls.
At six fifteen a customer leaves Joubert's, the open sign flips over to closed. There's a back alley for deliveries and a dumpster, but Joubert leaves from the front entrance, double deadbolts click over. The windows and the glass door are protected by iron bars. A security light blinks on. Joubert walks to his F-150, Glock still on his hip.
He drives twenty minutes, fair number of red lights in Scottsdale. Then into a supermarket parking lot. Out of the truck, into the store. There's no chance to take him here, the lot is wide open with people pushing carts in and out of the market.
Katya, "He lives about ten minutes from here. If he is getting groceries, he is likely going home. I am driving to his house, you wait for him and follow."
Katya does a slow drive by, if anyone else is at home, it isn't obvious. But it's a stucco cookie cutter subdivision, fairly new. Not McMansions, but big enough, Katya guesses three bedrooms, maybe a separate office.
"House is big for only one person. Do not see any activity, but houses here have a back patio, kitchen and living area would be in the rear. I cannot see anything back there, too early to have lights on."
"Target ees leef store now."
"Garage opens to the street. No good for shooting."
"We will haf to wait, see eef any person ees inside. I will look for a way to see back of house."
Katya spots the F-150, she's far enough down the block just to be one of several cars parked on the street. He turns in his drive, the garage door opens. There's a second car inside, a tan Accord. The door slides back down.
"Another car in garage."
"Da, we see down side of house. Lights came on in kitchen, there is a woman. She ees taking grocery bag from target. He ees not quite in sight. Anyway, now what?"
"We keep moving, neighborhood is quiet, but we can't just sit in cars. Let's see what happens, maybe he leaves to run an errand, maybe she does. If they do not go anyplace by nine, we go to the hotel."