Fandom: Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz
Word Count:950 words approx
A/N: halotolerant posted a wonderfully atmospheric story called In the Club. Posted with her permission, this is a sequel to that story.
The First Step
Alex fingered the card, undecided. The fine script above the phone number read “Arthur Smith, Accountant”, as if Yassen Gregorovich had ever sat in an office in his life. Apart from waiting for the soon-to-be-late rightful owner, of course.
He stroked his thigh absent-mindedly as he thought it through. As he’d approached last night, the utter stillness of the man in the expensive suit had set his own heart beating faster. He’d only meant to unsettle the Russian, to make whatever job had brought him back into Alex’s life more difficult. But there had definitely been a spark of interest in the hard blue eyes and Alex had surprised himself at how good Yassen felt close up, his body fitting to Alex’s as if designed for it.
He’d found himself reacting as if this weren’t just another job, and almost missed the touch at his chest in the abruptness of Yassen’s movement. Then he was falling backwards, moving automatically to curl and roll as he hit the floor, but Yassen had only looked at him in disgust and turned away.
“Don’t you know who that is?” Natasha had whispered, panicked. “They say he works for...” She broke off quickly, looking around, and Alex took advantage of the moment to get up and recover his composure.
“Of course I don’t know who he is, I just jerk ’em off,” he said irritably. “He looked interested, that’s all. Not my fault he changed his mind.”
But his presence had intrigued Alex. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d both been working the same target for different masters, and his table was exactly the one Alex would have chosen for watching Yochenko, given the choice.
Ah, the choice. Things weren’t exactly going well. He was almost certain he’d been rumbled, which meant explaining to Mrs Jones exactly why he needed “taking out” in a dark alley near enough to the club for the story to get back. Preferably tonight.
He pondered, stroking the bevelled edge of the card gently down his cheek, where it soothed the scratches ‘Natasha’ had given him. It was part of his cover to be bi, and after Yassen had gone she’d taken a simple role-play for the customers as more than it was. She hadn’t been happy to find out the “truth”.
Alex sat up, angry now. Surely he was old enough to decide for himself. If they’d let him do the job the way he’d wanted to...
He picked up the phone.
“Smith.” The voice was cool and empty and Alex closed his eyes briefly and kept his voice low.
“You left something behind.”
A silence, while Alex wondered how often Yassen gave out cards for this number. Then the voice again, slightly warmer.
“Spanish Tony’s. Five minutes.” A brief exhalation, Yassen’s gentle laugh. “You know where it is.”
Shit. Alex got up hurriedly and looked in the mirror. He’d have to do. As he grabbed his wallet and headed for the door he wondered just how long Yassen had been watching him.
~ ~ ~
There was no one in the tiny bookshop. As Alex entered, the comforting silence of books and dust was overlaid with the faintest scent of coffee.
The bookseller appeared from the storeroom and Alex raised a hand in greeting as he moved towards the back of the shop, moving quietly between the tight-packed shelves. Then the shop door pinged again and he stopped, hand half-raised to reach down a new Travels in Russia. He heard the bookseller murmur a greeting.
“Yeah, wanna tell me where’s the best place to eat round here? Something real English?”
Alex smirked as he imagined the look on Antonio’s face. The Spaniard was not a lover of los estadounidenses, even fake ones. He grabbed the book and sneaked a look round the end of the aisle as the bookseller answered.
“Señor, it is my experience that the English would not know good food si se lamió el culo. But the Horse & Groom just along to the left is clean and the beer is cold, if Señor doesn’t mind a crowd.”
Alex couldn’t see Yassen from his corner without making it obvious, so he settled for a cough and replaced the book with a sharp tap on the shelf.
“A real English pub, well okay! Gotta few errands to run first, but I’ll try it out in an hour or so. You have a nice day now!” The doorbell pinged again.
Predictably, all Alex found at the Horse & Groom was a note, slipped into his pocket with a gentle touch as he waited at the bar. He sighed, and followed the instructions. He knew that at some point he was going to have to ask himself exactly why he was doing this.
By the time Yassen eventually let him catch up, Alex was hot, tired and bored.
“What is this, you think I need lessons in tradecraft?”
Yassen turned away, fitting a key into the lock and opening the door. “This is your city, Alex. People know you. They watch you.”
Alex laughed bitterly.
“That would involve someone being interested.”
Yassen ushered him in quickly, shutting the door on the dusty street. He looked steadily at Alex, who stared straight back.
“You are careless in your own city. Don’t be. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Unless you do it yourself, you mean.”
Unexpectedly, Yassen smiled down at him as he started up the stairs.
“That could be arranged.”
Alex’s heart was pounding again as he set his foot carefully on the first step.
~ ~ ~