He was adept at both SAMBO, the Russian martial art, and savate, French kickboxing. He could not be bested in hand-to-hand combat. He simply took his opponent to the floor and demolished him. And he was frighteningly intelligent. At times it was as if he were plugged into some secret intelligence system only he had access to. He was never caught by surprise, ever.
The story was that the killing of Ahmed Masood on the tenth of September, 2001, was a clear enough signal for him to start immediately dismantling his arms supply chain to the Taliban.
By the twelfth, he had moved his entire business to the States and teamed up with the CIA to funnel in arms to the Northern Alliance. He never sold another weapon to an Islamist or jihadist after that.
Though he was on every international list of outlaws, wanted by the UN and Interpol, he became untouchable, protected by the Americans. His pilots had stones the size of refrigerators. They ferried in arms to U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the only pilots brave enough—or crazy enough—to fly into Baghdad International on a daily basis, no matter the danger.
When Drake walked up, every hair on Rutskoi’s body stood up. He swallowed his fear and awe, pushing them away. He had to meet Drake as an equal or this wasn’t going to work.
“Sit down, Dmitri,” Drake said and listened politely. The next thing he said, quietly, was “Get out,” after Rutskoi explained what he wanted.
Without pressing a bell or making any sign, Drake’s bodyguards came and frog-marched him out. He was literally thrown out the door by two huge bodyguards.
Rutskoi vowed revenge, but it was hard to take revenge on a man who didn’t even notice you.
He spread the word that Drake’s head was worth 50K and sat back and waited. And waited. And waited. Drake clearly paid his people so well that 50 grand wasn’t an incentive. Either that or they were shit-scared of him. Probably both.
Rutskoi studied and waited and planned in vain, until he got the call. Not just any call. The Call. The one that was going to change his life.
Finally, a little of the money he was throwing around stuck somewhere. Rutskoi had left a Hotmail address and received an anonymous message.
If you want information on Drake, transfer $50,000 to this bank account.
At the bottom of the email was an IBAN, the first two letters, CH. A Swiss account.
Rutskoi’s bank in the Caymans was efficient and fast. Half an hour later, he had mail.
Drake slips out of his building on the first and third Tuesday afternoon of every month, without bodyguards, and has done so for a year.
There were a number of attachments. Hands trembling, Rutskoi opened them, and—there it was. Information on Drake. Even better—information on a weakness.
At last! A chink in Drake’s armor, straight through to the heart of the man.
Drake went to a well-known art gallery on Lexington every other Tuesday afternoon from two to three. Of all the things Rutskoi knew about Drake, a passion for art was not one of them. Going to a gallery wasn’t breathtaking news.
No, what was incredible was that, month after month, Drake never entered the gallery. He waited outside, in the darkness of an alley, and observed what went on inside the gallery through a small window, watching from the shadows. What went on every other Tuesday of the month, regular as clockwork, was the arrival of a young artist, Grace Larsen, bringing her new work to show.
The work that was bought punctually by an unknown buyer. Every damned piece. For a year now, a lawyer representing a company incorporated in Aruba purchased by phone all new work by Grace Larsen, price no issue.
Rutskoi recognized the name of the company. It was one of the many shell companies Drake used to run his airlines. Drake was buying the paintings, no doubt about it.
Unsurprisingly, the gallery owner’s prices for Larsen’s work had been hiked 300 percent over the past year. And yet still she sold. To the same single buyer.
Rutskoi clicked his way impatiently through the attachments, trying to figure out how to use this information. Then he stopped. And stared.
There were five attachments, JPEGs of the artist. Rutskoi sat back, pleased.
This was more like it. He was looking at a weakness that was going to finally bring Drake down.
Rutskoi felt adrenaline course through his veins as he leaned closer to the screen to get a good look at the photographs. After examining each one, he hit PRINT and examined the photographs carefully.
Grace Larsen was an unusually attractive woman, of medium height, slender without being bony like so many women in Manhattan. Wavy auburn hair, refined features, pearly white skin. She had an old-fashioned kind of beauty. She was undoubtedly why Drake was buying all her work and why he stood outside a window in a dark alley every other Tuesday afternoon.
To see her.
Though, granted, it was weird to think of Drake…What would be the American word? Pining. Drake was not a man to pine, after anything. Whatever he wanted, he obtained, by whatever means necessary. There was nothing he couldn’t have. If he wanted the woman, all he had to do was buy her. Why wait outside in an alley, exposed, for a couple of hours a month just to see her?
She didn’t appear to wear makeup on and her clothes were ordinary, but on such a woman, makeup was almost superfluous and she didn’t need clothes to emphasize her beauty.
She looked utterly natural, quietly beautiful, serious, unpainted and unenhanced. Not Drake’s type at all. Though, come to think of it, who knew what Drake’s type was? Who knew if he even had a type?
Drake could afford the best, and though the woman was stunning, she didn’t have “mistress” written all over her, as many women did. Rutskoi had bought enough women to be completely familiar with the type. The kind of woman who looked at a man’s watch and shoes before she looked at his face. The kind of woman who was hooked on Tiffany and Armani the way street thugs were hooked on crack.
This woman didn’t look that way at all. She didn’t look expensive. She didn’t look like she was in the market to be bought.
What was Drake thinking? With his money and power, he could have beautiful women lined up around the block, patiently waiting in line to serve him, in whatever way he wanted. He could have an entire harem, trained to fuck him in every possible position, exactly as he liked. There was nothing sexual he couldn’t have or couldn’t buy.
Standing in the shadows in the cold of a Manhattan winter or the steamy furnace of a Manhattan summer for an hour or two a month, without his bodyguards, without any security whatsoever, for a glimpse of a woman…it was madness.