John Brannigan sank the bit of the double-bladed ax into the log round he was using as a chopping block and lowered himself painfully to sit on a bigger log nearby. His breath was steaming in the cold air, and looking down at his bared forearms, he could see steam rising from the graying hairs there, as well. It was well below freezing, but he was sweating and stripped down to his shirt. He gulped air, wincing slightly at the stitch in his side, as he critically looked at the woodpile. He might have gotten a quarter of a cord split. It wasn’t bad, given how long he’d been working, but it wasn’t up to snuff in his mind, either. Stretching, he felt the scar tissue on his side pull. It had been months since he’d been shot out on the Gulf of Mexico, and the wounds were healed, but it felt like it was taking forever to get his conditioning back. His leg and his side were tight, and his leg especially didn’t seem to want to work quite right. Getting old, John. He was further reminded of the fact as the cabin door swung open and Hank walked
“You’re imagining things, Eugen,” Cezar Lungu said. He was leaning back in an overstuffed easy chair with a massy, polished wooden frame, a blond, vacant-eyed Ukrainian hooker on his lap. He was fully clothed; she was in her underwear. He picked up the shot of Kvint and tossed it back with a grimace and a loud, “Pah!” “We have an arrangement! And with what we’re paying the Russians and the Transnistrians both, we should at least get a warning if anything has changed!” Eugen Codreanu did not turn away from the window, but continued peering into the night. He wasn’t looking out toward the Dnieper River below the dacha, either. He was looking back toward the wrought-iron gates and the guard posts, through the trees. He was looking back toward the city of Ribnitza, which was throwing its glow against the near-perpetual pall of smoke and steam coming from the steelworks. When Codreanu still hadn’t replied while he poured more Kvint, Lungu tried again. “You’ve been jumping at shadows for four months, Eugen,” he ventured.