Spider's Trap(Elemental Assassin,book 13)(5) by Jennifer Estep
Fresh fruits, gourmet cheeses, dainty desserts, even a tray of butter crackers shaped like miniature riverboats. My mouth watered, and my stomach rumbled.
“Nice spread, Philly,” I said.
He saluted me with his glass of Scotch. “What can I say? Gustav does good work.”
Gustav was the Delta Queen’s head chef. I’d never actually met him, but we had a bit of a competition going on when it came to our cooking, especially since Phillip came to the Pork Pit for lunch at least once a week. He ate at my restaurant because we were buddies, and he was best friends with Owen Grayson, my lover. But he also enjoyed my home cooking, which confounded Gustav to no end, according to Phillip. The classically trained chef didn’t appreciate the culinary arts of barbecue and deep-fried Southern comfort food the way I did.
But I wasn’t above eating someone else’s food, especially Gustav’s, which was truly delectable, so I grabbed one of the bite-size cheesecakes. The pumpkin filling was a thick, sweet burst of flavor in my mouth, while the graham-cracker crust had just the right amount of cinnamon crunch. The dark chocolate ganache drizzled on top added a perfect finishing note of decadent richness.
After I had downed several of those, I gobbled up some miniature apple and cherry pies, which were divine combinations of golden flaky crust, warm fruit filling, and airy dollops of vanilla whipped cream, all of it dusted with powdered sugar.
While the rest of us ate, Dimitri and Luiz dried off and trudged back over to the conference table. The Russian had taken the time to wring out his black toupee and plop the damp rat’s nest back on top of his bald head, although it kept threatening to slide off with every move he made. Luiz stood shivering, his chin tucked into the blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He looked resigned.
Dimitri, however, still had some fire left in him, despite his chilly dunk in the river. The Russian threw off his blanket, slapped his hands down onto the table, and opened his mouth. But I fixed him with a stony stare and held up my index finger, and he bit back whatever threat he’d been about to deliver.
“This is what’s going to happen next,” I said. “I am going to sit here and enjoy this lovely spread that Phillip has so graciously provided. Then, if you’re lucky, I will listen while you and Mr. Ramos calmly, rationally, and very quietly tell me why each of you thinks that he deserves the coin laundries. Are we clear?”
Dimitri opened his mouth again, but whatever he saw in my face made him swallow down his protests. “We’re clear.”
“Good. Let me enjoy another round, and then we’ll begin.”
Dimitri didn’t like it, but he sat down across from me at the table, with Luiz taking the chair next to him. In between bites and booze, the two bosses alternately glared at each other and at me, shooting an angry glance at Phillip every once in a while for good measure.
At the opposite end of the table, Lorelei resumed texting, ignoring all the drama. She noticed me staring at her, scowled, and turned sideways in her seat to face the other way.
I didn’t know why Lorelei was so disdainful of me. Sure, she’d sent some of her men to kill me, just like most of the other bosses had, and no doubt she was disappointed that I was still alive, despite her best efforts to the contrary. But we’d never had any direct conflicts or confrontations. Then again, if Lorelei Parker wanted to hate me, that was her problem. Take a number, sugar, and get in line. I had a long list of enemies, and one more didn’t bother me in the slightest.
I polished off my gin and tonic and the last of the delicious desserts, and everyone pushed their nibbles aside. The waiters came around and freshened up everyone’s drinks. When they had finished and moved away, I gestured at Dimitri, indicating that he could finally begin his spiel. Dimitri huffed at how long I’d made him wait, but he got to his feet, fluffed up his damp toupee, and began his long-winded rant about the coin laundries.
I tried to pay attention to him. Really, I did. But his speech quickly dissolved into a string of petulant pronouncements, claiming that he deserved the laundries just because he was Dimitri Barkov and he thought he was a badass. Yeah, even Luiz rolled his eyes at that, but he was smart enough to keep quiet. Or maybe Luiz thought that he could win the laundries simply by being the person who annoyed me less.
He might be right about that. I didn’t see any other reason to give one man the businesses over the other.
But Dimitri plowed ahead full steam with his rant, oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t listening to him. Neither was anyone else. Phillip was sipping his Scotch and watching a group of ducks swim across the river, while Silvio discreetly tapped away on his phone under the table, just like Lorelei. Even Dimitri’s own guards looked far more interested in their food and drinks than in their boss’s grandstanding.
Everyone’s collective boredom, including my own, was probably the only reason I noticed the waiter.
He wore the same uniform all the other waitstaff did—black pants, black shirt, red tuxedo vest. But instead of coming out through the double doors like the rest of the staff had, he emerged from a walkway that wrapped around the side of the boat facing the river. Still, he might not have caught my eye at all if the sun hadn’t reflected off the silver bucket he was carrying and flashed a bright spot in my eyes. I winced and blinked away the resulting stars.
The waiter placed the bucket on a serving stand next to the railing, about five feet away from where I was sitting at the end of the conference table. A bottle of champagne was nestled in a mound of ice inside the bucket.
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