Chapter 41:

Vladivostok Violence (Prologue)

The Sequence of Kai

“Want one?”Bookmark here

Bastien, lying beside me in bed, is obnoxiously holding a lit cigar in front of my face. A bit of the ash crumbles away from the tip and burns my chest. The pain makes him shiver in delight.Bookmark here

“I refused your cigarettes, what makes you think I’d want a cigar?”Bookmark here

“You seem like the kind of girl that’d prefer something a bit more phallic.”Bookmark here

“I refused that too.”Bookmark here

With an annoyed click of the tongue, he brings the cigar back to his own lips and inhales.Bookmark here

“That’s exactly why I offered. Why the hell are you in my bed, if not for sex?”Bookmark here

“Hotel chairs are uncomfortable, I’ve come to discover.”Bookmark here

We’re staying in a Moscow hotel together, preparing for tomorrow’s mission. The chairs here are worse than normal.Bookmark here

“Then why are you naked?”Bookmark here

“Clothes are uncomfortable too.”Bookmark here

Bastien pushes himself a bit more upright, I suspect to look at me more thoroughly. If there’s one thing I can respect about him, it’s just how unapologetic his lecherous gaze is.Bookmark here

“Then why get into bed with me, naked?”Bookmark here

“The floor, shockingly, is less comfortable than the chair.”Bookmark here

“You’re just being a tease.”Bookmark here

You booked a room with one bed.”Bookmark here

“It was cheaper than the twin room.”Bookmark here

He takes a drag of the cigar and starts making rings with the smoke. I catch myself staring at it but not before he notices.Bookmark here

“Are you sure you don’t want one?”Bookmark here

“I just like the aesthetic. Reminds me of when it’s so cold you can see your breath.”Bookmark here

“That’s a fine enough reason to try one, think of it like that girlfriend of yours.”Bookmark here

“That supposed to mean something?”Bookmark here

“Do it because you love how it looks, not for anything else about it.”Bookmark here

I’ve been getting used to these stray shots at Trish over the course of this trip. A few times I’ve asked her what her history with Bastien was, in that sense. Says he never made a move on her, which in his world is a major insult.Bookmark here

Apparently, my non-response got to him, because after only a few seconds of silence, he’s filling the air with his nonsense.Bookmark here

“At least do something. Sitting there in silence like you have nothing better to do. Where do you get off?”Bookmark here

“Single beds, typically.”Bookmark here

“Come off it, I know her bed has room for three… what’s the issue with smokes anyway?”Bookmark here

He inspects his cigar with intent, twirling it expertly between his fingers. If he’s not looking at me, that means it’s a serious question. It’s a prime opportunity to learn more about a man I’m not particularly interested in. Bookmark here

I don’t have anything better to do, I suppose.Bookmark here

“Tell me first, what is it that you like about them?”Bookmark here

“Oh, I don’t like them, I’m just addicted.”Bookmark here

“Why are you trying to get me to smoke them then?”Bookmark here

“I’m an addict, not an introvert. Smoke loves to hide company.”Bookmark here

He takes a big puff after he says that, blowing the smoke right in my face.Bookmark here

“Go on then, why do you dislike them?”Bookmark here

“My Dad was going to die of lung cancer.”Bookmark here

“He was going to?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, he got hit by a car he walked himself in front of first. Big fan of being a detriment by proxy, that guy.”Bookmark here

When did I learn to love the smokers aesthetic? Dad certainly didn’t look cool when he smoked, held the poison between his pinky and thumb like it was a joint.Bookmark here

“So, what, the trauma of your father getting cancer swore you off cigarettes? I don’t believe that for a second.”Bookmark here

“There’s no trauma, I just found his constant coughing annoying. Ever tried eating dinner when the person across you is hacking up a lung all over your plate? I don’t want to be that person.”Bookmark here

“Can you even get cancer?”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

…..Bookmark here

……..Bookmark here

“No, I don’t think I can.”Bookmark here

“Then there’s nothing stopping you from joining me other than ill-conceived nostalgia.”Bookmark here

He takes out another cigar from his bedside locker and begins lighting it. I stop him by placing my hand over the flame.Bookmark here

“I want a cigarette, not a cigar.”Bookmark here

In just more than an instant his expression switches from confused to insidious, his hands reaching down to his discarded trousers. He places a cigarette between my lips and tries to light it himself, so I snatch the lighter from his hands. Bookmark here

Everything is creepy with this guy.Bookmark here

“Why the thin ones?” Bastien asks me as I fumble with the lighter.Bookmark here

“It’s all about the aesthetic. A cigar in bed feels very American, a cigarette is distinctly French.”Bookmark here

He decides not to push me on that point, seemingly content that I’m partaking in the ritual at all.Bookmark here

I finally get the lighter to spark and burn the tip of the cigarette. I don’t know what I did wrong but I nearly set the whole thing on fire. I shake it back to a smouldering state just in time. Bookmark here

I’m conscious to hold it loosely between my middle and index finger, up towards the knuckle.Bookmark here

Leaning back into the pillows, I take my first drag. The smoke burns through my throat and gradually fills my lungs. I know I’m supposed to hold it there instinctively, it feels right. I almost don’t want to exhale when I do.Bookmark here

“So how was that?”Bookmark here

“It felt good.”Bookmark here

Second drag. The sensation is relaxing and I don’t even mind the taste. I love the wispy mixture of smoke and air above me. But I can’t shake the feeling that what I’m doing is wrong. It’s exactly like when I last tried one, images of a person I didn’t want to become ruined the experience.Bookmark here

I can’t become that person anymore, so why does it bother me? It’s a feeling and nothing more, I don’t have a reason to think like this anymore… I can feel the beckoning of a question that I won’t like, a door left ajar, leading to a hallway full of rooms. I grab the handle, close it back over.

I let the smoke fill my lungs, fill the room but I won’t chase it further than that.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.