Absorbed in her thoughts and her footfalls, Freyja hadn’t notice the bulwark of a man standing at the corner.
He caught her in a bear hug. Freyja stepped back. “Look at you, someone got a wardrobe makeover.”
Doug smiled. In a black overcoat and grey scarf he looked like a banker until you got to the shaved head and lucid scar on the side of his face that ran from his hairline down dangerously close to his jugular. The scar and the jailhouse tattoos visible on the back of his huge hands as he rubbed them together against the cold, established him for what he really was. You could take a kid out of the East Van, but you never took the East Van out of the kid. The axiom referred to the neighborhood where Freyja grew up and it certainly applied to Big Doug. She hoped it didn’t to her.
“Where’s my brother?” Freyja said.
Doug pointed to the black Mercedes sedan idling in a fog of exhaust fumes across the street.
“What happened to the pimp-mobile?”
“The Escalade doesn’t go with the new image. Viking Enterprises is a legitimate business now.”
“Then why does Gunnar still need a body guard?”
“Chauffeur, Free. I’m Gunnar’s chauffeur.
Doug took her by the arm and guided her toward the car. He let go when he began having more trouble negotiating the icy ruts in his dress brogues than Freyja did in her army boots.
“I’ll put your pack in the front with me.” He opened the rear door.
“Come in out of the cold, baby sister,” Gunnar said.
“Hi, Gunnar.” Freyja crawled across the soft leather seat and gave her brother a hug. “Not much room to party in here.”
Gunnar smiled. “I’m a business man now, Free.”
He looked like one – dark blue suit, white shirt starched collar, regimental tie – his blond beard close cropped, even his stupid mullet trimmed and neat.
“Investments, real estate–”
“What about the strip clubs?” Freyja said.
“Only two left.”
“Still need some place to launder the money.”
Gunnar frowned. “How’s the family? How’s Momma?”
“Still holding out hope. Lights a candle for you at family gatherings.”
“Not lighting any candles.”
“You know if they need anything, they can call me. You’ve got my personal cell number?”
Freyja nodded. Her scalp prickled from the overheated car. She scratched it with her fingers.
“What did he say about your hair?” Gunnar said.
“Not much, you know Poppa.’
“Still his ‘golden girl’.” Gunnar looked out the car window.
His cheeks were flushed. Extreme temperatures were tough on her brother’s rosacea, a condition he’d been afflicted with from an early age and one he’d always been acutely aware of.
Ironically, while the skin disorder caused him intense discomfort and embarrassment, it had kept him clean and likely had saved his life. Because of his preoccupation with controlling the flare-ups he avoided the triggers including alcohol and the potential side effects from mixing dermatologist prescribed medications with illegal drugs. A drug dealer not addicted to his own product was an anomaly and it had helped him survive and prosper in his chosen profession.
“So what’s up, Gunnar. You didn’t ambush me up to ask about the family. You still talk to Georgie.” Only eighteen months apart, her older brother and sister stayed in contact despite all that had happened.
“Happy birthday.” He handed her an envelope. “What are you, twenty-four?”
“Thanks, Gunnar.” She lifted the flap and took out the card. Inside, a bill of sale from a photographic equipment dealer listed a professional lighting package with more than enough gear to light a fashion shoot. It totaled over a thousand dollars.
“You’ve been talking to Arni,” Freyja said.
“It was his birthday too.”
“Thanks for the card, Gunnar.” Freyja handed back the invoice. “You know I’m not going to accept this.”
“I can’t buy my baby sister a birthday present?”
“The card’s enough. Thanks.”
“Arni’s not so judgmental.”
“What did you give him?”
“A Yamaha keyboard.”
Freyja shook her head. “I love Arni, despite the fact he’s totally without morals.”
“And what about me?”
Freyja reached for the car door.
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