His eyes snapped open and his heart leapt at the determined banging on his motel room door. Glancing at the clock radio on the bedside table, the red numbers blinked 2:20 AM. He instinctively grabbed the 16mm from beneath his pillow. Cocking the pistol, he approached the door, warily, in only his boxer shorts.
“Who is it?!” he called. As he wiped the grime from the peephole he was surprised and alarmed to see the grim faces of Vasily and Oleg, “The Butcher”.
“Open this fucking door, Dmitry,” bellowed Vasily in Russian. “Right now! Anton is with us.”
Jesus Christ, thought Dmitry. What the hell is Anton doing out here in the middle of the night with Vasily and The Butcher?
The moment he unbolted the door, Vasily and The Butcher barged in with their weapons drawn. “Drop the gun, Dmitry,” the latter commanded, his voice level and as foreboding as cracking ice. His deep-set, coal-black eyes fixed Dmitry with almost demonic hostility.
“Now!” bellowed Vasily, his oversized body and pug-dog face a picture of brutishness. Vasily was Anton’s muscle and The Butcher his sociopathic Lieutenant.
As Dmitry dropped the gun on the dirty ceramic floor, Vasily scooped it up and Anton strode into the room in a cloud of cigarette smoke. He was the top boss and Dmitry had only ever met him on a handful of occasions, his presence always like a dark shadow of roiling menace. Anton was clad in a grey sable-fir cloak over an immaculate black suit. He wore his salt-and-pepper hair long so as to conceal a horrible burn that had deformed most of the right-side of his face. A silver plated eye-patch covered his right eye and served as a mirror to the people unfortunate enough to have to face him. A creeping terror rose up through Dmitry’s spine but he maintained the bewildered expression on his face.
“What the hell are you guys doing here?!”
“Sit down, Dmitry,” ordered Anton, flatly, gesturing at the rickety table in the kitchenette. “Vasily, vodka.”
As Anton and Dmitry sat down at the table across from one another, Vasily slammed a bottle of Stolichnaya on the table and placed a glass in front of each of them. Anton opened the bottle and filled the glasses slowly, studying Dmitry with a soul-withering gaze from his good eye. Vasily and The Butcher remained standing and took up their places behind Anton, their hands folded in front of them.
“Budem zdorovy,” said Anton, holding up his glass.
“Budem zdorovy,” replied Dmitry, his hand shaking ever so slightly, as the two men downed the vodka and Anton began refilling the glasses.
“Please, Anton. Why are you here in the middle of the night? Tell me.”
Anton didn’t reply for a few moments, appearing deep in thought. As if coming to a decision, he swept aside the hair from the right side of his face and leaned across the table. “Have you ever wondered how I got this burn?”
“Um, no,” replied Dmitry, blithely. “It’s none of my business, of course.”
“Well, at least I know you’re not lying about that seeing as I’ve never told anyone over here before,” said Anton as Vasily and The Butcher exchanged curious glances. “When I was 12-years-old, I worked in my father’s restaurant in Smolensk. I was good with figures so he had me balance the books at week’s end. One day, he discovered that I had been pocketing 10% of the profits and using the money to buy and deal drugs. He walked into the living room where I was watching TV with my sister and my mother was ironing. Without a word, he grabbed me by the hair and dragged me across the floor to the ironing board. He took the iron from my mother and held it to my face until I could smell my own flesh cooking and my eye boiled in its socket like an egg. They say they could hear my screams 3 blocks away.”
“Anton – please, why are you telling me this? I don’t need to know. I just –”
“Shut up,” said Anton curtly. “You know what my father told me when I got out of hospital weeks later? He told me that he did the only thing that he could do.”
“What do you mean?”
“He told me that you can never trust anyone in life. No one. Not even your own family. They will all betray you in the end one way or another. And when they do, you must punish them to the fullest or you will be forever weak. Now, drink.”
As the vodka tore at his throat, cold fear gripped Dmitry’s bowels and his training kicked in. Remain as calm as the surface of still water. Show no emotion whatever you are feeling. “I don’t understand why you’re telling me this,” he said as he examined his indifferent reflection in Anton’s eye-patch. Calm as the surface of still water.
“Why don’t you begin by telling me what your real name is,” said Anton, his voice thick with anger. Dmitry just stared at him, quelling the panic by digging his nails into the underside of the table. “Very well,” sighed Anton, nodding at The Butcher. “I don’t have all night and there’s work to do.” The Butcher reached into a large knapsack and threw a thick folder onto the table in front of Dmitry.
“It’s all in there,” hissed Anton, as Dmitry flipped through the pages, abject horror etched across his face, his training gone. “A carbon copy of your entire file. Your name is Roman Kharlamov born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Studied Computer Science at Saint Petersburg State University. Your talents and fluency in Russian didn’t go unnoticed and, after a long tug-of-war with Langley, you steadily rose up through the ranks and became deep undercover Special Agent for the F… B… I…”
“It… It’s impossible,” said Roman incredulously. “This file doesn’t exist. I haven’t seen or spoken to my family in 3 years…”
“Don’t be stupid, Roman Kharlamov”, said Anton dismissively, waving his hand as if swatting an annoying fly. “All files exist on everyone. I just have unique ways of getting my hands them. So, Roman Kharlamov, what do you have to say?”
After scrutinizing Anton’s stony face for a moment, Roman cleared his throat and said: “Do you mind if I have another drink and a cigarette?”
“By all means,” replied Anton, gesturing at Vasily who refilled the glasses and lit Roman’s cigarette.
“You told me a story about your family, just now,” he said slowly, while thinking furiously. “Can I tell you one about mine?”
“Very well,” said Anton, glancing at his Rolex. “Make it quick though. We don’t have all night.”
“I bet there’s something about my family that isn’t contained in this file…”
“So, I have German blood in me.”
“Isn’t that interesting?”
“It is actually. You see, my Grandfather was German and fought in the invasion of the Soviet Union in World War Two.”
“Is that so?”
“It is. And not only that, he was a part of the Einsatzgruppen. Those guys raped, murdered, pillaged and burnt everything Russian – never mind the Jews, communists and homosexuals – behind the advancing armies. And you know what?”
“Tell me,” said Anton quizzically as Vasily and The Butcher shuffled angrily behind him.
“Word has it that after my Grandfather and his men mopped up in Smolensk, your home town, virtually every single surviving woman had been brutally raped many times over.”
“Really?” said Anton in mock surprise.
“Yes, really. It’s true,” said Roman, inhaling deeply and blowing smoke out across the table into Anton’s face. “Which means it’s a pretty sure bet that your Grandmother was raped repeatedly by psychotic Nazis. It’s therefore quite possible that your Grandmother gave birth to a child who was half psychotic Nazi. In fact, perhaps the result of those unhappy couplings between psychotic Nazis and your Grandmother resulted in the birth of your demented father. It would certainly explain how he could burn half the face off of his 12-year-old son with an iron. And considering what a degenerate you are, I’m willing to bet you have the worst of Nazi German blood pumping through your heart – just like the toxic pollution which flows freely through the Rhine. I wonder if by some strange twist of fate, my Grandfather raped your whore of a Grandmother and we actually share the same Nazi blood – I…”
“I’m going to put a bullet through your head right now,” shouted Vasily, drawing his weapon.
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” laughed Anton, uproariously. “Put that stupid toy away, Vasily! Can’t you see what Roman Kharlamov is doing, you idiot! He’s been watching too many movies and wants a quick death. No, no, my dear Roman Kharlamov, I have devised a much more interesting fate for you than a bullet through your head. As you know, I have ordered Oleg to literally skin people alive for lesser sins than you have committed. It’s not you I’m going to kill tonight – it’s that pretty wife of yours and your two adorable young children who you haven’t seen in the 3 long years you’ve been spying on me. And he’s going to do it with these. Oleg – please.”
The Butcher reached into the knapsack and threw a heavy leather bag on the table.
“Open it, Roman Kharlamov,” ordered Anton.
Shaking like a leaf now, Roman unzipped the bag. It unfolded by itself under its own weight revealing a tangle of rusted tools: an ancient saw, missing several teeth, a broken chisel, a hammer with one of the tines snapped off, pliers dating back decades and assorted discarded blunt knives and dental equipment.
“My… my family’s in protective custody. You can’t…”
“Oh, really?” said Anton, now sneering. “Disappeared? Just like your non-existent file? Oleg – the laptop, please.”
The Butcher booted up the computer, typed in the commands and swiveled the monitor around for Roman to see. He cried out as he saw his wife and two daughters gagged and bound, eyes bursting with terror and tears rolling down their cheeks.
“No! No!” he screamed. “It’s not true!”
Impassively, Anton took out his cell phone and pressed a button. “Yes, it’s me,” he said as the call went through. Please untie the lovely Mrs. Kharlamov and have her hold up today’s evening post to the camera. As he spoke, his commands played out on the monitor and Roman saw his wife hold up the paper in trembling hands. Today’s date. Today’s news.
“No!” he screamed again.
“Calm down, Roman Kharlamov. Listen to me very carefully. Are you listening?”
“I’m listening,” said Roman hoarsely, defeated and with his hands clutching the sides of his head.
“Your family is sitting in the bottom of a miserable old Soviet-era tub due to set sail at dawn for Reykjavík. I am going to put Oleg on that boat with this bag unless you do exactly what I tell you to do. Do you understand?”
“I understand,” sobbed Roman.
“Good. So here’s what you’re going to do. Your first reporting officer, Special Agent Michael Higgs, is now snoring away in his country residence with his wife and 3 kids. Oleg is going to drive you there right now and watch you kill them all. When it’s done, Oleg will drive you back to the boat and you will take the place of your family on the long sail to Reykjavík with Oleg. Your family will be set free and unmolested by us forever.”
“This is no choice!” shouted Roman, the agony in his voice making even the thick-headed Vasily wince.
“Ah, but it is,” said Anton, in steely, measured tones. “If you refuse then Oleg sets sail with your family at dawn and you and Higgs’s family are free. Oh, and keep the bottle while you decide,” he said as he ditched his dying cigarette in it, with a grotesque fizz, and departed the room in a cloud of acrid blue.
The Butcher leered through it across the table and licked his purple lips like a satisfied wolf.