“P-please, Vladimir, you don’t have to do this.”
The man kneeling before me in this modest manor bathroom has his hands on his head, and I’m pointing his own gun at a spot right between his pleading eyes. My face is impassive. I know that gaze all too well. It’s the face of a man who’s about to die and knows it.
“I could say the same about you,” I say simply. I hate to admit that I’m starting to like using my native Russian tongue less and less over the years. It seems like I only ever use it when I’m handling dirty business anymore.
“I was only following orders,” he pleads.
I purse my lips and tut, shaking my head slowly.
“Vladimir, please,” he rasps. “You’re the only one of the old gang left who hasn’t either been killed or joined the Gregorovitches yet. You can’t have expected this dinner to go peacefully.”
“You had your chance to fall in line like the rest of us,” Boris says. “It might not be too late. Take me out there, show them how you bested their assassin, and they might just rethink how valuable you really are!”
I am not a man who laughs often, but that makes a faint smile cross my lips.
“I don’t care if they’re begging for me on hands and knees, like you,” I say. “You know what the Gregorovitches are like, Boris. We fought them together. They trade women and children like animals. To them, a woman’s corpse is just damaged goods. Are these the kinds of people to ‘just take orders’ from? I don’t think so.”
“Why are you so damn stubborn?” Boris finally asks, letting his hands fall, looking up to me in desperation. “Why are you bothering with all this? You could have dropped off the radar long ago. Are the lives of a few whores really worth throwing your life away over?”
My expression goes icy, and the color drains from Boris’s face.
“You’ve changed, Boris. A shame.”
One shot leaves the silenced barrel, and my would-be assassin crumples. I look over my shoulder at the bathroom door, waiting to see if the guard just outside the door heard the shot. If Boris had succeeded in killing me, he would have come out by now. An alert guard would have noticed that something is off.
Luck seems to be on my side, but I can’t trust her for long.
The guard standing by the door tenses up as my knife plunges into his throat to the hilt, and I hold him against the wall as he slides to the ground, dying. The dull roar of a lively dinner downstairs covers up the sound of his death rattle, and I watch the light leave his eyes before I draw the knife back out and clean it off on his clothing.
I sheathe it on my own leg, then pick up the Uzi the guard has in his limp hands. Music is playing downstairs—some lively old Russian tune one of the old bratva bastards probably requested. I start humming along with it idly as I make sure the Uzi is loaded and ready to go.
If Boris hadn’t been a traitorous, woman-killing fucker, I’d almost feel bad for him. Not only would the Gregorovitches have killed him the moment he finished the job, but he was wrong about another thing, too.
He was foolish to think any of the Gregorovitches here were going to make it out alive.
Of course, I knew this was a setup when I accepted their dinner invitation. They’ve long since stopped courting me to join them like the rest of my gang they killed off. They don’t even know they did me a favor.
Still, this is as clear a sign as any that I need to get out of Russia, possibly for the last time. These attempts will not stop, especially now that I’ve drawn blood from one of their own. I’m pleased that the right-hand man of the Gregorovitch bratva is here tonight. I would prefer the pleasure of killing the pakhan, their leader, but he is away on business.
At least I’ll enjoy shooting up his personal manor while he’s gone.
I want to make my exit with a bang.
But first, I need an escape route.
I’m already upstairs, so after a quick glance down the hall, I stalk toward the master bedroom. It’s locked, but it’s nothing I can’t get through with a few seconds of picking. I slip inside with my weapon raised and close the door behind me.
I am not alone.
My eyes lock with a woman in the massive bed, and she frankly looks like a child barely in high school. Her face goes pale at the sight of me, and I hold a finger to my lips as I approach slowly.
“They-they did not tell me-”
“Hush, child,” I growl. “Be silent, and don’t move. I’m only here for a few things.”
“You’re far too young to have to worry about that,” I say as I cross the room and start rifling through the boss’s desk. “And far too young to be in that bed. But that won’t be a problem soon enough.”
I find exactly what I need in the desk. I was hoping for car keys, but I have something even more intriguing—a ring of keys next to a folder rich with information about Mr. Gregorovitch’s new luxury yacht.
The thing is a castle at sea, built for the kind of luxury that a decadent Russian mob boss like him would expect. I know it was a recent purchase, but I didn’t think he would still have all the information for it right here in one place. The sale must have gone through very recently indeed. Between the keys and the access codes in this folder, I have everything I need.
“Are you going to kill me?” the young girl asks, and I pause for a moment. I don’t have much of a heart, but her words make it pang. I look over my shoulder at her, and once more, I know that what I’m planning on doing is, in many ways, righteous. Not exactly how I see myself, but I’ll take it.
“No, you innocent little thing,” I say, and I approach her slowly, crouching down beside the bed to speak to her at eye level. She has the covers bunched up around her, clutching them tightly, and I suspect she’s wearing little, if anything, underneath.
“I need you to listen very carefully,” I say in a patient tone. “Thing are going to get a little busy downstairs. As soon as I leave this room, I want you to go to that ensuite bathroom, close the door, lock it, and stay put. Wait as long as you possibly can, and then wait a little longer. Do not come out until the commotion is over. When it is, get dressed, find as much cash as you can carry, and get as far away from this place as you can. Do you have somewhere safe you could go, if you escaped here?”
She nods softly.
I stand up and stalk out the room, hoping that girl knows how to follow orders. I’ll just have to make sure to make it as safe as possible for her downstairs. No loose ends.
Keys in my jacket pocket, I head back to the dead guard’s body and check the bathroom to make sure an ambush isn’t waiting for me. But I can still hear laughter and chatter downstairs, and that tells me I haven’t been discovered yet.
Something catches my eye in the bathroom. There’s a decorative glass bottle shaped like a cat sitting on the windowsill, a small bouquet of flowers sticking out of it. I head in and empty it, then dig around the medicine cabinet until I find something that makes me smile—a simple bottle of rubbing alcohol.
I fill the bottle with the alcohol before grabbing a thin hand towel and soaking it too, and I stuff it into the top of the bottle. My eyes drift up to the candle burning on the toilet tank. I take a deep breath and prepare myself, then dip the tip of the cloth into the flame.
Five seconds later, I’m running downstairs, and in a moment frozen in time, I see the whole scene before me like a Renaissance painting.
The Gregorovitch Avtoritet sits at the head of the table furthest from me, and his Boyeviks flank him. The highest boss, the Pakhan, is away, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do some real damage to his Bratva. From there, more of the jolly, half-drunk men at the table descend in rank. All of them are at a large, round table covered in a beautiful white cloth with devastated dinner plates before each of them. A bottle of vodka is getting passed around, and even the two guards at the door look like they’re at ease.
They must have really had faith in Boris.
I almost pity them.
The next moment, my improvised bottle bomb flies out of my hand.
Flames blossom out from the shattering alcohol as glass shards and fire goes everywhere, igniting the cloth and sending the room into chaos. That’s all I need. I point my Uzi at the fiery chaos, and I let a string of bullets rip through the dinner as the laughter of wicked men turns to screams, and I don’t stop until I’m out of bullets.
It isn’t a record, but considering how little prep I had for tonight, it’s better than I was expecting.
Two minutes later, I watch the last of the guards die at my feet while the table finally burns itself out behind me. I pick up the cigarette in the guard’s mouth and quietly extinguish it on the wall before glancing around at my handiwork.
The leader is hard to recognize anymore, but he was the first to go. His captains fell soon after him, and most of the enforcers at the table died while still trying to scramble for their guns. The guards put up a fight, but they were in way over their heads, even the ones from outside who came rushing in when they heard the gunfire. The only souls left alive are the servants, none of whom were in the room when I opened fire. They’ll be long gone by morning.
And so will I.
I jog out of the ruined manor with Boris’s silenced pistol drawn, but the courtyard is eerily silent. I hurry to my black sedan, and I grab the black bag of supplies I had prepared. It’s mostly cash, and a hell of a lot of it. I’ve been ready to make a getaway for a long time, even if I didn’t know how or when it was going to happen.
With my ring of stolen keys, I make my way to the boss’s sports car and hop in. A moment later, I’m blazing down the road toward the marina.
Rostov-on-Don is a city of a little over a million, and it’s mainly known as a port city. Thousands of ships of various kinds come and go from its bustling port on the mouth of the Don river that empties out into the Sea of Azov, just north of the Black Sea. From the Black Sea, I can get to the Mediterranean, and from there, I can make a break for America. I’ve spent a lot of time building contacts over there, and I know which friends I can and cannot trust at a vital time like this.
I pull up to the marina and give the security guard the number of the dock I’m heading to, and with the right paperwork and enough confidence, I’m allowed through without harassment. The quiet bribe I slip the guard is only to ensure he keeps quiet. That’s the way of doing things, driving around Russia in a car this nice.
I’m just happy it’s after dark. It would be awkward to explain my bloody and ripped clothes if all the details were visible.
The yacht is the most impressive thing in the water. Recently cleaned, it glistens in the moonlight like a palace, and that’s exactly what it is. I don’t see guards patrolling the deck as I climb out of the car and sling my bag over my shoulder. With any luck, the guards who would be on duty were pulled to run security at dinner.
I head onboard with my hand in my jacket, gripping the hilt of my pistol, just in case.
Luxury doesn’t begin to describe what I see as I start to explore the yacht I’m about to steal. I feel like I’ve stepped into a palace belonging to the old tsars. The designer seemed to have a fondness for white, cream, and gold colors, along with black or silver trim in the color scheme of the entire place. I use a key to step inside, and I’m greeted with a lounge and bar that could rival the richest clubs in Moscow, complete with couches, rich mahogany coffee tables, and ivory ashtrays. I recognize an ancient Persian rug in front of a few couches and a huge television they probably use for watching sports.
Further inside, there’s an indoor swimming pool flanked by silver columns, several crystal chandeliers, and a glass roof that looks up at the moonlit sky. I move upstairs from there, gun still out, and a short jaunt down a hallway tells me I’m close to the master bedroom.
I use the passcode to get inside, grateful that I did my research on the Gregorovitches. I would have broken the code eventually, but it tends to make things easier when they’re predictable. The massive mattress with white sheets sits on a sleek black four-poster bed surrounded by a black and white carpet with intricate designs. A luxurious chair sits beside a window with a beautiful view of the sea, and a simply massive enclosed shower is integrated into the very wall behind the bed.
I shake my head at the decadence, then head to the bridge.
With a few passcodes and two separate keys to start the engines of the yacht, the floating palace comes to life. After a few quick words over the radio with the port authority, I steer the massive vessel out of the harbor, set a course in the ship’s computer, and step back from the controls.
I roll my shoulders back, starting to feel the ache from the fight after dinner. I head downstairs to the bedroom deciding to give the yacht one more pass now that it’s actually moving. Who knows what surprises the Mafia could have in store for me.
And as soon as I step past the bathroom, I freeze.
I heard something.
I am not alone.