Chapter 4: The Derevnya Bratva

Sergei met Zakhar Abdulov about six years ago when his sparkle seemed snuffed out. He was a 'street dog' that fouled the streets of St. Petersburg. During the day, he would park himself on street hoping to draw from the mercy of Muscovites. On some days, his pouch burst at the seams while on others, he would grouch for a penny.

After cover of darkness, he would slip into a hessian sack lined with polythene, hospital cotton refuse and old clothes, on street pavements, doorsteps and hotel entrances. He would coil amidst the frosty nights longing for daybreak, which always took its time. Nights were characteristically ruthless. Every night, he cursed beckoning for help from a deity that his parents had always had so much faith in, hoping he would show up, but never did.

One day, Zakhar, a middle-aged man with a trim beard, short straight hair and brown eyes, adorning a cat face showed up. He spoke with an accent albeit in a petrifying voice. He had on a grey Jacket and black pants. Flaunting a five Ruble note, he had him booted and said,

"Get up! Walk with me."

Immediately, Sergei unveiled his hood, lifted his eyes, and looked straight in his. He saw rage restrained in the dungeons of his heart. The devil had come down and was standing right before him. Could he say no? He wanted to, but in one glance, mesomorphs all dressed in black – jackets and pants surrounded him. He could barely make out the view of the snowy street through the forest of legs.

They hoisted him to his two, and he could feel a steel blade freeze his spine as they walked towards a parked white van, in about a hundred yards at the end of the street. Each time he tried to scream, the blade bored into his skin exuding a warm flow. He looked around for an escape but the mesomorphs towered high above his eyesight. His heart thumped audibly in his ears. He regretted having braved the icy fog that morning.

He was not about to give up though. In the distance, there was an alley at the street corner leading to a high-rise area. He knew it was his best chance to flee. He slowed down as they approached the van, but then he felt a sharp penetrative pain in his back at which he groaned so loud almost falling to ground. The pack thinned out immediately to dissuade a by passing police patrol car.

At this point, he could clearly make out the alley ahead of him. He ran for it. As he made the turn to the alley, one man grabbed him. He continued running but found himself airborne. He dragged him to the van and slammed him into the back. His head felt oozy and his sight blurred as he slipped into nothingness.

He woke up tied to a steel chair bolted at the center of the floor in the basement. He could hardly find clues in the room to know where he was. Zakhar came in hours later caressing razor sharp shiny edges of an assegai. He stood behind him and inched the steel edge on his neck and cheeks. Sergei's body shook wildly with occasional jolts running through his spine every time its edges touched his skin.

"Sergei Romanov, top of Finance class and management at Moscow University, fired for fraud from Business Frontiers, and now a 'street dog'. I'm surprised to find you on my streets." He said as he drew a wooden stool in the corner of the room and sat with his legs straddling me.

"Who are you? Where am I? How come you know so much about me?" Sergei cried out.

He really wanted to know where he was. The basement had no windows to the outside with implements and gadgets littered all over the place. It was a death trap.

"By now you should know, I get to ask the questions…and you listen." Zakhar roared brandishing his assegai that shone from the dangling ceiling light every time he turned it.

Sergei could hear him wheezing, see his flaming eyes and his nostrils move as he talked. His teeth hard been stained from excessive smoking and his left cheek had a large scar probably from an attack by a beast.

A barge into the door by two large men dragging a slim tall black haired man stole his attention for a moment and he moved away from Sergei. They re-echoed,

"Foolish runner."

The man tried to flee the men but they beat him to his knees.

"No one runs from Zakhar, no one!" He roared as he inched towards the man.

"I understand that now. I'll do whatever you ask. Please don't kill me." The man on his knees pleaded weeping as Zakhar circled round him.

Zakhar suddenly thrust the assegai through his spine and chest in a loud thud. It lifted the man from his knees up on his feet and down to the floor. He struggled on the floor as blood ferociously gushed out of his chest and back.

Sergei gasped for air. His heart pumped faster sending him into a shivering spasm. He thought he was next.

"Piece of garbage" Zakhar said, spat on the man and threw his blood stained Jacket on the floor.

He approached Sergei and squeezed his cheeks between his thumb and fingers,

"You will do what I ask," He said looking daggers at him.

"Yes, anything you ask," Sergei nodded and screamed out as streams coursed violently down his cheeks.

"Good."

He left him, told the men to clean up the mess and out of the basement.

One of the men bent over the corpse pulling out the assegai. More blood oozed out and the flow coursed its way to the chair drenching Sergei's soles. He was scared to death. He dreaded what awaited him.

While the men carried out the corpse, a young petite woman came in to clean, but she did not speak to Sergei even when he tried to coax her. He hated himself and hated everything.

The following morning Zakhar walked in with a plate Blinis, nibbling at one. He unsheathed a small blade from under his pant leg and freed him from the chair. Sergei grabbed the plate from him and began devouring the Blinis.

"Feodor will show you what to do." Zakhar rumbled and turned to leave.

Sergei stared as he left. Quick footsteps descended the wooden steps stacked in a continuum in the wall to the basement and stopped. He could hear two people talking but could not make out anything they were saying.

His stomach growled with hunger. Luckily, he still had a few Blinis left on the plate. He devoured them without mercy. He chewed at them so hard that he did not notice someone walk in. The monster that had grabbed him off the street was standing right before him. He feared what he would do next.

"I'll be at the door. Don't make me wait," The monster said and left the basement.

For the first five days, Feodor told Sergei everything he needed know to stay alive. He gave him a small room and money for shopping. Zakhar was holding him in a sloboda, within Kursk Oblast well guarded by his men at every corner. There was no police in the vicinity – government was not interested because he solved their problem of 'street dogs'. Zakhar was the authority and security for everyone. He was the goblin's ghoul aye haunting the sloboda. No one left without his permission.

Slobozhanins earned a living working at Lebedinskoye iron ore mine and his 9-square mile livestock farmland within Kursk. The sloboda was home for his workforce and human trafficking operations. People left and joined the camp every day. They came from everywhere.

Feodor introduced Sergei to a restaurant where he worked. His experience as a cashier was his perfect 'Ad banner'. The pay was good. The years of a 'street dog' had crept behind him, but the loss of his wife and daughter gnawed at him like a cancer. He struggled to sleep. He blamed himself for their death. Waiting for justice was like waiting for a lobster to whistle on top of a mountain. Police had not found any suspects!

Zakhar gave him a chance at life once again. They lived together in a community and helped one another because they had all come off the street. A strong bond of love kept them together, but lived on a sword's edge. Sergei's life was good; he had all he needed, but it was difficult to adjust to the life in the sloboda.

For nearly four years, Sergei worked at the restaurant. He had seen several people come and leave the sloboda for work elsewhere. He did not know what was out there, but hoped he would one day leave too.

One evening, Zakhar appeared at the restaurant with a lean lanky young man. They sat at a table near one corner and asked for Sergei. He got to him as soon as he could clad in his duty uniform.

"Viktor Vetochkin," Zakhar said gesturing with his right hand.

"Happy to meet you, sir," Sergei said.

"Sit."

Sergei descended into an empty seat next to the young man.

"You've served me well, Sergei," Zakhar said looking at him, "But Viktor is paying good money."

The chance for Sergei to leave the camp had come beckoning sooner than he expected. His heart burned with emotion, but buried his excitement because Zakhar was unpredictable.

"I want you to work for me," the young man said and handed him a pre-drafted employment contract for a shipping company – Viktor Freighters, which had offices along the Dubovetsi highway in Solntsevo.

Sergei's eyes dilated as he skimmed through the contract. He knew this was it; it was his time to leave the sloboda. However, something in the contract spooked him.

"The restaurant still needs me," Sergei said doubting the over the roof wages he was offering. However, Sergei did not know that Viktor had already bought out his contract with Zakhar.

"My mind is made up…you will go with him," Zakhar said.

Viktor offered him the Imports and Exports Controller position. In this job, he would verify cargo handled by the company. It was a lot of work but he was willing to borrow cats' paws for the handsome pay. 500,000 Rubles per month, it was.

In the first six months, he sailed on a bubbling cauldron. He spent his lone time at Allyoha's, a local bar almost a mile from his apartment. Allyoha's was a bar for the corporate class. It served good steak and played good music. He loved it there – spending his hard-earned Rubles. One thing he had gained from Viktor was freedom – he could do whatever he wanted, anytime, and of course the big money!

Zakhar never left Viktor's side. He was a regular at his office. Sergei had seen him more times at the Freighters than at his restaurant. There was no doubt they shared a history in much the same way the slobozhanins did – 'street dogs'. However, he doubted their story was that crude. Perhaps, anything along the lines of old school friends was likely.

In Sergei's ninth month at the Freighters, Viktor suspected him of snooping. His office been broken into and confidential company information accessed. He paid Sofia – a sexy blonde woman to seduce him. She stalked him every evening studying his movements and interests. Occasionally, she would purposely bump into him and quickly vanish.

One Saturday evening at Allyoha's bar, Sergei was at the counter with a cold soda in hand, when she came to order for a drink. She was dressed in a skimpy black outfit that emphasized her cleavage with strapped on high heels. She seemed stressed and was unkind to staring Sergei:

"What are you staring at? Are you are starved?" She said looking daggers at him.

Two guys seated next to him giggled. He felt deeply embarrassed, but he got determined to speak to her. He left his stool,

"I know you," He said sitting next to her.

"Are you stalking me? Idiot," She said and turned to leave.

"Please," He said as he held her hand urging her to stay.

"I don't know you. Let go of my hand." She said and left for another section of the bar. It was a stab in Sergei's ego. That evening he drank himself silly.

In the days that followed, she became a regular. Sergei itched to talk to her every evening, and she could see it too. He had taken the bait. For Sergei, it seemed like high time to let go of the past and date again.

He managed to talk to her one evening and stayed on at Allyoha's until late. She charmed him with her humor and warmness. He wanted a repeat, which she turned down, but the following evening, they were together again.

From then onwards, she showed him her world; boogying until late, going to as many as four clubs a night. She took him to places all over Moscow. He had fallen in love; the wild beast was on the loose. His social life slowly began encroaching on his work. He showed up late at the Freighters, but Viktor seemed unfazed.

She spent her weekends at Sergei's. They were like family, at least Sergei wanted to believe so, but every time they were together, his nightmares intensified. At first, he declined to share but eventually he told her about his family that had perished in a house fire. Sofia determined to learn more, she dug deeper into his past.

"Tell me about the fire." She said putting on her nightdress.

"It wasn't an accident. The arsonist had intended to kill me, but that night I was at my mum's. Police recovered gasoline cans." He said sitting up straight on the bed.

Sofia sat next to him.

"Why would anyone want to kill you, honey?" She said holding his hands.

"Can we stop? It hurts." Sergei said and walked to the bathroom.

She knew he was hiding something. She hastened to rummage through his computer in the living room but did not find a thing. However, her find was enough for Viktor to proceed with his plan.

One morning on a weekend, they came back to ransacked apartment. His apartment had been broken into – documents and his computer were missing. Sergei did not know that their love story would end too soon. She did not feel safe with him and in the weeks that followed, she kept her distance and eventually stopped showing up at Allyoha's.

Several months down the road, there was an altercation in Viktor's office. It was between Dorofei and Viktor. Viktor had refused to handle his consignments and would have no further dealings with him because he was a high risk.

He showed him the employment record of an FSB agent – Yury, he had supposedly eliminated along with his family in a house fire years ago. He could hardly believe it because he had attended his funeral.

"Fire him." Dorofei roared.

"That's a dangerous route to take," Viktor said.

As they still argued, Sergei knocked at the door. He had come to pick consignment documents he had submitted for authorization.

"Come in." Viktor answered the door.

Dorofei was standing aloof when Yury walked in. He recognized him. The proof that he was alive was standing before his eyes. Yury did not know Dorofei, but his face seemed familiar.

Viktor allowing no pleasantries between them, he quickly handed over the verified documents, and Yury left his office.

For a moment, Dorofei skimmed for words plotting his next move.

"Our arrangement's still on," He exploded closing the door behind him.

"I won't risk anything for you," Viktor said, "Not anymore."

The day closed a bit early for Sergei. There was not much activity at the Freighters. He drove to the supermarket to pick a few groceries before returning home. After dinner, he stayed up late watching NTV – his favorite station. A breeze gushing through the sitting room windows, eventually forced him to bed.

During the morning chorus, there was a squeak at Sergei's hind door. Then glass shattered. He knew this had nothing to do with the outside breeze. Someone had crushed into the glass in the sitting room he had brought to replace the broken windowpane. He jumped out of bed, in shorts, and hid behind his bedroom door. He could hear footsteps trudging lightly as they approached the bedroom door.

A jerk of the doorknob sent his heart racing, pumping audibly in his ears. He tried to hold his breath but in vain. He steadied to pounce, but it stopped. He had locked door.

"Thank God," he sighed.

Suddenly, a loud bang sent the door ajar. Five quick shorts into his bed ended in a thud. The masked gunman all dressed in black charged and leaned over to verify his kill. Sergei jumped from his hiding and smashed the gunman's head with a baton. The gunman tumbled down sending his gun flying setting off another shot in the process. Sergei raised the baton to strike again but the gunman lay motionless. He removed his mask and searched his pockets for identification – he had none.

Sergei picked up the gun, checked it for rounds and dragged the gunman to the kitchen. He tied him up to a chair, and jolted his chest with mains power from an outlet socket. The gunman jerked forward and woke up. It was time for Q&A.

"Who sent you?" Sergei said sparking the bare wires from the mains.

"I aint telling no shit," He said and spat in his face.

He jolted him in quick succession as he roared, "Who sent you?"

"Fuck you, got to hell," The gunman yelled.

Sergei was agitated and scoured the drawers for a kitchen knife, but there was none. He remembered his claw hammer in the bedroom; he rushed to pick it. He came back brandishing it and threatened to smash in his kneecaps.

"I have been through worse," The gunman said.

Sergei flattened his left toe with the claw hammer and roared,

"Who do you work for?"

The gunman groaned so loud but did not say a thing.

He flattened the next and next…simultaneously roaring

"Who sent you?"

Blood spurts scattered on the wall and the gunman shrilled urging him to stop.

"I'll stop when you tell me what I want to know," He said and flattened the fifth.

"The Bratva…The Bratva – 'brotherhood' wants you dead."The gunman screamed and tears rolled down to his chin.

"I want names," standing up with hammer in hand.

"Dorofei." The gunman said cooperating.

"Who is Dorofei?"

"FFS."

"Which station?"

"19."

"Why kill me?"

"You should have died in that fire years ago. It doesn't end with me."

He laid the claw hammer on a kitchen table and went to the bedroom. He searched through the employment records of FFS for Dorofei through the FSB network. No one went by the name Dorofei at FFS. He came back grinding his teeth carrying his computer.

"You lied to me. There is no Dorofei at FFS," He said picking up the claw hammer.

"I swear; it's the truth. I met him last night," The gunman said wailing.

He asked the gunman to identify Dorofei as he browsed through personal files of FFS 19th station. He had actually met Dorofei in Viktor's office the previous day. He had found him.