Sunday, June 4, 2138
Poplar seeds floated like snowflakes on the summer breeze, as they did each summer in Moscow, a reminder that winter would come again before too long. Zoya loved strolling through the flurries, watching the white drifts pile up along the curbs and in the gutters, her thrill dampened only by having to visit this abandoned part of the city.
She stepped carefully over broken sections of concrete. Trash and glass littered the yellowed grass and weeds that lined the sidewalk. A sound from the building to her right brought her to a halt. A crash of metal followed by a yelp. A wild dog, she thought. Perhaps a pack. Why did I let Georgy get me into this?
Ancient dormitories that had housed university students a century ago now towered forlornly in staggered rows along the decaying street. A twisted sculpture of rusty metal--a fire escape?--lay across the sidewalk, and Zoya was forced into the street to skirt around it. She peered out of the corners of her eyes at each dark doorway or window, imagining drunks or crazies lurking in the shadows, watching, waiting to pounce.
Clutching the small package in her pocket, Zoya wondered again what was so important about it. Too small to be drugs or money.
She checked the number on the side of the nearest building and counted ahead. Only two more. Should be the courtyard entrance, according to the map he’d shown her. She could see it now across the road, though an old ground car, rusted and burned, blocked the way. Zoya nervously hummed Goodbye Blue Sky as she circled around the car.
Georgy blinked sweat out of his eyes and stared at the carpet, noticing for the first time the delicate pink lines of the rose patterns in the thin matting. He knew he was going to die. He wondered how painful they would make it and whether his sister might somehow survive.
“Tell us where it is, Georg, and we’ll make this quick for you.”
A strong hand grasped Georgy by his hair and twisted his head around until the salami breath of his inquisitor washed over his face. Georgy winced and glared at the man who, until today, he had thought of as a brother. “I don’t know, Tavik. Don’t know where it is. I swear.”
Tavik grasped Georgy’s face gently with both hands and smiled. He bent close and kissed Georgy hard, first on the left cheek and then on the right. The kind expression didn’t extend to his pale blue eyes. “Come now, my friend,” he whispered. “How long have we known each other? What? Four years? What made you think you could get away with this?”
Out of the corner of one eye Georgy took in the rest of the participants in this little charade. Sitting next to him on the worn tan couch was Ilya, barely out of school, a gang member for less than two months, and naive enough to have trusted Georgy. Now I’ve killed him, as sure as if I put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Ilya sat ramrod straight, panting and pale. Standing behind the couch nearby was one of the two goons Tavik had brought with him. The other stood a few paces back, holding an old .45 in one hand and looking disinterested, a sim-cig dangling from the corner of his mouth.
Georgy rubbed the kisses from his cheeks with his shoulders. “You’re such a cliché, have I ever told you that?”
“Ha! Thank you!” Tavik said, throwing his arms wide. “Capone, Corleone, Azad the Impaler...my heroes. Why be anything else?”
Georgy met Tavik’s gaze again. “It should’ve been me. Lev should have promoted me, and you know it.”
Tavik raised one eyebrow and slowly stroked his thumbs over Georgy’s cheekbones. “You did this for revenge? Something this stupid because you were passed over?” Tavik dropped his hands and straightened up. “That’s not like you, Georg. You were always smarter than that.”
Georgy turned his head away from Tavik, glancing around the apartment as he did so, searching for any means of escape. The door was not an option--it was too far away and one of the goons had thrown both of the locks. The balcony door stood open, a gauzy white curtain blowing gently in the cool summer breeze. That wouldn’t do either; the apartment was four floors up and the courtyard below was concrete.
“So many places I could have gone; how did you know I’d choose this one?” he said.
Tavik just smirked.
Georgy puffed out his breath. “Let us live and I’ll find it for you.” He knew this would never happen yet felt a strange compulsion to play out the scene, as if he were an actor in a bad movie. He heard the strain in his own voice, and more salty sweat trickled into his eyes.
Tears streaming down his face, Ilya said, “I knew nothing--”
The goon behind Ilya smacked the boy hard with an open palm. “We told you not to speak.”
Tavik leaned down onto the back of the couch and draped an arm over Georgy’s shoulder. “You know we can’t let you live. You know that.” Georgy felt Tavik’s head nodding near his ear. Then Tavik grabbed Georgy’s hair again and forced his head up and down, mimicking his nod. “You know that, right?”
Georgy said nothing.
Tavik let go of his hair and squeezed Georgy’s shoulder again. “I can let your family live, though. I can promise you that. You know you can trust me.”
Georgy had known this was coming, but still a blade of panic thrust into his gut. His mother and sister were all he had left in this shitty world. He shook his head. “I’ve seen you make these promises before. You always kill anyway.”
Tavik leapt up and clutched his hands to his heart. “Ah! Ah! You wound me. You know how much I like Zoya. And your mother--she always kisses me and makes me tea with those little sugar cubes. I have no desire to harm them, I swear to you. They’re family.”
Doubt crept into Georgy’s mind, a tremulous thread of hope. Would Tavik truly let them live? He knew Tavik lusted for Zoya. He pursed his lips and shook his head again. It would never happen. Never. Tavik always took care of business.
“No?” Tavik said.
The silence dragged out and Georgy tried to make his mind blank; tried not to think about what was coming.
The goon to Tavik’s right grasped Ilya at the neck and shoved him forward. Georgy looked over just in time to see the other thug step up and put the .45 to the back of Ilya’s head.
Ilya screamed, “No--”
Georgy’s right ear rang from the blast of the gunshot. Blood sprayed out across the carpet in front of the couch. He saw gray bits of brain in the mess and had to choke back his vomit. Tears and sweat stung his eyes. “Dammit! Bastards! He only did what I told him.”
He knew no one had heard the shot, not out here in a deserted dormitory in Yugo-Zapadnaya. Despite his wish to protect his sister, an irrational compulsion to tell everything to Tavik consumed his mind.
Tavik chuckled softly. “Who cares about the kid?” Tavik sauntered around the end of the couch and crouched in front of Georgy. He pulled one of the new Glock shard pistols from behind his back, thumbed the safety, and jammed the nose into Georgy’s crotch. “I’m so disappointed in you, my friend.”
Georgy burst into tears. Dying quickly was fine with him, but the thought of Tavik eviscerating his balls was too much. How is it I always thought I was strong? Now he wanted to die. “I can get it,” he blubbered. “I swear! I’ll get it for you. I swear on my mother. Please!”
“You’re going nowhere, Georg!” Tavik shouted. “Tell me where it is right now or I swear...”
“My sister!” At that moment, Georgy loathed himself more than he had ever hated anything. “Don’t hurt her, please!”
“She has them?”
Georgy tried not to nod, but found himself doing so anyway. He wept.
Tavik stood. “Okay.”
Georgy rocked himself back and forth, hearing one goon approaching round the end of the couch, but not caring. He just wanted it all to stop. Rough hands jerked him upright and propelled him forward and out the balcony door. Through his tears Georgy saw crumbling concrete, a blur of gray sky.
There was a flash of movement in the corner of Zoya’s left eye, and she heard a hoarse scream. Her nerves jangled; she turned her head just in time to see a body hit the concrete near the building across the street. Her brother’s building. The body twitched several times, and even from this distance she saw a dark puddle begin to spread on the pavement like an oil slick.
Clasping a hand to her mouth to stifle a scream, she looked up to see where the man might have jumped from, but every balcony looked the same. She forced her feet to move again. She didn’t believe anyone could truly help the dead or dying man, but she felt compelled to try. Then she saw the figure’s shirt...
A whimper escaped her throat. She halted and again glanced up at the deserted balconies. He wouldn’t have jumped. Not Georgy. There was no sign of movement. She rushed to Georgy’s side and knelt, carefully avoiding the pooling blood already dotted with poplar seeds.
Georgy’s body was broken every place she looked. With one hand Zoya swiped at her tearing eyes, while with the other she reached out to touch the purple silk of his shirt.
She yelped when a ragged whisper came from his bloody mouth. “Run...little Sis.”
She looked into his ruined face, but his eyes were squeezed shut. She didn’t recognize the croak of her own voice: “Georgy!”
Soft but emphatic his whisper came again: “Run!”
I can’t just abandon him here, can I? She looked up at the dormitory, expecting to see gangsters run through the black doorway with guns in their hands. She steeled herself and looked down at Georgy again.
“Georgy. Activate your distress call through your wireless. They’ll come get you. You’ll be okay, I promise.” She silently cursed her pride for refusing Georgy’s repeated offers to upgrade her slot to wireless; she could have called the ambulance herself.
A sound from the building--a door banging open?--startled her, but she still saw no one coming. She looked once more at her brother. “I’m sorry, Georgy.” She kissed her fingertips and touched them to Georgy’s lips.
Then she ran.