Of Sisters & Brothers Pt. 01byu06la14b©
The Get Away
I knew it was going to be one of those days the moment I tumbled out of bed; one of those 'fucked-up, pisser of a day' days. It had been a late night with way too many shots of Bourbon and Tequila and now my head throbbed like a son-of-a-bitch and my throat felt drier than the Sahara -- this was about the worst case of the cottonmouth that I could remember. It's the Bourbon; it does that to me every time.
I dragged myself to the fridge and got a bottle of water, chugged it down, stretched and drew the curtains back only to be greeted by a gloomy, sunless morning. I watched the dense rainclouds, rolling across the sky like fluffy cotton-candy and swore that one of these days, and soon, I was going to move to Southern California. Get away from the cold Northeastern winters and leave a life riddled with bad choices behind.
The next thing I noticed was the big pile of shit in the middle of my rug. Apache! Damn, boy! I had adopted this puppy from the local animal shelter and he was still in the process of being house-broken. He was a 5-month old Shepherd-Akita mix with sad eyes and a confused expression. Some jerk had let him loose on the highway or he had run off -- either way the vet at the shelter was certain he had been abused. There's a special hell for those who hurt children or animals and I'd give anything to meet up with that asshole. Well, I was determined to make it up to the little guy and a chocolate soufflé of dog turd was the least of my problems.
There were three messages on my cell -- two from my ex and one from Vince. I erased the two from Lisa without listening to her bullshit. She had been sleeping around on me and wouldn't you know it, I was the last to know. I kicked her sorry ass out and now she wanted to get back together -- well, that wasn't happening.
Vince was my bookie but unlike his usual, profanity laced rants, this one was short: "Cal, you'd better get the fuck out of town! Andrei is lookin' for you."
I felt my nuts shrink and my toes curl. This was bad. Andrei was a Russian retard; an ex-KGB enforcer with a scary disposition. He was big and mean and as nasty as they come. Whenever Sam sent Andrei it meant he had written off the debt and now it was a question of making an example out of the poor slob, in this case, me! Shit! I was looking forward to a leisurely morning; roughhousing with the pooch, reading the papers and taking my time over breakfast - maybe tomorrow, but now, I needed to get the heck out of here.
I fed Apache and put him in his crate; a quick shave and shower and I was ready and just in the nick of time.
I heard the heavy banging on the front door and a muffled, "Come on! Come on out, little man! It is time to play!"
It sounded a lot more ominous and strangely funny with the Russian accent. A peek through the peephole confirmed my worst fears - it was the big, hairy gorilla himself. Just then he kicked the door and if it wasn't for the fact that it was a steel-reinforced, security door, I'm sure it would've caved. I grabbed my Glock 19 and slipped through the kitchen window and onto the fire-escape. The back alley was my best bet.
I was halfway down and pretty certain that I was in the clear when I spotted Andrei's trained monkey, Nikolai. He was another scary dude; tall and lean and paler than a Norwegian albino. The tattoos on his neck and arms were worn as badges of honor representing years spent in Russian prisons. He was leaning against the adjacent wall looking up with a toothless grin on his face - both his Maxillary Central Incisors were missing, that is, his upper, front teeth for those not familiar with dentistry. The flattened pug nose and scars above his eyes were vestiges of fights won and lost and added to his intimidating appearance. Fuckin' Russians! It must be those frigid, sub-zero Siberian winters; they were tough as nails and as determined as hounds on a fox's tail.
The Glock crossed my mind but I had a feeling that in a gunfight with this asshole, I'd lose.
"Okay, comrade, you got me ... I'm coming down!" I yelled, throwing my arms up in resignation.
He flipped the cell phone open and I could hear him jabbering in Russian while keeping an eye on me. He had that smug expression that said: we got the little bugger, boss!
He should have paid closer attention to me instead of blabbing. He moved under the ladder looking up at me but was still chattering away while nonchalantly picking his nose. Ten feet up from him and I jumped, feet first, right at his monkey ass. I heard him grunt and then we fell in a heap, arms and legs all entangled but I had the advantage of surprise and managed to scramble to my feet first. I knew I had knocked the wind out of him.
"Hey, you ... you wait!" he gasped, slowly getting up on all fours, groping blindly for his phone. What a dick!
A knee to his jaw and I saw his eyes roll back before he crumpled like a bad suit and lay still. That's all I needed. A quick look around to make sure that there wasn't a KGB convention out there and I was gone, ducking down the alleyway and melting into the morning crowds. And, true to the script, the skies opened up and it began to pour. Yeah, it was one of those days.
The Viper - Sam Eliasberg
"Sam, I swear I'll pay you back! Call the dogs off, okay?" I pleaded with Vince's boss.
Samuel Eliasberg was an anomaly. In the 'who's who' of underworld businesses run by the Russian Mob, the Italians and the Albanians, he was a Jew and a sophisticated one at that. He looked more like a research scholar than a gangster. But looks were deceiving and I had the feeling that even the Russians gave him a wide berth. The story goes that he dropped out of Harvard Business School to pursue his real avocation -- crime! I had to admit the man had a special gift for inflicting pain. A creative aspect often overlooked by the less astute in the business.
I had witnessed some his handiwork up close so my pleading was definitely sincere. I was present when I saw him drill through a man's knees with a quarter inch drill bit, yup; he actually drilled through this dude's knees! Harvey "Stick" Johnson was a good-looking, black cat who possessed a humongous cock and made the mistake of sticking it into one of Sam's girls and that, apparently, was a major no-no. Johnson wouldn't be laying that piece of lumber into anyone for a while, that's for sure. The gory memory of the blood, bone and cartilage being dredged out by the drill was still fresh not to mention the screaming.
"Why should I believe you, Cal? You've had plenty of time to pay me back," he answered in that soft, effeminate voice.
"Give me a couple of days, Sam, that's all I'm asking for and I'll pay you back in full." I was being as earnest as possible, "I swear! Two days!"
There was a short silence.
"You broke Nikolai's jaw and that's not nice. There's the question of services lost. Your marker just went up another twenty."
Twenty grand! Is he fuckin' kidding me? This guy is the bastard amalgam of Shylock and Attila the Hun!
"Oh, come on! I was trying to get away from that ape! You can't blame me, Sam!"
There was a silence and I instinctively looked behind me. Samuel Eliasberg had contacts everywhere so I had to keep my eyes peeled even in a churchyard. For all I knew the parish priest could be on his payroll and was a hit-man in drag. Okay, I'll admit it; I'm a bit paranoid when it comes to Sam. Then, he was back on the phone.
"Here's what I'll do and it's because I like you, Cal, otherwise you'd be a fucking memory! You come in and let's talk. Maybe there's a way we can square things up." A short pause, "Let's meet. You have my word nothing will happen to you."
"What about Andrei?" I asked just to make sure.
"You have my word." He repeated, stressing the last part.
"When and where?"
"2:00 PM tomorrow at the loft," he answered and the line went dead.
The loft was what he called his apartment in SoHo. It was more like the bloody Taj Mahal. It was an old, four-storey, brick warehouse that he purchased for a song and then had it completely renovated. He converted the first three levels into posh apartments and had taken the entire fourth floor for himself. You had to see it -- fuckin' incredible and a fortress to boot. He had more security cameras, photo-electric beams, laser lights and motion detectors than Fort Knox. You would need a bloody army to storm that place.
I realized a bit too late that the odds were skewed in his favor -- I would be on his turf with his goons. I was so relieved that he had called off his big dog that I wasn't thinking. I tried calling him back to convince him to meet somewhere in public but he wouldn't take my calls so I had to even the playing field the only way I knew how.
The Warrior -- Clay Mackie
"He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword."
I'm not one of those idiots who'll go to a gunfight with a knife. I needed reinforcements and that meant getting Clay to accompany me. Clay Adam Mackie was my childhood buddy and an ex-Navy Seal. Need I say more? He knew about killing than fleas on a mongrel dog but of late it was hard to get him motivated. All he wanted to do was to kickback, smoke weed and listen to music! He was a hardcore "Deadhead", a Jerry Garcia fan -- he was convinced that the lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead was speaking to him from the other side, offering profound advice on life, specifically, his life! The weed was eating his brain.
But if you were ever in a tight spot, Clay was the best option to have. He as one of those rare people that actually enjoyed the thrill of danger, and I don't mean the extreme skiing kind of danger but the confrontational kind, where the other guy is trying to cave in your cranium or stick you with a knife or load your ass full of lead. And, the greater the odds the more it turned him on.
His pad was in Chelsea, a one-bedroom, messy shithole he shared with a red-headed, tattooed hippie who went by the moniker, Red ... now that was real creative. I didn't see the hippie but I winced at the overpowering stench; the place reeked of unwashed socks and the sickly-sweet smell of hashish. You could get high just standing there, that is, if you didn't puke first.
"Hey, I may need some back-up. Are you up for it?"
I had to shout because he had "Going Down The Road Feeling Bad" blaring over his father's vintage thirty-year-old, Pioneer system. The speakers were being ripped, distorting badly, but he didn't seem to care. He noticed the look on my face and turned it down, not a lot but enough so my eardrums wouldn't burst.
"What? 'Didn't catch that, amigo ... you need money?" he asked with a bemused look on his face.
Clay was always broke. Not because he didn't have money but because he gave it all away. He was a sucker for a sob story and couldn't pass a bum without dropping a fiver in his hat, most times, my fiver!
I smiled, yeah, that would be the day. He's been mooching off of me since kindergarten. He turned the music down a little more.
"I need you to back me up. Are you up for it?" I repeated.
Normally, he'd bust my balls with a bunch of questions so I was surprised when he agreed without hesitation.
"Sure, why not. I need some excitement, man; this shit's fuckin' with my head!" He said nonchalantly while rolling another joint, "When?"
"Now. And, I'd skip the joint."
"Give me a minute," he said getting up, "what are we up against?"
"Russians! And, a scheming little snake."
He smiled like he'd just hit the jackpot and disappeared behind beaded curtains into the bedroom.
I had to step over a littering of empty beer bottles, ashtrays and boxes of week-old pizza to get to the stereo system. I turned it off -- I didn't mind the music but the distortion was beginning to bug me.
The bed sheet on the mattress that Red slept on was stained and badly in need of a wash. I began collecting the trash and moving it into a pile in the corner when Clay reappeared. He had combed his hair back and donned his trademark army jacket.
"Fuck that, I'll clean up later. Let's go."
"Where's Red?" I figured an additional body couldn't hurt.
"He got a job. The fucker cut his hair, shaved his beard ... he's gone Wall Street, suit and all. You wouldn't recognize him."
They had been buddies in the Special Forces and Clay had dated Red's sister for a while but like all his other relationships, this one didn't last either. It didn't seem to affect their friendship though and when Red needed a place, Clay welcomed him in. Red was a wiz with computers -- a fuckin' genius! He could do things that honestly scared me and I was sure that one of these days the CIA or the FBI would be coming for him.
"You gotta get him to clean this place up, man - it stinks like a fuckin' sewer!"
Clay grinned, put his arm around my shoulders and said, "Never bothered you before. Don't go pussy-winkle on me, brother!"
'Pussy-winkle'? I liked that -- must remember to use it.
When we got to Sam's place, there were four goons I didn't recognize and Andrei and as luck would have it, it was Andrei who frisked us.
He grinned and said something that sounded like "Pree-vyet, pree-vyet," before relieving me of my Glock and the little Beretta Tomcat I had tucked away in my ankle.
"My, my, my, the little boy carry lot of guns!" he smirked, handing them over to one of the other monkeys. Then, before I could move, he reached up and grabbed my nuts and squeezed. I gasped as the explosion of pain shot through me paralyzing my brain. Fuck! It hurt worse than a Judas Cradle on steroids and I thought I was going to pass out but as the maroon mist began to spread I heard Sam:
"Let him go. Now!"
The gorilla obeyed but not before giving me one final squeeze. I groaned loudly and held onto the back of a sofa. Clay was behind me and had most probably missed the assault but seeing the smug expression on Andrei's face and with me wracked in pain he put two and two together.
He moved quickly towards the big man and shoved him back, hard, "Hey, what's going on? What the fuck are you doing, man?"
I grabbed his arm and managed to gasp, "Not now, amigo ... not now. Let it go, I'm okay." Then turning to Andrei, "That's all you got? Your sister does better than that. I was poking her last night!"
The big ape glared and took a step towards me.
"Settle down! All of you." Sam snapped then turning to me he asked, "'you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah ... I'm fine." I managed, straightening up.
"That was for Nikolai. We are even, no? But, if you want to dance I am here to accommodate, eh."
Andrei said looking straight at me and throwing his arms open in a magnanimous gesture.
"If you want to dance, then I'm your fuckin' Huckleberry, asshole!" Clay snarled stepping up to the big Russian.
This time Andrei was ready and didn't budge; his face a stone mask.
"Hey, I said enough! Cal, if your friend can't keep it together then get him the fuck outta here! I don't have time for this!" Sam hissed.
I knew that Sam wasn't about to let us leave. We didn't have our guns and we were outnumbered. This wasn't the time for any Ninja bullshit. And though I'd pay to watch these two go at it, I grabbed Clay and pulled him back stepping in between the men. They glared at each other before Clay eased away.
Andrei remained still for a moment studying Clay, as though he was seeing him for the first time, then shrugged and strolled over to the wet bar. He poured himself a shot of vodka, Czar's Gold (Tsarskaya) vodka, then looked over at us, raised his glass and smiled. There were several slices of dark, sprouted pumpernickel bread on a plate with wedges of pickle on the side. I had dated a Russian gal a few years back so I was familiar with the routine. The toast, the pickles, the hissing, more puerile toasting, more shots, more pickles, more shots and more shots until you were shitfaced and silly.
"Vashe zdorovie!" he toasted softly, sniffed the bread and took a deep breath adding, "Nu ..."
We watched him toss back the drink in one gulp and shut his eyes tight as the liquid heat seared through him. He waited a moment and then let out an audible hiss -- almost like a low whistle then shook his head, clearing his brain from the sting of the alcohol before taking a large bite of the pickle. These were Russian pickles which have a pungent aftertaste to them; you could smell the Horseradish and Dill. He stood motionless, savoring the flavors, his cheeks red from the rush of the Vodka.
"Oh Khorosho! That was good. Come on, anyone to join me?" He asked, looking at each one of us until his gaze finally rested on Clay, "How about you, tough man, you drink with Andrei?"
"I don't drink with fuckin' Tweakers!" Clay muttered back.
The big Russian let out a roar, laughing loudly, the deep rumbling coming from the pit of his belly.
"Come on, it's not nice to drink alone. Let us be friends, unh ... I like your eyes, they are strange, like crazy strange, no?"
Clay had one blue eye and one gray. I had gotten so used to them that I didn't even notice them anymore. In fact, I couldn't imagine him any other way.
Clay didn't answer instead he ignored the big man and looked around, casing the place. It was habit; he would look for exits -- doors, windows, partitions etc. Then he would identify the really dangerous players and place himself in a position where he could keep an eye on them. He moved to a corner across from Andrei and a small, wiry guy standing behind Sam. The man had an expressionless face with cold, reptilian eyes and a variation of the Ukrainian Tryzub tattooed on his neck. Instead of the usual Cossack trident, this one had three swords with a lion at the base. One look and you knew that this was a tough customer.
The black dude standing by the door had a boyish face and it was pretty evident that he was nervous. He was young and unlike the others, who were either ex-military or hardened criminals, and was most probably a bouncer from one of Sam's nightclubs. He kept shuffling his feet, flexing his muscles and looking around at the room like he was waiting for his cue. He was a damn amateur.
I hated inexperienced, wanna-be tough guys. Take them out of their environment and they were lost. They were unpredictable and usually reacted too quickly or not at all -- both bad options. I made a mental note to keep an eye on him. But, it was the Ukrainian that I was really worried about and glad that I dragged Clay along.
Andrei made a face and poured himself another shot and looked expectantly at us, "Last chance?"
It was Sam who finally spoke.
"Nah, it's too early for me;" then looking over at me, "sit down and let's get down to business. These fuckin' Russians will drink a Grizzly under the table." He glanced at Clay and added, "Tell your friend to relax. Nothing's going to happen."
I smiled at Clay and could see Andrei in my peripheral vision throw back another while Sam explained exactly what he wanted me to do.
"It's pretty simple," he started and that's when I knew we were getting in far deeper than I would have liked. Who was he kidding? If it were that simple I wouldn't be here.
This had all the makings of a bloody shit-storm.
The Doubts -- Of Jokers and Trumps
It was pretty simple, at least on the surface. I was to meet a Hans-Peter Kriegl at a hotel in Stamford and get a package from him. Then, I was to take the package to Houlton, Maine -- wherever the fuck that was. Once I got to Houlton, I was to hand the package over to a bloke named Nazha al-Shishani, a 'carrier' from Chechnya, working for the Albanians. This guy took on assignments that no one else would touch -- I guess that made him the granddaddy of all Specialists! My debt was paid in full once the Chechen called Sam to confirm receipt of the package. How fuckin' hard was that? Not hard at all except that I had no idea who this joker Kriegl was and it was obvious that al-Shishani was no choirboy. Sooner or later it was bound to catch up -- the proverbial shit was going to hit the fan. No matter how small the odds are of something bad happening, it is simply a function of time and frequency. I was sticking my hands way too many times into the fire. I needed to make a change and Southern California kept looking better.