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When I left Russia I left a lot of things besides the country I loved. The meaning of family in Russia isn’t limited to those with the same blood as you in their veins. Family is an extensive mix of people you know, friends who owe you something, and those you owe everything to. How did I even begin to explain to Alfie the complicated twists and turns that sent me from Russia, and the things that meant it was dangerous for me to go back.
I slammed a hand against the steering wheel. I should never have gotten with the aftermath of Stan, Erik and the children. I should have passed on the role, because even though I was here, and all I’d done to fix things was write letters, it would have put me on the wrong kind of radar.
Alfie sounded less scared now, but how can I expect him to be totally calm? He’d just made it away alive from my fucked in the head cousin, and now I was driving him away from Harrisburg, into the middle of nowhere, and I had no way to make it right.
I pulled into a McDonalds, and eyeballed the oldest car on the lot.
“We need to change cars,” I said, and ignored the flash of horror on Alfie’s face. We got out of my car, and I left my phone on the seat.
“I need your phone.” Then I held out a hand for Alfie’s. The chances of the family even knowing to track Alfie’s phone were slim, but I wasn’t ready to play roulette with my lover’s life. When I didn’t immediately feel it pressed to my skin I glanced at him before putting my eyes back on the old car.
“What will the team say, how will they contact me?” he said.
“I have other phones. Give me your phone,” I growled, and he fumbled the phone a little before handing it to me. I took out the sim card and crushed it beneath my feet, bent it and snapped it in two before dropping it in a half empty coke that had been discarded. Next I stamped on the phone and pushed it in the same coke. That was the best I could do right now. I hotwired the old car in the shadows of the staff car park, checked the fuel, and then headed out, taking the next exit north, following the back roads, and the mental map I had of the safe house I’d prepared. I never thought I’d need to use it, but right now it was our only chance to stay alive long enough to fix this.
We finally arrived at the small cabin set back into a large stand of trees, and I reversed into the space that was hidden from the remote road and under the canopy of trees. I hurried us inside, and only when the door shut on us, and I’d locked it did I finally begin to relax. Not enough to forget all the protocols I’d set for myself, and first call was weapons in the finger print lock box under the floor in the kitchen. Armed, with enough ammo to fight off a siege, I went back into the hallway, and found Alfie in the same position I’d left him in.
“This is about Uncle Yuri.” I explained as I grew closer. “He’s not my real Uncle, but he adopted me from the sewers. I was the fastest kid in my newfamily and I was light fingered so I became an accomplished thief. I was also the best listener and I learned so much at Yuri’s knee that by the time I was sixteen the crimes I was involved in were more detailed, cracking passwords, stealing art, breaking into the houses of Russian billionaires. I was invincible.”
“Sacha, I don’t understand how that connects to the dead man? Why was he trying to kill us?”
“To kill me,” I corrected, “but you would have been collateral damage. I need to get some power on, stay here.” I guided Alfie to sit down on the old sofa in the darkened front room, then headed out to turn on the generator. At least we would have light and heat tonight, and there was food in the kitchen and water. A man on his own could live here safely for six months, I’d made sure of that.
Then I sat opposite him and sighed.
“One night, I was just short of being seventeen, I broke into the house of Dusan Sokolov, an oligarch whose collection of art was something Uncle Yuri already had a buyer lined up for. I know how this sounds, that I was happy to commit this crime, but I’d grown up knowing no different than to earn what I needed through breaking the law. I had my suspicions about some of the other things that Yuri and his family did, but I couldn’t do anything about any of it. Only after the fact did I learn about the human trafficking,” I paused then forged ahead. “I made it all the way to the Sokolov art vault, and I met Dusan Sokolov himself. He was waiting for me. Turns out he knew Yuri wanted, and he let the plan go to completion, wanting to see what manner of a man would have the audacity to try and steal what was his. I was alone in a vault, with Dusan, and a certain death. You understand?”
Alfie nodded but he was frowning and I’m not sure how he much he understood really.
“I expected to die. Dusan had a reputation as a man with no scruples, a rich spoiled killer, this was according to Yuri. I’m in the vault and Dusan points a gun at me, and I remember closing my eyes, and hoping the end would be quick and that I could stay brave.”
Alfie stood up then, and began pacing, all the pent up energy pouring off him in waves.
I continued as best I could. “But Dusan didn’t kill me. He took me in, made me part of his real family, kept me alive, on the condition I stay loyal to him, clean up my act, attend school. When Uncle Yuri discovered I wouldn’t be returning to the fold, that I was in fact the newest addition to Dusan’s empire, he put a price on my head, said I’d betrayed everyone. Then I found out about the trafficking, and the slavery, and I messed everything up.”
“The man who tried to kill me tonight? His name was Venedict, and he was Yuri’s little brother, a vile angry sadistic man. He was supposed to be locked up, but he’s out, and I don’t know how or why.”
“So he wants the money that is on your head?” Alfie sounded bewildered.
“No, he blames me for Dusan’s death.”
“Dusan is dead.”
The Russian name sounded odd with the French inflection and I winced at hearing the awful name on Alfie’s lips.
I steeled myself for an explosion then calmly and quietly I put the final nail in the coffin of my relationship with Alfie.
“I killed him. I killed Dusan.”
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