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Fractured Souls: Chapter 9

Pavel

Three hours earlier

 

Everybody is staring. The two security guards at the back entrance of the club. The cleaning lady mopping around the tables. The barman. I ignore them and climb the narrow stairs leading to the gallery housing our administrative spaces that overlook the dance floor.

I pass the room where two security guys are hunched in front of the screens, watching the camera feeds, and enter my office. Kostya is sitting behind my desk, looking at the monitor and clicking angrily on the mouse. The whole tabletop is covered with papers. Off to the side, there are two empty coffee cups and a half-eaten sandwich with crumbs scattered everywhere.

“Such a pig.” I shake my head.

“You picked the worst fucking time to take a vacation,” he mumbles and keeps hitting the mouse. “The contracts with liquor suppliers need to be renewed. Two waitresses are sick and another is going on maternity leave. The surveillance system crashed twice yesterday. I forgot to order . . .” He looks up and scans me from head to toe. “Who the fuck are you and what have you done with Pavel?”

I nod toward the mess on the desk. “Clean this shit up so I can sit down and see what else you’ve fucked up.”

“Jeans? Really? And a fucking hoodie?” he raises his eyebrows, then bursts out laughing. “Pasha, sweetheart, are you all right?”

“Hilarious. Get up.”

“Yuri called,” he says and collects the cups. “They found the guy who supplied those pills. He’s bringing him here.”

“Good.” I sit down and sort through the contracts strewn across the desk. Some have round brown stains on them. “Wait for them downstairs and take the guy to the back room when they arrive.”

“Okay. Are you sure you don’t want me to call the doc to check your head?”

“Fuck off, Kostya.”

I’m almost done with the mess Kostya made when gunfire explodes downstairs. Grabbing my weapon from the drawer, I rush into the surveillance room.

“What’s happening?” I yell.

“Yuri and two soldiers came in two minutes ago, dragging some guy with them. Those vehicles arrived after them,” the security guy says and points to the screen showing the back alley. Two cars with tinted windows are parked just around the corner. “Eight people came out, killed the guards, and came inside the club.”

“Call Dimitri. Tell him we need backup and Doc. Then, get downstairs. Now!” I rush toward the door while gunshots keep ringing out below.

The dance floor is covered in blood. Three hostiles are down in the center, and two feet away, the body of a waiter is sprawled with his face to the ground. Across the room, there are two more bodies, probably the soldiers who arrived with Yuri. Kostya is crouched behind the bar, shooting at two men near the entrance. I aim at the first one and shoot him in the head. The other one turns in my direction but falls when Kostya’s bullet strikes his neck.

“The rest?” I shout as I’m running down the stairs.

“They went in the back.” Kostya jumps over the bar and rushes toward the hallway leading to the storage area. “Yuri is alone in there!”

I don’t hear any gunfire as I run after Kostya. That’s not good. He turns left and I follow just a few paces behind. We barge into the back room at the same time, our weapons raised.

One hostile is facedown on the floor near the metal cabinet that stores the cleaning supplies. On the right, there are two more men. One is obviously dead, a hole in his forehead. There is a big red splatter on the wall above him. The one next to him is still alive, but he’s been shot in the thigh and shoulder. I walk toward him and collect his gun and his comrade’s. Another man in cargo pants and a checkered shirt is sprawled on the middle of the floor, several gunshot wounds are in his back. His hands are tied. It’s probably the guy who supplied the drugs.

“Yuri!” Kosta yells somewhere behind me. I turn and a chill flushes over me.

Yuri is sitting on the floor with his back on the wall. His whole torso is covered in blood. I rush to kneel next to Kostya, who rips off his shirt and presses it over the wound in Yuri’s stomach. I take off my hoodie, too, bundle it up and shove it against the other wound in the middle of Yuri’s chest. Kostya’s white shirt over Yuri’s stomach is already saturated, and blood is seeping through his fingers.

“Where the fuck is the doc!” I bark and grab Yuri by the back of his neck. “Yuri! Open your eyes!”

His eyes slowly flutter open, but the look in them is unfocused.

“Stay with us! Yuri! The doc is coming,” I shout.

He tries to tell me something, but it’s too faint.

“Don’t.” I squeeze his neck. “We’ll speak when the doc patches you up.”

Next to me, Kostya takes out his phone and dials. Dear God, there is so much blood. I carefully run my hands over Yuri’s chest and sides and find another wound above his hip.

“Fuck.” I frantically take off my T-shirt, pressing it over the injury. “Yuri, no. Don’t close your eyes. Stay with us.”

He takes a shallow breath and lifts his hand to grab my upper arm, pulling me toward him.

“Albanians,” he says next to my ear, then coughs. “I heard them . . . speaking to each other.”

The hold on my arm loosens, and Yuri’s hand falls to the floor. His dark blue eyes are still on me, but they look glassy. Two rivulets of blood are trailing down from the corners of his mouth.

“Yuri!” I yell into his face. “Don’t you dare die on me! Yuri!”

“Pasha,” Kostya says. “He’s gone.”

No! Yuri is responsible for giving me the only family I’ve ever known—the Bratva. He can’t be gone.

“Yuri!” I shake him.

“Pavel, stop,” A rough voice says behind me, and I look up to find the doc standing there.

“You’re late!” I yell.

“There is nothing anyone could have done,” Doc says, nodding to the floor. “He lost too much blood.”

I slowly lay Yuri down, stand up, and head toward the opposite end of the room. Grabbing the only living Albanian by his neck, I punch him in the face with all my strength.

“Why?” I ask, then punch him again. “Why were you here?”

“To dispose . . . of Davis,” he mumbles.

I punch his head again. And again.

“Pasha! That’s enough!”

I ignore Kostya’s yelling and continue hitting the motherfucker while the smell of blood invades my nostrils. Someone tries to shove me away, but I shake them off and keep plowing my fists into the Albanian’s face until all that is left of it is a mass of blood and red flesh.

When I’m done, I let the body fall to the floor and head toward one of the cabinets. I take out two white linen tablecloths and carry them to where the doc is kneeling next to Yuri’s body. I use one to wipe the blood off my friend’s face, then close his eyes and carefully cover him with the clean linen.

“Prashchay, bratan,” I say, then turn and head toward the door, passing Kostya along the way.

“Jesus fuck,” Kostya mumbles, staring at the body of the man I killed with my bare hands. “I’m gonna puke.”

When I get back into my office, I grab a vodka from the minibar and take a hefty drag directly from the bottle. It tastes even more awful than I remember. Sitting down in the recliner by the minibar, I take another pull. I don’t recall the last time I got drunk.

Someone yells downstairs. Looks like Roman’s arrived. I lift the bottle and drink again. Five minutes later, more noise—something’s breaking. It sounds like someone is throwing around pieces of furniture. More shouting.

“Dimitri!” Roman roars “Get Angelina on the phone. Fucking now!”

Sounds like Sergei is here, as well. I stand up, bottle in hand, and walk toward the glass wall to look at the scene below. Sergei is standing in the middle of the dance floor, gripping a broken bar stool in his hand. Roman is facing him, his palm is extended toward his brother, and he’s saying something to Sergei, who looks like he’s going to smash the stool over Roman’s head at any second. Dimitri approaches them from the side, holding a phone in his outstretched hand. Sergei’s head snaps toward the phone, his gaze zeroing in on the device. The stool crashes to the floor. Sergei grabs the phone out of Dimitri’s hand, presses it to his ear, and listens for a few moments. He then throws the phone back to Dimitri and leaves.

I should probably stay and see if they need my help, but I can’t stomach the idea. Yuri is gone. The look in his eyes as he stared at me during those last few seconds of his life is going to haunt me for the rest of mine. I shake my head and set off toward the fire escape.

I find Kostya leaning on the wall near the back exit. He looks over at me, then at the bottle in my hand.

“Since when do you drink alcohol?” he asks.

“Since today.” I tip my head toward his car. “I need a ride.”

We don’t speak during the half-hour drive to my place, both of our gazes fixed on the street in front of us. It’s started snowing again, and I find myself fixated on the white flakes falling from the sky. I guess I don’t like snow anymore, either.

I close my eyes, lean back in the seat, and take another heavy gulp from the bottle.

 

Asya

 

The front door bangs open, and I exhale with relief. He’s back. A moment later something crashes to the floor.

“Pasha?” I shout.

There are a couple of seconds of silence before I hear his voice.

“It’s me, mishka.” His voice is strange. Strangled.

I expect him to come into the bedroom, but he doesn’t. I stare at the open door. Then, there’s a sound of glass breaking and a thud.

“Pasha?”

Nothing. I tense. Something’s happened. I throw the blanket off, intending to go look for him, but I can’t make myself move. He said to wait for him in bed. Should I stay here? Or go and see what happened? I can’t decide.

“Pasha?” I call again. No reply.

My hands start shaking. Something bad has happened. I know it because this is so unlike him. I move toward the edge of the bed, and the tremors in my hands intensify while nausea claws its way up my throat. The thought of leaving the bed makes me want to weep. Grabbing a handful of the bedsheets in my fingers, I squeeze and try to swallow down the bile. Finally, I dash across the bedroom at breakneck speed, hitting my elbow on the doorway. I misjudged the distance. Ignoring the pain, I burst into the living room.

“Pasha?”

The lamp in the corner is on, illuminating the room in a dim, dusk-like glow. The front door is hanging wide open. The narrow table near the door where Pasha leaves his keys lies overturned on the floor. He’s nowhere in sight.

I head toward the overturned console and feel something wet and sticky on the floor under my bare feet. I know the light switch is close, so I start feeling the wall with my palm. My sight is worse when there’s not enough light. Both the switch and the wall are white, making it hard to spot. When I find it, I turn on the lights and look around.

Pasha is sitting on the floor in the kitchen, leaning with his back against the oven door. His eyes are closed. There are pieces of glass everywhere, and the smell of alcohol is in the air.

“Pasha?”

He opens his eyes and cocks his head to the side, regarding me. “I’m sorry I’m late.”

Careful not to step on the glass, I cross the kitchen and crouch between his legs. He doesn’t look like himself. His hair is a mess, and he’s wearing only jeans. His bare chest is splattered with what looks like dried blood. And I’m pretty sure he’s drunk. I reach out and cup his face in my palms.

“What happened?” I ask.

He closes his eyes and leans forward until his forehead touches mine.

“Someone died, mishka,” he whispers.

I move my hands through his dark blond hair. One of the strands keeps falling forward, across his eye.

“Who?” I try moving that tress of hair off, but it ends up over his face again.

“Yuri. One of the Bratva’s enforcers. A friend.”

“What happened?”

“Three weeks ago, we caught a guy dealing drugs—pills—at our club. It was the same substance that was used on you. Yuri found the man who supplied the pills and brought him to the club to be questioned.”

“Did you get some answers?”

“No. A group of men followed them and charged inside, shooting. They killed five of our men, then went to the back where Yuri was with the prisoner.” He shakes his head. “Killed them both.”

“I’m so sorry,” I whisper and lean forward, placing a kiss at the center of his forehead. “So very sorry.”

He looks at me then, our eyes so close, and as I stare into his, my heart flutters. It feels like a butterfly is trapped within my chest. I want to kiss him or comfort him in any way I can. The way he did for me. But I don’t know if he’ll welcome it. So instead, I just brush the back of my fingers down his cheek.

“Let’s go to bed, Pasha.”

He takes a deep breath and slowly rises, pulling me up with him. When we’re both standing, he looks at the kitchen floor covered in glass shards.

“Shit. Please tell me you didn’t cut yourself.”

“I’m fine. Let’s go.”

Pasha’s gaze falls to my bare feet. “Step on top of my toes.”

“Why?”

“I don’t think it’s wise to carry you while I’m in this state, mishka.”

I’m about to say I can get back by myself but change my mind. Wrapping my arms around Pasha’s waist, I place my right foot over his shoe, then the left. His left hand slides to my back, pressing me closer to his body.

“We’ll go slow,” he says. “Hold tight.”

“Okay,” I murmur and press my cheek to his chest. I’ll probably end up with blood on my face, but I don’t care.

Pasha grabs the side of the counter with his free hand and takes a step forward. Then one more. I keep myself pressed to his body as he walks through the kitchen. The glass shards break under the soles of his shoes with each step. When we reach the living room, he braces his palm on the wall and looks down at me. There is no glass this far from the kitchen, but I don’t remove my feet from the top of his. Instead, I squeeze his waist tighter. Something passes between us, like an exchange without words being spoken. He’s silently telling me I’m safe to let him go, but I answer that I won’t, even if there is no need to hold him anymore. As if acknowledging my unspoken reply, Pasha nods and resumes walking us all the way to the bedroom.

When we reach the bed, I release his waist and climb under the covers. Holding up the corner of the duvet, I pat the pillow next to my head. Pasha watches me for a few moments, then removes his shoes and slips under the covers next to me.

“Tell me about your friend,” I say and snuggle into his side. “What was he like?”

“I met Yuri ten years ago. He came to one of my fights. After the match was over, he approached me and asked if I’d like to focus my energy and skills somewhere else.”

“Fights?” I ask.

The silent pause lasts almost a minute. “Before I joined the Bratva, I earned money by fighting in underground matches,” he finally says. I can’t see his face, but his voice is clipped. Is he worried that I might think less of him because of how he earned his living?

I press my hand on the center of his chest and bury my face into his neck. “Yuri recruited you for the Bratva?”

“Yes. He was in charge of foot soldiers. Three years later, when the guy who ran the clubs was killed, the pakhan promoted me to the position, saying that my three-piece suits made the other soldiers fidgety. But Yuri was always around, pestering me to go out with the guys. He said I needed to loosen up.”

“And did you? Follow his advice?”

“Nope. I’m not really a people person, mishka.”

Yeah. I got that impression, too. I move my hand up and thread my fingers through the hair at the back of his head. A melody comes to mind. “The Rain Must Fall” by Yanni. Slow and sad. Peaceful. I hum the tune as I pass my fingers through Pasha’s hair.

“Why did you let me stay here?” I ask.

Pasha sighs and places his chin on the top of my head. “I don’t know. Why did you want to stay?”

I’ve been asking myself that question for weeks. “I don’t know, either.”


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