Chapter 1 – Old Dreams
Igor stepped into the room and paused for a moment. He ran his hand down his long, blond beard as he waited patiently for Mr. Romanov to finish a phone call.
The old man spoke quietly, and Igor stayed by the door to give him space for privacy. Waiting for the white-haired, old Russian to acknowledge him.
Igor glanced to the sides to observe the large, bulky security guards standing on either side of the door. He recognized Max Isaev to his left. They had met once before back in the motherland. Igor knew that Max was Mr. Romanov’s right-hand man and headed up his support group.
Max cut a striking figure in his perfectly tailored suit. There was a strange aura about him. However, he would have been quite handsome if his large, bulbous nose didn’t look like it had been broken in 20 different fights.
He didn’t recognize the smaller guard to the right but knew his name was Vladimir Lagunov. Most likely because he handled and headed up Mr. Romanov’s spy group. And Igor had heard through the grapevine that in spite of his smaller frame, he was just as deadly if not more so than Max.
The thing that stood out about Vladimir were his shoes because while everyone else wore shiny, black dress shoes, the fearless bodyguard wore gaudy Gucci shoes that sported large, bright double Gs on each side.
Igor knew the ruthless, old man had made a lot of enemies over the years, but still, two guards seemed a bit of an overkill here in this small, dark room. Something must be up.
He tried to catch their eye and give them a friendly smile to put them at ease, but neither of the burly men acknowledged him or even looked directly at him. He knew that he had their full attention though. Making any sudden, rash moves would prove instantly fatal.
Mr. Romanov finally put down the phone and turned in his chair before standing up stiffly. Igor took a few steps forward and reached out a hand to help him. The old man smiled when he saw Igor and brushed his hand away.
“I’m a bit older than when you last saw me Igor, but not that old yet. I’m just a little sore from working out in the gym today.”
Igor smiled in relief at Mr. Romonov’s wry sense of humor. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms twenty years earlier, and he hadn’t been sure how the old man would greet him.
“It’s good to see you, sir,” he said with a stiff bow as he stuck out his hand to greet the old man.
Mr. Romanov had taken a step forward simultaneously and reached out to hug him. There was an awkward pause as Igor switched from trying to take the old man’s hand to embrace him.
“Come, let us walk. I called you here to talk about something important, but my phone call took longer than I anticipated. Our party is about to start. I must be there to greet my guests.”
Igor turned on his heel and stepped to the side to fall in beside the elderly man who asked how his family was doing and how Igor had fared on his trip as they walked down the long, wood-paneled hall.
They paused before a door, and Mr. Romanov waved the guards on down the hall.
“Listen, Igor. I imagine you are wondering why I asked to talk with you in spite of our past differences. But I want you to know that I hold no grudges for what you did or why. I know you believed you were doing the right thing.”
Igor raised his eyebrows slightly at the old man’s phrasing. He had never known Mr. Romanov to let go of old grudge when he had an ax to grind with someone.
“You are an honorable man, which is why I have requested you to be here now. I need your help with an urgent matter. Please meet me back here at 9:30 p.m. I don’t plan to stay long at the party. Just long enough to greet and mingle with the guests. Then I shall return to attend to these matters. And I should like your help.”
Igor furrowed his eyebrows for a brief moment. This was completely unexpected. He thought he had been invited simply as a formality. He hadn’t even seriously considered coming. Igor’s father had encouraged him to come though to represent the Koslov family.
The second thing that threw Igor off was the fact that the old man referred to him as honorable. He had been anything but when he was younger. Igor knew that he had often acted rashly and impetuously.
Mr. Romonov’s strange request held an ominous tone to it. And he had the most serious look on his face. Igor seemed to read a hint of fear in his eyes. He had no interest in working for the old man again. However, it was best not to turn down the old man without at least hearing him out.
Igor bowed his head in acknowledgment.
“It is your birthday, sir. I will be here as you have asked.”
The old man smiled and reached out to shake Igor’s hand firmly, just as the door opened. It seemed like the old man wanted to say more, but Mr. Romanov’s demeanor changed when he saw who was standing there.
A gorgeous woman in a stunning yellow gown graced the entrance to the room. Igor couldn’t tear his eyes away from her even though he heard Mr. Romanov speaking to him.
“Igor, you remember my daughter, Alexandra? Alexandra, you remember Igor, of course?”
Igor’s breath seemed to catch in his throat, and he couldn’t bring himself to speak for fear of his voice cracking or saying something foolish. He just smiled and nodded as demurely as possible.
“Of course I remember all of your Shestyorka and Bratok wannabe minions,” the woman spat angrily as she scowled at Igor. “Come, Papa. I’ve been waiting for you. You are late to greet your guests.”
Igor’s mind raced. Alexandra had been only a young teenage girl when he quit working for Mr. Romonov. Igor had made a clean break from his past with the old man by requesting to stay in the army after his conscription was up to avoid going back to the Russian mob.
Old man Romanov had been furious when he found out that Igor wouldn’t be coming back into his services. But Igor had made a career for himself in the army until the Romanov’s had fled to America to avoid the gang wars and bloodbath that had ensued over the years.
Igor wondered what the old Romanov would require of him now. He didn’t want any part of it. But it was too late to back out. He was here and would have to wait to see how this played out.
“Yes, I know. I was on the phone with Andrey to finalize the details on our latest venture. Please, show Igor to the main hall and begin greeting our guests for me. I will change quickly and be right there.”
Alexandra’s eyes blazed furiously for a moment as she glanced at Igor, but cooled when she looked back at her father.
“Yes, sir. I will do as you have asked for the sake of our guests but don’t delay. It would not be appropriate,” she said still glowering at Igor.
“That’s my girl,” Mr. Romanov said as he patted her arm and gave her a peck on the cheek. “I won’t be more than five minutes.”
“Come, Mr. Kozlov,” she said as she swept briskly down the hall.
Igor glanced at the old man with a nod and turned to follow her. He had to trot to catch up to her as she was already halfway down the corridor. He tried to think of something intelligent to say, but just as he started to open his mouth, she held up her hand to stop him.
“Please, don’t attempt to flatter me or humor me. I remember very well who you are and what you used to do for my father. Nothing you can do will impress me or put you in a good light. I despise you and everything you stand for in my father’s organization.”
“Even though you benefit from it, and even though I tried to stay away from it,” he said with a wry smile that he knew would irritate her and get under her skin.
“You came back, didn’t you?” she spat back. “Only the grave will cure the hunchback, or as they say here in America, ‘A leopard can’t change its spots.”
“I came only because my father asked me to represent our family, and of course to see you,” he said, trying to make light of the situation.
He could see her attempting to keep a straight face and feign her indigence as they walked down the stairs into the hall.
“Well, you have honored your father’s request and seen me. Now you may go home.”
She swirled off to greet the first group of people gathered nearby and play the perfect hostess.
Igor mosied on over to the bar and ordered a cocktail from the girl making drinks. He glanced at his watch. 8:05 p.m. and the place was already jam-packed with Mr. Romanov’s friends and acquaintances.
The bartender slid a glass in his direction. Igor took it automatically and mumbled his thanks while watching Alexandra across the room. She had stopped near a group of men. One of them had put his arm around her, and she was smiling.
He felt a twinge of jealousy. Igor hadn’t given her much thought over the years. But Alexandra had grown up into a beautiful woman. It almost made him wish that he hadn’t joined the army and had stayed close to home. Not that he would have stood much of a chance by the way she seemed to despise her father’s henchmen.
Igor meandered around the room in the opposite direction in the attempt to meet up with her in the middle while not making it so obvious what he was trying to do.
He paused to greet and chat with a couple of people who seemed open to a conversation. But he kept watching Alexandra the entire time, hoping to catch her eye or get her attention.
She had moved on to another group nearby. Igor made his way past her as if heading somewhere else and acted like had just happened to see her standing there. Alexandra greeted him coldly but was still polite enough to introduce him to the rest of the group.
Alexandra told them that he had been one of her father’s minions back in the motherland. He got mixed reactions over that. Some seemed to be impressed while others frowned at him.
“But he is a rebellious rebel,” Alexandra quipped after a few moments of awkward silence. “He ran away while he could before we came to America.”
The mood in the group shifted immediately. Those who had seemed to respect him only a moment ago, now frowned. While the others who had looked down on him now seemed impressed.
“The end doesn’t always justify the means, does it, Igor?” someone named Denis with ruffled dark hair quipped stiffly as if trying to smooth things over. “I always admire a man who does his own thinking and isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes.”
Igor smiled grimly and nodded politely while trying to mumble something appropriate.
“My dream was always to move to America and become a policeman. I wanted to be a good guy and save people.”
That didn’t seem to help matters any. It just seemed to make everyone all the more tense. Igor wanted to kick himself. That probably was a dumb thing to say in this kind of setting where most of them didn’t care much for Americans, much less those who upheld the law against their mafia relatives.
“It’s because those donuts in the American movies always looked so delicious,” Igor said with a chuckle as it were the punchline to a bad joke.
Better to be frowned on for telling dumb jokes than to get popped off by someone who thought he might turn on them. He glanced at Alexandra, who seemed to be beaming at his awkwardness.
“Is your father okay?” he asked, pointing to his watch. “It’s been 20 minutes already.”
She smiled and waved him off as she turned to another group.
“He’s fine. Just a little slower than usual these days.”
Igor nodded at her as she left. Then he nodded politely to the rest of the group while pointing to his half-empty cocktail glass as if indicating he was going to get a refill.
He dropped off the glass before heading back up the stairs the way he had come with Alexandra. Hopefully, the old man would tell him what he needed right away, and then he could catch the next flight home.
When he got to the top of the stairs and turned the corner down the hall, there was no sign of Max or Vladimir. Igor knocked on Mr. Romanov’s door. He wondered if the men were inside, but there was no answer.
Igor tried the handle, and the door eased open quietly. He jumped to the side in case the trigger-happy bodyguards took a potshot at him for coming in unannounced.
“It’s just me. Igor,” he stated clearly. “Is everything ok in there?”
There was no answer, so he pushed the door open the rest of the way before stepping inside.
“Mr. Romanov!” he called out and took a few more steps into the bedroom.
The room was empty. He knew it wouldn’t look good if someone came in and caught him there, so he turned to leave. But as he walked past the bathroom door, he heard the sound of running water.
He knocked on the door and waited for a second before pushing it open. There was a dark figure standing over the tub who spun around to face him.
“Whoops! I apologize, sir.” Igor started to say until he realized that it wasn’t Mr. Romanov that was looking at him, but someone with a mask on.
The old man was submerged in the bathtub with the masked figure keeping his head under the water. The tub faucet was running, and water was overflowing onto the floor.
“Hey! What are you doing?” Igor shouted.
The masked figure continued pushing Mr. Romanov’s head under the water. Igor rushed forward to save Mr. Romanov, but he slipped and skidded on the slippery wet floor.
He managed to get his hands on the masked figure and push him away from the tub with his left hand. He swung a right jab at the mask and managed to connect. But he was too off-balance for it to be very effective.
The masked man was slim and wiry. A slippery little dude that managed to wiggle out of his hold. He bent down and rammed into Igor with his shoulder as he ran on by. Igor turned to follow, but he slipped again, and this time wasn’t able to keep himself upright.
Igor felt his feet slide out from under him and his head came down hard on the cold, wet linoleum flooring.
Continue Reading Chapter 2 – Death Tub >>>