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 The Bargain - Aleksei's Arc, Prologue

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Join date : 2010-09-17

PostSubject: The Bargain - Aleksei's Arc, Prologue   Sun Nov 22, 2015 2:24 am

"Privet. Welcome to the Hotel Moscow."

Moscow. What a friendly, familiar name. He knew all too well the dangers of those streets, and knew that within these halls were no doubt dangers he had no true understanding of. He was in no rush to meet such dangers, but dire straits called for drastic measures. Were he not so desperate, he would never have found the courage to bring himself to this place. His reflections had opened his eyes to one simple fact: he needed help. It was his last hope. So that decision, and all it stood for, guided him to the check-in counter.

"I need to speak with Vodka Tchvosky."

The receptionist’s eyes widened just a hair at the name. She was young, no doubt hired because she was cute and disarming, and no real liability. Perhaps she had family in his ranks, but was not affiliated herself. The fear that sparked in her eyes when he said the name was enough to convince him of that. He was fairly good at reading people. "…Pardon me?" she asked, quietly.

He frowned. "I need to speak with Mr. Tchvosky," he repeated. "If possible, I would like to meet with him."


"You can’t." A man appeared on a nearby stairway, looking piercingly at the foolish young man who dared to speak the name so openly. "Mr. Tchvosky is a busy man—unless you have true business with him, you will have to leave."

Alek turned his attention at once from the embarrassed girl to focus on this man. He did not know him, could not place him at all. No doubt one of Vodka’s many underlings, sent to keep out the lobbyists, and prevent the locals color from wasting his time. He could have shared his reasons, or simply mentioned that he heard the man was hiring. A strange enough code for recruiting for the mob. But he did none of these things. "The business I have with him is rather substantial," he said simply. And he left it at that.

"Oh?" Despite the inquiring tone, the well-dressed man seemed wholly unimpressed. Still, he remained, scrutinizing him closely from his place on the stairs. Perhaps he suspected his reason for appearing. A moment passed, and then he gestured for Alek to follow him, starting once more up the steps he’d descended.

Naturally, he would’ve been cautious of following a strange man anywhere in such a building, but considering what he had and did not have to lose, he swallowed his uncertainty and did so anyway. Out of habit, however, his eyes watched every door and hall that passed them. They walked the lavish halls of the hotel for several long minutes, and he started counting room numbers. They were going no where, he could already tell, just wandering the halls. No doubt this assistant of his had plans to ascertain his intentions before letting him anywhere near the infamous warlord. He would think less of him for not doing so.

"I will attempt not to assume," he said curtly as they walked, staring pointedly down at him from atop the impressive lifts in his shoes. "You have something of value to offer, I suppose? A product or business deal? Not that you look the part." It was politely stated, but meant to be insulting.

It bounced right off. "You would be surprised." He hadn’t bothered to dress up, knowing well no amount of primping was going to impress someone who was notoriously hard to impress. He’d just gone as himself, because that was all he was. Certainly, he owned enough suits and pricy clothing, but he simply felt no need. No decision, unlike in the professional realm, would be made based upon how well he was dressed. If it was worth it… "What I’ve come to offer may be of use to him. Its worth, however, is for him to decide—and no one else."

The critical-looking man glanced down at him, his expression hard, but Alek didn’t blink, didn’t show a hint of the uncertainty he was hiding. He dealt with enough of these types in his line of work. Stooges sent to deal with annoyance and buffer distractions. He would have no dealings with him.

After a long moment of silence, the assistant nodded. "Allow me to make a phone call. What is your name?"

"Respectfully, not yours to know."

The other’s eyebrows arched, but he nodded all the same, and headed off down the hallway. He paused a good ways down, plucking a slender phone from the breast pocket of his suit. Bringing it to his ear, he threw him a glance and started murmuring. His gaze strayed to the ceiling several times. He nodded. Then, he turned away.

Aleksei took a moment to remove his glasses case from his pocket. He settled the silver framed spectacles on his nose, taking a good, hard look at the intricate frescoe scrawled there on the ceiling. It was heavy in theological imagery. A lush and vibrant garden. Little fat cherubs with brilliant eyes. Fiber optics, he decided. Best suited for optimal image transmission with limited visibility. He shouldn’t have been surprised. Of course the man was watching.

The assistant hung up the phone with a near inaudible 'blip', then turned at once to him, approaching in long strides. "What exactly do you have to offer Mr. Tchvosky?" he asked, a certain pomp in his tone. No doubt he had been instructed to ask. The phrase was so uniform, he was almost certain he knew that he had come to be recruited. Now it was time for the interview portion.

Alek took a moment to glance up once more at the ornately-decorated roof, pressing his glasses carefully up the bridge of his nose. "A one-of-a-kind object," he said, his gaze fixating on the camera he could just scarcely make out, watching through a pair of innocent eyes. "My soul."


Seated behind a magnificent antique desk, the leader of the Black Tears stared out at the much younger new-comer, handsome blue eyes taking their time in looking him over as he came to stand before him. The gaze was a powerful one; it made Alek feel his age, something he rarely recognized anymore. He felt as if he were shrinking under that stare. He was sizing him up, he was certain. Analyzing him for use or threat. For as easily as he read people, he found he could not get a read on this man. It was as if he had a wall about him, preventing others from seeing his thoughts and motives—impenetrable, like those eyes of his. He was standing in the presence of a titan. Someone far above him, by scores. Miles.

He tried not to wonder how many other mafia hopefuls had stood in his same place, pinned beneath those eyes, and flinched. Given up right there, knowing they had no chance of victory. He wondered if he shouldn't do the same. As if he had a choice. "Thank you for seeing me," he said, forcing his voice to carry as well as always it did in a business setting. He was intimidated, but he couldn’t let it show on the surface. Not now. "I am honored."

"I imagine." Whether or not he showed it, it was clear that the man saw it, all the same. "You have two minutes, Aleksei Zel’dovich." The statement was sharp and to the point, in clear, accented English. "Make good use of them."

Well, then. He would have to be suscinct. "Vova Koretsov," he said.

Vodka arched an eyebrow. If he recognized the name at all, it did not show in his face. It remained a mask of white marble, hovering over steepled fingers.

"They call him Koshmar now, in Moscow…‘Nightmare,’ in this tongue. He's something of a boogeyman in the Old Country. A reason for full grown men to fear the dark." Just forming the syllables was enough to make him force back a shudder. It was a topic he was too keenly familiar with. "Some say he walks through showers of bullets and emerged unharmed. Others say he can shoot a crow from a tree at three hundred yards. Victims he appears to choose at random; he stalks them, and then begins his game. Picking off family members. Destroying properties and finances, ruining them, then falling to the horrors of a physical sort. Torture. Mutilation. He favors knives, but his hands can crush bones beyond repair. Only when there is nothing left of a man, then he lets them die. And those are merely the ones he chooses. There are a dozen more reports of people simply crushed like childrens toys and discarded. Simply because he felt the need."

"A monster." Vodka sounded professionally uninterested.

"A monster," Alek agreed, "The kind of monster that eats other monsters. And it is thanks to me that this monster exists."

The mob boss’ other eyebrow rose to meet the first. It seemed that now he had his attention.

He pressed on. "Almost ten years ago now. He was a petty thug then, muscle for hire. I was a child, playing games I did not yet comprehend. I utilized him as a pawn in a scheme. A robbery of a government facility. When my plans inevitably fell apart, I implicated him. It was almost too simple—a school-age boy placing blame on a common criminal. So he went to prison, and I walked away." This was the part where the story became precarious to relate. But he stared at the surface of the desk and pressed forward, purposefully avoiding that piercing gaze. "I had no inkling of what my actions would cost him. To my mind, he had been imprisoned before. I did not realize the difference between—" He stopped. "We both know what a Russian prison is like, behind the doors. He lost his mind there, and emerged as the creature many of our countrymen now fear."

"Because you betrayed him." The words were spoken calmly, as easily as one might remark that traffic was poor or the weather ugly, but he could feel that knowing stare boring into him. He heard the smile in his voice without having to look up. "I suppose there is a point concealed somewhere in your story." He was used to the feeling of eyes on him as he spoke before boards, investors or any other, but none had power like this man. He knew all too well the low opinion of traitors in criminal circles. Just admitting his part of it was almost asking for some manner of comeuppance.

But he did not dare conceal it. Better to have it on the table than to have it brought to light later. He had come this far already, he reasoned. Might as well go all the way. And so, lifting a hand to his throat, he tilted his head to the right, drawing his high collar aside and away from the stigmatized mark on his throat—the diamond, branded just beside his Adam’s apple. The mark of those who spoke against their allies. And it was a mark he deserved. "This is one of many things he did to me when we met again. It means that he will come for me. I have read the reports. It is only a matter of time." His hand fell again to his side, the stiff collar falling expertly to conceal the mark. "My actions transformed a man into a deadly force of nature. I do not expect forgiveness, or trust." Everything was riding on this moment. He found the courage to lift his gaze again, focusing bravely on the man who sat before him, a man with the very world in his hands. Looking upon him, he realized at last what had driven him here. He had nothing left—no pride to stifle him, no conscience to urge him to flee. This was his only hope. "I cannot change what I did, but I am not what my marks say. All I ask is a chance to prove this to you. To make myself useful, so that I might in some way glean the strength I will need to face him when he comes."

Seated there behind that expensive desk, hands folded on its surface, Vodka Tchvosky stared at him, a look that spoke of almost twice his lifetime of knowledge. Spoke of experience, and power. Even Aleksei knew, accepting a man marked as a betrayer was like picking up an unpinned grenade…it could be of use, or it could backfire, and backfiring had the greatest likelihood. If he was thinking anything at all, it didn’t show; nothing but that even, penetrating stare.

For a moment, he opened his mouth to defend himself, as if he’d been attacked in that glance—but then, his mouth closed, and he shook his head, a small, cold smirk crossing his lips. He raked his hair back from his eyes in thought. "I could list my qualifications for you," he murmured, almost to himself, "outline what an asset I could be. I am capable of many things, and the fact that put me in this situation remains true: I do not look like a criminal. But I won't waste your time with simple promises. You are not wanting for soldiers, and that is not what I am." He stepped down on his planted foot, approaching the desk, and the man seated behind it. "What I am—is a deadman. And I have only one thing left to lose."

Vodka watched stoically as he approached the desk. Reaching slowly into his vest, he produced from within a breast pocket a small golden necklace, hung with a locket, and set it on the desk for the man to see. The front face of the tarnished charm had long since broken off, revealing a picture of a young girl with pale, braided hair. The photo was old and worn, black and white and of no particular quality, but that girl, with her delicate smile, so full of radiant innocence, made the tiny image as vivid and captivating as any masterpiece. It was clear that no hardship had come to her. That no harsh reality had reached her. Yet.

Aleksei indicated the charm. "My sister, Irina Ivanevna," he said, his voice growing gentle with the name. "She is fifteen years old. She goes to a girl's school. Collects silk flowers. And right now, she is in Kubinka, Moscow Oblast—sixty-three kilometers west of Butyrka. She is the reason I bothered to run—why I’m still alive." And then, in a moment of wretched weakness, a tear slipped silently down his cheek. His face remained unchanged despite it, though the hurt that bloomed within him reflected in his eyes. He almost expected to be laughed at, and perhaps would have deserved it. But he set his hands on the tabletop, just shy of the aged trinket. He spoke carefully around the knot forming in his throat. "If I stayed, he would kill her, so I ran. He will follow me, but he might still kill her, out of spite. If I cannot stop him—if I am not somehow ready—" He swallowed. "I may not deserve to live…but she does not deserve to die. I will do anything you ask of me, if you’ll give me the chance to save her." The desperation must have been clear in his eyes. "The way I am now, he will kill me. He will torture me first, and drive me insane. When he comes for me, I want the chance to live past him...or at least, to take him with me. Only you can give me that chance."

Silence set in; Alek had run out of things to say. Vodka looked no more impressed than he had the moment he hit the door, eyes remaining fixed on him as they had been throughout.  

Then, his pale eyes shifted nonchalantly to rest on a clock perched on the desk. "Your two minutes were up two minutes ago," was all he said. His tone was unreadable.

That was his cue. "…I see." Numbly, Aleksei reached out and removed the locket from the desk, tucking it once more into his inner pocket. Respectfully, he bowed his head. "I thank you for your time." Rotating carefully on his heel, he made his way from the office, out the door and down the hall, passing guards and attendants as he headed back the way he’d come.

Perhaps it had been foolish, to seek aid in such a place. People in such high positions took in only what they felt they could gain from, and he had nothing to give. He had stood before one of the city's most powerful men and confessed his sins, offering nothing of substance in return but whatever use he could extract from his hide. It was the first time he left a meeting feeling as if what he had offered was just not good enough.

He had pled his case. Now he had to wait for the judgment that would save or damn him.
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