Chapter Eight - Trouble in Paradise
A week had gone by and it felt as if hell had descended upon me. I felt trapped, but I wasn’t even sure if I could say that this was a prison. Beneficially, I was given shelter, protection, company, and I finally had Kat by my side once again; however, I may have been given shelter, but there was no denying that I was still in constant danger within the presence of the Russians. I may have been given some company, but it didn’t make me feel any more suspicious as to why Anisa wanted to keep me company in the first place; she barely knew me. I have been given protection from the Irish Mob, but who would protect me from the Russians themselves when or if they deem me as a threat. I may have Kat by my side, but it didn’t deny the fact that not only was I in danger, I had now pulled Kat into this chaotic mess that I feared we both wouldn’t be able to escape from.
For the past week, I felt like I was floating around like a waste of space. Anisa would drag me out from the underground unit I stayed in when she would notice something was wrong. She understood that staying in some simple room for a long time was not good for the health.
“Dancing is a good way to help release the stress and forget about the problems of today and let it be for tomorrow. And to solve those problems of tomorrow is only by dancing those problems away for the next day and the days after that,” Kat said one day as she dragged me by the wrist.
“I don’t know how to dance,” I mumbled hesitantly.
“Don’t worry. Just let the beat flow through you and let it take you to a place where you never want to escape.”
“Sounds easier said than done.” She looked back at me, a smile placid on her lips, and continued to drag me along with her.
Once Anisa slammed through the door that led us to the club, I immediately noticed Kat barging her way through the crowd of people dancing; her glittery red dress was sticking to her like glue and it brought few looks towards her way, both male and female. Kat looked down my outfit - comfortable in a plain shirt and jeans – before she shook her head in disappointment and dragged us towards the bar.
I looked around the place like I’ve always done since the massive club never seemed to take my breath away, and I watched, as Anisa had put it, dance their problems for another day. There were those that danced as if they were alone at home and there were those that danced unashamedly, but there were those that danced and simply danced. Once the two ladies ordered a shot of vodka like they’ve done the time before and the time before that, they ran towards the dance floor like maniacs, but this time, Anisa wasn’t satisfied with leaving me at the bar. She grabbed my wrist and pulled us along and this time I didn’t resist her.
I thought we would have stayed just within the edge of the large crowd of dancing maniacs, but I was proved wrong when Anisa pulled us deeper into the depths of the dancers. We stopped when we spotted Kat dancing with a guy that stood taller than most people around us, and Anisa smiled at me as she released me.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing!” I shouted above the music, hoping that Anisa would understand what I said.
“Don’t think, Eleanor! Just let the music lead your body.” She turned away from me and started dancing. Her sensual body swayed delicately to the music, her hips bounding left and right as if they were made to sway the way they did. I looked away from her and down at myself, feeling the self-doubt fill within me like a poison. I didn’t have the body like Anisa’s and I didn’t have the spirit like Kat’s. I wasn’t meant for dancing.
I pulled away from the crowd, but once I could take a deep breath, I looked behind me and watched the crowd of dancing maniacs once more. I observed the way they were able to sway like Anisa had or how they jumped and grind like they were having the night of their lives, but it was the way they were able to enjoy themselves that left a pounding and gripping filling within my chest and stomach. Even though I wasn’t meant for dancing, it didn’t mean that I didn’t want to be.
Yet here I stood, not trying to be something I wanted to be. I wanted to be as spirited as Kat and Anisa, not because I felt like I needed to be different, but because I wanted to feel different. I wanted to feel something that I’ve never felt before. I wanted to feel as if I wasn’t the drab and the “left-behind-friend” that doesn’t want to do anything with her life. I wanted to feel something.
But there was one thing I did feel; every time I left the underground unit, I could feel someone’s eyes on me. I tore my gaze away from the dancing crowd that I had admired and towards the second story where I was told not a single person was allowed to step foot on without Ivan’s presence or permission. And there he stood in all his greatness and glory. There he stood.
Ivan’s hard and cold eyes were observing the scene below him; his arms were crossed, but he was leaning against the railing, putting all his support and weight onto his arms. His suit was snug against his form and the strobe lights flashed everywhere, making his form colored intricately. His eyes finally found my form and I took a step back when he finally straightened up. He pulled down his buttoned blazer, making sure it was formed nice and straight before he finally walked away without a second glance my or the crowd’s way, just like the times he did the same before that.
“What are you thinking about?” Anisa asked, distracting me from my thoughts.
I strained my neck trying to look at her from my laying form and simply sighed as I shrugged uncomfortably.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about how bored I am!” She stretched from her spot on my bed, her thin arms raising above her head. She shook her head, her hair, fair and wavy, bounced and twirled like delicate ribbons, and looked towards the door in distaste, knowing full well who was standing beside it from the other side.
“Hey, I have a perfect idea,” Anisa said jubilantly, “Let’s go out.”
“Yeah! It’ll be fun. You know: you, me, and we can bring along Kat. I’m already bored just being here and I have more freedom than you do.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I’m only saying that I can only imagine what you’re feeling about being stuck here.” She reached over, delicately gripping my shoulder with her one hand. The other laid slumped against her lap as she looked at me with a grim look. “You haven’t particularly been looking the best these past few days, Eleanor. I mean, have you seen yourself?”
“What are you talking about?” I questioned her ridiculous comments as I stood up and directed myself towards the bathroom, “I look perfectly… fine.”
When I switched on the lights, I was shell-shocked to see the image the mirror reflected. Brown hair slightly matted in the back; weight unhealthily gained and lost; and noticeable dark linings just beneath the burned-out eyes. I hadn’t felt any difference within myself until my eyes caught sight of what was hidden in plain sight. My chest tightened uncomfortably at the sudden sight of myself and my stomach contracted at noticing how hungry I was. Now that I thought about it, I have been neglecting to eat.
“I think it’s about time we went out,” Anisa said before she scowled and muttered, “Damn you, Ivan.”
“I don’t think you’ve noticed that I have a second shadow following me wherever I go,” I sighed as turned off the bathroom light and sat back down on the bed, “And Ivan said I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere off the premises of the club.”
Anisa quieted for once and a thoughtful frown appeared on her face; her brows were furrowed, her lips pursed, and her eyes directed towards the door. We both knew that Artem was standing just beside the door, waiting to take action when need be. With his intimidating stature and his unwavering loyalty to never defy Ivan’s orders made it obvious that it’d be almost impossible to convince Artem to let us leave by ourselves. I’ve asked Anisa about Artem before, but she wouldn’t tell me much about him, other than him being Ivan’s reliable henchman recruited by her father and that he doesn’t speak much; however, I knew there something more between her and Artem, but I respected her privacy.
“I could, you know, somehow try to convince Artem to let us go,” Anisa suggested, but her tone of voice sounded uncertain.
“Anisa,” I took her hand in mine, making sure that she was looking at me, “you don’t need to do anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable with. I don’t know what happened between you and Artem, and don’t try to deny it! There is obviously some kind of tension between the two of you and there’s no need to put yourself in that kind of situation.”
Anisa looked at me for a bit, her eyes uncertain before she looked back at the door as if she was seeing right through it. Her body relaxed and the creases between her brows finally smoothed out. She lightly pulled from my hold on her hand and looked at me with her charming smile.
“Artem and I had something a while back, but that all ended when Ivan found out. He didn’t want his men distracted and since Artem is his loyal dog, he decided that what was between us needed to end,” she finally said, her voice soft and distant, “Truth be told, I kind of miss him; I’ve been missing him from the beginning.”
All was silent between us and Anisa had her head held down. Her fair hair covered her face, making it hard to see her expressions. I wanted to reach out and see what she was feeling. It was hard to see Anisa like this since I’ve always seen her to be spirited and exuberant, but right now, she was far from being her normal self. But if I thought hard about it, I don’t truly know what her normal self is.
The longer I stayed here, the more I feel empty inside and apparently on the outside as well, but the longer I stayed here, the more I needed to remind myself that I was in a building full of murderers and powerful beings. Anisa’s presence made the atmosphere lighter, but once I started reminding myself that she was probably no better than the organization she was associated with, I started looking at things with a new light and second glancing at things that caught my attention. Anisa was no different from the Russian Mafia.
But seeing her like this also reminded me that she was human, like me and like Kat. My grandmother did always tell me to never judge a person by their cover, but it was hard to not judge her when all I know is that she’s friendly with the Russian Mafia and she has a bad relationship with her brother, who happens to be the leader of the mafia.
“God… What do I do?” I thought, but whatever answer God was going to give me paused when Anisa unexpectedly jumped off the bed and bounded for the door, her strides long and confident. She pulled opened the door and turned to her right where Artem stood. From what I could have seen, her expression wasn’t light nor was her eyes bright. Her expression stood seriously and her posture stood perfectly as a statue.
“Artem,” Anisa’s low voice sounded.
There was no response from the other party.
“Eleanor and I have been thinking and we want to leave for a bit,” Anisa began.
“No, Boss’s order.”
“Keeping Eleanor here is doing no good for her health. For Christ’s sake, she should be able to do whatever she likes without you or the others trailing after her like lost dogs. Ivan isn’t keeping her here as a prisoner.”
Artem took a step forward, causing Anisa to take a step back. The two stared at each other for a whole minute, Anisa not backing down from Artem’s towering structure. Anisa wasn’t short in height as I was; she stood a perfect 155 cm’s, almost reaching Artem’s 182 cm’s height. However, comparing their mass together, Anisa stood no chance. It was intimidating and from Anisa’s constant readjusting of weight between her feet, she was intimidated as well.
The intimidating guard looked into the room, his eyes observing me with hooded lids, making him seem almost bored. He quickly looked back at Anisa and frowned.
“She seems fine,” Artem finally said, his voice husky laced with spite.
“Please, Artem.” Anisa reached out with her hand, gripping Artem’s arm. He quickly tried pulling away, but Anisa grabbed him with her other hand, trying to keep him in her grip. He stopped himself and stared at her with such spite, it almost made me want to pull Anisa back into the room and keep her hidden from him. His stare deeply unnerved me.
“Please, let us go,” Anisa continued, completely oblivious to Artem’s stare, “Why can’t we just go out for a few hours?”
It was silent between them once again, but this time the tension between them was ten times the amount it was before.
“Like I said before, Boss’s orders.” Artem finally pulled himself from Anisa’s grip, but instead of staying where he once stood like a good soldier, he shouldered past Anisa and left.
I quickly jumped off the bed and grabbed for Anisa, trying to see if she was hurt in any way. There was a soft glistening within her eyes; trying to contain the tears that were threatening to fall, but Anisa had enough self-control to keep herself from crying.
“Are you alright?” I asked her hurriedly, “I told you not to put yourself in that kind of situation!”
“Don’t worry, manchkin,” Anisa said as she smiled down at me, “I knew Artem wasn’t going to let us go out on our own, so I had to get him to leave.” (Munchkin.)
“Because there’s one tactic we’re going to have to do.”
I could only stare at her in confusion.
“We have to escape.”
Their voices all morphed into one electronic tune. It may not have been a tune appropriate to the ear, but it was a tune of its own. My eyes were clenched tightly and my head was only being supported by my two hands. My elbows dug into my desk, making them ache, but they didn’t ache as much as my head was aching from all the nonsense that was roaming around in an electronic tune I despised so much.
“How long has this been going on, Ivan? It can only be in a matter of days before everything we’ve all built is crushed into nothing but memories if this isn’t handled immediately!”
“I can’t fucking believe we have a leak. Fix this Ivan or we’ll be having a problem.”
“We thought you were better than this, Ivan.”
Their fucking voices over the speakers overlapping as one made my ears ring and had my whole body shaking. Who the fuck turned up the speakers?
I looked up at the monitor and saw their criticizing faces. Some had the mouths shut like obedient soldiers, while those that had the confidence and idiocy to speak up continued their criticizing critiques at how I “failed them all”.
I pulled at my hair, hoping that the pounding in my head would be replaced by the striking pain I received from pulling my hair, but it didn’t do a damn thing. If anything, it only made the pounding in my head worse.
“Are you listening to a word we’re saying, Ivan?”
I brought one of my hands from my head and slammed the fist into the desk. The loud noise reverberated inside the small room and echoed across the screens of the others. Finally, there was silence, but it didn’t help a second of my headache. It felt as if there was a scratching and pounding from within my head that’s been begging to get out; it felt as if there was something trying to destroy from the inside out.
I looked up at the group of men on the monitor, my men. My men that fucking dared to criticize and question me. My fucking men.
One of the men I recognized as Rostislav - a brother of a dear friend of mine – looking at me through the screen, his eyes narrowed and his arms crossed as if he were above me. It was no secret that Rostislav despised me, that he wanted my position as Father. Hell, the only reason why he gained his position is that his brother did the acts my brother did; his brother stepped down. If I could see him right now, I would throw him across the room for stepping down.
I directed my gaze away from Rostislav and carried on to the others who dared to criticize me. I looked at all my men: the Konyashev Family, the Vilkashev Family, the Serebryakov Family, the Nazarov Family, the Dezhnyov Family, the Tkachenko Family, and the Khvostovsky Family. These families whom my ancestors and Fathers before me have entrusted their lives into laid before me like dinner on a platter.
And I was ready to devour them.
“For all my life, I’ve been raised to be a soldier of this mafia, to serve under the head, the Father. And nine years ago, I became the head, the Father of this mafia. I say, ‘this mafia’ instead of ‘my mafia’ because apparently there are those here, who have happily stated, that I have not earned to call this mafia mine. Apparently, I would happily let this mafia crumble; I would let this leak settle; I am not who I other’s thought I was,” I paused for a moment, my head held straight up, looking deep within the depths of my men, “Now, for nine fucking years, who managed to keep this mafia from sinking after their predecessor led themselves into a war that we were never prepared for? Who managed to gain new allies for this mafia? Who managed to keep this mafia from going into a depression? Who managed this mafia when no one else could?”
Everyone remained silent; their electronic voices were shut-up. Some shuffled in their seats, their postures no longer the rough and tough bastards they were. I looked back at Rostislav last and noticed how he could no longer look at the monitor. He was looking to the side, not able to look me in the eyes with his narrowed ones. No one could.
Their silence was my leverage.
“Now understand this, you fuckers,” I growled, my patience running thin from my headache, “If any of you sons of bitches has any complaint about how I run my mafia, then now’s the fucking time!”
I felt the need to cough; the screaming scratched against my throat and it only made the pounding within my head worse, but it didn’t matter to me. I kept my composure and I was satisfied when my men kept their mouths shut and didn’t flinch at my outburst. I didn’t need men that would flinch at the sound of shouting threats.
“I didn’t fucking think so,” I murmured as I tried clearing my throat, “If no one has anything else to say, let’s get back to matters that truly is worth my time.”
It took a few minutes of silence before the leader of the Serebryakov Family cleared his throat and began by informing me of the rumors about the Irish Mob targeting our allies the American-Italian Mafia in New York. After the others saw how Serebryakov was able to grow a pair, the meeting went on just like they used to in previous times.
The meeting went on for the next couple of hours; my men, looking to me as they informed me of what was going on and looking to me when they needed my advice. This was how it was supposed to be from the beginning, but once I let loose about the leak and warned them of reevaluating their own personal men, all hell broke loose. I’ve never had my men react in an irrational way, but the saying goes, “There’s always a first for everything.”
Once I stated the enclosure of the meeting, the screens immediately turned to black and all that was left was a blue monitor. I turned off the screen and immediately leaned back against my chair. I raised my arms and tried rubbing away the exhaustion I was put through. The pounding in my head didn’t go away and I could feel my body heating up in an uncomfortable way.
I quickly tore away the buttoned blazer and harshly pulled against the tie I was wearing to where it was barely hanging on. I raged through my drawers, trying to find whatever I could to calm the pounding in my head, but I was left empty. I slammed the drawers shut, the noise reverberating throughout the closed room. I held my head, bending over, and clenched my eyes shut. I begged for the pounding to stop, but the pounding continued, not listening to my begging and calling. I began pulling at my hair, my strained voice grunting and whimpering at the pain that grew within me like a virus.
“You let this happen, Erseli,” the voice of a man I’ve tried burying away for many years, “For what you did, friend, you don’t deserve your son. Remember, you let this happen!”
I looked up trying to find where the voice came from, but there was no one in my office except for me. I got up from my seat, my hands still clenching my head, and looked around frantically. My breathing was becoming sporadic and my chest was tightening like a bitch. I couldn’t control myself.
“Please, Ruisín,” my father’s pleading voice resonated, “it doesn’t have to be this way. Just-Just let my son go, please…”
“No,” I groaned when I realized that this was all in my head, not in my office or somewhere nearby, “No!” I was in front of my desk and fell to my knees. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. My head felt like it was going to implode and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
My body twitched and shook from the pain and finally, I dropped to the floor, holding my head. My throat felt chocked and my voice was caught in my throat. All I could emit was the sound of choking and whimpering before finally, my eyes rolled to the back of my head and I passed out from the pain that my head was emitting.
The taste of blood was discernible in my mouth. I licked my lips, a stinging pain erupting as I had put pressure. All I could see was darkness and a faint brightness behind the hood over my head. Blood pooled within my mouth when a sharp and fast pressure hit my cheek, causing me to bite my cheek. I groaned at the pain, but in truth, all I wanted was to cry at it; cry at the pain, but I couldn’t because I knew that’s what he wanted.
He wanted me to show weakness, to show that I could bleed and be broken. But I wouldn’t let him.
“Is that all you got?” I groaned, my voice shaking, “Just punches and more punches, `suka?” (Bitch?)
A hand gripped the hood atop me while making sure that he grabbed enough of my hair, so when he raises my head, then the bag won’t come off, and he sent a barrage of punches to my face as if he was making a point as to what punches can do. Once he stopped, I didn’t need to look into the mirror to know that he broke my nose and probably a few more in the face.
He was angry and he was enjoying himself, that I knew.
Hot streams of tears escaped my eyes and I tried as hard as I could to hold back the scream I felt bubbling from within me. The pain was everywhere within my body; nowhere did I feel any numbness or no feeling at all. The blood trailed from my nose and to my mouth where the substance mixed in with the blood still accumulating from my cheek. I felt as if I was the punching bag of a professional wrestler.
A hand gripped my chin, the cloth of the hood not protecting me from the pain of the grip. I could hear the breathing of the other party, making me want to pull away from the unsettling breath; however, whatever strength was within me dissipated when my captive beat the living shit out of my face.
“Tell me, Ivan, how long have you been here?” Ruisín asked, his breath gliding across my face and inhaled, “A day? Maybe two?”
I paused for a second, trying to regain my composure.
“And if I’m correct, I hear that your dear brother denied the title of Father and you will be the new face of the Russian Mafia once you are prepared and of age. Am I right?”
I didn’t say a word, wondering how he was able to gain that information.
“Ah, so I am correct. Well, I believe a congratulation is in order…” He released my chin, jerking my face to the side; the sudden force caused the pain in my face and nose increase, causing me to grunt.
“And let me tell you a little secret, Ivan…” Ruisín’s voice whispered into my ear as he now stood behind me, “We’ll get to know each other really well.”
“I doubt that,” I spat, letting the blood pool from my mouth as it continued to build.
Before anything else could be said, a sudden slam of a door from across the room resonated and the sound of hurried and heavy footsteps rained around us. The built-up pressure I had in my chest, I was able to release it, but when I felt a hand gripping the back of my neck, I was remembered that I wasn’t out of the clear, yet.
“Erseli, how nice to see you again,” Ruisín’s voice sounded beside me, his tone sardonic.
Otets, finally. It’s been too long I’ve been entrapped in this metal chair; too long I’ve been tortured and interrogated by this bastard, Ruisín. It’s been too long and I’m tired. (Father.)
“Let my son go, Ruisín,” father’s voice resonated, his words firm and cautious, as if he was bargaining for something that was just within reach of his grasp, “This isn’t about him. This just between the two of us.”
“Isn’t about him? This has everything to do with your family, Erseli! Your children, your wife, and you yourself, Erseli, and you have no one to blame, but yourself.”
The grip on my neck was becoming unbearable, Ruisín’s fingers digging deep into my skin. His nails began piercing my skin and I wanted to know what my father meant. He never told us as to how or why the Irish Mob declared war between themselves and the Russians. He only told us that it was the Irish’s fault and we were to never trust an Irish, ever.
Ruisín continued to ever tighten his grip on my neck. All I could hear was the sound of my breathing quickening and quickening while the men in the back shuffled on the wooden floor. I bit my lip once the pain started to become unbearable, but Ruisín’s grip never stopped tightening and it wasn’t long until I had to release my pent-up voice of pain. His fingers continued to dig deeper and deeper into my muscle and nerves, sending shocks and pain throughout my body. I clenched my eyes shut as my throat became raw from the screaming and coughs rolled through me as I began choking on my own blood.
“Ruisín, stop!” my father’s cracked voice shouted, now becoming desperate, “Please, Ruisín, it doesn’t have to be this way. Just-Just let my son go, please…”
“You let this happen, Erseli,” Ruisín’s voice shouted, holding no room for any sarcasm or s*hit, “For what you did, friend, you don’t deserve your son. Remember, you let this happen!”
Ruisín’s hand gripped the top of my head, not caring that he yanked my hair when he ripped off the hood. I flinched away from the sudden light and tried closing my eyes, but it wasn’t long until Ruisín had his hands on me once again.
The fucker gripped the back of my hair, yanking my head down and making me face up where I could see this bastard’s face. Ruisín had the audacity to smile, to smirk, as he stared down at me and then back to my father. He proceeded to take my face in his hand and force me to watch my father as my father was forced to watch me. My right eye was swollen shut and my face ached and bled from all the beatings; my mouth and nose were still bleeding from their wounds. I could only imagine what I looked like in my father’s eyes as he stared at me in horror; his mouth unhinged and his hands shaking. He looked between Ruisín and myself, my body shaking from fear and pain.
“Look at your son, Erseli,” Ruisín whispered, his voice just high enough for my father to hear.
“Ubey yego,” I managed to say, my voice coming out choked. (Kill him.)
“Look at him, Erseli!”
My father looked between Erseli and me, his face contorted with uncertainty.
“I won’t say it again, Erseli.”
He finally stopped and looked at me, truly looked at me.
“Pozhaluysta, pust′ eto prekratitsya,” I begged, my eyes shutting for a second, but it only angered Ruisín as he forcibly shook my head until I opened my eyes. (Please, make it end.)
“I will make you pay, Erseli,” Ruisín spoke, his voice calm and menacing, “and I won’t stop until you finally know how I felt when you started this all.”
“He didn’t do shit,” I spat, making sure that I managed to get something on him, “You started this.”
“Oh-ho!” he laughed as he leaned away from me, wiping off anything that met his face, “Looks like you still have some kick in you.”
He gripped my head tighter, making sure that the pain in my head wouldn’t disappear, and brought his face closer to me. Ruisín’s face was close to my head, his lips just beside my ear.
“And I’ll make sure that when I’m done with you, all you’ll be doing is kicking,” his voice snarled. I didn’t see his other hand as he reached underneath his pant leg, pulling something that only my father could see. I kept my eyes on Ruisín, but I could see my father acting fast from the corner of my eye. He ran toward us, his eyes locked open – never blinking – and his face full of disbelief.
I believed that my father was running to save me like I believed he would when I was first captured. I believed that my father was going to save me, take me away, from the man that wanted nothing more than to see my father’s downfall. I believed the fairytale I had made up for myself where I would finally leave this monster’s side without a single memory or a care in the world; that I could look back at this and think that my father saved me and he was a good father.
But couldn’t be any more wrong as Ruisín took out the hidden item from his pant leg and acted faster than my father ever could. The knife was gripped tightly in Ruisín’s hand and at the last second, I could see the reflective glint coming off the blade. I instinctively tried raising my hands to block the attack, but the ties holding my wrists down prevented me and I could only stare at the blade that cut through my face and my eye.
I gasped as my eyes shot open, trying to recognize that I was no longer in my chair, but laying on the carpet in my office. The taste of blood pooling out of mouth and nose disappeared and my body no longer ached from receiving beatings from a certain bastard, but by laying on the ground in an uncomfortable state.
My hand shot up from beside me and rested over my left eye where Ruisín had cut me. My fingers running over the jagged and rough skin. I closed my eyes as I couldn’t leave the contact my fingers had with my eye, but it was the memories I had after the incident that made me shut my vision off from the world. I would not be who I was if it wasn’t for what happened that day.
I opened my eyes and found my two men, Leonov and Artem, kneeling beside me. The two looked down at me, their expressions hard and almost unreadable, except for Leonov. He had his two hands gripping my shoulders and his eyes were frantic as he looked me over.
“What happened? Artem and I, we were going to inform you on something, but we found you on the ground,” Leonov explained, his eyes never stopping, “Ivan, my God, you’re sweaty and burning up. Have your headaches come back?”
I pulled away from Leonov’s grip and quickly stood up. Dizziness shot through me like a bullet to the head and I lost balance; Leonov tried reaching for me, but I pulled away from him, causing me to fall back down. I looked up at Artem, trying to assess what he was thinking, but like always, his expressions were unreadable.
“I can fucking get up on my own,” I growled when Leonov tried reaching for me again, and this time I kept to my word when I slowly got up and was able to stand on my own two feet. I reached up and wiped my forehead with the back of my hand and Leonov was right. I was sweaty and burning up. My head was still pounding with a damn headache, but it wasn’t as bad as it once was. It felt like a jog in the park compared to the marathon my mind ran on just earlier today.
I got around my desk and searched through my drawers again, and only to find my hidden sleeping pills right next to my pain medicine. I shook out four pills of Paracetamol and swallowed them whole. The other two was staring at me and Leonov could only continue to stare worriedly.
“Maybe you should have Boyan check you out,” Leonov suggested after a moment of silence between us.
“Fuck, Boyan,” I mumbled as I sat back against my leather chair, “That fucker has probably done more damage to me than he ever has helped me.”
“Did you have an episode?”
“Don’t you fucking lie to me,” Leonov growled as he stood over my desk, “Did you have a fucking episode?”
I didn’t answer him as I continued to stare at him with narrowed eyes. I kept my mouth shut and crossed my arms, waiting for whatever Leonov and Artem had to tell me. They didn’t come in here just because they wanted to check up on me. Like my brother said before, he and Artem had something to report to me.
Leonov continued staring at me and nothing was getting done as we kept our mouths shut. Figuring that I would get nothing out of Leonov, I turned to Artem where he straightened his form and took a step forward.
“Anisa and Eleanor, Boss,” Artem began.
“What about them?” I asked as I rubbed my eyes. Just the mention of Anisa was bringing on the pain of a harsher headache.
“They’ve left without any protection, Boss.”
I stood up from my seat, my body going rigged as I tried thinking of endless possibilities Anisa would have planned, but the longer I thought of it, the quicker the pain began to build. I leaned against my desk, my arm supporting my whole weight, and looked up at my two men who awaited what to do next.
“How did they escape?” I demanded, my voice low, yet quivering. My hands were shaking and the only way I could keep them still was by clenching them.
“Anisa, she…” Leonov began, but he stopped when I raised my hand. Just the sound of her damn name had my blood boiling.
“I want you,” I pointed at Artem, “to track them down and don’t do a damn thing. You send me the location and just keep watch over them until I get there myself.”
Artem bowed, his arm crossing over his chest as he bowed at the waist. Leonov looked between us, his eyes frantic once more.
“You can’t be serious, Ivan, going out in your state. You are too ill to be going out and should be having Boyan checking you out before you decide to make rash decisions.” Leonov tried reaching for me again, but I pulled away before he could lay a single finger on me. I grabbed Leonov’s arm, daring him to do something, and looked him in the eyes as my blood-pressure skyrocketed.
All was still around us; none of us made a single move and the only noise visible around us was the sound of my sporadic breathing. Leonov held an impassive expression and he didn’t hold any defensive ambiance. He was relaxed and unmoving as if he knew he wasn’t going to win this fight.
“You find them,” I growled into Leonov’s face, “and make sure by the time I get there, they aren’t in any harm’s way. If anything happens to either of them, this will be on everyone. Myself included for trusting in you bastards to do the simplest job!”
I let go of Leonov, shoving him back, and the two bowed before leaving with the slam of the door trailed after. The pounding in my head expanded and the pressure at the back of my eyes was killing me. I took my shaking hand and laid it over my closed eyes, hoping that the pounding and pain would go away, but it did nothing. I laid my hand back down on my desk and let out a shaky breath of air. When I opened my eyes, I looked at the small photo-frame I had on the corner of my desk.
I looked at the photo in silence, hesitantly reaching for the small frame. It was a family photo and it wasn’t Rocket Science to figure out that the family in the picture was not happy. No one dared to smile, except for Anisa and our mother, but even their smiles held lies beneath their deceiving faces. I looked up from the photo to the painting just across from me as it held the same replica of the photo. The painting wasn’t hung; it laid silently against the wall while it captured dust like everything else in my office.
We were prim and perfect; as still as a statue. My father stood behind my siblings and myself. His aged face laid stiff and unamused, while his wife beside him clung onto his arm like a lost animal. Her smile shined vibrantly as she looked at the camera, but it was too forced; it wasn’t real. Anisa, Leonov, and I stood in front of them. Anisa stood in the middle, her arms strewn around Leonov’s and my waist. Her smile was softly laid upon her lips, but I knew better than anyone else that she didn’t want to be there. She never wanted to be anywhere near mother. Leonov and I held blank faces, but he had his arm around Anisa’s shoulder, unlike myself who had both arms limp to my side.
Everyone was facing the camera, except for me. This picture was taken years ago, just a few years after I was kidnapped by Ruisín. I wanted my father to know what he did to me and it wasn’t enough that he had to look at my scarred face, so during the family photo, I looked away from the camera. I made sure I gave a clear view of my scarred eye. When everyone saw what I did, no one questioned me and it took them a few days before they were comfortable speaking with me.
I held the picture frame, the metal cool to the touch. I stared at my father, my mother, my brother, and my sister and how they all stood there as if everything was fine. They looked fake and disgusting, and I despised how my father could just stand there as if he didn’t have a single care in the world. My hands began to shake the longer I looked, but I couldn’t look away. My head was screaming and aching, but it only made me angrier.
In a fit of rage, I took the picture frame and launched it at the painting that laid across from me. The metal framing encasing the photo tore through the painting like a hot knife through butter. The tear ran diagonally across the painting, cutting through my father’s face. I walked around my desk, my feet taking me to the painting. I grabbed the painting and threw it against the ground, taking my anger out against the damned thing. My chest bubbled and my heart pounded with rage. I tore against the canvas, the beautiful painting ruined by my revelation of it.
This painting didn’t deserve to be called beautiful and it didn’t deserve to capture the still portrait of that day, and neither did the photo. There was glass shattered on the ground from the picture frame and my hands were nicked and scratch from the glass, but I didn’t care. All I cared for was the destruction of a fake image and a fake family.