Give my book Roses & Fangs a chance!
Ambrose stood in front of the easel,
staring at the almost finished painting of his muse, Bell Summers. Bell looked beautiful, an ethereal being not belonging on this planet. Her beautiful blonde hair in unruly curls, her face turned towards the moon and her naked body covered with soft comforters. Bell looked like a nymph.“Is the painting done?” Bell asked.
Ambrose turned to Bell. She was laid out just like the painting, her face towards the moon.“I have to paint a few more details, and we will be done with the painting.”
“Really? Wow, it’s been a journey,” Bell sighed, “I will miss this. Our deep conversations.”
“I am not going anywhere, Bell,”
“But I know you will be away a lot. You have your family issues, your enmity with Tsar and the entire Italian syndicate. I don’t think I will get to see you a lot,” Bell mumbled. Ambrose could see how morose Bell was. She looked subdued and dejected. Their relationship was still raw.
Ambrose knew this was a crucial time, it was vital for him to cement the foundation of their relationship. “I am sorry, Bell,” Ambrose whispered, “I want to be with you, I really do.”
“I understand. I will be patient, Ambrose. I will always be there for you, waiting. I know how important all of this is for you.”Ambrose sighed in relief. He gave her a grateful smile.
“You will not regret this, Bell. After I am done, I will make sure that our relationship is prioritised. I will only do legal businesses, I will break all ties with the underworld and focus on being a good man. For you.”
Bell gave him a shy smile.
“Can you tell me something? Just to keep the boredom away while you paint,” Bell asked.
“Whatever you want, my Kitten?”
“I want to know about Tsar. You said that it is difficult to understand you before understanding Tsar and I want to get to know you.”
Ambrose stiffened but found himself nodding. He would do anything that Bell asked.
THE STORY OF TSAR
Once upon a time, in the borough of Brooklyn, a town named Williamsburg existed. But it was not the fashionable hub for artists as it is known today. Williamsburg was the breeding ground of crime, gangster activities and drug cartels.
However, there were three families. They overlooked every nefarious task taking place in Williamsburg, most of the times they were perpetrators of it. They were the Russians: the Ivanovs, the Vasilievs and the Smirnovs.
However, over some time, as the artists boomed in Williamsburg, the influence of the Russians declined. Their other businesses too started to fall. The family conflicts, outdated strategies and the crackdown of the authorities all contributed towards the decline. Soon, the once affluent Russian families were now pushed into poverty. There was no leader. Their names started to fade away.
Their falling empire gave Italians, Irish and the Germans to set their own camps. They had learnt from the Russians. A code was important. The Italians and other syndicates started to use their influence on the other side of the law as well. Along with real estate and stock investments, they also began to buy politicians, judges and other figures of authority.
Soon, the families started to form legal businesses, solidifying their foundations and not leaving anything uncertain.
By the time 1990s rolled in, the Russians were forgotten. Their legacy buried and their futures uncertain. The five remaining members of the Smirnovs lived in a small one-bedroom apartment of Williamsburg. There was no electricity, no heated water facilities and the children didn’t even go to school. One of the five was a little boy named Tsar Smirnov. He had two older brothers who would take turns in beating him up. Their parents turned a blind eye to their petty fights. They had bills to pay and stomachs to feed.
It was a tough life. But it became more onerous when the Father died of a drug overdose.
Anna, Tsar’s mother, was distraught. She had gone under severe depression, and although there was never enough money to pay the bills, Anna found cash for alcohol. Tsar would find her sitting on the old couch staring out of the window, a bottle in her hand. Those were harrowing times.
Somehow, Tsar felt he had to do something. His older brothers were useless, they were practically non- existent. At the tender age of ten, Tsar saw a local gym. A huge guy of about sixty, despite his age he had rippling muscles and a well- maintained body. His name was Vlad.
Vlad felt Tsar’s eyes on him. The two stared at each other.
Vlad beckoned Tsar inside the gym.
It was the start of a mentorship.
From that day forth, Tsar was the errand boy. Filling up the bottles, cleaning the gym showers and other things. At the end of the day, Vlad would give him some money.
“What’s your full name?” Vlad asked.
“Tsar Smirnov,” Tsar whispered.
“A Smirnov,” Vlad mused.
“Do you know what a Tsar means?”
“Tsar is the title given to an emperor. A king.”
Tsar’s eyes widened. He never knew his name had such a powerful meaning.
“But the way you behave, it is like a little mouse. I think you should ask your mother to change your name,”
“I can behave like an Emperor,” Tsar protested.
“And you should. Do you know anything about your bloodline? Do you know anything about the kind of family you come from?”
Tsar shook his head. Vlad rolled his eyes and took the boy to the side and sat him down. Vlad started to tell him the glowing history of the Ivanovs, Smirnovs and the Vasilievs. Tsar soaked up the information, his wide eyes taking in everything. Hecouldn’t believe his ancestors once ruled this city through terror. But Tsar was too innocent to ask the relevant questions. Vlad was a proud man, a proud Bratva member. He would never accept that the Russians got defeated due to their own flaws. Instead, Vlad painted a picture where they looked like victims.
“Can’t we go back to those times?” Tsar sobbed, “where we were happy and had warm beds and warm water.”
“No, it was all taken away from us. Our anger was suppressed.”
“Who took it away from us?” Tsar asked.
“The other families. But especially the Italians. They think they are all mighty and powerful living in the better part of the city, but what they don’t know is that we are stronger. We are better than each and every one of them. All we need is courage and patience and a plan to take it all away from them.”
Tsar nodded. His eyes were filled with tears. Suddenly a spark of hate ignited itself in his heart. Vlad had seen the energy in Tsar, the motivation and inspiration to do something. Vlad had very clearly steered that all of that into a harmful and destructive direction. He had manipulated the little boy into thinking about revenge and vengeance.
Tsar would now become the renegade of the Mafia systems and rules laid out by the Italians. Vlad knew it. From next day began Tsar’s training, in the morning Vlad had enrolled him in a school. Tsar studied with all his might. He had one single goal in his mind, to be better than those Italians. Nothing motivated him more than that.
In the evening, Vlad had started to train Tsar. Teaching him different martial arts.
“Do you know, the Italian scion knows three different martial arts? How are you going to beat him with these lazy punches?” Vlad roared.
That comment spurred Tsar to push harder. Life became different for him. His older brothers were already into drugs and petty crimes, they were a lost cause. Tsar didn’t bother about them, he worried about his beautiful mother who slowing losing herself.
Tsar told his most profound worry to Vlad.
“I cannot see Mum like this,” Tsar mumbled one day.
“Your Mum needs a new man in her life. Someone better than your deadbeat father,” Vlad scoffed.
“My mother would never go after another man. She was devoted to my father.”
“This is Williamsburg, Son. You have a hooker in every house.”
“My Mother is not a Hooker!” Tsar roared.
“She is not. Yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is, if you don’t get some money into your house fast, she will be forced to offer herself on the streets.”
“But I am only eleven, how will I earn enough money?”
Vlad smiled and dragged Tsar inside the gym office. Tsar observed Vlad opening a safe and pulling out a white powdery substance.
“If your brothers were here, they would sell their organs for this. Now, this is a risky business. You can go to jail for this. But since you are only a kid, maybe the authorities will not suspect. I have some connection with really hotshot people. Politicians, models and other celebrities, you need to deliver these to them. Apart from this, you also need to get into clubs and sell it, anyone, that you can. I will pay you fifteen per cent of the profits.”
“Fifteen per cent?”
“Oh, I am very generous, my boy. Most don’t even get five.”
“How much money will I be making?”
Tsar smiled. The money he earned would really help his mother. They will have electricity and warm water and good food. It had been so long since his mother had made her delicious shepherd’s pie. Tsar’s stomach growled.
From the next week onward, Tsar started to work. He would deliver the drugs and sell them on the street, and not one police officer suspected him. Tsar also began to become smart. He observed other criminals and the mistakes they made, he learnt from their mistakes. Tsar trained his mind to think of strategies. Vlad had asked him to instil this habit.
The white powdery substance, called cocaine was a hit amongst the buyers. Tsar observed how they turned delirious upon snorting it.
At the end of the week, Vlad slapped five hundred dollars in Tsar’s hands. Tsar’s eyes widened; he had never seen so much money in his life.
“Keep this money carefully. You don’t want to get robbed. And be careful, your brothers might try taking it from you. If they do, then you know what to do,”
Tsar nodded. He started to run back home. On his way, he stopped in front of a shop, mesmerised by the pretty dress that the mannequin wore. It was red and would look so good on his mother. Tsar bought the dress for thirty dollars, the salesman even gave him a special discount.
Tsar ran to his house. There was a big smile on his face. Things were finally turning around for him. His smile grew wider when his building came into view, but it dropped when Tsar observed the ambulance standing. His brothers were standing beside it, looking sombre. A body was carried out of the building on a stretcher, covered with a white sheet.
“What is going on?” Tsar whispered. No one answered.
Tsar heard footsteps behind him, he turned around and found Vlad rushing towards him. There was an urgency in his eyes.
“I came as soon as I heard,” Vlad whispered.
“Shit, you don’t know...”
Tsar looked at the body again. A gentle breeze left the face exposed. A choked sound escaped Tsar’s lips.
The dress fell from his hands and on to the ground.