“Niko, please — for the love of God — help me!”
On his knees beside his living-room sofa, Andrei clasped his palms together, begging his dear friend to help his sorry-ass one more time with another not-so-small favor in getting into the Volkov’s family home.
“And for the last time,” Nikolay faked a wide grin, his arms wide open on the sofa, looking down at a pathetic Andrei. “No. Way. In. Hell.”
Andrei sighed before ruffling his hair in exaggeration. “Ahhh…”
To be honest, he knew he had to do a lot of convincing to do in order for Nikolay to help him get into the Volkov’s home. It was a dangerous, risky job, after all. However, he didn’t expect he’d be on his knees bloody begging. He must’ve looked really pathetic.
Earlier, while contemplating how he was going to break the news to his friend, Andrei figured Nikolay was going to help without putting up a fight.
After all, Nikolay was there for him — had helped him since primary school, back-mouthing off the bullies from teasing Andrei during playtime. Or in high school, Nikolay always picked fights with the school tormentors trying to steal his lunch money. And even after graduation, Nikolay went with him, sitting down, anxiously waiting in every waiting room during Andrei’s job interviews, hoping he’d gotten the job. Even gave him money when he had none… And moved in with him when he couldn’t afford to pay the full rent in Yekaterinburg!
Nikolay helped him in more ways than one.
So, another favor — another helping favor — wasn’t too much to ask for.
Besides, asking Nikolay to help him with the Volkov’s family affairs wouldn’t be the first time. Remember the dealers from Vietnam last month?
But this time, Nikolay wasn’t having any of his bullshit, arguing it wasn’t safe.
Andrei knew it wasn’t safe — he knew he might die! However, he needed to do this… He needed to prove to himself he wasn’t a failure. Why couldn’t Nikolay understand?!
If Nikolay could help one more time — just one more time, he might get a big promotion. And no one would look down on him anymore — he would be a somebody, not a nobody!
“Please, just do this for me,” he dragged on, begging in a desperate tone. “Remember the Vietnam drug dealers? You helped me then. Just one more time — and I’ll never ask for anything ever again. Please. I promise.”
“For the last time… No! Do you want me to spell it out in Spanish for you?” Nikolay closed his eyes and massaged his temples, desperately wanting to drop the topic.
They were supposed to go out to Danny’s tonight for heavens safe!
It was Saturday evening; the only freaking day Nikolay wasn’t stuck serving up rich people appetizers in the Volkov house. And the only day they could make time for friendship night without having to worry about being hungover the next day.
“I can’t help you with this — anything but this,” Nikolay said. “Don’t you know what’s going to happen if you get caught? And what about me? No offense Andrei… They might like me and all, but if they catch you — knowing I let you in, we’re both going to be swimming with the fishes. No thanks. I enjoy being alive.”
It was understandable — really it was.
Perhaps Andrei was being selfish? But… What about his future career in law enforcement? What about being a somebody?
“You think I want to do this?” Andrei argued, disregarding his previous thoughts. “I could die too, you know? Niko, listen… There’s no way in hell I’m going to do this if I know it will jeopardize your — our, life. Besides… It’s not like I’m going to get caught. I’m a professional, remember? Just give me a week and I’ll be out of there. Just snatch and go, eh? Please, Niko… Have a little faith in me.”
It was a lie: Andrei wasn’t a professional in fieldwork — he was a desk officer for Christ’s sake! If he fucked this up, only the heavens knew what faith awaited him.
Nikolay knew he was inexperienced, too. And yet, after a minute of absolute silence, he let loose a defeated sigh. “Fine,” he gritted. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Nikolay was a bloody great friend, and Andrei knew this. With a big grin on his face, Andre jumped on the sofa, ruffling the man’s thick locks of curly hair playfully. “Thank you — thank you — thank you,” Andrei chanted, smiling all big, and bright. “You won’t regret this — I’ll make you proud.”
“You’re going to get me killed one of these days,” Nikolay grumbled, pushing Andrei off him.
Nikolay’s words weren’t meant for Andrei’s ears to hear, nor were they meant to be taken seriously. Yet, he heard it anyway… And he took it seriously.
What if Nikolay was right?
What if he got caught, then what?
Stepan Volkov would kill them both… Like chop them to pieces and feed their flesh to his dogs. Did he even have dogs? Or would he dump their minced bodies across the city to set another example as he did to those rookie officers? Both thoughts sent chills running down Andrei’s spine, and he couldn’t help but wonder, it might not be worth the risk, after all.
His promotion wasn’t as important as his, and Nikolay’s life.
In silence, there were both sitting on the couch before Andrei twisted to look his friend in the eyes. “Maybe you’re right,” he mumbled out. “Maybe… I shouldn’t… I don’t want to put your life on the line. Niko, maybe…”
Nikolay lifted a questionable eyebrow at that, giving Andrei his full attention. “You sure?” he asked, doubtfully.
“I rather have a living friend than a dead one, thank you very much,” Andrei sighed. “You don’t believe I can do it, anyway.”
Nikolay’s face hardened. “I didn’t mean it like that,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay… I’ll just tell Alexander I can’t do it.”
“No,” Nikolay placed a comforting palm on Andrei’s shoulder. “I want you to do this… I believe in you… So don’t think I don’t — because I do, okay?”
“Mm’k,” Andrei grumbled then he picked himself off the sofa.
Before Andrei could walk away, Nikolay grabbed his wrist. “I’ll get you in… And you’re going to get that promotion,” he promised. And Andrei saw no lies in his friend’s eyes. “Now go take a bath… Or spray some perfume or something before we go to Danny’s — you smell funny, hahaha.” Nikolay tilted his head back in laughter.
“Asshole,” Andrei tsked, smiling a little genuine smile before walking across the small square apartment to get to his dresser.
The bloody place was so cramped, it was barely livable — and all Andrei had was a bed, and four-square feet kitchen, and a sofa. There was nothing else! He should’ve never moved to Yekaterinburg. The fucking place was too expensive, overrated, and packed with rich criminals who wanted to hide away from the government.
Andrei snatched the towel from the floor and a couple of pieces of clothes. A white t-shirt, and plain black trousers laying on his bed. “I’m going to take a bath before we go,” he grumbled before he stepped outside of his apartment, heading to the residential bathroom downstairs. Dammit, he couldn’t believe he was paying half his monthly salary on the crap apartment with a bathroom he had to share with others!
“Don’t take too long!” Nikolay shouted back at him.
Andrei sighed halfway down the stairs: He wasn’t planning on it.
Saturday nightlife in central Yekaterinburg wasn’t the brightest, or the liveliest in Andrei’s book since he preferred Moscow — the lights and all. Still, Saturdays were friendship days, where they spent well past twelve drinking cheap canned beers at Danny’s Beer Garden.
It wasn’t the ideal thing to do, considering Andrei worked in law enforcement. Then again, he wasn’t the only one from the firm partying in nightclubs during the weekends.
Ivan was also cooped up on the back table, hidden away from prying eyes while sharing a drink with Nina, another desk companion at the station… And they were flirting.
Andrei visibly cringed before he tugged on Nikolay’s wrist, dragging him to the counter.
He needed a drink… Hard liquor would do.
The minute they took a seat on the bar stools, Nikolay called out to the bartender, “Two shots of vodka, Alan… Wait — just bring the entire bottle.”
Andrei was never a fan of vodka because it tasted bitter, like vomit. It might as well be called: For the brave of hearts. Then again if he was brave… Or foolish enough to go undercover in Yekaterinburg’s most notorious mafia organization’s home, he might as well let himself loosen a bit.
“Two shots of vodka,” the young bartender, Alan, announced, placing the shots, along with the liquor bottle in front of them on the countertop. “And… Here’s the bottle… If you want anything else, there’s plenty more where that came from.”
“Uh-huh,” Andrei hummed, downing the liquor in one go before twisting around his bar stool to stare at the women on the center floor.
“You like what you see?” Nikolay nudged his shoulders from the side while his eyes were on the women, most likely in their twenties, grinding on each other on the center floor to the music. “Mm… Because I do… Check out that blondie over there.”
Andrei’s eyes dragged over the women, their bodies radiating sex with each hip sways — delicious, he might add… If he favored women.
Andrei wasn’t a deceiver. However, there were secrets he kept to himself… Secrets he rather not shared with anyone, especially Nikolay. It was wrong — he knew this much. Yet, the thought of their friendship ending because of his special secret, bothered him greatly.
Andrei liked men.
No one knew, though. How could they?
The Russian people weren’t too open to people like Andrei, so he kept it hidden well since graduating high school. Others might say that he didn’t look the part. And it was true. He wasn’t a petite man; he wasn’t weak — his voice wasn’t soft, either. He flirted with women whenever he was with Nikolay, or his colleagues, hoping to sway their thoughts.
No one suspected anything, and Andrei hoped it stayed so.
Sometimes he believed Nikolay might not care about his sexual orientation, or no one might care. Yet… What if they did? Then, their friendship would be over in a heartbeat, and his male colleagues might look at him differently. So, Andrei kept it a secret.
One day he would be brave enough to come clean, though.
“Yea, I prefer the brunette.” Andrei resisted the urge to roll his eyes before he grabbed the bottle in front of the countertop, downing several gulps at once. It tasted terrible, scorching his throat. Although his stomach squeezed painfully tight, he needed more — he needed to forget all about those stupid thoughts he let back in. He needed —
“Woah, easy there,” Nikolay chuckled dryly, grabbing the bottle out of Andrei’s hand before he could take another swig at it. “I know you can handle your liquor, but the night’s just getting started, and — wait a fucking minute… What is he doing here?”
This time, Andrei rolled his eyes. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Over there,” Nikolay tilted his chin, signaling for Andrei to look at the entrance door.
Despite the barring music, or the blinding red lights flashing one too many times in his eyes — or the nightclubbers walking, some stumbling, about, Andrei squinted his eyes, trying to get a better look at the person on whom Nikolay’s gaze lay on.
The faint silhouette of a man appeared in sight, but Andrei still couldn’t make out anything — there were too many people coming in, crowding over the man, alongside several bodyguards in suits, pushing them aside. Talk about a grand entrance. The onlookers were gawking over the man… He must’ve been rich, or the local celebrity, or something…
“Who is that?” Andrei asked.
“That — wait,” Nikolay paused before he got off his stool, staring at Andrei, obviously taken aback. “You don’t know who that is?”
Andrei shrugged his shoulder before snatching the liquor bottle from between Nikolay’s fingers and taking another swig. “Should I?”
“Uh, yea?” Nikolay flung his arms in the air.
Nikolay ruffled his fingers through his overgrown hair then sighed. “That, my friend is the one and only: Dimitri Sasha Volkov.”
Andrei’s eyes bulged open before he choked on his vodka.
The Dimitri Sasha Volkov?
“What…” After Andrei caught himself, he eyed his friend. “What is he doing in a place like this?”
“I do not know,” Nikolay answered, glancing back at the entrance door. “But I think he’s coming over here.”
When Andrei took another glance, his breath hitched at the sight of Dimitri.
He knew the Volkov’s men were dashingly handsome — their women, even more so. This… Dimitri, though…
Despite Andrei having been living in Yekaterinburg for a good three years — it was a wonder he had never seen this man before. And to be honest, he never pondered or cared about the Volkov family.
Although, when he first joined the policing committee, he did go through the files of the Volkov’s. There were never any pictures of Dimitri, though.
The younger Volkov appeared to be an outcast — invisible, honestly. It was strange, considering Dimitri’s position in the underworld wasn’t much different from his older brother. Apparently, Stepan was overshadowing his younger brother in all aspects of life.
Andrei hopped off his stool, “Why is he coming over here?”
Nikolay wetted his lower lip, looking nervous. “Probably to see me?” he guessed.
Andrei wrinkled his forehead. Nikolay might be well-known, but he didn’t understand why any of the Volkov family members cared enough to seek him out. “Why?”
“Oh — I don’t know… Maybe it’s because I work for his brother?”
Curious, Andrei faced his friend. “So… He knows you?”
“Yea.” Nikolay shrugged his shoulder the closer Dimitri came. He looked more serious now. The laughter was gone from his face. “A little… We met last month.”
Before Andrei could get another word out, Dimitri appeared in front of them.
“Well, who do we have here?” Dimitri’s mouth tilted into a grin. His voice came out pleasant yet menacing; it made Andrei spin around as fast as a sheet of lightning.
“Mr. Volkov,” Nikolay greeted, turning impossibly tense.
Dimitri chuckled a bit, unfazed by the look on Nikolay’s suddenly colorless face. “How many times do I have to tell you… It’s Dimitri, Nikolay?”
Dimitri’s shoulders were straight, confident, towering over them in height. For a moment, Andrei thought the man’s grey eyes looked almost cold… And emotionless. However, he seemed… Dangerously handsome if those words made sense. A sharp jawline, light stubble covering his face, a full set of lips — a bulging lump in his throat. Slicked back hair, and bangs… A single tier fell into his face. He was quite handsome, indeed. But… His eyes didn’t linger on Andrei — not even for a split second. It was as if, Andrei didn’t exist.
Dimitri had eyes solely for Nikolay. It didn’t bother Andrei, though. He was used to being ignored — he was a passing glance, after all.
However, the longer the seconds dragged by, Andrei couldn’t help but noticed the prolonged gaze coming from the man, directed at Nikolay. Dimitri’s body language and his eyes seemed to desire Nikolay. It was a strange thought… But if anyone noticed; it was Andrei.
Whether Nikolay was ignorant of it all, or choose to ignore this man’s obvious advancements, it bothered Andrei greatly.
Dimitri was a Volkov, leader of the second ruling family. If Dimitri — this criminal, this murderer — was genuinely engrossed in Nikolay, sexually, no good would become of it.
Andrei would have to warn Nikolay to keep his eyes open for this one… Not yet though. Because… Perhaps he was just thinking too far off — perhaps this Dimitri wasn’t interested any more than simply wanting a friendship, and Andrei might’ve just misinterpreted things.
Nikolay visibly swallowed hard. “I’m here with my friend,” he chimed in, ignoring Dimitri’s burning, lustful eyes. “This… This is Andrei.”
Andrei didn’t like what he was seeing one bit, Nikolay was clearly uncomfortable. And while this Dimitri was targeting his best friend, Nikolay was helpless.
Still, despite all this, Andrei stretched an arm out. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Volkov,” he said, eyeing Dimitri wearily.
Andrei had just met the man, and he already didn’t like him… Call it a gut instinct.
When Dimitri finally took a glance at Andrei, his entire face seemed to morph into something fascinating: crumpling up, as if someone had hit him before it twisted with disgust, before drifting off back at Nikolay. How rude! He just ignored Andrei’s entire existence!
“So… How about, you and I leave this place…” Dimitri smirked, brushing at the edges of Nikolay’s shirt collar. “Do you want to…” Dimitri arched an eyebrow.
The color on Nikolay’s face immediately drained completely. “I…” he stuttered. “Well…”
Andrei gritted his teeth. He knew he needed to get his friend out of here before this man insisted Nikolay go with him. And by the look of things, Nikolay wouldn’t say no — he worked for Dimitri’s brother for God’s sake!
“Ah,” Andrei beamed bright and toothy, stepping in front of Nikolay despite his racing heart. “He’s with me, Mr. Volkov… I don’t think we’re going to leave anytime soon. Maybe… another time, yeah?”
Despite the flashing lights in the bar, Dimitri’s eyes seemed to darken at Andrei. If looks could kill; Andrei swore he would’ve been dead. He gulped. This man could kill him on the spot — literally — and no one would bat an eye.
“I see.” Dimitri hummed before tilting to the side so he could get a better view of a visibly stiff Nikolay. “Well then, I’ll see you at work tomorrow, Nikolay,” he said, the name rolling off his tongue almost euphonic, then he feigned a smile.
“Of course, Mr. — Dimitri,” Nikolay nodded stiffly.
Before Dimitri twisted in the other direction to leave, his eyes loitered on Andrei. It wasn’t a normal look. It wasn’t a friendly one, either. Dimitri’s eyes were shooting daggers at Andrei. It felt like a threat. Or a warning. Then again, Andrei might’ve misinterpreted the older man’s intentions. And yet, his heart thundered in his chest, his palms were sweaty — and the voices in his brain screamed at him, telling him: You should’ve kept your mouth shut.
When Dimitri finally left, gliding his way out the front door accompanied by his bodyguards, Andrei released a breath he didn’t know he’d been keeping in. “What was that all about?” he asked Nikolay.
Nikolay’s shoulders were less tense as he wiped the sweat off his forehead. “Don’t know,” he mumbled, picking up the vodka bottle and downing all its contents. “I just… Don’t like him… He’s the crazy one in the family — and that fucking family is already a bunch of crazies. You see how he acts… I don’t know man… He seems weird to me.”
“Yea,” Andrei laughed dryly, trying to hide away the growing anxiousness. “Maybe… We should leave. You want to go?”
Nikolay nodded. “No… No, let’s drink some more.”
Andrei chewed on his lower lip, contemplating before finally giving in. “Oh… Okay.”
As Andrei took a glance back at the door, a sickening feeling of eyes on them — or eyes on Nikolay, never went away. There was no sign of Dimitri. And yet, the older man’s presence rested at the back of Andrei’s thoughts, clinging to him, coiling around his neck like a snake, choking him. And despite all this, he quenched down the feeling of uneasiness and ordered another bottle of vodka.