The city stank. Pasha wrinkled his nose. The unfamiliar weight of the gun in his jacket pocket made him nervous. He felt in his other pocket for something that would comfort him and found the crinkling of three little cellophane packets.
Soon, he told himself. First, a meeting with Vasily.
There was a ten dollar bill and a slip of paper with an address scrawled on it in his wallet. The neighborhood hadn’t changed much in his absence, and he found the building with little trouble.
The exterior was run down; the cramped lobby was walled with cheap wooden paneling, warped and faded. Pasha crossed to the elevator, the heels of his boots clicking on the faux marble floor. He mashed the “up” button, tapping his foot as he waited.
The last time he had seen Vasily, it had been through the plexiglass in prison. Vasily had visited him almost monthly after being released, sometimes bearing contraband, always with the assurance that there would be a place for Pasha on the outside.
The elevator dinged, the doors opened and he stepped inside. Today he would find out if Vasily’s promises had been worth the time he’d spend staring up at the ceiling of his cell thinking them over.
The doors opened again on the fifth floor, and Pasha followed a narrow hallway to the last door. A gold-lettered sign next to it read “Mikhailovich & Associates,” a name that could suit any number of businesses. Pasha rang the bell and was admitted into a small waiting area, where a well-dressed thug stopped him.
“Pasha Shevchenko. Yours?”
“Funny.” He didn’t look as though he found it funny. “You know the drill—hands up, feet apart.”
“You’re going to frisk me?”
“You think Mister Alekseev pays me to stand around lookin’ pretty?” Judging from the man’s face, the answer was no. Pasha felt cold prickles of sweat forming on the back of his neck as he raised his arms. The tough reached straight for the right-side pocket of his jacket, felt it. “What do we have here?” He pulled the Glock from Pasha’s pocket. It looked like a toy in his hand. He set it on the table, and in a split second he had spun Pasha around, twisting his arm up behind his back, pressing his face against the wall.
Stupid. Colossally stupid. He should have waited until after his meeting with Vasily to pick up the gun.
“Now let’s see what else you’ve brought me.” Methodically, he emptied the rest of Pasha’s pockets onto the table. He clicked his tongue in disapproval. “Mister Alekseev doesn’t like people making trouble around here—”
“What’s going on out here?” a voice growled from behind Pasha.
“Is that you, Vasily?” He spoke as clearly as he could with his face shoved into the paneling.
“Pasha! Ivor, let got of him, he’s an old friend.”
“Your friends don’t usually show up packing.” Still, Pasha felt the pressure on his arm let up a little as the thug ran down the list of items on the table. “A Glock, a switchblade, sharps, some smack. I’m just looking out for you, boss.”
“I know, I know. You did good. Now give it back—all of it. I’ll lecture him about his manners later.”
Grumbling, Pasha snatched the weapons and drugs from Ivor and rushed to catch up with Vasily, who had ducked back into the next room. He shut the door behind them.
“Pashenka, it’s good to see you,” Vasily smiled warmly and threw his arms around the taller man, patting him on the back. Pasha allowed himself a cautious grin. It was good to be back among friends. Vasily pulled away, regarding him sternly. “I was serious about the lecture though. You’ve been out for what? Seven hours? Though I admire how quickly you’ve…reconnected, I worry about you, brother. I want you to work for me, but I need you to be able to work.”
“Relax, Vasilya. I know what I’m doing.”
“You would have said the same thing before you got locked up, no?” Pasha’s face burned. “I’m not trying to insult you. If I’m going to look out for you, I want to know you’re going to look out for me too—and yourself.”
Pasha averted his eyes. “I know.”
“Good. I trust you, Pasha.” Vasily put a hand on his shoulder for a brief moment, as though to reinforce the weight of his words. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. What do you need? Money, a place to stay?”
Pasha thought. Vasily had taken good care of him while he was still inside. He owed a lot to his friend. “I have some money still. Thank you for what you’ve already done for me, Vasilya. I do need a place to stay. I…don’t want to have to go back to where I was before.”
Vasily crossed the office and opened a drawer in the desk. “I don’t want you back there either. Here,” he tossed a set of keys to Pasha. There was an address on the keyring. “It’s not much more than four walls and a bed, but I figure it will do for now. You’ve got business to take care of tonight?”
“All right. Take care of yourself, Pashenka.” He gave Pasha a look close to fatherly concern. “I mean it. Just because we’re destined for greatness, it doesn’t mean we can’t screw it up. I’ll be by first thing in the morning, and we’ll go see Von.”
By morning, there was a dead man in a dumpster downtown, a Glock 9mm at the bottom of the river, and Pasha was on the floor of his new apartment, face up staring, riding his first high in five long years.