Von was an oldtimer. He was one of the few in the neighborhood that was first generation, let alone a real Vor. He didn’t ofter speak of those times. He silence made the rumors about his past all the more believable.
There was no room for family in the life of a Vor, and when his lover in Samara confessed that she was with child, he felt he had no choice but to leave his old life behind. So he did, as best he could, and went to live with her. It ended in tragedy, as these things often do; in drugs and drink and violence, in retribution and the past come back to haunt, in miscarriage and blame and sorrow. He left Samara with nothing except the desire to leave.
He kicked around the USSR for several years, and finally came the the conclusion that there was nothing here for him. He had no skills, other than those taught to him in the prisons of his youth and the gulags in the north, those nurtured by the vory v zakone, his brothers, the “thieves in law.” Despite having made no secret of his departure, he knew that should he return it would not be to fanfare and celebration. At best he was now the prodigal son, having left to find a better future, returning with his head hanging low and his wealth squandered. At worst, he had broken the Vorovskoi Zakon, and he would be subject to their justice. They wouldn’t kill him…he was pretty sure they wouldn’t kill him. There were other prices that could be paid.
This irony was that in the end, it wasn’t the Vor who got to Von, it was his own paranoia. It was the shadows around every corner watching him, the footsteps that echoed in his mind forever following him, the sound of his woman in Samara sobbing against the bathroom door. Suddenly he was claustrophobic, and all of the USSR, all of Europe wasn’t enough space for him. He needed to get further away.
With a criminal record as extensive as his, there was no way he was getting into America. He did the only thing he felt could. He acquired forged papers, faked medical records, and subjected himself to severe chemical burns. His fingerprints melted, and the tracery of ink that had covered his hands and arms—the record of his deeds from those old days—was eaten up by the blisters and blackened flesh of second and third degree burns.
These days he barely gave a second thought to the slick, hairless, scar-tissue pink skin. Days when the weather was especially dry, or in the cold of winter, the scarred flesh still ached, sometimes cracked, split with little fissures and scarred again. The dexterity he’d regained he was slowly loosing. It hardly mattered. With the tools he had here, even if he worked with one hand tied behind his back he would still produce better work than anything he had ever done in the prisons of the North, where he’d learned his trade. The tattoo gun he had wasn’t state of the art, but compared to working with bits of wire to scrape the skin, burning boot heels and crushing tea leaves for pigment to mix in water or piss, it was a dream. His memories of youth smelled of burnt rubber and urine.