Typical New York City weather in November, cold as hell and not even snowing. What’s with these crazy capitalist shopping days like Black Friday that coincide with holidays? My wife, Izzy, gets all excited about them, but I don’t get it. In Russia, we don’t go crazy about shopping or holidays. Then again, I have all the money I need to buy what I want.
I’m used to getting what I want. From the first moment I met Izzy, I knew I couldn’t live without her. The marriage was rushed, and the pregnancy was, too. I not only love my wife, I’m obsessed with her and the baby girl she’s carrying.
My driver, Leo, pulls up in front of the Apple Emporium department store long enough to let us out of the SUV. This store has everything one needs under one roof and takes up an entire city block.
Before exiting the Mercedes, I pull on my leather jacket, making sure to cover the gun affixed to a clip. One never knows when it will rain fire and brimstone. It’s been quiet at work, but today I am tasked with finding and eliminating a target. Believe me, I’d much rather be hacking into a computer system than whacking one of our lower-level soldiers. The target’s name is Oleg and he’s been talking to the District Attorney— we can’t have that. Even Gotti said he never trusted a man who hadn’t served time. This stooge has no idea how easy it is to get to him. We have eyes and ears everywhere, and we know he will be here today to buy a TV. Lucky me.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving and our first family holiday together. Izzy has been telling me for days that we have to get up at the crack of dawn to get the jump on everyone else looking for Black Friday bargains. Why? You got me. I figure I can take her shopping and snuff out this little ingrate at the same time. I’ve made it my mission for the day.
After helping my pregnant wife out of the vehicle, I take her protectively by the elbow and approach the sliding glass doors. The doors open automatically, and we step into a cornucopia of Christmas decorations, the suffocating air of too many people, and artificially heated air. I would love to take my jacket off but keep it on to conceal the gun.
People are bustling about shoulder to shoulder, bumping into me and stepping on my favorite Ferragamo shoes. It’s starting to piss me off, and it takes all my effort not to punch someone in the face. This must be what it’s like to be in Pamplona running with the bulls. I hate crowds in general, but I’ll use the chaos to my advantage today.
Suddenly, the obnoxious smell of some women’s cheap cologne tickles my nose. It’s overpowering. I sneeze.
“Bless you, honey,” Izzy says.
“Thank you. I hate the smell of Magnolia. Why don’t they use something else in perfumes?”
“I agree. What should we get for your brothers? Any ideas?”
“I have no clue.” We walk past the makeup counters and straight into the baby clothing section.
“Oooh,” Izzy coos. I can’t blame her. The thought of having a daughter tickles me. I didn’t want any kids when I arrived in New York City—nor did I think I’d live long enough to have kids.
“Why don’t you have a look, honey, I want to check out the TV section.”
She gives me a tiny pout before she smiles and says, “Don’t be gone too long.”
This will literally give me time to kill.
“I can’t leave you for very long, you know that,” I reply, kissing her lightly on the lips.
I walk to the electronics section with my head on a swivel. I glance at my phone, taking another look at his mug shot.
Oleg is tall and lean, his head shaved into a military buzz cut. He has a black spider tattoo on his neck. Thankfully it will show above his winter coat. Thanks for the added help, asshole.
How can I kill him in a public place?
Hearing Ho Ho Ho, I turn, thinking I’ll find a life-size animated Santa Claus. Instead, I find a fat man dressed in a Santa suit sitting in a huge chair surrounded by little people dressed as elves tasked with putting babies on his lap. Creepy if you ask me. I must be alone, in my opinion, because the line of inpatient parents and screaming kids wraps around the store. I will never understand Americans and what they put themselves through to get a holiday photo.
Behind Santa and his elves is the men’s department, with fitting rooms conveniently located in numerous locations.
I maneuver around shopping carts filled, blocking the aisles. It’s worse than driving during rush hour. I watch one father stack two large-screen TVs on top of his cart like the damn things are free. He looks around for the register, and when he finds one, his face falls. I follow his gaze. He’s staring at a sign that has the thirty-minute wait time lit up. The line snakes back and forth through a cordoned-off rope section. It reminds me of summers in Coney Island, waiting in lines for the rides.
I continue to the area where loud surround sound speakers are playing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Noticing all the TVs are playing the movie Home Alone, I chuckle at the irony.
I spot Oleg. He’s here with three friends. Interesting. I need him alone.
I glance around, and my eyes stop when I see the men’s bathroom.
I wander through the electronics department and pretend to be interested in a rack of discounted DVDs as I keep my eye on Oleg. When he moves out of my vision, I follow. Passing an empty checkout desk, I spot the electronic signature pad and snap off the plastic pen used to sign for credit card purchases. I slip it into my pocket.
Adapt, improvise, and overcome. I’m good at all three.
My phone alerts me with the ringtone for my wife, Sugar, by Maroon 5.
I pull my phone out of my back pocket to see what she texted.
Izzy: Where are you?
Izzy: I’m heading that way.
Oleg and his friends are playing with remotes attached to the TVs and won’t be happy until they break something.
“Honey, I found so many cute outfits, I can’t decide on what to get.” Izzy surprises me, showing up sooner than expected, her arms laden with colorful outfits.
“I thought we were buying for your best friend, Alena, and my brothers.”
“You’re right. But I got distracted. It’s hard to focus, what with all the pregnancy hormones. All I ever think about is having sex with you and nesting.”
“You got that right, angel.” I wear a knowing smirk. She’s become insatiable lately, and I’m not complaining. Her skin glows, and her boobs are engorged. She’s sexy as hell, wearing nothing more than one of my dress shirts to sip her morning coffee. She’s mine, and my cock twitches just thinking of her.
My wife loves Christmas, but to me, it feels like a long-running commercial to get consumers to spend, spend, spend. I’m new to all these American traditions and try to take her love of the holiday seriously. She’ll love the necklace with princess cut diamonds embezzled around sapphires I bought for her. She’ll be ecstatic even more when she discovers it comes with a matching bracelet for our baby.
“Buy all the outfits, honey. I love them all,” I say as I catch Oleg laughing with his friends and moving to the gaming section.
“Really?” Izzy asks.
“Sure, we can afford to buy the entire store. It’s a long line, make it worth the wait. What do you want to get for Alena?”
“I was thinking of tickets to the Lindsey Sterling concert. She has a cute Christmas show. Maybe we can all go together.”
It’s not a bad idea. Who wants to get gifts they pretend they like only to return them after Christmas? Quality time with friends and family is what the holiday should be about.
“What about your mother?” Izzy asks.
“She loves jewelry and designer clothing. I think we need to buy her something she will love and be easy to take home.” Mom is coming in from Russia. I’m the first son to get a woman knocked up, so everyone is traveling to us.
I suppress a smile at knocking Roman out of first place for Mom’s attention, even if it’s short-lived. I have a feeling Mom will be coming to see me more after the baby arrives.
Roman likes to spend most of his time on the French Riviera. I can’t blame him—it must be nice. I left Russia, and my nuts still freeze every December to January, but I know it would be worse if I were back home.
Meanwhile, my target is moving, and I have to distract the two men with him.
“We should take a picture with Santa for the baby’s photo book.”
“Awe, really?” Izzy meets my gaze to see if I’m sincere or not. I’m a man of few words. When I speak, it’s with purpose.
I shrug. “Sure, why not? It might be cute.”
“Okay. The line is long, are you sure?”
Hell, yes, I’m sure.
“I’m going to look at this new high-definition TV. Then, I’ll meet you there.”
“We didn’t buy anything yet. It’s not a tradition until I buy something.”
“The clothes are great. Get something for yourself. I know you love shoes. And the shoe department for women is on the other side of Santa.”
This is brilliant. She’ll be out of harm’s way while I finish my job.
“What do you want to buy?” Izzy takes my hand and gently rubs the top of it.
“I don’t need anything, I have you.”
“You do have me,” she murmurs. Our eyes meet, and my cock twitches. Damn. We have passion, the spark from when we first met in a Russian nightclub hasn’t waned.
When I had her, I knew there’d never be another woman for me—circumstances dictated we marry in order to keep her safe. I wanted her so badly I put a baby in her so she’d never leave me.
Our spark became a flame, and it burns eternal.
“That’s all I need to be happy. Usha Uoya.” I murmur the endearment. I long to tell her I want to take her home and make love to her, but I have to take care of business first.
I nod to the line, then dip my head to kiss her ruby-red lips. She melts under my touch.
“Mm.” Her lips press on mine, and our tongues meet for a brief second before she pulls away. “Fine, you have five minutes,” she says before she turns on her heels and walks to the end of the long line.
She’s out of the way but added a time constraint. Now I only have five minutes to complete my task. I turn to find Oleg and his friends absorbed in playing a video game involving cars racing on the screen.
I need to get Oleg alone. Numerous Christmas trees are decorated, and I’m sure the tinsel is a fire hazard.
I reach into my pocket. My fingers come into contact with the cold metal of a cigarette lighter. I check the cameras as I make my way back to the TVs and pretend to look at a display case full of new cell phones. The man behind the counter is wearing an ugly sweater and a matching elf-shaped pointed hat. I hope he’s getting paid well to dress like an idiot.
I push through a crowd of shoppers while at the same time pulling the lighter out of my pocket. I flip the metal lid open and roll my thumb over the wheel to make a flame. As I pass a heavily decorated Christmas tree, it takes no time at all to ignite a clump of tinsel. I continue walking, knowing the fire exit is at the end of the corridor where the bathrooms are located.
I move in the direction of the exit. A panic will cause everyone to push together, and a stampeding swarm of people will come my way—One of them will be Oleg.
I quickly grab my phone and instruct my driver, Leo, to pull around to the exit and hold my wife as soon as he sees her. He won’t let me down.
I wait. The tree smolders, and the first puffs of smoke waft towards the smoke detectors. I’m standing with my legs apart, arms folded. I’m a patient man when it’s required.
The annoying siren sound of a fire alarm begins to drown out the piped-in music to the song Ode to Joy.
I’m not in the Nakatomi Plaza, but it will do.
The music stops abruptly, and a calm voice comes over the public announcement system, asking everyone to proceed to the nearest exit.
Some people remain in line. Good for them— die-hard shoppers. They are waiting to see if it’s a drill.
Oleg decides he’s not pushing his luck. He has something to live for and motions for his friends to follow him. They head my way just as those standing by the smoldering tree a second ago realize this is not a drill, and they abandon their carts and head toward me. Perfect, no one will catch me capturing the rat.
I wait until Oleg passes me, and I turn to follow him. He and his friends converse in Russian about how they should have grabbed a TV on the way out.
I move into position behind the tallest Russian as we’re shoulder to shoulder with others moving toward the exit. The smell of smoke is causing people to cough and panic. I should have made Izzy leave earlier.
My phone rings. It’s Izzy. I’m sure she’s wondering where I am.
I’m torn between my wife and my loyalty to put the Bratva first.
This won’t take long, and the bathroom is closer. I grab Oleg’s right arm so hard he has no choice but to go into the men’s room with me. He shouts a curse in Russian as I steer him into the handicapped stall and jam his face into the tiled wall. By the time he realizes what’s going on, it’s too late.
Knowing this is his last minute, he tries to fight back, kicking his feet and flailing his arms. Too late. I snap his neck and end his life. His heavy, lifeless body slides to the ground. I leave it there, next to the toilet, where it belongs.
On my way out, I check my surroundings for surveillance. Good, no cameras. Now, my priority is to find Izzy. I pull my phone out and call her.
Her phone rings.
“Where are you?” she asks.
“I’m near the exit waiting for you.”
“Great, I’m almost there. I smell smoke,” she replies. I hear the apprehension in her voice.
“It’s fine. I’m here. You’re safe.”
“I see you,” she says, just as I see her face in the crowd that’s beginning to push and shove.
Sirens wail outside the building.
When Izzy is within reach, I wrap my arms around her protectively and follow the crowd out the doors. We breathe a sigh of relief in the cold, crisp air.
Immediately, I look for our SUV.
“Over here, I see Leo,” I say, ushering my frazzled wife through an obstacle course of baby strollers and shopping carts in the parking lot.
“Of course. I’m sure he heard the fire trucks,” I assure her.
We are free from the crowd, and Leo stands outside the vehicle, opening the door to the back seat as we approach.
“Everything okay?” he asks, looking worried. Usually, he’s the silent type, doing his job without comment or emotion, but he’s gotten attached to Izzy and worries about the baby.
“I’m fine,” Izzy replies. “Thanks for being here, Leo.” She slips carefully into the backseat.
Leo is about to say something but stops when he sees me raise a finger to my lips and give him an almost imperceptible shake of my head.
“No problem,” he says with a slight nod of confirmation.
I duck my head and slide in next to Izzy.
“I wonder what set off the fire alarm. I mean, there was a fire, right?” She asks, her eyes filled with worry and confusion.
As Leo slowly navigates his way through the crowds in the parking lot, I turn to Izzy and reassure her. “I think it was probably a teenage prank. All that matters is that you and the baby are safe.”
“That was so bizarre. Maybe the news will have more information later.”
Indeed. What else will the news report—body found in men’s bathroom?
We stop at a traffic light.
“Are you hungry?”
“Yes, I am, but let’s go home and have something cooked for us.
“Sounds like a plan.” I smile. “Leo, can you find the radio station with the holiday music?”
The weather outside is cold and bleak, but inside the car, it feels like a warm cocoon of safety. I lean back in my seat, type We’re good into my phone, and hit send.
The Don will be relieved. He loves me like his own son. Someday, I will inherit his title. His son is not of his blood, and in the Bratva, only those with Russian blood can rule. Besides, my wife is the rightful princess to the throne.
Read more about Dmitry and Izzy in Brutal Promise, book 2 of the Volkov Bratva Series.