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Bratva Babysitter – Russian Underworld
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Once upon a time St. Petersburg had been a different city. Quite literally, although I barely remembered it as Leningrad. My father died in prison the winter before the decision to change its name back to the one it was founded with. There was some vain hope of regaining former glory and washing away the memory of Soviet rule by going back to before it had happened, but the effects and the memories were too long lasting. It was snowing when it became St. Petersburg again, just as it was snowing now. That, at least was always consistent at the same time every year.
The prison transport dropped me at the railway station – the closest they came to ferrying us back the twenty miles into the center of the city when there was no one to come to meet you at the gates. Just as I had done many times before, I hunched down into my fur-lined coat and shifted my bag higher onto my shoulder. I carried everything I owned with me, and that wasn’t much. The tools of my trade were my fists and whatever weapons I could get my hands on. My credentials were written out in ink across my skin in coded references to my crimes, my prison stretches and my kills. These days most men’s tattoos didn’t mean what they used to, and I was a rarity, a man who still chose to live by the traditions of the Vor. At least, in St. Petersburg I was.
The younger guys coming on stream didn’t know the meaning of a tough time. I saw the way they frowned at my tattoos as though they thought they were better than me somehow. Maybe they were wrong, maybe they were right. I didn’t care, so long as I still got work and I still had brothers to look out for me. I was a traditionalist, the life I knew was the life my father had taught me. I didn’t need any more than that to guarantee a living. It was the only way I’d known since I was a boy.
Staring off down the empty tracks, the cold was starting to seep up through the soles of my boots from the concrete of the platform, numbing my toes, but after so long without fresh air, it was far better to be outside. To be able to look up and see the night sky and feel the kiss of the frozen snowflakes on my skin felt like some kind of miracle. And at the same time, I had an unbalanced feeling, like I didn’t quite know which way was up out here, that I always had after coming out of a stretch inside.
The world was large and unpredictable, and yet again I had to figure out which parts had changed and which allegiances held true. The world never stayed still and waited, but then I’d grown used to that.
Someone had liberated my gloves, but I couldn’t complain so much, when my wallet was fatter than it had been when I’d gone in, from the favors I’d worked out with my fists while I was inside.
I breathed in the frozen air, silently reciting the address I’d been given as I traced the outline of the folded piece of paper in my pocket. The bloodstain on it had dried by now and the paper was crusty. But even if the ink had leached, my destination was burned into my memory.
Power had shifted when the city of Leningrad disappeared overnight. But not for the way we hoped. Perestroika left openings for all the opportunists to worm their way in. In the wake of Glasnost, St Petersburg became a gutter where all the low life collected once the oligarchs took what they wanted. If my mother had had any hopes of me following another way of life, she kept them to herself. How I ended up was inevitable and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. There was honor in the choices I made and the deeds I did. I had more honor than most of the men I knew put together.
I had to, when all I had in life was the reputation of my father, and the ancient list of contacts he’d established that were rapidly becoming outdated and their way of life extinct. I was drawn in to the life of a Vor before I fully understood what that even meant. At thirty-five, I lived and breathed it. One of the last remaining men in this city who would always do what was necessary. But we were a dying, underappreciated breed.
I had no complaint about my chosen path, but that Russia’s center of crime didn’t even have a core of criminality to be proud of irked me. After all this time, I was viewed by those I worked for as nothing more than a glorified thug. Muscle for hire, an attack dog, ready to take the fall whenever it was necessary. And I was tired of doing business with men who only looked out for themselves.