”Flush over three pair. ” The dealer called monotonously over the painful groans of the table. My heart raced as I considered my winnings with a faux grin. This was a high stakes game after all… Life or death, if you will. Not because of the game itself, but because of whom it was that I was playing against, and his known temper.

”Ha, told you Id win this hand, Boris. Now, I believe this pot is all mine… ” I boasted through my growing unease, attempting to sound as natural as every other hand wed played that night. Now, it is worth noting that Boris hates to lose, and Id been working him all night, setting up this one massive play, this one hand. My instructions were clear after all..

”Take him for all that you can, Ken. ” Boss Dimitri had ordered with his thick Russian accent. Boris had apparently flubbed another rather important job, and while he was protected from spontaneous harm or injury within the organization… His wallet was not.

”Bullshit! ” Boris bellowed like a bear awoken from his hibernation, both hungry and irrational at the loss of substantial monetary gain. The crazed look in his eyes scanned my surface wildly until they narrowed suspiciously upon my right arm. My eyes went wide as I realized what he was imagining…

The truth.

His right arm blazed through the air faster than I could pull mine back. Painfully his paw clamped around my wrist, damaging the card dealing apparatus under my sleeve as its metal components cut into my wrist.

”You think to cheat Boris?! ” He shouted into my ear as I shrank away from him.

”Oh, come now, Boris. We are all thieves here, Whats a little dishonor among friends? ” I answered with a sheepish grin. However, the massive Bratva was having none of it. His shiny bald head glowing in the overhead lamplight, making him appear more like angel of death, than tracksuit wearing gang officer.

”Boris is no thief. ” He whispered harshly into my ear, his hot smelly breath brushing threateningly against my cheek. ”Boris is killer. ”

”I-I was just following orders, man. The boss was pissed you fumbled the pharma gig. He just wanted me to fleece your wallet real good, thats all! I promise! It was nothing personal, Big B. Just business! ” I pleaded while attempting to pull free my hand from his bearish grip and pushing to put more space between myself and the massive man.

”Just business? ” He repeated angrily. ”You try to rob Boris, and you call this business? ” His gruff Russian accent aiding in the malice of his message.

With his free hand, thick and calloused, he reached up slowly, calculatingly up to my neck. I struggled harder to free myself, but Boris merely laughed as his fingers closed in around my windpipe.

The sound of my choking, sputtering and struggling filled the room. My eyes scanned for help, lingering on the dealer whom merely stood statuesque, paralyzed by the fear of watching me being… Well, murdered.

Panic set in as my periphery began to darken with the lack of oxygen entering my empty lungs. Continuing my desperate search, I saw the only thing around me that was ALMOST within reach.

With no time to think I acted, thrashing a knee up and into Boriss groin, his eyes went wide and he yelped in pain, releasing his death-grip on my throat. Reaching with my left hand, I snatched the half empty glass of vodka he had been sipping on just moments earlier.

Had my neck not just been crushed, a powerful cry of justice might have left my mouth as I smashed the glasss lip into his eye, but instead all that came was a breathy and raspy wheeze.

In contrast, the wail that left Boriss lips was both genuine and terrifying. The effect it had on me was immediate and primal. I sucked in some much needed air whilst turning on my heels, priming myself to sprint out of there as fast as my legs would take me.

”Bang! Bang! Bang! ”

Bullets echoed into the air as he shot at me. Ducking with my hands over my heads, I managed to dodge the shots fired. Though I doubted it had anything to do with my awkward maneuvering, and more to do with his now missing and blood covered left eye…

Fuck, **, **… I can believe hes actually shooting at me! I screamed internally as I burst through the back door and into the old rusted factory proper. It was late at night, so there was minimal if no staff around, but every single one was on high alert after those gunshots went off… Each of them that I passed dipped out of the way with a sorrowful expression across their face.

I knew that look of course, because I had used it dozens of times myself. That look that said ”Im sorry, I wish there was something I could do… ” never in a million years had I considered that I might be on the receiving end of that look.

”Bang! Bang! ”

Two more shots rang out as I reached the front door and threw it open. Sparks flew off its metal surface, and I realized mere inches were between those holes and my face. Much too close for comfort.

Darkness and wetness filled the air. It had freshly rained, and my shoes threatened to slip with each stride as I made my way for my car. Fishing the keys out in a panic, I clicked the receiver.

With a chirp my car blinked to life and unlocked. It was an older model Ford, but not so old that I couldn burn rubber out of this shitty industrial district. My lungs and throat both burned as I raced as quickly as I could.

Parked beside my own beater, was the Cadillac that Boris drove… Thinking on the fly, I searched my pockets for the knife I usually carried. It was a memento of my father, something he had given to me right before he died…

Sliding across the wet asphalt, I stabbed the pointy end roughly into the front left tire. With a loud hiss it began to visibly deflate. With a clever smirk, I stood and swung open the door to my own car, starting it up and throwing it in gear.

”Bang! Bang! Bang ”

My back window shattered as I peeled out and onto the factory road panting with adrenaline. My eyes glued to my rear view mirror as I waited to see his Cadillac chase after me… But it never came.

With a sigh of relief I finally turned my attention back to the road ahead of me.

”What the **!! ” I screamed as I smashed my hands into the steering wheel, frustration and rage boiling up now that I was -for the time being- safe. Flipping my phone open I punched in the numbers for Boss Dimitri.

Ring ring ring…

Ring ring ring….

Ring rin- ”Zdraste? ”

”Don you hello me, Boris just tried to kill me! ” I shouted into the phone, blind to etiquette in my adrenaline fueled anger.

”Kenneth, I suggest you watch the way you speak to me… ” Dimitris tone was calm and leveled, but with a twinge of irritation. ”I take it that our comrade did not take well to his lesson? ”

”No he didn **ing take it well. He tried to kill me! ” I growled into the mic as I sped onward the slick road.

”Ah, I am sorry, Ken. You were not supposed to survive to complain. ”

My heart practically stopped and the steering wheel twitched under my loosened grip. Seconds passed as the numbness took over my mind as I tried to comprehend what I had just heard.

”Ken? ” Dimitri said curiously.

”What do you mean I wasn supposed to survive? Did you set me up? ” I chewed at the steering wheel with my fingertips, hoping that I had misheard him.

”Yes, you could say that. You see, Bratva back in homeland, they demand much more money. Money that I do not comfortably have. Boris cost me much money, and you cost me much money. Boris kill you, Boris go to prison. Two birds with one stone, Da? ”

Anxiety welled up within my chest quickening both my pulse and my rasping breath. ”I don understand, You said the debt of caring for my mother would be taken care of by working for you! ” I explained incredulously.

”What you do is pennies weighed against thousands in her care. I cannot keep paying for your mothers treatment, Ken. You had to know this would happen eventually. Just business. Da? ”

His words stuck me in the heart like a karmic knife. Without Dimitris money, my mom would surely be taken off life support…

After thirteen years of blackening my soul for him, rigging games, robbing honest folk.. Hes just going to toss me aside anyway? I thought bitterly, bile rising up within my stomach.

”Just let me walk then. I promise I won say anything, just let me go and Ill figure out how to pay for my moms care myself. ” I offered hopelessly.

”I cannot do that, Ken. You know too much of our various business dealings. ” He answered with a finality that told me there was no use in arguing. ”Just go home. My boys will come and pick you up. Make it quick and painless, I give you my word. ”

A million thoughts raced through my mind then. Sure, I could take his deal, or I could run and hide… But I knew eventually his thugs would track me down. Dimitri and his Bratva had fingers in the police, FBI and even CIA. I wasn near smart enough to hide from all that…

With a resigned sigh I grunted my understanding into the phone.

”Good night, Kenneth. ” Dimitri said somberly as he terminated the call.

With a curse I threw the phone across the car, the sound of it shattering into pieces barely registering in my ears under the sound of my incoherent yelling. Streetlight after streetlight passed by overhead as very few solitary cars drove by, completely unaware of the turmoil I was going through.

And so I drove on into the night with only one destination in mind.

I needed to see my mother one last time. It was the least I could do after all.

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