‘You know, we are like brothers.’
Mikhail’s words were quiet, and his body language deceptively calm, but there was something in the way he moved around the room that hinted more heavily at his true intentions. He was like a shark, circling Yakov as he sat in perfect silence, eying the man, and waiting for him to strike.
‘I bring you off street,’ continued Mikhail, waving one arm in a theatrical flourish, ‘I give you home, put food on your plate. I even give you job, which, is more than most of those low-life bums out there would do.’
For a moment he paused, deliberately putting a hand to his lips as though considering another angle. He was quick to dismiss it.
‘But this is not a one way transaction, Yakov,’ he said, turning and stepping into the candle-light.
Mikhail was a large man, built like a bear and twice as hairy. His skin was clammy and hung loose about his cheeks and neck, but there was no mistaking the viciousness that lingered in his deep blue eyes. They were cold like the arctic waters, and in their lenses Yakov could make out his own youthful features, helplessly drowning as the cruel tide pulled him under.
The man blinked, and then closed his eyes. They remained closed for a good half minute as he exhaled dramatically.
‘Yakov,’ he said, his voice taking on a pained tone, ‘you’ve always been a good friend, no, a good brother. You’ve been there when I needed you. You’ve always followed my instructions just like I tell you, no?’
Yakov looked up at Mikhail as though seeing him for the first time. His expression was miserable, almost vulnerable. He looked as though he might curl up in a ball and start crying at any moment. It was all wrong.
‘Listen, Mikhail,’ began Yakov, ‘these package, I didn’t mean to–‘
‘You fucked up!’ spat the man, his expression immediately transformed into one of pure rage. ‘You fucked up, Yakov! You know what you did? Gaspah Lukov knows you were seen! He say me the guards have been to his place, and they come here next!’
Sweat dripped from Yakov’s neck. In shock at Mikhail’s outburst he had jumped from the chair and thrown himself against the wall. Now the man was standing over him, flecks of spittle spraying with every utterance. Yakov had seen the man angry before. He had seen the way he berated the street urchins when they came to him with nothing. He had even seen him beat a man bloody once, though Yakov had been careful never to ask why. Never had he seen Mikhail as angry as this though. His eyes were ablaze with barely contained hatred, and his fists were balled tightly and held above his head. The shadow cast by the candle appeared more ursine in shape than human.
‘Look, look,’ began Yakov, ‘I make it up to you. Next time, nobody see me.’
‘Mortsckha’vay,’ swore Mikhail loudly, ‘Black God take you. No one will see you next time, brother. No one at all. You know why?’
Yakov’s eyes widened as strong hands gripped tightly around his shoulders. He gritted his teeth in a failed attempt to hold back a scream of pain as meaty fingers dug deep into his flesh.
Mikhail leant forward, his face still contorted with rage, but his voice once more deceptively calm.
‘Because I’m going to bury you so deep, not even the worms will find you.’
With a swiftness that belied his bulk, Mikhail let go of Yakov’s shoulders and immediately placed an elbow against his neck. Yakov had but a moment to let loose a high pitched shriek before he felt his throat constricted. He writhed, gulping for air that he could not reach and screaming without sound.
A moment later his vision began to blur, and the form of Mikhail towering before him began to melt into a shimmering mass of darkness. He was saying something, but Yakov could barely hear it. He could make out sounds but he could not recognise them. It was as though he was hearing them through water. All he could do was stare, eyes bulging at the man that was the choke the life from him.
Then in the space of a single heartbeat the world congealed into one final explosion of colour and sound before drowning itself in blackness…