Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Borderline - Nik Jajic


It was typical Petrov tactics. You come home from a long day, open your front door, throw your coat on a chair, turn on the light, and bam. You’ve got two thugs and a Captain staring right back at you.

Ok, I owed money…but not the sort of bread that called for a late night pummeling. A few grand with points was nothing to break bones over, or at least that’s how I saw it. Of course I’ve been known to possess a slightly biased opinion when it comes to the infliction of bodily harm on yours truly.

The two muscle heads did what they always do, and that’s look mean. Dimitri on the other hand just shot me one of those “I really enjoy what I do” psychopathic smiles he was so fond of displaying.

“Gaps! Long time no see!”

It had been an unfortunate nickname, bestowed upon me during childhood, when my teeth began to follow different gravitational pulls and my mouth started to resemble a multitude of neighboring viaducts.

It was only when I began my less than stellar career in the investigation business, that the moniker converted itself into a somewhat more positive name tag. When potential clients asked, I would say it was because that’s what I did, fill in the gaps.

Dimitri stared at me with his cold, faithless eyes and I did what I could to take this all in stride, as if I was used to having these maniacs hiding in my apartment

“Hey fellas, uh… everything ok?”

“No. We need you help us wit little thing. You’re still in dirt digging business, no?”

When a nasty asshole of Dimitri’s caliber asks you something like that, you can’t help but picture yourself digging your own grave, even if you do know what he’s talking about.

“Yeah, I’m still in the game if that’s what you’re asking.”

“That is exact what I asking.” Dimitri said in a thick gurgled Russian accent.

He sighed, slowly getting up and stretching his stocky frame. He always had a mild reptilian look to him that I wasn’t sure was actually present or was something I subconsciously connected to him. His facial features definitely fit all my quotas for a snake, but now he seemed to look more like a hungry croc.

“We got gig for you, Gaps.” He continued on, as his hateful smile began to grow.

“No pay, but I can clean your debt little bit.”

My nerves were getting the better of me, I knew this was bad news, I just didn’t know how bad.

“What are we talking about here?”

“Notting big, you go south of Salvo Street and find out where hell Marty Poles is and what he up to.”

“Uh, that’s Italian turf.”

“I know dat, shitbrain. Dat why we want you do it. Marty been our eyes and ears over dere; he been our double-O Polack, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I think I follow.”

“Good, cuz I no have contact wit dat little shit, and I want make sure he still wit da program, so you find out where hell he is, and keep eye on him, few days tops. Come to me and tell me what you’ve got, and dat’s it.”

Now, I’ve worked for every corrupt piece of garbage on either side of the law and of Salvo Street for as long as I can remember, and one thing I know is Marty the Polack is really close to coming up dead. I also know I probably do not want to be involved with him whatsoever because of that. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t get to pick who you’re involved with, instead the involvers get to pick for you.

“I can start tomorrow, if you want.”

“Good. Keep in touch.”

And just like that I get dragged into shit way above my comfort zone. The Petrov’s—short for god knows what and just so happening to rhyme with nothing—ruled the North side of the city, that was Russian turf, and it was turf that had been expanded on greatly since an all out war with the South Side Italians a few years earlier.

The Italians couldn’t match the amount of foot soldiers that the Russians had, but they still had enough to be respected, and they had enough power to run the South side.

The turf wars were the bloodiest the city had ever seen, and by the time peace was finally brokered between the Russians and Italians, there were sixty-five reported casualties—including my brother. Not to mention a quarter of each organization getting new living arrangements behind bars. Although, unlike most cities, these Russians and Italians didn’t turn states evidence very easily, and major players—at least the ones left alive—stayed in power.

So what came of all that nonsense, you ask? Not much. The Russians spread their drug and prostitution rackets a bit further south, nabbing a couple extra neighborhood aldermen for political purposes along the way, and the Italians kept moving their whores and drugs wherever they could. Same old, same old.

Except with one major difference, both sides agreed to peace, and both sides agreed that Salvo Street was the border. No Italians operating North of it, and no Russians operating South of it, and god help any freelancers with shady ideas on either side of it. This was the holy rule, and Dimitri seemed a little dismissive of that. I wondered what Mr. Petrov himself would think of this breaching of the truce, I wondered if he even knew what his henchmen were up to… but it wasn’t my job to question god.

I started on this gig like I did most of my investigative work, strumming the drugged out informants and addicts in general, anyone who knew the players and could keep their mouth shut for a hit, or maybe some blow, or even a roll of the dice.

These were the kind of people I worked with; the secret eyes of the city. They were watching the game, they only pretended not to notice, and if you sifted through enough of them, you’d get the score.

Manny Moe wasn’t reliable and he sure as hell wasn’t trustworthy, but what he lacked in those qualities he more than made up for in sheer audacity. Moe floated north and south of Salvo daily. He begged, bartered, ticket scalped, sold shitty drugs and stolen goods to peers, and basically bounced from alley to alley with complete disregard of territories and consequences. The guy just didn’t give a shit, and luckily enough he wasn’t operating on a level to be noticed by the big boys, but at the same time he knew them all to well.

My luck had taken a positive turn for once, as I watched good old Manny Moe jitter back and forth on the corner in a Meth induced hysteria.

“Manny! How goes it!” I called out while strolling over to his perch.

“What up, Gaps.” He shot back, eyeing me warily.

The smell hit me square in the face. I was now standing a few feet from a manic Manny Moe, whose constant shaking was not as distracting as the layers of soot that covered his face and clothes. I hated my job more now then ever before. I took a deep breath.

“Good lord Manny, you look worse than usual, and that’s saying a lot.”

“Let me get a few bucks man.”

“I got a twenty with your name on it.”

Manny’s jittering frame slowed its fluttering; his eyes began to focus on me. This was his transformation from a needy bum, to a business man. Eye contact, this was no longer pedestrian and bum relations, we were now equals in his mind. The currency of information tying us together.

“What you need?”

“Marty the Polack…You seen him?”

“Hahaha! You still playing with fire ain’t you?!” Manny Moe smiled slyly.

“You want the money or not?”

“Shit man, you should check out Gabo’s. That fool is over there twenty four seven.”

I stuffed the bill into his battered hand and made my way deeper into the pile of shit that this case would soon become.

It had taken all of twenty four hours south of Salvo to get a location on one of the Polack’s hang outs. Gabo’s was a little night club with decent card games and nice eye candy, a place guys like Marty were born to.

There I was parked and chain smoking, watching the front door of the club. It was nestled between two run down buildings, both of which were boarded up and looked to be haunted with the bad luck of the past. I took turns staring at the door and staring at my laptop. Spending equal time waiting on Marty and looking for any info on the club online.

Time inched on, the hours slowly passing with a numbing effect. Finally, out he stumbled, fatter than I remember him being, with his arm around a leggy blonde.

They slowly wobbled across the street ending up in his Lincoln town car. The engine roared and they swerved onto the street, speeding away carelessly.

I followed in the inconspicuous manner that made me who I was. The town car zig zagged down streets, flying through red lights and cutting down side streets at a moments notice, turn signals and full stops were a thing of the past. At first I was worried that they might be onto me tailing them, the thought quickly faded as I recalled Marty's teetering walk to his ride.

The Lincoln pulled up on a curb in front of a dilapidated tenement that Marty must’ve been calling home for the time being. I slowly pulled up and parked across the street, shutting off my lights as Marty led his soon to be conquest into the building. The lights on the fourth floor apartment went on, and I typed in the buildings address as I sat there.

The internet was hell of a tool, one that could tell me everything I needed to know about the apartment building, about the club, who owned what, hell I could probably get some social security numbers if I looked hard enough. I had even gone so far as to take and pass (barely) my realtors licensing exam for the sole purpose of getting a bit more info which was withheld from the average mark.

I watched from my Oldsmobile as Marty and his lady friend did a little sloppy slow dancing in front of his bedroom window. The room went to black and I wondered briefly how good of an actress the blonde really was. I wish that could have been it, I wish I would have just put my rig in drive and taken off.

But no, I needed to reminisce on a couple of fine actresses from my less than romantic past. First rate talent, that much was for certain, always with me as their captive audience. I was almost thankful when the here and now brought me back from memory lane, almost.

It happened fast, a flash of light from the darkened window, then another, and another, and another. Whoever it was had to be using a silencer, because the street was dead quiet and no doubt so was Marty and the actress. The shock of actually knowing the hit was in progress was what froze me up, and just like that the rusted out Van on the other side of the street unleashed its doors and produced a ski mask wearing, shotgun toting maniac.

He casually walked towards my driver’s side door, pumped once, aimed, and let the cannon loose on me. The blast was deafening and the Oldsmobile shook from it. My rear driver side window exploded, with shards scraping their way across the back of my neck. My body acted in desperate measures, turning the key, I gripped the wheel, and slammed the gas pedal. Another booming shotgun blast roared somewhere behind me, as the adrenaline raced through my body.

I called Dimitri on my cell as I made the mad dash north of Salvo Street. He first cursed the Italians for their obvious disregard of the truce, and then told me to meet him at his uncle’s bar. It wasn’t too far from me, and expanding on the particulars of what had just happened was best to be done in person anyhow.

As far as I had it figured, the Italians were planning on clipping Poles, they saw that I was following him and they decided to make sure there were no witnesses to the deed, nothing to cement them to the murder.

I wondered if this would lead to war. I was shaken, and retribution was an idea I was beginning to like, but deep down I hoped this wasn’t the case.
Too many guys died last time, guys with families, maybe they weren’t on the up and up, but the thought of dead men, fatherless children, and widowed mothers was one that disturbed me greatly.

A man built like a six foot tree trunk opened the front door of Ivanov’s Bar and Grill for me. I walked in cautiously; the place was empty, and the tree trunk guy was standing in front of the doorway once more. I stood in the center of the deserted pub for a second, looking around for Dimitri in the bad lighting.

For a brief instant I thought of the masked gunman storming in to finish me, but that vanished as soon as I witnessed Dimitri attempting to zip up while exiting the men’s room on the far side of the bar.

“Gaps! Perfect timing, get ass over here and tell me what happen!” he sat down with a thud on the closest chair.

I scurried over and began my tale, as Dimitri watched and listened with cold blooded concentration. Upon finishing my recount of the night’s events, there was silence.

“Dat’s it, huh?” Dimitri said with finality.

“Yeah, I guess so.” I responded.

“Fucking Guineas just push button, now we go nuclear.” Dimitri declared in his broken English, emphasizing the last part with a thud of his fist on the table.
He got up and motioned for me to get up as well.

“Come here.” he said pulling me into a hug. “You did good, twenty percent of your debt gone.”

The embrace was finished, and it was clear that was my cue to leave. As I walked towards the exit I felt Dimitri’s reptilian eyes watching me go. All I got for risking my life was twenty percent off of a mediocre debt. I clenched my jaw in anger.

“Hey Gaps, watch yourself! Waps might still be around in van looking for you!” Dimitri roared with laughter as I left.

I took to my usual spot of contemplation, on my mattress, under the fan. Staring at the fan as it buzzed and swirled, I took a long pull of my cigarette and thought out loud. “What the hell happened?” was the first question I asked myself. Poles was definitely a goner, as was his sad eyed actress, and it didn’t seem to bother Dimitri one bit—which didn’t necessarily surprise me. What did however was his fake interest in my story. As if he knew the ending before I got there.

Even on the phone, before Dimitri was given the decoded, non-cell phone version of my story, he had immediately put it on the Italians. I knew acting, I had spent most of my life surrounded by actors: Gangsters, cops, prostitutes, and druggies, the best actors on the whole fucking planet, including Hollywood.

These were my people, they honed my skill for detecting bullshit, and that’s what I smelled on Dimitri, bullshit. There was also one little detail that he let slip.

Dimitri knew the Italians were in a van, and I was almost certain I had said they got out of a car, as I was rushing through the story. That, plus his attempts at an Oscar nomination, and his eagerness to drop the bomb so to speak, was enough to peak my curiosity. Dimitri knew more than he was letting on, and I wanted to know exactly how much more.

I retraced my steps, methodically moving from my conversations with the bottom of the barrel, to the club, to the apartment building. I checked all the angles I could from a laptop on my bed—I sure as hell wasn’t going to make another personal visit anywhere near this nonsense.

Maybe I was going in circles, looking too much into something that wasn’t there to begin with, but then the trail began to slowly reveal itself. The new emails awaited me. I got back the info on the apartment building Poles and his lady friend were now using as a grave, and it turned out the owner was none other than Dimitri’s uncle Mike Ivanov.

This little bit of information was enough to change the game completely. This little email meant that I was used; it meant that my suspicions were just, and it meant that Dimitri was indeed up to something. I dug deeper, the club was definitely Italian owned, the two boarded up store fronts on either side of it however, were not. Ivanov’s name popping up once again.

Whatever Ivanov owned, Dimitri owned that much I knew, and it was becoming more apparent that Dimitri owned quite a bit of property south of Salvo Street.

He knew where Poles was all along, how could he not? The guy was living in Dimitri’s goddamn building.

The question now was why he wanted me to find Poles and keep an eye on him, to begin with, and how did the Italians figure into all of this.

They were waiting for Poles inside the building, and that van was parked outside the building before I got there. So the Italians following us was out of the question.

Fresh air was needed. Pulling back the blinds and lifting the window open in one swift gesture, I took in the cool fall afternoon. Leaning on the windowsill I stretched out my back slowly, staring down at the pedestrians walking back and forth three floors underneath me, carrying on with their everyday lives, oblivious to the people that walked amongst them. A man walked hand in hand with a child, no more then eight or nine years old. The boy looked up at the man smiling; he asked the man a question I couldn’t quite hear, only the murmur of his innocent voice.

A sudden wave of sadness overtook me, thoughts of my own childhood, thoughts of fatherless children, thoughts of widowed wives, and grieving mothers. An all out war between the Russians and Italians could be close, and it would be because I told Dimitri that they killed Poles, and attempted to do so to me as well.

Neither the Russians, nor the Italians, stood to gain anything from this. Turf was valuable, but it wasn’t the sort of valuable that was worth a war, it wasn’t the Middle East for Christ sake. In fact the only one who would truly profit would be Dimitri.

After all the war would just lead to the Russians sooner or later taking more of the South Side. Which meant all properties just south of Salvo Street would now be under their umbrella, which in turn meant that Dimitri stood to have quite the monopoly to do with as he pleased, without fearing the Italians wrath.

He could turn himself from an everyday Captain, into a major player within his organization… and that’s when I realized just what all of this meant, and what I’d have to do to at least live the rest of my quite possibly very short life with a conscience not completely soaked in guilt.

The monolithic building loomed over the street like an ominous wraith. My nerves had begun rattling rapidly as I stood there. I was taking quite a leap in faith assuming that Dimitri did this on his own, behind Mr. Petrov’s back… but it felt right, and my instincts were the only thing I could rely on anymore.

Still, I wasn’t just going to walk into Mr. Petrov’s place without letting a few people I could trust know where I would be. After all if Petrov did set this whole thing up, then the information I was going to give him would already be known to him, and I would just be a guy who knew too much. Walking into my own death was not an idea I liked all that much, and if the shit did go down, maybe he’d think twice if I told him that more than a few people knew I was there.

The thick necked doorman stared at me through mirrored sunglasses, expressionless.

“May I help you?” he asked in a reserved tone.

“I, um… I need to see Mr. Petrov.”

“I’m sorry sir, but Mr. Petrov isn’t in.” The man put his left hand to his ear, listening to someone from his ear piece, very cloak and dagger I thought.

The man once again focused his full attention on me.

“Mr. Petrov will see you.” The doorman stepped out from behind the desk and closer to me now.

“Please turn around and lift your arms up.” He frisked me quickly but professionally, this was a task he had no doubt done many times before.

“Take the elevator up to the fifteenth floor.” He said.

It appeared that the doorman from downstairs had a twin brother who was waiting for me as the doors opened on the fifteenth floor. He didn’t say a word as he gestured me towards a large oak door.

I entered the office of Mr. Petrov. The cavernous room took up most of the floor. It was a large, well decorated penthouse with art and furniture that was no doubt quite expensive. The bodyguard twins were actually septuplets, and the remainder of them stood at attention against different walls around the office as if they were living sculptures.

Mr. Petrov stood with his back to me at the far end of the office. Gazing out the large windows, he turned slightly to address me.

“Please sit down.”

I did as I was told, sinking into an enormous leather chair. Mr. Petrov turned around slowly, first giving me a once over and finally staring into my eyes. I broke away from his gaze and looked down at the floor. There was no need to provoke him.

He wore what can only be described as the nicest suit ever made. He was a good looking man, older, maybe mid sixties, with angular features, and strange, observant eyes.

“You are the one they call Gaps, no?”

Pushing through my rapidly increasing flight factor I responded,

“I uh, I am.”

Mr. Petrov stepped closer now; he was five feet away and standing over me.

“I knew your Father and your Brother, not well, but well enough to know that they were real men.”

His remarks triggered an underlying anger somewhere within my fear soaked body. “Thanks… Before we get any further, I want you to know that more than a few people know where I am right now.”

Smiling slightly he stepped back a few feet and sat down slowly in one of the giant leather chairs opposite of mine.

“Heh… I’m no boogie man, Gaps. Now, tell me why you are here.”

I swallowed hard, “I did a job for Dimitri Ivanov, and I wanted to tell you what I know before anything drastic happened.”

Mr. Petrov was expressionless “So, tell me.”

“Dimitri hired me to find Marty Poles and keep an eye on him. Poles was South of Salvo, and he got dead, Dimitri blamed it on the Italians, but Marty got dead in an apartment building that Dimitri’s uncle owns, and not just that, but Dimitri and his Uncle have recently purchased quite a few other properties just south of Salvo.” I took a breath.

Mr. Petrov stood up slowly once more, stuffing his hands in his pockets he slowly slinked back to his giant window.

“And you think Dimitri is responsible for Poles, not the Italians.”

“Yes I do, Sir.”

Mr. Petrov was once again gazing out at the city. “You haven’t read the paper today, have you?”

“No I haven’t.” I responded.

“Well, it’s on my desk, take a look.”

I walked over to his desk and picked it up, straightening out the newspaper in my hands.

“Go to page three.” Mr. Petrov said coolly.

Page three had a small story about a club being fire bombed last night. I glanced over it, my eyes immediately being drawn to the photograph that was alongside the article. A photograph of a burned out building, one that looked all too familiar. It was the place that I saw Poles and his blonde walking out of. My body reacted, hairs standing, and skin prickling. According to the article the charred remains of nine people were found inside. It had already begun.

“W-what does this mean?” I nervously asked.

“You know what it means.” He responded.

Still looking out the window he continued, “Thank you for your honesty.”

“So you didn’t know about Dimitri and Poles?” I asked.

Mr. Petrov stared out at the gloomy sky, “No.”

“What happens now?” I asked, already knowing the answer but wanting to hear what he planned to do.

“What always happens in times of war. Hell will have its way.”

I placed the paper back neatly on his desk. I had no more questions, no more thoughts.

My desire to do what was right had left as quickly as it came. These events were too much, and they would only become more consuming, and I was once again no one, just another civilian peering in from the outside. This no longer concerned me, my case was now closed. I bid Mr. Petrov farewell.

The rain was falling hard as I stepped out of the building, I fished through my pockets for a lighter that wasn’t there, and then I slowly made my way home. The rain never let up.

BIO: I'm thirty years old and I currently reside in Chicago-land. Two of my graphic novels have been picked up by seperate publishers and will be released in the summer of 09. The first is "The Big Bad Book", which is due out by Alterna Comics. The second is "Loosely Based", which is due out around the same time by Arcana Comics. I've also had film and book reviews published by Lumino magazine, and poetry published by XND magazine.

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