CHAPTER 2 – Nicholas & Nickki
Collectively written by iPinion Syndicate contributors Debra DeAngelo, Gary Huerta, Kate Laddish, David Lacy, Jesse Loren, Matt Najmowicz, Maya Spier North, Theresa Reichman, Gretchen Rollins, Kelvin Wade
Viktor Lazarev sat in the back of Katarina’s Tea Room social club sipping vodka from a jewel-encrusted chalice through a haze of Turkish cigar smoke. Yuri Chernenko, a bullheaded thick necked, crew-cutted man in an enormous gray coat sat across from him popping pickled olives into his mouth in between draws on a tiny cigarette.
A door alarm chimed and another man reading a newspaper near the door leapt to his feet and seized a slightly built teenaged boy holding a crumpled box.
“He’s okay,” Viktor called. “It is my nephew, Nicholas.”
The man let the boy go, giving the kid’s rumpled coat a few brushes and then stuffing some rubles into the boy’s coat pocket.
Nicholas walked through the empty club and set the box on the table in front of Lazarev.
“Nicholas, you look good. What is this you’ve brought to me?”
“Tea cakes. Mama made them.”
“Ahhh… yes. Made with the good sugar from India?”
“Yes. The way you like them.”
Yuri Chernenko sucked olive juice from his fingers and peeled a wad of dollars from a roll and shoved them into Nicholas’ coat pocket.
“Dollars. Spend them at the Villa on Saturday. The police say anything, you tell them Yuri say it’s okay,” Chernenko said and went back to eating his olives.
“Where you going today?” Viktor asked, taking a sip from his chalice.
“The parade for the new General Secretary. Gorbachev. I’m going to watch it with my friend Alex,” Nicholas said, his voice soft like a music box.
“Since when is that boy your friend? His father is GRU. You can’t trust those types,” Viktor said, rummaging through the cardboard box for a tea cake. “Plus you told me last week he called you a pidar.”
“I’m sure he was kidding, Uncle Viktor,” Nicholas said, his eyes focused on the flecks of snow on his shoes.
“Never take shit in life, Nicholas. If you let someone push you down, they’ll treat you like a carpet. Go to your parade.”
As soon as Nicholas left the club, Yuri poured himself and Viktor more vodka and then wiped his hands on a towel on the table.
Yuri reached for another pickle. “No disrespect, boss, but your nephew doesn’t seem like the most masculine boy.”
The comment hung in the air like a harsh dog fart and Yuri could sense Viktor tensing up. Before he could apologize, Viktor had seized Yuri’s hand and put out his cigar in the back of it. Yuri toppled backwards in his chair holding his hand with his other one, howling in pain while the man at the door dropped his newspaper and stood at attention.
“Whether that boy is my nephew or he turns out to be my fucking niece, no one is ever going to fuck with him!” Viktor barked before taking a bite of the tea cake.
“The Indian sugar makes all the difference, you know.”
Nickki stood silently over Archie. If she didn’t get him up and moving — and soon — the whole scheme was going to unravel. And, given how much she’d sacrificed, there was absolutely no fucking way in hell Nickki was going to let that happen. Unfortunatley, the unholy mixture of blood and Thousand Island dressing dripped and swirled off the hood of the car onto the pavement triggered the memory of the innocuous day so much had started changing for her.
“Eat your borscht.”
Now there was a voice Nickki hadn’t heard in a long time.
Nickki buried the flashback, tucked her gun into her low-slung waistband, ground out her cigarette under her right boot, and set about extricating a bleary-eyed, Eagles-quoting Archie from the tangle of bodies and metal.
“Nicholas, stop staring out the window and eat your borscht!”
Nicholas dragged his eyes back in, from the dispiriting view of concrete and dirty snow outside his family’s Moscow apartment, to the table and watched his mother stir an extra dollop of sour cream into the deep red of his soup.
“Now, eat that up. Don’t you want to grow up to be strong like Papa?” Nicholas and his mother both pretended they didn’t hear the quaver in her voice at the sentence’s close.
Papa, who Nicholas hadn’t seen since before last May Day. Papa, who, one April morning, had straightened Nicholas’ Young Pioneers neckerchief, kissed Mama and told her he’d be a little late for dinner, picked up his always-present sturdy briefcase, and headed out of their apartment to his far-too-secret government job. Papa.
Nicholas fought against tears, telling himself that Soviet boys of 10 shouldn’t — couldn’t — wouldn’t cry. But his mother could tell.
“Do you know what a chameleon is?”
It was her way of making the boy think. His father led the double life to protect them and he needed to understand that. What she didn’t intend was for him to know about her own duplicity, the man two flights down, the grizzled cheeks and thalo blue in his seductive eyes.
“Nicholas, look at me when I talk to you! It is not strictly the lizard itself of which I speak.”
“Lizards grow new tails. Everyone leads a double life. And people buy new arms, Mama.”
As Nickki weighed out the value of arguing with a voice insider her head, a prosthetic arm caught her attention. It lay at a right angle atop an ant hill, with the hand palm up. The impact of the crash had broken off two of the fingers, allowing the middle one to silently curse the fates.
A damning wind had picked up. While Nickki firmly believed in exfoliating, each gust slammed her face with large dirt granules, and the new hairpiece was causing her scalp to itch.
“How much would a treatment like this cost on Rodeo Drive?”
Archie appeared a little fucked up, but he would be fine. She held out a hand to help him up. Although time was of the essence, she allowed herself a moment to absorb the details of the scene as he grunted and moaned, struggling to his feet. Her photographic memory was a gift she was eternally grateful for.
In Archie’s distressed state, Nickki could smell the luscious odor of… dinner.
“Where’s the money?” she asked Archie.
“Not in that one,” he looked at the finger-flipping fake arm and shrugged, wincing a bit. He was going to be discovering a whole shitload of new bruises.
Nickki put on her, “Well?” face and canted one hip impatiently.
“It’s under there,” Archie shrugged again, jerking his head toward the steaming belly of the upended car.
“And this is a problem why?” Nickki asked insouciantly as she swayed over to the car on her five-inch fuck-me heels. She bent down, giving Archie a view that had him gulping and struggling to catch his breath, grabbed the side of the car and with little effort, flipped it into the air and over, where it landed in a clang of anguished metal.
“An eternally tight ass isn’t the only advantage to being vampire,” Nickki said as she adjusted her skirt.
A labored groan came from the tangle of bloodied bodies. A cough. A whimper. Nickki whipped her head around to discover Veronica’s fingers twitching… lips moving, mouthing something… Bbb… bbbb…. Betty…
“Bitch is dead, you skank.”
Nickki stalked over to Veronica, whose eyes filled with terror when they opened to see the face of the “woman” who knew exactly what was in that briefcase, and would kill to get it. She positioned one stiletto heel over one bloodied blue eye socket.
“Please, Nickki! PLEASE!”
“Please, oh please,” Nickki mocked. “Now it’s please, is it? How about ‘thank you’ for not killing you when I had a chance.”
Nicki lowered her heel within an eyelash of that crystal blue eye, the one that had once looked at her with such love and lust, and paused.
“What are we going to do about this?”
Archie struggled to recompose himself and actually remember that he had to deliver the briefcase. Now the love of his life was involved with his Cloak and Dagger scheme — something absolutely unforeseen in Archie’s mind.
Archie leered at Betty and then wryly said, “That diseased cunt is still alive? Do you know how much money I could get if I deliver her alive? Veronica is worth money to certain people in dark circles.”
He raised his voice, “You hear me ho bag? Nikki and I are taking you to your pals… the Russian Mafia! I could get a cool quarter of a million dollars for you… 125 grand for each pretty little titty they are going to rip apart. Nickki darling, in my back pocket are a pair of handcuffs. Let’s shackle this bitch and take her in.”
To celebrate their good fortune, Nickki bent over passionately and kissed Archie on the mouth. She let a fang slide across his bottom lip, and cut it just enough to get a taste. Veronica, on the other hand, had no intention of letting the party continue without a fight.
“Archie, I didn’t know you were into chicks that pee standing up.”
Archie looked at Veronica with a scowl. “Oh. Why so bitter?”
Nickki grabbed a piece of T-shirt, tore it in half, placed one half into Veronica’s mouth and used the other half to secure it. Nickki winked into Veronica’s eye as she stood her up and without warning delivered a fist to Veronica’s stomach and snickered.
Veronica gasped for air. What she got was mostly shirt.
As Nickki was winding up to take another shout, Archie suddenly realized if he didn’t calm Nickki down, his $250,000 could easily be dead and worthless in a flash.
“Nickki, we need to move. We have to deliver this case and then drop Veronica off. She’s no good to us dead. I’ll hang on to Veronica. You get us a ride.”
Nikki smiled and unbuttoned her blouse a few buttons. She hiked up her mini-dress a bit.
“Hun, you don’t wanna do that.”
“Your balls are dropping.”
“Oh shit… sorry.”
“Let me get those for you…”
Archie put his hands up Nikki’s dress and helped her re-position.
“That is a tight ass,” Archie whispered.
“As tight as the day we met,” Nickki answered as she walked towards the road with her thumb extended.
Staff Sergeant Archie Dunn had just finished his tour with the Marine Corp. They were devastated when he said he didn’t want to re-up again – he had been one of their most decorated members in the Marine Force Recon – and in such a short time. He was a nomad at heart and didn’t want to be tied down to anything or anyone. Without so much as a pet to call “family” back home, Archie decided to stay awhile in Russia, where his final mission had taken place.
It wasn’t long after he hit the civilian streets that word got out about his highly lethal status. Before he knew it, strangers were sending him messages. Once he lobbed off a chunk of bread still hot from the baker only to find a piece of parchment with a name scribbled on it and a bank note for 3,000,000 rubles. As it turned out, the name was Viktor Lazarev, a well-known member of the Russian Mafia who took what he damn well pleased.
Viktor had fancied the baker’s daughter, but once he was through with her, he merely sent her back home again with a busted lip, a few broken ribs, and a proverbial blood-red letter stitched to her breast. Letting the baker’s daughter live was Viktor’s way of hiring the baker as his own personal, yeasty messenger service.
Viktor was dependable that way.
Viktor Lazarev also happened to be Nicholas’ great uncle. The meeting of Archie Dunn and Nickki Lazarev, well, it was destiny.
When Archie learned the story of the baker’s daughter – and of Viktor’s willingness to use a loaf of rye bread as a delivery medium for less savory activities – he took a special liking to the man. And when he discovered that after the baker had outlived his usefullness he’d been placed into an oven and cooked at 400 degrees until flaky? Like turned to love.
Archie’s first up-close encounter with Viktor occurred at a café outside the Leo Tolstoy Museum in Moscow. Much to Archie’s surprise, Viktor admitted to being a fan of his particular brand of violence as well. It was a mutual admiration society for the socially depraved.
“So, Archie Dunn. Tell me why a Midwestern boy is staying well beyond his welcome in Russia while his little wife is playing ‘house’ all by herself back in Kansas.”
“Same difference Mr. Dunn.”
Viktor stroked a stubble of stray chin hairs and leaned forward.
“So, you will not answer? You are … what do you call it – an enigma?”
“No. No enigma. No mystery. It’s been years since I’ve seen her. But you would know that. Since you already know where she lives, right?”
“Most would think this is better reason to reunite, no? Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that shit, nyet?”
“Nyet.” Archie paused and decided how much he wished to divulge. He soon decided to fuck it and throw caution to the wind.
“I haven’t aged a second in six years,” Archie near-whispered.
“What is this?”
“I haven’t seen my wife in seven years and I haven’t aged in six. Ever since the experiments.”
“Experiments, da. This is what I figured,” Viktor Lazarev smiled, scratching the wattle of his neck.
But no way could Lazarev imagine what Archie had been through and what capabilities the experiments had left him with. How could even the Russian Mafia stand up to Tripod?
A ringing sound beneath the table almost startled Archie into leaping to his feet but the old man raised a hand and then reached down into a shopping bag and pulled out a large green phone the size of the vodka bottle Archie had conquered the night before at the safehouse. He spoke briefly in Russian and then put the phone back in the bag as a screeching murder of crows buzzed the café overhead, causing several patrons to reflexively duck their heads.
“I have a package for you to deliver to America. My great-niece Nickki.”
“Nickki is bringing the package?” Archie asked.
“Nickki is the package. She bit the GRU director’s son. She must to leave.”
The old man was up on his feet now, fumbling with his novel and shopping bag, moving like a penguin, disappearing inside the café, never looking back.
Down Lva Tolstoga Street came a speeding black sedan that sent the outdoor café patrons scrambling, knocking over tables and coffee mugs. It was being chased by a speeding grey sedan, this one with a man in a black suit hanging out the passenger side window firing shots from a semiautomatic pistol that echoed off the stone structures lining the street making five shots sound like fifteen.
Just as Archie was kicking over the metal table to use as a shield and slipping the Walther PPK out of his ankle holster, the first sedan skidded to a halt next to him pelting him with pebbles. Archie locked eyes with the driver of the parked sedan, a busty young blonde with coal black lipstick wearing a black trenchcoat. Long blood red fingernails peeled back the coat revealing a plump pale titty with a fat pink nipple like a baby’s tongue.
Customers ducked under their own tables while the back window of the parked sedan exploded from a gunshot. Archie returned fire at the approaching car, drilling the shooter hanging out the passenger window in the eye. He fired a tight group of shots into the windshield and the driver lost control of the vehicle and took out a row of abandoned sweets and souvenir vendor carts.
It rolled to a stop next to the other sedan, its windshield wipers metronomically gliding across the windshield while its twin occupants leaned out either window leaking scarlet from their eye sockets.
Slipping into the open passenger window of the blonde’s car while the screams died down on the street, Archie landed in the front seat, taking the breath he’d held since Viktor’s leaving.
“Nickki, I presume?” he offered.
“Da, darling!” she cooed and mashed the gas pedal with a stiletto heeled shoe.
Her trenchcoat whipped open with sudden acceleration and Archie reached over, gliding his fingertips over her breast, down her bare midriff finally resting his exploring digits on her…
“Yowzah!” Archie barked.
Under gray skies in 28 degree weather, four huge green trucks lumbered by, vibrating the sidewalks, carrying long cylindrical SS-18 ICBMs past the cheering crowds gathered along the street. A regiment of Russian Spetsnaz troops highstepping in black camouflage, holding Kalashnikovs, came stomping by next. The crowd, waving thousands of small red Soviet flags, roared their approval.
Nicholas, his friend Alex and three other teenage boys stood near a gray streetlamp awaiting the arrival of the limousine carrying the new General Secretary. To be accepted by this group meant everything to Nicholas. Alex Andrei was one of the most popular kids in school. Half of that was due to his father’s high-placed job in the defense intelligence unit. The other half was about Andrei’s prowess on the football field. Alex was a gifted athlete who’d first became friends with Nicholas when he let him cheat off his paper in science class.
“Here he comes!” Alex called out, giving a smirking look to the three other boys.
Nicholas was straining to see past the other people in the crowd who were constantly jockeying for better positions. Just as a black limo with red flags on the corners of it rolled into view on the snow dusted streets, Alex snatched Nicholas’ pants down to his ankles.
There he stood as a light snow fell, in front of the new General Secretary, with his pants around his ankles, his pale legs exposed all the way up to his pink flowered panties.
Alex and the three other boys screamed with laughter but Nicholas couldn’t hear them. He couldn’t hear the band playing or the people cheering or any other sound save the thudding of his own heart in his chest. His tears felt hot against his icy cheeks as he reached down and raised his pants to his waist. Nicholas was running, holding his pants up with one hand, away from the parade, past horsemounted police and shops, while his snickering friends gave chase, yelling that he was a faggot.
As he ran, Nicholas realized that it wouldn’t matter how many bowls of borscht he ate, how many sit-ups he did in the morning, how hard he tried on the football field, whether he was good at academics or whether or not he was even a good person. He couldn’t be the man of the house at home like his mother wanted because in the final analysis he was simply….
He bolted into a side alley which he quickly realized was a mistake because it was a dead-end with a red brick wall at the end. Ironically, someone had spraypainted Вы педик (you’re a faggot) on the wall in white paint. Nicholas turned, tears frozen to his cheeks, his breaths billowing from this mouth in white puffs. Alex and the others were approaching, laughing and pointing at him.
From behind Nicholas came a rustle. Then a shadow. Followed by the gut feeling of immense dread. His tormentors froze in their tracks, their eyes wide and their mouths sagging open like four juvenile paintings of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. They turned and fled, knocking over garbage cans as they scrambled to get away.
Nicholas turned and faced an African woman who stood at least 6 1/2 feet tall on black stiletto heeled leather boots. The black cloak draped around her parted in the middle revealing a taut naked ebony body with dark black pointed nipples. Her hair was barely there, a closely cropped, stark white, Velcro pad.
She looked down at him with black eyes that left no room for whites and when she opened her bright red lips, her mouth showed row upon row of glistening fangs. He turned to run but a taloned hand grabbed him by his coat, lifting him off his feet, tufts of down spiraling down to the snow.
She held his pale neck to her mouth like a ripe pomegranate and feasted as lines of crimson ran down the boy’s neck.
His body went slack for the last time.
Throbbing pain. Darkness. The smell of dead roses.
“Is this hell? Am I dead? No… Dead people don’t feel pain.”
The sensation that his skin was burning off brought Nikolai to his senses. As his eyes got used to the candlelight, he found himself in what he could only surmise to be a brothel. Red carpet, red walls, red furniture, red. Drawing the blankets up around his sweating, shivering frame, Nicholas let out a moan so desperate he startled even himself.
A cigarette glowed from the shadows and a French-accented alto voice purred, “It’s about time. Mon Dieu, did you always sleep like this?”
The Nubian Princess of Darkness rose from her chaise longue in the shadows, clad only in a studded leather g-string, thigh-high patent-leather boots, and ropes upon ropes of black pearls. She sauntered across the room, a goblet in her hand, and sat on the edge of the bed. In the dim light, she glistened as if lit from within.
“What’s your name, child?”
“I am Balquis. Are you thirsty?”
“I’m… yes. Please.”
She placed the drink on the table and helped Nikolai struggle to a sitting position. As he reached for the drink, she bit her wrist, and placed the trickle of crimson to his lips. Nikolai recoiled in horror but once he caught scent of her blood, he drank. Deeply.
The sun feels… good, Nickki thought as she broke the middle finger off the dirty prosthetic arm. Nickki always regarded the notion that vampires could only survive in the dark of the night to be the most amusing misconception about her kind. Even more ridiculous than the belief that vampires existed solely off the blood of humans. While sampling virtually every type of race mankind had to offer – and her favorite was Irish – she had likewise discovered culinary jewels most people would never experience in a number of lifetimes. Ironically, it was not an urban myth that most of the more exotic meats tasted like chicken.
What mortals did not realize is that chicken also tasted like the Portuguese.
It was during her first days with Balquis that Nickki discovered a disdain of inefficiency and a talent for acting without any remorse whatsoever. It was as if all tolerance was sucked out of her along with the blood that fed her maker. She became a mechanized, brutal machine capable of orchestrating chaos on any level to achieve her goals.
Nickki’s first inkling of this newly developed skill set came after she had awakened and drunk her first sip of O negative. Still hungry and craving salt, she wandered into a small store for whatever sodium-filled junk food was available.
Not knowing the rules governing the rest of the world no longer applied to her, Nickki stood patiently in line waiting to pay for two bags of chips. In front of her was an old man, struggling to pay for a bottle of vodka. He complained about the price as he fumbled from pocket to pocket to gather enough coins to cover the cost. To Nickki, the exchange took way too long and she could feel her blood boiling. Trying not to lose control, she fidgeted, looked around and literally bit her lip with fangs she was not yet aware existed.
The taste of her own blood ran from her mouth and gave her an immediate erection. But unlike the shame dumped upon her at the hands of schoolmates, Nickki felt nothing.
The word took on a whole new meaning. Instead of absence, “nothing” felt liberating. She might have dropped her pants and satisfied the craving of her own boner in front of everyone were it not for the hatred she felt for the old man wasting her time.
The old man finally had enough loose change to pay for his fucking bottle of vodka and left the store. Nickki paid for her two bags of chips and with erection in full salute, calmy walked out of the store. She put her nose in the air – an entirely new instinct – picked up the scent of the old man, and turned left.
The old man was only fifteen feet ahead.
“You dropped some of your money.”
The old man turned, the bottle already opened and half drunk. “Be a good boy and bring it here.”
As cold as the Russian night, Nickki walked up to the old man.
“You wasted my time in that store, old man. Now go waste God’s.”
With one quick windmilling motion, she slammed her right fist down so hard upon the man’s head it literally exploded. Bits of brain and bone covered Nickki, who casully opened the first bag of chips and walked away.
“Ever more, justice will be swift for those who fuck with me.”
True to her word, it was Nickki’s methodical rampage, which helped her traverse every continent without morality as a companion, leading her to the shit dust bowl where her talents laid all over the road for everyone to see.
It wasn’t more than 15 minutes before a car slowed to get a better look at the long pair of legs coming out of the short skirt by the side of the road. Before the car had time to come to a complete stop, Nickki was graciously helping the driver out of the vehicle. Piece by piece.
Archie wanted to have a look from his hiding place behind the tree, but knew better than to disturb Nickki while she was working. When the coast was clear, she’d give him the signal.
About a minute later, a head rolled past the tree.
“We’re good to go!” Archie pulled Veronica over to the car. The trunk was already open and Nickki was behind the wheel – the model of efficiency. Archie tossed Veronica in the trunk and got in the car.
In one swift motion, Nickki hit the gas and grabbed a Red Bull from glove box biting the can in the middle. As she drank from the fang holes, liquid dripped down her neck and through the ravine between her breasts. Before the impulse could reach his cerebral cortex, Archie licked up every spare drop.
“Not now, Bunker, we have a lot of ground to cover.”