I knocked on Grandmother’s door and shouted ‘Piotr bolezen.’ She came promptly. The Old Man kept her busy. In her boudoir I slipped into her nightshift. Her bed scratched and bit me like a feral cat and her parrot swore at me incessantly.
When day passed away, he came. As Rabchenko lurched into the bedroom I saw a thickset man, but slightly shorter than me in height. A mat of untidy hair pasted down with gel lay over his round, muscly face. He was a sharp dresser with a mohair suit, white shirt and brogues. But in spite of this sophistication, a hint of vodka stalked him.
“Hello, Babushka,” he said.
“Hello my dear Sashoochka,” I said.
“My, Babushka, what big eyes you have…”
“All the better to see my handsome Sashoochka,” I said.
“My, Babushka, what big arms you have…”
“All the better to hold and hug my Sashoochka,” I said.
I threw back the covers and leapt from the bed. The mites had had their feed of me. I aimed for the shadow by the door.
“My, Babushka, what a big knife you have,” said Rabchenko.
“All the better to cut your throat, Sashoochka,” I said.
I lunged with the glinting blade, which struck something soft and pliant then crunched on something hard. Clamped teeth stifled a yell. I stood back, sick swilling in my abdomen. Then Rabchenko’s denim-covered knee caught me between my thighs.
His fingers felt hot against my throat. I struggled for breath. He pulled the knife from my weak hand. The room grew darker… and darker. Sausage sized slaughterer’s digits squeezed air from me like a butcher squeezing giblets through a plastic bag. I tried to wrestle with him but he pinioned me. He had the knife, and raised it, ready to strike.
It fell with force.
I caught hold of Rabchenko’s arm just in time. Rabchenko forced the knife down. I could see a flash of Death through the dark. The cold fang kissed my neck. His weight gathered behind the hefty blade. I brought my other hand up to staunch the inexorable tide. The slaughterer’s fingers clenched mine. And the fang dug into my reddened neck. It was only a matter of time…
After a few seconds I looked up. My lungs still rasped for breath in air thick with chicken stew. My eyes grew accustomed to the light. I saw the room, the bed, other pieces of furniture, and Motorbike Man. He stood over me with one hand on his hip, while the other swung a thick bike chain. Rabchenko groaned beside me. Motorbike Man pointed at him.
I got gingerly to my feet and gripped the knife. It felt heavier still as I lifted it. My free hand filled with Rabchenko’s greasy locks. I eased his moaning head back and lay the razor-sharp blade across his throat. I looked down and my gut came up. Was this right? Why did I have to do this? Who was he to me? And who was I to take another’s life? He’d done nothing to me… except… except he’d nearly killed me. If I didn’t do this… Rabchenko stirred. He moved round like the slow tick of a fading watch. If I didn’t do this now, he would come after me. He would hunt me down, and I wouldn’t be granted a reprieve. The knife sank under my weight and tore the racketeer’s flesh asunder. Bone cracked. Warm liquid spilled over my hand. My teeth clenched as my drought-dry mouth stuck. I retched. Air froze in my nostrils, heavy with the stench of iron. Rabchenko’s mouth gurgled and spat, and his glass-like eyes winked in the depth of a dead winter night. I pressed on. The knife careered down and bit the carpet. Rabchenko’s face rolled away from me.
I staggered to my feet and looked round. I was alone of the living in this room of death. So I ran. I ran for the door and to the dark silent stairwell beyond. Each flight hurried past me to see the wicked thing I’d done. I stumbled through the protesting entrance-doors and out onto packed-snow and sludge. I ran. I ran past old people in furs and boots who stopped and stared. I ran past faceless buildings gathering to witness my flight, wanting to see my crime and my punishment.
Eventually I reached the town centre. A group of teenagers stared at me as I bundled by. At the top of some escalators leading to a hot and noisy Hell, a weak light pointed the way to a public toilet. I handed a stoic babushka a coin and dashed for the nearest stall. My face sank to the foul and filthy hole in the floor in that sordid confession box. Vary-coloured vomit came for my sins until only venomous bile remained. I filled the bowl and it overflowed. Foul emulsion swelled round my limbs lifting my clothes, lifting me, and carrying me on. I floated helplessly down like a victim of a shipping disaster caught in the vortex of a stricken vessel. I swam against the dark, against the press of a tight tube; smothered; breathless and airless; oxygen squeezed from my lungs. I choked. I coughed.
“You all right, mate?” someone said.
A crowd of curious eyes stared down at me. I could feel was the cold and damp of the pavement. I looked up, at the café, at hungry faces around me eager for news and a story to tell.
“I… I feel… I-I had a strange…”
“Do you need an ambulance? I’ll call one…” said Café-woman, as her builder boyfriend stood at her shoulder staring down at me.
“No,” I said.
“You’re bleeding,” said Café-woman.
Something dripped from my hands.
“I’m okay,” I said, coming to myself: “I just need to… to wash up and get something to eat…”
“Yer breakfast’s still inside, love,” said Café-woman.
I went back into the café, to the toilets, and washed my hands of the Rabchenko affair. I cleaned the clammy sweat and sweet wet of rain from my face, and returned to my table.
Eyes still filled with curiosity followed me as I sat down. I ignored them. My breakfast and newspaper waited. Although as cold as the water felt on my tepid skin, I gulped down the food. Then I pushed the stained plate away and drew buxom Ruby towards me. She slid over to me as I cradled a lukewarm coffee in clean hands. Next to Ruby Riding Hood Likes It Fast stern words informed me that the Russian authorities were looking for an Englishman in connection with the brutal murder of a racketeer. The victim’s name? Oliksandr Rabchenko. Cold, sweet coffee flowed down my parched throat. I closed the newspaper, folded it, and pushed it from me. I was okay. Those Russian cops would never find me. Besides, I had a perfect alibi.