Red Riding-Hood and the Racketeer Rabchenko

kogler8

 

We stood face to face, Motorbike Man and me. He nodded at my few nervous questions, before I asked: “Are you waiting for someone?” As his visor rose and fell again, I asked “Who?” In answer he jabbed me in the chest with a leather-clad finger.

I stared at him.

“About a year ago it happened…” The statement arrested my attention above the noise of the place with its builders starting their day; night workers finishing theirs; and salesmen planning the seduction of bored housewives. The air was thick with talk and laughter, and the smell of burnt toast and frying sausages. Through this chaos and clashing cutlery those words reached me. What happened about a year ago? I thought as I tightened my collar. In spite the heat bellowing from the kitchen, I felt the cold roll in every time someone opened the door.

I looked up from my paper spread out on the table, from the image of a young bare breasted woman wearing a bright red thong and cape straddling a powerful motorbike under the saucy missive Ruby Riding Hood Likes it Fast, and stared at the conversation.

“About a year ago it was… yeah… right out front,” Café-woman told her builder boyfriend. “A Biker. Car hit him. Some foreign guy was driving it. Polish or Russian, or somethin’. Didn’t stand a chance, poor bugger…”

“The Russian?” said Builder Boyfriend.

“No. The Motorbike Man.”

“What was he riding?”

“A bike,” said Café-woman.

Motorcyclist killed.

Yeah. I remembered. The road was shut for hours. I glanced out the window, and there he was. Motorbike Man stood opposite the café under the same sick-yellow light that illuminated teardrops of condensation etching patterns on the misty panes. My breakfast puffed on its plate in front of me, but I got up and went outside.

Cold air chewed at my flesh. The damp slapped me like a wet fish on Friday. The street was quiet. Away to my left some headlamps winked, and a cat stole across the road. I approached Motorbike Man. He didn’t move. He just stared at my feet. So I said: “Can I help you?” Damp glistened on his black leather and red lid. He continued to stare down, as if waiting. Then he nodded. At my question, Who are you waiting for? a finger jab my chest. I looked into his face. Well, I say “looked into”… When he lifted his visor and I looked into…, I saw… nothing.

A bottomless hollow of vacancy drew me in like the opening of a vacuum. The thunder of Hell filled my ears. The feeling of wind and rain, sleet and snow gripped me by the nape and hurled me forward. I was squeezed through a tube; oxygen crushed from my lungs. But sick-light followed me and I could smell its presence on my clothes; in my hair; in my mouth. My past reached down my throat and pulled me out…

When I opened my eyes again I was sitting on a bench seat in a tram… somewhere.

The carriage bounced and bumped along at each bend and twist in the track, its wheels squealing like spoilt children. On the bench opposite sat a young woman. A red-brown sable coat lay open against the bare wooden seat. Under the fur coat all she wore were knickers, as red as her hair flowing across her shoulders. As the streetcar bounced so too did her pert breasts and her crossed legs in their knee-high leather boots. I watched her as a voice above me murmured. I looked up and an old man spoke in words I couldn’t understand. I looked back at the girl, hoping she might help me understand, hoping she might notice me. But she just stared at the nothingness beyond the pane. I looked at the old man, then down the train. I hoped he wouldn’t repeat himself. Like cantankerous sheep his fellow travellers leaned with each pitch and sway. The air was thick with dry frost. And my fellow travellers weren’t about to thaw it either. The tramcar was two thirds full: one-third people wearing ashen aspects and another third their dense winter coats.

The old man tapped me on the shoulder and made the same guttural utterance. I thought he wanted my seat, so I stood up and gestured to the bench. He slumped into it. A grunt like a thank you escaped his chapped lips.

The tram clattered on through ill-conceived streets. The old man looked up at me and spoke again. This time he said: “You have the eyes of a lost friend.”

Snow crunched under my boots. I balanced some on the toe-end in a game of frozen keepy-upy. The snow slid off to join its friends. I looked up. My eyes followed the line of the platform. The tram receded into the near distance. An oversize cat, its black and white fur flecked with snow, hung from the back. The cat turned and waved goodbye to me. I waved back. The Old Man tapped me on the shoulder again.

We walked through bitter streets lined with faceless apartment blocks and heartless alleyways. Women half the size of their burdens forced us from the path into rivers of dark grey sludge that squelched into our boots and soaked our socks. We stopped outside a long crescent moon building, and The Old Man said: “We here.”

We entered through a door that once worked for a living and stepped into a hallway of oppressive dimness. Silence guarded the stairs with a cocked rifle, and every so often, higher up, the chamber was emptied and reloaded. The Old Man pushed the button for the never-lift, and after ten minutes we trudged forlornly up the forever-stairs.

“There,” whispered the Old Man, pointing to a door on the fifth étage. I looked at it. He opened another opposite. The scent of stale cabbage rushed out and escaped. It ran past the silent stares and into the frozen wastes of the city through a once-was-window.

Inside his apartment The Old Man invited me to take off my shoes and hang up my coat.

“Vodka?” he said.

“No…” I said.

“Chia?”

“What?”

“Tea…”

“Yes… please,” I said.

We drank black tea from glass cups in silver holders. We sat in a morgue where the Old Man slept on cold nights, and warm nights, and on afternoons when the world demanded too much of him. On the spacious bookshelves lay a lonely tome, and a photographic keepsake of happiness to remind him it did once exist.

“There,” said the Old Man; “in apartment I show you, my friend, … He live there.”

“Who lives there?” I said.

“The man, my friend, you must kill.”

“Sorry?”

“The man… in that apartment… you must kill him.”

“But why?” I said.

“He zloi… evil”

“But why? Why me? I-I don’t know him…”

“That, my friend, not important.”

“It is to me,” I said.

“Okay. Okay, my friend. This man, he Devil. He name Oliksandr Rabchenko. He sell things; nasty things. He ask my granddaughter to buy. She say no. She fall down stairs… My good and dear comrade, Nadya Niniachkina, she daughter very pretty. Rabchenko say she must work for him. Many men buy her. She say no. Tanya no more pretty. See?”

“Yeah, yeah, I see… but why me?”

“It easy for you, my friend. We here are fear of him… he evil… He kill. Now you kill… him. For us. Besides, you have cast iron alibi. You English.”

“Yeah, whatever. But… how?” I said.

The Old Man pulled out a long carving knife that once knew the inside of an abattoir. I held it. It was sharper than a comedian’s wit, and would cut deeper. It was longer than my forearm and heavier than I imagined a knife could be.

“He grandmother lives upstairs,” said the Old Man, pointing to heaven. My eyes followed. “She think him good. She don’t ask question. She don’t ask where money come from. She have meat and bread and coffee on she table.”

“You want me to kill his grandmother, too?”

“No, my friend… You go to she apartment. Say to her Piotr sick. I Piotr, my friend. She come. I keep her in my apartment…”

“Then what?”

“You, my friend, pretend to be grandmother of Rabchenko, and when he come to visit, you kill him with this knife.”

“Of course. What a simple plan,” I said: “What could possibly go wrong?”

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.

“My, Babushka…”

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.

But snagged.

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…

It was some time before I could look 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.

 

THE END

 

Malek Montag,
Rochester, 2014

 

Find me on Twitter @Malek_Montag15

 

Image from: http://artresort.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/kogler8.jpg

About malekmontag

I am a writer and a wage-slave, and proud father of George Giraffe. I live in the UK, but I exist everywhere. My first stories were published this year (2016) in Short Stories and Tall Tales (Atla Publishing). Follow me on Twitter @Malek_Montag15. My Work is also available on Niume.com.
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