The night had crept up almost imperceptibly and smothered the granite coloured day with darkness. The winter moon hung fat and gibbous as Tomasz blasted Ricardo’s brains across ground and produced a more than passable Rorschach test; the splashes of blood black in the stark moonlight. A murder of crows scattered and sliced through the whiteness, as the purr of an approaching motorcycle grew to a roar.
Snow began to fall like confetti and Tomasz took Ricardo by the ankles and hauled his massive corpse towards the dilapidated cottage, leaving a snaking trail of blood behind him. He paused and wiped his brow with his blood and sweat stained sleeve.
Tomasz gazed over at the Christmas tree in the distance which was lit up with shimmering, dancing multi coloured lights. A wind chime that hung above the door tinkled.
The heavy wooden door creaked as Tomasz pushed it open. Ricardo’s head bounced off every concrete step as Tomasz dragged the body downstairs into the dark and dingy basement and onto a sheet of dirty green tarpaulin.
He switched on a lone light bulb, which buzzed and flickered, revealing a room cluttered with wooden barrels and crates exept for a bright orange formica table, a candy striped deckchair and a dirty, spiderweb cracked mirror that hung above a rusted metal sink.
Tomasz knelt down and unstrapped a large hunting knife from his left leg. Slowy and carefully he began to cut the row of tiny red crescent tattoos from Ricardo’s right bicep.
‘Tried to escape again?’ said Dragan, as he came down the stairs.
He took off his black crash helmet and ran a hand through his short cropped hair.
Tomasz had been so engrossed in his work that he hadn’t noticed Dragan arrive; he paused for a moment, looked up at Dragan and nodded. Rising slowly, he dropped the pieces of skin into a jar of formaldehyde, fastened the top and put it in a red Adidas holdall.
Tomasz knelt back down and unfastened the bloodied handcuffs that hung loose from Ricardo’s right wrist.
‘Nothing to lose, I suppose,’ said Dragan, to himself, ‘apart from his balls’. He sighed and lit up a large Havana cigar.
‘Did anyone see you?’ asked Dragan, blowing a trio of smoke rings.
‘No,’ said Tomasz. ‘No spies. No mercenary eyes.’
‘Did he say anything?’ asked Dragan. Looking at the fat heap on the ground, his scraggly beard and unkempt hair matted with blood, he was overcome with disgust, remembering a younger Ricardo.
‘Yes,’ said Tomasz, his black, bullet hole eyes showing no amusement. ‘He cried for his mother.’
Dragan peeled off his boots and black leather jacket and sat cross legged on the dirty floor. He was wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt depicting Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’ and a pair of expensive denim jeans.
His muscular body was covered with tattoos and latticed with scars but his face – almost angelic and much younger looking than his forty years – was without a blemish except for a tiny bright red birth mark on his left cheek which was shaped like a crescent moon. He plucked a bottle of vodka from one of the wooden barrels that cluttered the room, his wedding ring glinting as it caught the light, and downed a third of the bottle in one.
‘Did he say anything about the others?’ he asked, switching from Russian to English. Tomasz nodded using his whole upper torso. His wide, sandblasted face showed no expression.
Dragan poured large measures of vodka into two pink glass tumblers and scooped a little snow into each glass. He was used to being patient with Tomasz but sometimes his patience was tested. He took a deep breath.
‘Well?’ asked Dragan
‘He said no,’ said Tomasz picking up a glass. ‘No others.’
Dragan was lost in thought for a moment. Tomasz stood motionless and not for the first time Dragan was reminded of the robot in the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, waiting for a sign from his master. The only noise was the buzz of the light and the sound of Dragan’s breathing.
Eventually, Dragan broke into a smile.
‘Well, we’ll see,’ he said.
He walked over to Ricardo’s corpse and shook his head.
‘Misguided loyalty, my friend,’ sighed Dragan.
He passed a tumbler of vodka to Tomasz .
‘Na zdrowie,’ said Tomasz, toasting Ricardo.
‘Okay, back to work my Polish brother,’ said Dragan, slamming down his glass on the table.
Tomasz nodded and dug in a darkened corner of the room and pulled out something heavy and metallic.
‘I think it’s time to sever Mr. Ricardo’s contract’ smirked Dragan as Tomasz started up the chainsaw.
The tall men in the black hats and long black overcoats looked like shadows as they cut through the snow smothered square.
A ghostly spiral of smoke drifted up from the husk of the burnt out car as Darko fell to his knees, the low hum that hovered in the distance growing louder.
He looked up, gasping, as the plane roared overhead. His fingers buzzed and tingled and the sensation spread through his hands and up his arms. The weight of an elephant was on his chest and then he felt the cold hard metal against his forehead.
Then the day dissolved to black.
* * *
First there were trickles and then there was a flood until what seemed to be hundreds of people spilled out over the square, like jackals searching for carrion. The men in the black overcoats slipped through the crowd as the approaching sirens screamed nearer.
Shuffling into the corner a nearby alleyway, Brendan pushed back the brim of his black fedora and plucked a battered packet of Galois from his raincoat pocket. He handed one to Arek, sweat peeling from his acne scarred face.
‘Another one bites the dust,’ growled Arek, his accent as thick as treacle.
‘Aye,‘ said Brendan, the traces of a grin appearing at the corner of his mouth. ‘Just not the one we were after.’
He coughed and spat on the ground. He wiped his mouth, revealing the red tatto on his wrist.
‘Are you gonna call or am I?’ he said.
Arek inhaled deeply and looked up to the heavens, at the stars and the moon as if hoping for help from above.
* * *
The aquarium bubbled and gurgled, bathing the office in a sickly green light. The air in the room was warm and soupy and Dragan steadily sipped a glass of gin.
At a large desk, a raven haired woman was using a gold credit card to chop up a little heap of cocaine. She leaned forward and snorted through a Harrods pen.
‘Ay Caramba, baby!’ she said, her Latino accent as thick and dark as an Irish coffee
Dragan poured himself another large gin.
‘Gin makes you sin,’ said the woman, with a chuckle. Dragan glared a her.
She turned away, retouched her make up and stood up. Guilt rumbled inside Dragan like a thundercloud. He’d sworn that the previous time would be the last time but once again he’d broken his promise to himself.
The woman walked over to him. She was tall and in her early twenties with wan looking skin, red lipstick slashed across her full lips and her black hair was cut into a Louise Brooks bob. She was wearing a red PVC raincoat and shiny black stiletto heels. Dragan took a wad of cash from his wallet and wearily handed it to her.
The James Bond theme began to play and Dragan took out his mobile phone.
‘Tak,’ he said and listened for a few moments before answering.
He slumped over the large oak desk .
‘And exactly how much of a bollocks is ‘a bit of a bollocks’?’ he said, his expression volcanic.
‘Maybe I’ll go?’ said the woman.
Dragan waved indifferently toward her and she walked out of the office door her head held down but still watching.
And still listening.
Slumped in his blood red leather armchair, in a darkened corner of the office – like a spectre of the man he once was – Dragan disinterestedly watched the slow drips of red wine trickle down from the bottle that dangled from his hand and onto the wooden floorboards. His thoughts flashed back to September.
* * *
Dragan had snaked the black Jaguar XJ5 through the honey coloured Autumn morning and along the Old Town’s cobbled streets, listening to Bessie Smith. As he glided the car along the almost deserted Nowy Swiat, with it’s expensive shops, cafes and bars, he lit a cigar and felt like a king.
The High Priest Of Warszawa a smirking, hyperactive American frat boy had called him, once upon a time. The rich American was being ironic, of course. At the time Dragan was just a speed freak. A jumped up Serbian car thief and drug dealer with ambitions. But now, well, the frat boy wouldn’t be smirking so much now, if he were still alive.
Dragan turned right at the Palm tree sculpture and headed down Aleje Jarozolimskie, looking up at the blue sky.The Palace of Culture and Science loomed over the city like a giant gargoyle keeping danger at bay.
As he turned the corner toward the Euro Continental Hotel a big black SUV suddenly screeched in front of him and blocked his way. Dragan braked but his reactions were slow. Perhaps he’d been getting soft. Once upon a time he would have jumped out of the car and beaten the driver to sludge but he simply sighed and reversed . And then another SUV turned the corner and slammed into him, stopping his exit.
Within seconds, a swarm of men in black balaclavas rushed out of the SUVs and started attacking the car with hammers baseball bats, rocks. And then a giant of a man pulled out a shotgun and blasted the windscreen which cracked like a spiderweb.
The car was bullet proof, of course so they didn’t get very far but as Dragan slammed his hand into his pocket for his Desert Eagle XIX he froze as recognised the red crescent tattoo on one of the men’s wrists.
In a flash, the men were all back in their SUVs and had driven off but Dragan just sat there stunned, the dropped cigar burning a hole into his leg. He looked down and brushed it away as if it were a mosquito.
Who would dare? Who, from his people, would dare?
And so the purge had begun.
* * *
Dragan smashed the bottle on the floor. The red stain crawled into the wood’s cracks and crevices. He stood up, lit a cigar and gazed out of the window.
The Old Town square was almost empty. Just the occasional little ant scuttling across the snow. He could hear the sound of the music from Klub Zodiak below him. He could feel the throb of the bass, thumping it’s message to him.
He pulled a bag of cocaine form his desk drawer and trailed a line of powder along the window pane so he could watch out for the mercenary eyes.
* * *
Krystyna decided to swim one more length of the pool. It was just past midnight but she knew that Tomasz would stand guard over her all night if he had to.She loved the Euro Continental Hotel’s glass swimming pool and the floor to ceiling window that gave such a a great view of the Warsaw skyline.
She would miss this, she thought as she floated on her back and looked out at the constellation of lights that trailed away from the hotel toward the Palace Of Culture and Science, old Joe Stalin’s unwanted gift to the people of Warsaw.
As she got out of the pool Tomasz rose from his seat like the Golum and handed Krystyna the towel. She said nothing as she dried her iron muscled body and went into the changing room.
Krystyna dressed and switched on her Nokia. There were two missed calls from Dragan and three SMS written in a garbled mixture of Russian, English and Polish. She was reminded of the last words of Dutch Schulz and almost laughed but instead she shivered as she played with her loosening wedding ring.
Dark dreams and worse memories lapped at the shore of Krystyna’s sleep until she awoke drowning in sweat and stained by sour memories. It took her a moment to adjust to the surroundings; her bedroom looked unfamiliar in the wan light.
Krystyna lay for a moment, each heartbeat like the tick of a clock, and edged off the bed; her joints ached after the day spent working out in the gym. Moving like Robocop, she went to the window and peeled back the blinds.
A constellation of streetlights and a galaxy of Christmas decorations faded into the distance towards the Old Town. The street was almost deserted. She strained to listen. Someone, somewhere nearby was whistling. Was it Rhapsody In Blue? Or Maybe she was imagining it.
She was exhausted and her mind was starting to play tricks on her again. Winter had crept up and smothered the days with darkness; flushing her memories to the forefront of her mind. Night after sleepless night her anxiety brewed and bubbled to boiling point.
Her sleep was becoming increasingly fitful, her days spectral. Guilty conscience, her mother back in Komorow used to say when her father couldn’t sleep. It was always easy for her mother to sleep but for Krystyna it was like wading through molasses. Especially these days.
She looked at Dragan, half dressed and slumped across the bed. He was holding a bottle of vodka like a baby holds a teddy bear. She had a flashback to their first meeting.
Before she’d come to Warsaw, from her small town out in the sticks, she’d heard stories about ‘The Night Drivers’; amphetamine pumped young men who, each midnight, tied fishing wire around their necks, and the cars’ brakes, and then raced from one end of the city to the next.
When she’d seen the cut marks on the taxi driver’s neck and his red, red eyes she’d been a little wary but excited. The Serbian was handsome and charming with his hybrid of languages.
But that was then and this is now, she thought. Just like the song that Dragan used to play in his first BMW.
Krystyna shook her head, took a deep breath and counted to ten. She walked into the migraine bright bathroom and looked in the mirror. She ran her fingers across the coin shaped scar on her right shoulder and grimaced at the memory it brought back.
Krystyna tied back her long black hair and checked the ten inch barrel Desert Eagle XIX that she kept hidden in the washing basket. It was just a matter of time, she thought.
She ran the shower as hot as bearable before she got in. Maybe it would wash away the past.
A sliver of moon garroted the coal black sky as Krystyna’s high heels clipped across the wet concrete, echoing through the deserted Old Town’s cobbled streets. Her breath appeared and disappeared like a spectre as she stood outside Klub Zodiak, its shimmering and buzzing neon sign reflected in a pool of blood that looked black in the moonlight.
Krystyna felt the cold metal in her fist as she slammed on the steel door of the nightclub until it creaked open. She pushed her way to the bar, breathing in the scent of cheap aftershave, cigarettes and booze. A sultry Femme Fatale on a Chiaroscuro lit stage whispered a torch song that sparked the embers of a dream.
‘Bourbon?’ said Arek, Krystyna nodded, took off her raincoat and draped it over a bar stool.
‘Is he here?’ she said, downing her drink.
‘Of course,’ said Arek ‘Where else would he be? He thinks that the moment he sets foot outside he’s a dead man.The paranoia is eating him like a cancer.’
‘Give him this,’ she said.
The shining wedding ring rattled and rolled along the marble bar.
‘That could be a big mistake,’ Arek said.
‘I just want to get clean for once in my life,’ said Krystyna.
‘No one gets out of life without dirtying their hands,’ said Arek, pouring himself a large Jack Daniels.
‘No one gets out of life alive,’said Krystyna as she dissolved into the Warsaw night.
(c) Paul D Brazill 2010
Bio: Paul D. Brazill was born in England and lives in Poland. His work has appeared in a number of print and electronic magazines and anthologies. His story The Tut was nominated for a 2010 Spinetingler Award and his story Guns of Brixton will be included in the 2011 Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime.Warsaw Moon was first serialised at disenthralled in 2010.