Are You a Russian Jew? They were at the Duplex in the West Village trying to figure out who was gay, who was trans, and who was just a tourist. The Piano Man was actually singing the Billy Joel song “The Piano Man” and the whole crowd was singing along. It was a drunken raucous good time. He was sitting with Cindy and Betty, wishing the waitress would come by to take a drink order. He was wondering if he held up a twenty it would get her to bump him up in the queue. He did not want to go up to the bar. He was worn out from trying to satisfying his boss’ every changing and sometimes irrational needs, wants, and demands. Forget-me-nots? Really? With orange and red? Cindy leaned in, shouting over the crowd, “How come you don’t speak with a Russian accent Alex? Aren’t you Russian?” “My parents are Russian, love. I’m American.” He tried to put some smile into it but was only partially successful. “Aren’t you Jewish? Your name sounds Jewish. Are you Jewish?” Cindy was slurring her words and started tipping sideways out of her chair. Betty pushed her back upright and started shushing her. “You can’t ask people stuff like that, Cindy. Oh my god, you are so drunk. Cindy!” And then to Alex, she said, “We better get her out of here. I think she’s about to blow.”
Alex and Betty walked and dragged Cindy out of the bar and down the side street. They got as far as Stonewall before Cindy started puking. They got her over to the curb between two cars. Betty held Cindy’s hair while Alex held her shoulders to keep her from falling into the street. The gutter smelled of garbage and pee and now of vomit. The evening was not going well but it was about to get worse. A black sedan car stopped in the street and the passenger in the car stared at them for minute and then slowly the car door opened and a black man in a shiny suit and shiny gold teeth to match oozed out of the car. “Need some help brother?” he said, reaching out a very large hand towards the trio. The back passenger door slowly opened; Alex said, “Sure, my friend” as he shoved poor Cindy towards the outstretched hand. Then Alex turned and ran back up towards the main drag, zig-zagged across the street, dodging traffic and bolting into a restaurant. Inside the restaurant he ran to the back, into the kitchen and out the back into an alley. He ran up the dark alley looking for a place to hide. Instead, he found an open door leading into another restaurant. Inside there was a bathroom. Inside he went and there he stayed, for about 20 minutes.
Then his phone rang. It was Betty. “Where did you run off too, you big chicken shit?” Betty’s voice harped at him. “You’re lucky Lucas was able to catch Cindy when you threw her down like that. Where are you? Are you coming back? Cindy’s doing better since she barfed it all up. We’re at the Stonewall Inn with Lucas, having some wine and snacks. Lucas is a really great guy. I’d bonk him if he wasn’t gay. But he is. Come back, you loser.” Alex made some apologies. “I’m drunker than I thought,” he lied. “I’ll see you at work.” Was he paranoid? Or was that really trouble coming to find him? And he’d changed his mind about sleeping with Cindy. Out of the Past His name was Alexander Gregory Mirkin, but he preferred to be called “Alex.” He was attractive with a charming smile and blond hair that was a bit long, a bit curly, and a bit unruly. He was affable and yet also reserved. He did not discuss his past and steered the conversation to the future – the great things he and his comrades could achieve if they stuck to the plan, if only they followed the rules of the game. Those who didn’t know him well enjoyed his company. He made people laugh with slightly absurd jokes about the motives of those in the group. Those who knew him the best knew that they didn’t really know him well at all; Alex was opaque, neutral. Never unfriendly, never truly a friend. Helpful without getting very involved in the lives of his coworkers. Even during the COVID lockdowns, the gang from work found ways to meet and drink. How could you live in Manhattan and not find a way to indulge in the culture of the place? They took turns finding interesting, unusual, and strange bars – outdoor seating, masks, social distancing, the challenges of transportation, all these could be handled to make a space for booze and sex and humor. Alex always bought the first round – vodka shots. Sometimes, rarely, after a night of indulgent drinking, he took a co-worker back to his apartment for sex, but while he was an attentive lover, he did not form an attachment. He did not drink from the same well twice.
Alex worked at a software company that provided payroll services to mid-ranged companies. The owner had a concept of egalitarian camaraderie – there was a napping room and a ping pong table. Alex helped design, update, and innovate the employee user interface of PeopleServe. His current color palette was sea blues and greens, but he was working with the head of Development on a switch over to an orange and red scheme – due out on the summer solstice. He was working in sunflowers when a Ukrainian woman brought a packet of seeds up to a Russian soldier during the invasion of Ukraine. He and the boss decided to shelve that design element. Alex sat at his desk in an uninteresting building in Manhattan. The view from his office was interesting but it did not inspire any natural elements to use in the design of the interface upgrade. He loved coming to the office with no one there. COVID had improved office life tremendously, but that was falling away. People were coming back to the building more these days. Boring people. Annoying people. Time wasting people. People who wanted to play ping pong. But there was nothing to do about it. Time churned on. All one could do was adjust, make an accommodation, and move on.
After a brief discussion with his team leader, Alex left the building to find inspiration. He took a subway up to Central Park and walked paths lined by benches. It was cold for March. Hardy folks in winter jackets walked quickly; here and there, sketchy-looking people in fifthly clothes slumped on benches. Alex walked up to a lake and found some large rocks. Sitting in the sun, he took out a cigarette – his guilty pleasure. He made a ritual of it – tapping the pack, shaking out the cig, tamping the unfiltered ends, placing it between his lips just so. He disliked carrying a volatile liquid in his pocket; he used little wooden matches. Scratching a match to life against the side of the box, he carefully ignited the end of the cigarette. Inhaled slowly, enjoying the first rush of nicotine. He tried to restrict himself to three or four a day. Just enough to keep the pleasure high and the foul smell low. In his jacket pocket he kept a small container of Ozium to deodorize his clothing and mints to freshen his breath. He leaned back on the rock, resting his weight on one elbow, slowly smoking the cigarette while looking at the water and the tall buildings looming over the edge of the park. A single cloud passed across the sky, catching his attention. He was thinking about tiger lilies when the cloud crossed the sun, putting him into shade. He was suddenly cold.
A voice from behind him said, “So how have you been, Alexander Gregory?” Alex’s blood froze. “Irina,” he said, in a voice as calm as he could muster. He wished he still had a gun. He sat very still. He did not turn his head. He waited to see how long he had left to live. From behind him the voice said gently: “turn around slowly showing your hands.” Her voice lapped against his ears, soft waves on the shore of a lake after the disturbance of geese landing. He was having difficulty focusing. He concentrated to figure out what she was saying. Something about his hands. Turn around. Alex got up from his supine position. He dropped his cigarette and watched as it rolled down the rock into the lake, making a hissing noise as it hit the water. He put his hands out to his sides and turned around so slowly that he thought maybe he could make time stop. But finally, eventually, he was facing her.
She was older. Her face seemed hardened. She was still beautiful, but she looked . . . more dangerous. Was that even possible? He stared at her, his face a blank, as he took in all that he could see. Or as much as a deer in the headlights can take in before it’s hit by the car. Her hands were in her pockets. Deep pockets. Gun? Unknown. She was clenching and unclenching her jaw. Her neck muscles were taught. She was checking him out as well. He pulled his shoulders up and back, straightening himself into a taller person. He took a deep breath and relaxed his hands. “What do you want?” he finally said, in a voice that was a blend of whisper and croak. He cleared his throat. “What do you want?” he said again with more push behind it. “My father wants to see you.” “Is he going to kill me?” She shuddered out a short barking laugh. “Now that is funny, Alexander Gregory. If my father wanted you dead, you would have died five years ago.” “If you say so,” Alex muttered. “Okay, let’s go, baby,” she demanded. “Can I call my work?” “Make it quick, we’ve got a long drive.”
Her Father Riding through the city, adrenaline surged through Alex’s system, making him acutely aware of every swerve, every pothole. As the chemical pulse dissipated, he became weary, bone tired. Once they were on the freeway, Alex drifted into sleep. He dreamed of numbers and algorithms and spread sheets and power point presentations at meetings with men in shiny suits. He was just in the part of the dream where an angry man was going to slam Alex’s left hand in a drawer when he woke up with a moan, sweaty and uncomfortable. Irina was pulling off the freeway. “I need to piss,” he told her. She pulled over at a gas station across from the street from a bird sanctuary. It made a good landmark. Alex cleaned up as best he could using stingy gas station bathroom paper towels ripped from a roll sitting on the back of the toilet. He combed his hair and ate a breath mint. All better, he thought. He sighed. It wouldn’t matter a what he looked like if Boris was going to extract revenge in a physical way. Or something worse.
He went into the gas station store and bought a mocha crackachino and stood next to the cash register slugging down the beverage like a man dying of thirst. He dumped the empty bottle in a trash can on the way out and went over to the car to wait for Irina to come back from the bathroom or whatever she was doing. Then he saw her standing at the corner of the building talking on her phone. She was gesticulating and talking in an excited manner. Then she suddenly snapped the phone shut. He wondered why she was using such an old school phone. She put the phone in her purse and took a different phone out of her pocket. She spoke very little in that conversation and it was over quickly. Then she came back to the car and they drove off.
Alex paid more attention to where they were going. He wanted to know the way back in case he had to walk it. They drove out into the countryside for twenty minutes and then pulled off into a driveway fronted by a large stucco arch. Wrought iron gates were open. There was a statue of a wolf hound on either side of the entrance; in the dark it was hard to tell if they were made of metal or something else, but they were larger than life and gave a sinister look to the place. As they drove past the archway, the gates closed automatically behind them. They drove past a large horse-fenced field on the left side and native forest on the right. Then they drove into the forest for a while, with the road twisting through low hills. The car came out of the forest into a cleared space with a large well-lit house in the center. The house was fortress-like, made of stone, and was decorated with armed guards who stood at attention at the entrance, on the corners that Alex could see, and a pair of them walked the perimeter of the clearing. These two had a German shepherd on a leash. Alex was disappointed that it was not a wolf hound. With all the menacing drama the house presented, Boris had missed a real opportunity with his guard dog choice. Alex tried not to be afraid, but he failed. What he wanted was a cigarette. What he got was: he repositioned his shoulders and took a deep breath. “It’s show time,” Irina said.
They found her father sitting in a hot tub next to a swim spa in room at the back of the house. He looked old and fat, out of shape. Alex wondered at that. Had it been that long? Five years . . . he focused on Irina’s father’s eyes. Those eyes were beady to begin with, but now they were scrunched up, peering up at Alex like the muzzles of two rifles pointed at his head. Alex willed himself to hold his gaze steady and not blink, not look away. He stared at the old man, his nemesis, and forced his breathing into a regular pattern. He relaxed his jaw and rolled the tip his tongue up into the roof of his mouth. He stared at a spot right in the center of the rifle eyes and waited.
“So there you are at last, my little bunny. I have missed you,” Boris intoned, his voice accented and heavy. Alex waited silently. He was already slouching. His chin slid down and he stared at his hands, his eyes half-closed. He twitched his head back and forth in a tiny version of “no” and snapped his focus to face Boris, stretching his back and pulling his shoulders up and back again. “What, Gregor, you are not happy to see me?” Boris was saying. “After I have done you so much kindness by not killing you? Don’t you want to know why you are still alive?” Alex finally took the bait. “Okay, yes, I do want to know why you have spared me.”
“Well, my little kitten, I have lived a long time. And I always knew you could still be useful to me. More useful to me alive than dead. And today is the day you have come to settle your debts. I want you to do me a little favor . . . “ Boris’ voice trailed off and he looked at Irina. “Take Gregor away now and tell him about the little job I have for him. Let me know if he completes the task. If I don’t hear from you, I will know that he failed and then . . . I will join his parents at Gregor’s funeral. It will be a sad day for the Mirkin family. Perhaps these parents will die from grief. It’s too soon to say. The whole family is cursed, is it not?”
Boris stopped talking and leaned back stretching his hand towards to a button on the edge of the hot tub. When he pressed the button, a buzzing sounded from far away, somewhere in the house. Irina took Alex by the elbow and steered him out of the room. They walked to a kitchen lined with giant appliances. She made fried eggs and toast and served them on exquisite china plates. Alex softly touched the cobalt net pattern. “It’s Imperial China,” Irina stated, “Lomonossov, to be precise.” Alex said nothing and methodically ate his meal. When he was done he quietly asked, “What is it I am expected to do?” “Not here. Be patient. All will be revealed.”
She drove him back to the city, dropping him off at his apartment, leaving him with this: “I’ll be in touch. I’ll give you 24 hours’ notice. Be ready to travel for a day or two. It’s not a big job.” And then the tornado dropped him, like a house in a cornfield. No witches were killed. Yet.
His Parents The next day, Alex took the subway out to Newark and rented a car near Penn Station. He drove out to Millburn. He parked the car in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s and walked through residential streets lined with older two- and three-story homes. He passed under some railroad tracks and turned down a dead-end street. Finally, he arrived at his destination. It was a simple white house with a reddish brown shingle roof. The steps to the front porch were wide – a long ramp had been built covering the right half of the stairs to accommodate a wheelchair or walker.
He bounded up the left side, showing off to himself that he was still young and strong, unlike the people in the house. He knocked loudly on the door and then rang the doorbell several times. He heard a commotion inside and he stepped back from the door. The noises from inside grew closer, then the curtains hanging at the door’s window moved around, then he could hear the sound of several locks being unlocked. Finally, the door opened, and a tiny woman with short white hair was peering up at him through thick lenses. She looked past him and then pushed past him to go out to look up and down the street. “No one followed you?” “No Ma. I parked at a market and walked out here. No one followed me.” “Okay come in. But you cannot stay long. I don’t trust you. You bring only bad news.” “Good to see you too, Mama.” “Oh shut up, Gregor. Come see your father. He’s out in the kitchen.” As they walked back to the kitchen, Alex’s mother unwrapped her hands from her apron. She took a small shiny gun she had been hiding and put it in a cupboard in the hall. She called out, “It’s okay, Mike. It’s just Gregor.”
They entered the kitchen; Alex watched his father moving a shotgun from his lap to place it on the table from where Alex’s mother picked it up, checked the safety, and put it on a shelf in a broom closet. Alex’s father was in a wheelchair. His color wasn’t right – he looked more grey than white, and his skin was puffy. He looked more dead than alive. Mike spoke with a croaking voice: “What’s the trouble, kid? What’s going on?” “Boris found me. He’s forcing me to do one more job.” “And what the hell are you doing bringing this trouble to us?” his mother screeched, in a tinny bird-like voice. “Look mama,” Alex wheedled, “I can’t just go out and buy a gun in New York. I need some protection.” “Okay. Okay, you can have the gun by the front door. Take it and go. Don’t come back.” And with that, she started shoving him back toward the front of the house. His father looked at Alex sadly. “Take care, son, take care. Do what Boris wants, okay? It’s better for all of us if you just do what Boris wants. But don’t come back here. Please don’t come back.”
Killing Irina’s Mother Days passed, and then weeks. Alex’s grinding angst started to calm down after four weeks had gone by. Perhaps it had all just been a bad dream. A dream it was not. At 10:00 am on April first, his phone rang. “Unknown caller.” He let it go to voice, left his desk and went into the stairwell. He listened; the stairwell was quiet. He called back the number. Irina’s voice was low and edgy. He recognized that tenor. She was excited. She was gearing up for action. “I’ll pick you up out if front of your apartment at 8 o’clock tonight. Bring an overnight bag. It will be at least two days, might be four. I hope no more.” And she hung up. He was ready at 6:00. He paced his apartment until 7:30 and then he paced the street out in front of his apartment until she arrived, promptly at 8:00. They drove east out to Long Island, stopping for a cheap meal and arriving late at the Fathoms Hotel in Port Washington. She had reserved adjoining rooms with a connecting door. “Keep the door unlocked so I can check on you when I feel like it,” she instructed him. “Now rest. Stay out of the bar downstairs. Be invisible.”
Alex had difficulty sleeping. He woke with the sheets wrapped around his legs so that he couldn’t get out of bed. Nearly hysterical, he yanked and pulled at them, only pulling them tighter around his limbs. Finally, he collapsed, near tears, and finally relaxed his body. His breathing became less erratic, and he was able to more calmly remove the offending material from his being. It was 4:00 am. He got up and took another shower and shaved. He put on fresh clothes and topped the outfit with the hotel robe. He remade the bed. It was 4:45. He lay on top of the bed, cradling his shiny little gun in the right-hand pocket of the robe. He closed his eyes for two seconds. He heard the door open, and he tensed, opening his eyes a fraction.
It was daylight. Irina was standing at the foot of the bed, now pulling on his foot. “What time is it?” he said softly. “Time to get up, fool. Time to do what I tell you. Time to pay your bills.” “Can I at least eat breakfast? A man needs his strength,” Alex responded, comforted by the cold metal in his hand. It gave him courage. A fool’s courage, he thought. He wasn’t going to cross Boris. That was an impossible solution. “Okay. Yes, that’s good. I’ll order room service. Pack up and come over to my room when you’re ready.” She ordered a lot of food. Noting the surprised look on Alex’s face, she shrugged. “I wasn’t sure what you’d want.”
As they ate, she said “We’re going to Sands Point. We’re supposed to kill Katya.” Alex dropped his fork and stared at Irina. Irina smirked or grimaced; Alex couldn’t tell which. He couldn’t believe that Alex would kill her mother, no matter how much it would serve her father. Alex seemed to enjoy his tension and confusion. Finally, she spoke. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to kill Katya. It’s not in my nature. She has not harmed me. But we will go talk to her and see how it goes. Anything is possible. I’m in a tough spot and so are you, Alex, so are you.” The aftermath visit to the Sands Point home of Boris’ wife, Irina’s mother, Yekaterina, was anticlimactic. The wife lived in posh home with an upscale security system. Alex waited on a white sofa looking at the water out a large bay window. The weather was cold and sullen, there were no boats in the water. White caps frosted some of the waves. A distant bell sounded a warning of shallow water. He could hear the voices of Irina and her mother coming from down a hall, at first agitated and loud, then bickering and nasty, and slowly, measure by measure, quieter and less heated. Then he could hear rustling, drawers and doors, openings and closings.
Irina and her mother came out to the front room, each rolling a fancy suitcase. “We’re leaving.” And that was it. They went out to Irina’s car. They put the suitcases in the trunk and the mother in the back seat. They drove back to the Fathoms Hotel and collected their gear. Irina checked them out. They drove away, heading west and south into Pennsylvania. Mile after mile they drove, much of it on small roads, making only quick stops for bathroom breaks and to get drive-through food. Hour after hour no one spoke, that is except for Alex, whose comments and questions went unanswered.
Alex fell asleep. He was running through a mansion being chased by an angry man with a shotgun. He had no escape. He opened a window and jumped out onto a swimming pool covered by a large piece of plastic sheeting, a pool cover. The weight of his body pulled him down, bringing the plastic with him. He was encased in plastic and water was coming in, pouring over him. He tried to move up and out but pushing against the plastic pool cover only made it descend deeper into the pool. He tried to swim out the end, but he couldn’t move his arms; they were pinned to his sides, encased in plastic. The more he struggled, the more he was trapped.
He woke up. He was by himself in the car. It was late in the day. They were in a shabby trailer park. He got out of the car, stretched and went up to the door of a rusting gray double-wide. As Alex opened the door, sour stale air rolled out to greet him. He could see Katya’s arm swinging through the air, her hand landing on Irina’s cheek. “That’s gonna leave a mark,” he said. Irina and Katya turned simultaneously to face him. Speaking at the same time, Irina said, “Stay out of it,” and Katya said, “Mind your own business.” He was out of his depth with these intense people, he thought. He left them to find the bathroom. When he came back, Irina was gone. “She’s waiting for you in the car,” Katya said. “One thing. Thank you.” And then she waved him away. So he left. Always, I’m in the dark with these people, he thought.
Daddy’s Girl Irina and Alex drove in silence until they were out of Pennsylvania. They stopped at a no-name motel and ate a dinner at a no-name diner. They spoke only of transactional matters, “can you pass the salt” being a highlight. After the meal they walked back to the motel. Alex got out his cigarettes. “You shouldn’t smoke,” Irina said. “Like you care?” Alex replied, skeptically. “I do care,” Irina said softly. Alex found that he was taking Irina into his arms. She didn’t resist. He kissed her. She kissed him back. After a while, they stopped kissing each other and he held her away from himself, holding her at arm’s length. “You really want to do this again?” he asked. “We’re in this up to our necks, we might as well go all the way. We’ve crossed Boris in the worst way possible. The only way we’re getting out of this alive is by working together. So why the hell not? Let’s do this.” “I can deal with that,” Alex said, smiling for the first time in as long as he could remember. Maybe he was going to die, but the condemned man would get what he requested for his last meal. The next morning, Irina was in a hurry. “We’ve got to get ahead of this with my father. We need to get back to the house to report in before he sends a team out to investigate. And so they made haste back to the palatial abode of Boris Kumarin. When the arrived at the stronghold, the gate was closed. Irina had to call the security team to get it opened. “This worries me,” she muttered. When they got to the house, she left Alex in the kitchen while she went to talk to her father alone. Alex could hear their voices escalating into fierce anger and he could not stay put. He got his little gun out of his sock and took the safety off and then put it in his right pocket. He snuck along the corridor to the back of the house. He peered around the corner to in time see Irina take out a leather strap and attempt to loop it around her father’s neck. Boris resisted, grabbing her arm and twisting it. Irina let out a sharp low shriek of pain as she thrashed about, trying to free herself from his crushing grip. Alex rushed up to the struggling pair and without even thinking about it, took out his little gun, put it up to Boris’ temple, and shot him in the head. Boris should have been killed instantly, but he was not. He fought on, getting his hands around Irina’s throat. Alex carefully positioned the gun at the top of Boris’ head and shot again. This stilled the man and he fell into the hot tub. A small amount of blood came from the wound. Not much. Irina sank to the floor, shuddering, her hands held up to her neck where bruising was already surfacing. Alex came over to comfort Irina, but she was already getting up. She took out her phone. “Hi Teodoro, this is Irina. My father and I want some quiet time tonight. Please give the team the night off. She paused, “We’ll be fine. He doesn’t want any witnesses.” Then she left at a trot.
She was back in a few minutes with sawing tools: a large bread knife, a hack saw, and a cleaver. She also had an elegant shotgun. “Help me with this.” It was a major challenge to bring the large corpse out of the water. They dragged the body out a back gate and hauled it deep into the forest. “We own 100 acres here,” Irina said. “I know a place.” The place was an abandoned well. She was composed, and Alex did his best to just follow her directions. He was in no position to complain or offer advice. It was another struggle to remove dead Boris’ hands, but that was eventually accomplished. She shot her dead father’s teeth out with the shot gun, and they dumped him down the well. They broke down all the external structures of the cistern and tossed them into the hole and then covered the whole thing with branches and debris. As the worked their way back to the house, they covered the tracks they had made. It took hours. They made a good team.
When they were back in the house she headed to her father’s bedroom, went straight to the closet and selected a beautiful hand made satchel from a back corner. “This will do nicely,” she remarked. She put the bloody hands into the satchel and then put the little suitcase into the trunk of her car. Then she got on her father’s computer and fired the entire security company and hired a new one, set to report the next day. She fired the pool company and hired a new one to come out in the morning. She fired the cleaning company and hired a new one. She fired the chef who came in to prepare her fathers meals. She emailed all his top staff to let them know that Boris would be traveling out of the country for a while and to carry on with their work, that he would be in contact. Alex and Irina finished up their day by cleaning all the evidence of crime from the pool room. There was hardly any blood; it was easy to destroy the evidence. They went to bed in Alex’s bed too exhausted to have sex, but by morning they were feeling quite up to it. They were in deep now. There was no turning back.
Burying the Suitcase In the morning they hung around the house until Irina had welcomed the new security detail and set up their routines. She made sure that she met each team member personally and shook the hand of each, thanking them for their service keeping her and her father safe. She introduced Alex as her "boyfriend." Was that true? Alex wondered. He was her partner in crime, that was certain. But he felt that his prospects were vastly improved from where they had been 24 hours before.
After the pool cleaner had been and gone, they drove away with no clear plan of how to dispense of the hands. It was a problem. An hour away from the scene of the crime, they located a Target and bought a box of really larger zipper bags. Then they drove on, further away from their gross mayhem. Well, except for the parts in the fancy bag in the trunk. Alex and Irina drove out to seashore near Atlantic City and then drove south until they came upon a deserted pier in small beach community. They sat in the car in the pier parking lot until the sun went down and then they searched the beach for rocks. They had no luck finding anything heavy on the beach, so they moved their search to the businesses across the street from the beach. In front of a closed pizza parlor, Irina spotted some brick edging around a planter. They were able to locate some broken pieces of bricks which they took back to the car. They opened the trunk and then opened the suitcase and then the plastic bags. First, they placed the hands in plastic bags, one each. Then, they filled the plastic bags with pieces of bricks. Finally, they closed the suitcase back up. With Alex carrying the now heavy suitcase, they went out to the end of the long empty pier and dumped the contents of the suitcase into the sea. The body parts sank straight away. “Don’t throw the suitcase away,” Irina said. “It might float and might get traced back to my father and then to us.” They took the suitcase back to the car and put it in the trunk. It had blood stains on it. It was incriminating. They needed to get rid of it.
They got back into the car and drove south down the beach road. They came to a patch of road that fronted the beach on one side and on the other scrubby shrubs topped low sandy mounds. They parked the car and walked west into the dunes. They walked away from the road and then sat in the sand, leaning against a sandy hillock and listened for cars and any noises of human activity. All they heard was the sound of the waves rustling and occasionally pounding the beach. Alex went down into a low spot between the mounds and began moving the soft sand with his hands. Irina watched for a while and then she started helping dig the hole. When the hole was a couple feet deep, she threw the suitcase in it. Alex went off to pee and when he came back, she was almost done. It was much easier to put the sand back in than it was to take it out. A shovel would have been helpful, but this was not a well thought out plan, was it? When they finished burying the bloody suitcase, Irina sat back down as before, and picked at her fingernails, trying to get the sand out. Alex walked up the sandy knoll and with some difficulty lit a cigarette. He chain-smoked three in a row and looked about, taking careful note of his location. Then he called down to Irina, “Let’s go.” They trudged back to the car silently, worn out by their labors and worn down by the gravity of their work.
Back to Normal When Monday rolled around, Alex returned to work and tried to assume the position of a normal working person, rather than the murderer he was. He tried to rationalize that he had been saving Irina’s life, but the cover-up put the lie to any plausible claim of self-defense or saving a damsel in distress. He was her accomplice, at best, and the corpse tampering was a new level of grotesqueness, even for Irina.
But he still felt better about life than he had in weeks, ever since that day down by the lake in Central Park. Or even earlier, the night in the bar when he ran like hell from a helping hand. He felt like a death sentence had been removed from him. And not killing Katya. That was just too terrible to conceive. What did she do wrong? Okay she slept with him and broke Boris’ trust. She was a randy one and Alex had been younger, more vulnerable, more ignorant of the way the world works. He was a cad, he knew it. Sleeping with the mother and the daughter? Who does that? Boris was quite the calculating thug to keep Alex alive after that debacle became known.
There was one thing that puzzled Alex, which was that fancy bag. Why did Irina want to use it? Why did she make that choice? And why did she resist, not want to throw it into the ocean? She seemed to have some special feeling for the bag. Was it a way of hating her father? To put his severed hands in some precious object that Boris had valued? But knowing how calculating Irina was, he started to suspect more. By the end of the week, he was curious enough to take action. Plus he really needed to get rid of his shiny little gun, since the bullets it fired were now lodged in the head of a corpse.
So Alex rented a car and drove out the spot where the bag was buried. This time he took a shovel which he purchased on the way. He kept his eye out for a good place to dispose of the murder weapon. It was not difficult to find the place where they parked the car; it was about ten feet south of a speed limit sign. It was much more difficult to locate the hill marked with the three cigarette butts, but eventually he found it. He knew where to dig from there – the butts were lined up like an arrowhead. He picked up the butts and put them in the mint box.
He dug in the place where he knew the bag was. The sand was very loose; he knew he was in the right spot. But no matter how deep he dug, he could not find the bag. He dug to the left and the right but still no luck. Finally, he gave up. He knew what had happened. Irina had been there first. There was something about the bag that mattered. Money no doubt. A bloody crime scene satchel? He could have sworn it was empty. But he must have been wrong. Now he was worried again. Irina was double crossing him. He didn’t know how or why, but he had a new imperative to get rid of the gun. And the cigarette butts. And the mint box. And his nightmares. How was he going to get rid of them?
He did get rid of the gun and the butts and even the mint box. There was no serial number on the gun to begin with, so it was a simple matter of tossing it into the sea – a different pier in a different state, at night. Take a long walk off a short pier – make that toss a short gun offa long pier.
He called Irina to set up a date. They met for dinner at Russian Samovar. It should have been impossible to get reservations on such short notice, but the Russian attack on Ukraine had made Russian restaurants suddenly unpopular. There were very few people in the restaurant; they were able to speak relatively freely. After the appetizer course was served and they were well into their first drink, Alex asked, “Irina, tell me about that special suitcase. The one we had at the beach.” “Oh that? That was nothing special. Just something of my father’s that seemed the right size for the project.” “Don’t lie to me. I went back to get it.”
Irina’s face moved from soft and friendly to hard and steely. Her eyes narrowed. “You what? You were checking up on me?” Alex’s voice shifted to a higher register. “Should I have trusted you? The bag was gone, dammit. Tell me what is going on?” Irina’s face went from angry to sad. “I really thought we might be able to do something together. I thought you could be trusted.” “Just tell me! It’s not like I can do anything about it. We’re in it together until the end of time, aren’t we?” Irina sipped her drink slowly, blinking her eyes and sighing. “Okay, Alex. You are right. We are together in this as much as if we were handcuffed together and drowning in the ocean, far from shore, where no one can help us. Why shouldn’t you know?” Alex was starting to regret his decision, his forwardness, but it was too late now.
“Sewn in the handle of the bag was a small flash drive. It was loaded with a billion dollars of cryptocurrency. I wanted it but I couldn’t have it with Boris alive. He is, was I mean, a vengeful man. I waited for a long time for an opportunity to present itself. Finally, Boris needed, or really just wanted Katya to give him a divorce. He was tired of her sponging off him, tired of her whiney phone calls for more money. He saw a unique chance to put you on the spot, to have you take her out. And I was his number one. I waited a long time but then, with your help, I was able to make my move. I don’t know why I had to have the bag that night. As soon as he was dead, I wanted it. So, I took it.”
Alex just stared at Irina. “But it’s all good, little bunny. You can do favors for me sometimes. It will be good.”