Derrick sat as his desk and sipped from a glass of wine. It was a dark ruby red, a Shiraz Cabernet from his homeland of Serbia. It was perhaps a touch away from perfection given the difficulty in reliable storage for his personal stock, but it was still pleasant to the pallet. He only drank on occasions, when there was a break in the deluge of work that fell upon his lap with startling regularity. It was a great way to escape, to relax, to indulge the senses. Sadly he had less and less time to partake in such pleasures and today had not been any better. Thus, this was a drink of comfort, of solace, rather than one in pursuit of relaxation.
He had only just returned from his inspection tour of his new territories. The expansion was going well and his syndicate now had a stranglehold in almost every major centre of the Baltic region of Europe. Lithuania was only partly converted, but it wouldn’t take long to conclude his operations there. In the mean time he had more important things to deal with. Back in his main office in Tallin, the capital of Estonia he had reviewed the reports about the ongoing expansion of his influence within the European Union and NATO. His shapeshifters had been doing a wonderful and diabolical job, nothing happened in the economic EU or the military NATO without his knowing it and now he could even influence matters to a not wholly unsatisfactory degree.
The bad news that presently haunted him did not stem from this either, nor from the trouble human, this supposed ‘chosen one’ who had been stalking him and his operations for over two years. He didn’t believe in this superstitious nonsense that the creatures seemed to take so seriously. He had given up a great deal of territory to buy him some more time, his operations in the Balkans, in and around Serbia were not sacrificed lightly. But ultimately they were heavily compromised, this human that obsessively stalked him could walk into almost any building or organisation that Derrick owned and destroy it or worse, extract knowledge to help him learn even more. He simply didn’t have enough of his elite forces to defend all his territory. Thus, reluctantly, he walked away from his old home, he was on the verge of finishing his master stroke, his greatest coup and not even this human, the one who possessed the creature’s powers could stop him, although there were reports that he had been sighted and even attacked in Lithuania. Possibly, there had eve been an attack in Latvia this past night, he was still waiting for reports. Two trucks from his convoy had been destroyed, that was likely him as well, but that wasn’t a significant issue, there were still ample of munitions for his plan.
No, what troubled him was a report of one of his creature’s, a lieutenant in charge of an important distribution centre here in Estonia, had been killed, by one of his men, a human.
It appeared that the human had discovered that the creature, a shapeshifter of course, was in fact inhuman and had attacked and killed it.
Derrick would ordinarily arrange for the human to be eliminated, clearly he didn’t take to finding out that his boss was a monster, most people didn’t, which was why the introduction was normally done under very controlled circumstances. The problem for Derrick is that the human, Borris, happens to be a very good friend of his.
He looked down at the wine in his glass, it shimmered in the dull light of his office.
Growing up in Serbia, Derrick’s life had been one of hardship. It was no more difficult than anyone he knew, it was simply the way of things. He remembered when Tito the much loved dictator of Yugoslavia had died and the subsequent years of uncertainty before the communist state shattered into increasingly smaller pieces. Crime had always been a way of life for many of Derrick’s friends, it was nothing beyond survival, but it was always prevalent. But after Serbia gained its independence and pragmatism fell away, there were whispers of war, and with that there was always more unrest, more uncertainty.
As he grew into his later teens he had decided that he had to be more active in his life, not merely surviving, but living. He and a few friends, including his bulky headstrong comrade, Borris, decided to form an organised gang. How on earth one would go about this was beyond them, this was tantamount to boys playing on the weekends or after school, it was make believe, at least to start with. Gradually, with their vague connections and patchy knowledge they managed to improve and focus their efforts, they went from hassling people on the streets or steeling car stereos to some drug dealing and armed robberies. They chose their targets carefully, never in their own neighbourhood, never from where they grew up and never anyone who was struggling as much as they were.
It was with much pride Derrick and Borris had never fired a shot, nor drawn blood with their knives. They’d had to knock a few people down of course, upset people tend to cave in to pressure more easily.
Their comrades were a little less keen on this ideological approach, they were happy to cause harm wherever they went, but Derrick and Borris always remember where they came from, they didn’t need to push others down to feel superior, they gained their strength from their financial independence, their resourcefulness. They started with nothing, and as war began to rage in the Balkans, they kept their heads down and expanded their core to cover several districts of Belgrade.
In those days Belgrade was a rough place, worse than it is now, there had been no recent development, the tall communist era buildings, lacking in personality, covered in grime from the suburban industrial zones, the pavements cracked and the people downtrodden. It was a miserable place, but Derrick and Borris were happy.
That was the case until a new crime lord muscled his way in to their territory.
‘Sam’ was the name he went by, no one knew his real name. He was Ukrainian, had left his homeland after the Soviet collapse and had sought new ground to rough up the locals. He chose Belgrade because there were ‘more heads to crack.’ He was a man mountain, muscular, shaved head, face like he ate rocks for breakfast. A scar on one cheek, a crooked nose from his rough days on the street, he was an intimidating sight.
The boys were worried about meeting Sam, but had continued on their business.
Before long, unsurprisingly, Sam had approached them. He was dressed in jeans and a standard t-shirt, but his face was that of a boxer who had won a few and lost a few bouts. He walked into the run down flat that Derrick was sharing with Borris and some of his friends.
‘You know who I am?’ Sam had asked.
‘Yes,’ Derrick answered, weighing up his chances of surviving this encounter.
‘Good, you see I’m looking at taking some territory, your territory, just wanted to do the gentlemanly thing and let you know what was happening. I’m sure you boys know what I’m capable of, and you wouldn’t like to be at the receiving end of it now would you?’ Sam stopped to trace his finger over one of his scars that ran from his cheek, not too far from his ear all the way down to his mouth.
‘So here’s the deal, you can either leave this life behind you, leave the city, never come back, you can work for me, and get paid very well for doing so, or you can die, right now. Now don’t worry, I’ll give you a minute to think about it,’ he paused for a few seconds, checked his watch which was a silver Rolex, genuine by Derrick’s estimation, ‘ok that’s about a minute, what do you say?’
The four young scared men all looked at Borris, he was the eldest- by six months, the unofficial leader. He looked back at them, he seemed unfazed, but Derrick knew him well enough, he was running the options and odds of survival through his mind. They all had no doubt that even out numbering Sam four to one would mean nothing, they would be dead in a minute.
‘I think I’d like very much to work for you Sam,’ Borris said with forced confidence. The other three lads, Derrick included all let out a sigh of relief.
‘Same goes here,’ they muttered.
‘Good,’ Sam announced, I’ll be back with your instructions.’
It was then several months of running errands and selling huge amounts of dope- coke and heroin were the drugs of choice back then. They were roughing up competition and shaking down people for money, Same as before but on a much bigger scale. It was far more dangerous and the lads were far busier than before, but this time they were only taking about ten percent of the profits. The up side was, ten percent was still enough money to live the lives they were happy with. They could drink, go out, meet girls, even bought an old car each and paid for a fake licence. But they saw a huge amount of pain, and they were causing it. Not that they were angels before, but in a harsh world, they were standing on one side of the line, now they’d stepped over and were thugs to a crime lord that didn’t back down from any chance to stamp his authority.
As inevitable as the tides, there came a breaking point when Sam and one of his men, a brick building in denim who rarely spoke, came around and told Derrick, Borris and two of his friends to follow him on a job. They did as they were told, had knives and brass knuckles tucked away ready for a fight. If Sam asked for backup it was usually a big deal.
When they reached a small village about twenty kilometres out of Belgrade, they stopped, got out of the old knock about van and made their way into an unasuming house. The door was locked, but the large man cracked the handle and it gave way with ease, the smell of a thick gravy and meat wafted through the halls. Inside, a family of four sat at the small dinner table in the kitchen. This was a poor family’s house from the 1960s, Derrick knew them well having grown up in one. It was a touch above what he was living in right now, but that was largely by choice, he liked keeping his life simple. The sorrowful look on the father’s face, and the defeated slouch in his shoulders told of this family’s situation.
He was in his forties, his wife in a mended house dress, thin and was once attractive, but had been worn away by life. She was perhaps in her late thirties and the two children, one boy and one girl looked up wide-eyed. They were perhaps ten and twelve years old respectively.
‘What are you doing here?’ The father asked as he stood up in protest.
‘I think you know Andrea, it’s time to pay up.’
‘I told you I don’t have the money,’ the pudgy man replied, pleading.
‘Well you should have thought of that. I gave you some good stuff, and some cash, now what did you do with it?’
‘I sold it, but I had to pay tax and gas bills, I was six months behind.’
‘My heart bleeds, and now so will yours.’ Sam raised his hand, signalling Borris forward. Derrick stood frozen, watching the proceedings, what the hell was he doing here?
‘Hit him,’ Sam said. Reluctantly Borris raised his hand and hit the father on the cheek, he fell back into his chair, his children cried, his wife gasped.
‘No, no, hit him harder,’ Sam smirked. Borris did so, the father barely made a noise this time, he was dazed, probably seeing stars. ‘Now do you have the money?’
‘I-I can not pay,’ he whimpered.
‘That’s a shame, we’ll take a down payment.’ He signalled Borris and ordered him to grab the daughter, a pretty young girl, hir long black hair had been brushed carefully in contrast to her worn and patched clothes. ‘She’ll do nicely.’
‘No!’ The father stood up as Borris took an uncomfortable step towards the daughter. Sam swung a hard punch into the side of the man’s knee, a loud crack could be heard, the man fell to the ground, whimpered as his wife stood up and screamed.
‘Good idea, I like a screamer. Take the girl, I’ll meet you in the van. You stay here,’ he said to his muscular subordinate, ‘if the father even moves, kill his boy.’ The large man pulled out an army service pistol, Serbian model and stared at the boy and his injured father. Sam charged at the wife, grabbed her and dragged her towards the bedroom door. Derrick and his friends stood in shock. This was not what they had signed up for, hustling a few street corners and selling some drugs to get by was one thing, but busting into a working family’s home, taking a daughter for life, and a wife for an hour was something else entirely.
The bedroom door closed, Borris held the daughter by the shoulders, she struggled against him, but he held her in place. The father cried, the son sobbed, not sure what to do, his life was getting torn apart. Borris turned and looked at Derrick, his eyes were burning. He took the girl to Derrick, ‘hold her,’ he said. Derrick did as he was told, still in shock. Borris turned, pulled out a screwdriver which he had sharpened into a point. The muscle man was staring intently at the father who clutched at his dislocated knee, there was no reaction, only a stillness in the air as the screwdriver was driven all the way into his neck.
The big man’s hands came up and he plugged the hole instinctively, dropping his sidearm and turned on his attacker, but Boris was fast and was already behind his victim stabbing into the back of the neck and twisting the weapon. The large man fell to his knees blood spurting out as he tried to defend himself. One more stab in the right side of his neck and he fell to the ground.
Derrick let go of the girl, he picked up the Serbian pistol, he’d never fired a gun at a human being before and he wondered if he’d have to now.
The screams continued from the bedroom, Borris charged in, the door flung open, Sam yelled, there was a scream and wet fleshy sound. Then again, and again and again. After a few moments, or possibly a minute, Derrick couldn’t tell, Borris returned, his shirt covered in blood.
‘We have to remove the bodies,’ he said calmly, although his face had gone pale. He had never killed before and now he had done it twice in less than sixty seconds, all for a family he never knew.
Derrick sipped his wine, a cool breeze rattled the window, but no chill pervaded on his introspection.
The report had come in barely two hours ago, it read simply: ‘Agent killed, assailant one of ours, Borris Drevsky.’
Derrick asked to see Borris right away and also for clarification, what was the cause of such an altercation? The answer had been less than satisfactory, but in short, there had been an argument, the leader of one of Derrick’s compounds, a Nameless shapeshifter had been stabbed three times and wounded fatally by Borris. Borris saw the creature dissolve, as they always did, he now knows about the shapeshifters, no one else was a witness and Borris did not speak of this to anyone.
Standard protocol for such a situation was for Derrick to remove the killer, after all such insubordination could not be tolerated. Upon learning of the creatures, most people rejected the notion and tried to escape and were also eliminated.
After Derrick had risen through the ranks of the Nameless and eventually taken over, he had contacted his old friend to see if he wanted a job. He didn’t tell him of the creatures of course, he wouldn’t believe him. It had been nearly three years that Borris had worked for him, very soon he would have learned the truth, but as it was, the opportunity had been taken away from him forever.
There was a knock at the door. ‘Da,’ Derrick called. The simple, scratched wooden door creaked open and three men entered, one after the other, the smell of perspiration and cheap cologne followed them in. Borris was in front, not restrained as Derrick had ordered. That was already a risk, he couldn’t show favouritism, many knew of his history with Borris. The other two men were some of Derrick’s most trusted guards, strong men, and although they lacked an equally strong wit, they were smart enough to be more than just hired muscle.
‘Derrick,’ Borris said as he walked up to the desk. He took a seat without waiting for an invitation. The two guards took up positions, one behind Borris and one by the door, as was standard of an untrusted guest.
‘Hello Borris, it’s good to see you again,’ Derrick said in a measured tone. They conversed in their native Serbian. ‘Could you please explain to me what happened just now with our agent.’
‘He was out of line, so I stabbed him, just like Sam.’ That was smart, a code word that only Derrick would know. So the agent was doing something wrong, perhaps there was a way out of this.
‘What did he do to deserve such treatment?’ He tapped his fingers gently on the desk.
Borris showed no signs of nervousness, he was always the confident one.
‘Well, you may be interested to learn that your man-‘ Derrick noted the inflection ‘was lacing drugs with a few nasty extras. I at first wondered why, when I saw the composition, I realised that only a moderate dose would prove fatal to most. I understand drugs quite well, never taken them myself as you know, but I know the business. Rule number one, you want to get your customers hooked, you don’t wont to destroy them. If they are destroyed, non-functional, they can’t be customers can they? I raised this with our boy, I knew him as Jamine, I’m not sure what you called him. Anyway, Jamine said, ‘they’re not for our customers.’ This didn’t explain much better so I did my own snooping. He was going to sell them discreetly to the Russians, so they wouldn’t know they came from us, the composition would be well mixed, hard to test for, even for the Russians. Then, despite us having become rather friendly with the gangs, they would then sell on the drugs, hundreds will die, more, the Russians would get blamed.
‘Now I’m only guessing, but I’d say, Jamine’s people would then be there with some clean drugs and a few hard points to make, kick the Russians out and thus be the saviours of the Baltics.’ Borris smiled bitterly at Derrick. ‘He found out that I found out, he didn’t like it, he said he didn’t care what I thought, he was going to go ahead and let the ‘smack heads die.’ I explained to him that the Russians pushed it as a party drug, so you’d have mounds of teenagers dropping dead, not hard core drug addicts, just kids who want to have a good time. You know what he did? He smiled at me, told me to back off or ‘even Derrick wouldn’t back you up,’ his exact words. So I took out a little souvenir and used it on him.’ At that, a familiar screw driver was placed onto the desk by the closest guard. It had blood on it, black blood, it was kept out of reach of Borris.
Derrick looked down at the weapon, his mind ticking over. Borris had done the unthinkable, he had killed a creature, if there wasn’t retribution, he could have a revolution on his hands, the syndicate could be split in two, his Nameless against his humans, and he knew which would win. He had to tread carefully.
‘Did you know?’ Borris said breaking the silence.
‘That he was a shapeshifting creature with a bad attitude?’
‘No, you obviously knew about that, did you know about the plan with the drugs.’
Derrick looked at his old friend. He didn’t know. That is to say, he wasn’t surprised, but he had not ordered such an operation.
He had given the creature known as Jamine very loose reigns and the orders to get the Russians close, to allow an opportunity to tear them apart. They were the only major obstacle to the area. He needed to use them for his one final big push, then he needed to get rid of them, this would have done the trick. He trusted Jermaine to get the job done, knew that it wouldn’t be pretty, but killing kids? Not that he or Derrick were directly responsible, but they knew the likely outcome, that was ostensibly the same. It wasn’t his style, Derrick prefered a cleaner war against such groups, but he had learnt in the past two years, confronted by enemies from all sides, that if he wanted to rule Europe, to bring order to its streets, he had to cause some damage on the way. Much like in those days with Sam, as he’d stood their impotently, he had a gun but not the guts to use it, instead Borris had got his hands dirty. It bothered him that he could dismiss the lives of these teenagers so easily, but it bothered him more that Borris would think less of him. He couldn’t deny the plan, as that would make him appear weak.
‘I gave him lose instructions, I trusted him to get the job done.’
Borris’s expression dropped, he looked crushed, dissapointed. That cut Derrick more than he thought possible. His last true friend loosing forever the respect he had once had.
‘You have truly sold your soul to the devil, working with creatures-‘
‘They’re not demons,’ Derrick cut in.
‘I don’t care what they are, it’s irrelevant. You’ve sold out your own species, conspire with them in back alleys, kill and kill. I didn’t mind working for you, I thought we were working towards a common goal. To bring peace, I didn’t mind the drugs, that was my thing for as long as you’ve known me. I’m no fool, we aren’t angels, but this, killing kids, consorting with demons, figurative or literal, it doesn’t matter,’ Borris’s face began to turn red, the guards tensed.
‘I’m still working towards that goal, and some blood needs to be spilt along the way.’
‘To hell with that, and to hell with you,’ he spat back.
‘Borris, I need your word that you’re not going to breathe a word about what you saw tonight.’
‘My word? Why would I give my word to someone such as you?’ Derrick sighed, he had expected as much. Even if he had gone down on one knee and sworn an oath, it may not have helped poor Borris live out the night. Derrick felt the sadness swell up, he looked at the guard behind Borris and nodded. The large man picked up Borris and dragged him to the door. This was quite unnecessary as the stout Serbian gave no resistance. He looked at Derrick as he went, he knew what fate awaited him.
‘Goodbye old friend,’ Derrick said.
‘You’ve changed,’ was the last thing he said before the was dragged outside. No one would find the body.
Derrick turned his chair away as tears rolled down his cheek, one fell into the glass of wine he held to his lips. He sipped it slowly as he tried to congratulate himself for stopping a major disaster in his organisation. He tried and failed.
The wine tasted bitter now.
(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Nameless Saga’ 2017