“Milan,” he says, “I’m sorry. I really am.”
“No,” says his contact, leaning an elbow on the table, “you’re not. But you will be.”
“I can explain!” He’s desperate, clearly, but still waits for a nod of approval before continuing. “My nephew needs a car, for his job - his mom and dad said they’d give him one but they… he came out, you know, he said he was a - he was gay, and they were mad. So I did it. That’s why, with the money… but I’ll get it back, I promise. You won’t miss it. Two days. One day! I can get it. I can get it, I promise .”
Milan thinks, for a painfully long moment. “You’re wrong,” he says finally. “I won’t miss the money, you said? I’m already missing it.” He taps the table. “It’s not here .”
“One day, Milan, I can get it.”
“You have 24 hours. Come back to me tomorrow - not earlier, please. I will be busy until then.”
“This guy,” Sam shouts, over the noise. Katrina is drunk and dancing, and he can only pull her away for a moment at a time, “Kat! Kat! This guy! Kat!” She turns around, finally, and sees the other man, nods. “I’m going home! This guy! Back tomorrow!”
She nods again, and waves at him, and doesn’t watch them disappear.
“Come on,” the guy says, “let’s get out of here.”
“And that,” Knyazev hisses, “is why he’s here?”
Milan makes a sound of assent; all he can do past the hand around his throat. Anatoli leans over for a second to see the person in the bed.
“You’re using my hotel room - to play with your food .”
“He won’t be here for long.”
“That’s not the problem.” He tightens his hand. “You might have been seen coming in.”
He’s choking Milan quite badly, and it takes a frantic tap on the wrist to encourage him to let go.
“And we will be seen going out,” Milan straightens up, only wheezing slightly. “What?” He smiles. “You think I was going to do it here?"
“Where will you do it?”
“I can show you.” He pats his companion’s shoulder. “But first, I will wake him up. And remember, if he talks to you - my name is Dean.”
It’s fairly straightforward, in the end. ‘Dean’ tells Sam that he’ll be able to take him home, but has to make a detour to see some friends first. When invited - it’s rough, out by the docks, and unwise for him to stay in the car - he walks straight into the basement, and Milan strikes him with a baseball bat. He goes down without a sound.
“He’s still alive,” Knyazev points out.
“I know,” Milan says, dragging the body onto a tarpaulin and slicing off the clothes with a pocket knife. He ties a chain around the feet and attaches a hook, to hoist the young man into the air. “Normally,” he removes his own shirt and fetches a waxed apron, tying it around his waist, “I would do it straight away, but first….” A door crashes at the top of the stairs. “He’s on time, for once.”
Anatoli leans on the wall out of the way, as a man comes down the steps flanked by two bodyguards.
“The money is upstairs, Milan - I said, I promised. You’ve got it, all of….”
He stops dead, leaving the bodyguards behind.
“I could tell you to tell your nephew to be more careful, in future.” Milan gestures at him with a large knife. “But you won’t need to do that.”
“Sam!” He takes a step forward. Another would bring him to the edge of the tarpaulin, but he doesn’t take it. He doesn’t dare.
“He can’t hear you.”
“I can see th- please! Please, whatever you want! I can get it! Let him go! Milan, please!”
“This won’t hurt him,” Milan says confidently, and slices Sam’s throat.
To his credit, the other guy retains enough sense to jump backwards away from potential spray. That overbalances him and he topples to the floor and sits there, eyes wide, one hand stretched out as if to shield himself.
He stays frozen for a few seconds more before flailing over onto his front and stumbling to his feet, running for the door. He runs right into the arms of the bodyguards and fights them, ineffectual, like a plastic bag caught on a fence. He’s crying.
“Take him upstairs,” Milan says, “let him leave. He can join the search for his nephew, maybe.”
“And you?” Anatoli asks, once the three are gone.
Milan is inspecting the roll of knives, running his fingers over them. “I have work to do. I will let the gentleman go. I will not let his nephew go off.”
The second hand joins the first in the bag with a smack - a grisly high-five to complete the pile.
“What will you do with them? These are -.”
“Evidence, yes. Crush the bones and incinerate.” Milan adjusts his gloves and switches knives. “Not necessary for the feet,” he adds over his shoulder, “but it makes the skinning easier, as you see.”
The bodyguards turn to leave, as if by prearranged signal. Milan makes a long, shallow cut down the centre of the body and begins to strip the skin away.
“How will you hang it back up without the feet?”
“That is what meat hooks are for.” He holds one up. “Between the bones on the leg. They,” meaning the men who left, “don’t like to see it.”
These are some of the most ruthless people Anatoli has ever encountered - he’s impressed, consistently, by their operation. They set a benchmark for brutality he isn’t sure anyone has ever matched. But they don’t like to see this.
“You know, the guts can come out in one piece, if you’re careful.”
“You were right.”
“You say that as if I haven’t done this before.” The organs flop neatly into a bucket.
Anatoli looks at them, but feels no desire to poke around.
“Heart, lungs.” Milan points them out with the tip of the knife, like an anatomy lecturer. “Fine for grinding. Liver. Kidneys. The rest for the dogs.”
He takes up a saw and swings it lazily.
“You’re going to saw it in half?”
“Like a magician.”
“Except the other way.” Knyazev finally looks away; no doubt he’s imagining it. A human carcass sectioned and hanging on a meat-hook is quite the arresting image.
“I left one behind once. In a basement, in Brazil. As a message. I’m told that every single one of the law enforcement officers who entered that room had to go outside and throw up.”
“I wouldn’t like to come across that unexpectedly,” Anatoli admits. “It would surprise me.”
“Especially if it might be someone I knew.”
“It wouldn’t… frighten you?”
“Everyone has their own ways of sending messages.” He shrugs; this is a man who has, apparently, never been frightened. Concerned, perhaps. Worried for his safety. But never afraid.
The bloody tools clatter into the sink. Milan strips off his gloves and adds them to the bag on the floor - hazardous waste, to be incinerated. Nothing left behind.
“I will leave this to hang overnight, in the cold,” he announces. “And once I’ve cleaned up - would you care to join me for dinner?”
“I’ll take you out,” Anatoli says, and leaves it at that.