Mark gave the entire length of his body a sharp tug, feeling the new, still-healing skin stretch painfully with the movement. He was accustomed to it by now, though, unphased by the sensation and more focused on his minor success. One of his arms slipped loose of the hold another man had on it, giving him enough freedom to twist around in a scrambling flail. He wasn’t a violent man by any means, but in the heat of a moment, any human will do their damned best to survive.
His newly reclaimed fist met the face of his other captor with all the momentum of his swinging body, sending them reeling. He barely garnered a few seconds of breathing room before the first man was on him again, catching him under both arms this time to haul him back with another furious shout.
“Let go of me!”
He kicked out, nailing the second guy in the shoulder and eliciting a grunt. He sounded more annoyed than pained, unfortunately.
He felt the fist in his stomach before he really registered the movement with his eyes, and his guts knotted up from the impact, oxygen pushing out of his lungs in a wheeze. It still burned a little in his throat, triggering a light coughing fit which was barely stunted by another punch to the face.
Mark’s head snapped to the right, his glasses clattering to the tarnished wooden floor. Still, he struggled, squirming and writhing as he was hauled deeper into the very building he’d desperately tried to escape from.
So much for that plan. No one had heard his screams—or if they had, they’d been conditioned to ignore them. This was Russian territory. If you pursued cries for help out here, particularly so late in the evening, you’d probably be next in line for a shallow grave.
Mark should have known better. He should have gone for broad daylight, or waited until his lungs had hopefully recovered more. It was so difficult to run for long periods now; so hard to breathe deeply, like he used to. Doctors could fix burns and stitch lacerations, but there was little they could do on the inside. Only now was he fully realizing the extent of his limitations, and it was truly biting him in the ass.
Mir wasn’t going to be happy about this.
As if the man were a summoned demon, or a nightmare conjured up by Mark’s very own imagination, he appeared in the doorway. He had a great way of doing that, much to Mark’s chagrin. He made no move to draw closer. Not yet. He was content to stand there and smoke his cigar while the two beefy lackeys wrestled Mark into submission.
He was thrown roughly to the floor. Before he could even lift his head, a booted foot was slamming into the back of it, forcing it down. His chin smacked the wood and his teeth scraped against the tip of his tongue. Mark could taste blood in his mouth. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time; definitely wouldn’t be the last.
Another foot came to rest firmly at the base of his spine and he hissed as he felt the heel grind in against the bit of skin exposed by his rumpled shirt. He’d hardly dressed in his finest (that being what they gave him) in some effort to be more flexible and light on his feet. Some help that had been in the long run.
The three men began conversing in Russian. Again, something Mark was getting used to. That didn’t mean he understood it, especially when he couldn’t attach their expressions or body language to the words. It was just a mess of grunted and grumbled syllables.
The stench of cigar smoke infiltrated his nose as Mir finally stepped closer. He heard more than saw the man approach, breathing heavily and giving a bit of a jerk beneath the shoes pinning him down.
Mir made what sounded like a snide comment, and the laughter of his men confirmed Mark’s suspicions. Asshole couldn’t even insult him in a language Mark understood. He grimaced as he felt what had to be ashes drift down onto his face, eye blinking rapidly before fully closing to avoid damage. The smoke Mir blew into them on a daily basis was bad enough.
“Oh, Mark. What am I going to do with you, Собака? ”
More ashes drifted down onto Mark’s face, a trickle of the blood in his mouth slipping out.
“Perhaps I should put you on a leash? Is that demeaning in your country?”
Mark gritted his teeth in a silent snarl. Mir knew Mark wasn’t from Korea, that he was American-born, but he also didn’t care. The man loved making jabs at his ethnicity, be it the German or Korean half, but especially the latter. At least Mark knew what that one specific word meant. One of Mir’s thugs had spilled it to him in a fit of deprecating laughter.
“He is calling you a dog. A mutt. A clumsy, unclean, annoying animal barely deserving of scraps. He has quite the way with words, you see.”
There was just something so much harsher about Mir’s choice, after all the times Mark had affectionately been compared to dogs in the past. It also made him think of Chica, who he missed dearly, and who didn’t fit the Russian’s description of a dog at all. These men wouldn’t recognize kindness and compassion if it bit them.
“As entertaining as it would be to see the great and powerful Judge Fischbach’s disgrace of a бра т on a leash, I feel it may be disconcerting to our customers. No, I have a far more amusing and… permanent, solution.”
There was a pause during which Mark could only assume Mir was taking a nice, long pull on his cigar, as if congratulating himself. Then there was more snapped Russian, and the boots were falling away from his backside.
Yet before he could so much as twitch, the hands were on him again, dragging him up into a sitting position. More of the blood he’d failed to swallow spilled past his lips to dribble down his chin and drip on his clothes, making Mir “tsk” in disapproval. Though as Mark’s hands were roughly bound behind his back, another slew of Russian was snapped out, and one of the men holding him stiffened. A bit of an argument seemed to ensue, bursts of words flying between Mir and his goon, while two other men dragged Mark back until he was resting against a wall. He turned, spitting out the blood pooling in his mouth, and finally got a full view of the situation.
Mir looked pissed, pointing emphatically with his free hand at Mark’s face—though he didn’t spare Mark so much as a glance. The full force of his brutal gaze was focused on the man who’d punched Mark; far larger and more muscled than Mir by far. Even so, he looked downright terrified , stammering and holding up his hands in a universal form of surrender. He looked like a man pleading his case to a judge… or perhaps “executioner” would be the more appropriate term, seeing as Mir pulled a gun from the inside of his coat and promptly fired a round straight through the center of his lackey’s skull.
The bullet went straight through, barreling out the back of the man’s head in a light shower of brain and bone matter, blood swiftly following its exit to spill down the back of his neck. The used bullet hit the floor some distance away, its momentum lost, and the large body joined it just a heartbeat or two later. Blood rapidly pooled around the head, the newly deceased man’s eyes staring straight at Mark, still full of light but unseeing. They didn’t cloud over that fast.
There were no shouts of surprise or cries of dismay. Not even a mumble left the two remaining men keeping Mark pinned up against the wall. It was deathly silent, three pairs of eyes watching as Mir slipped the gun back into his coat. The leader of the Russian mob drew a long pull from his cigar. Flicking the ashes onto the corpse, Mir breathed the smoke back out in a thick stream and muttered something in Russian. Then, his attention turned back to Mark.
Mark wished he could say he was shocked, but he wasn’t. Mir ruled his mafia with an iron fist and a loaded gun. He wouldn’t hesitate to beat or outright kill anyone who dared to defy him. Perhaps that was why he’d been in charge for so long. Maybe that was how they regained their lost ground so fast.
Mark didn’t know, and he was gradually becoming desensitized to the merciless bloodshed. Mir was nothing like Jack; nothing like PJ, or Molly. No, this man was on an entirely different level, a playing field all his own. It made him scared for them — the latter two, anyway. Jack, well… it would be silly to fear for the dead.
Mir rounded on Mark, closing the distance between them again. Now he looked irritated. That always meant bad things for Mark, and he’d already been in hot water to begin with.
“How many times have I told you all? You may play with the toy, but do not damage its appearance. Looks are very important for a salesman.” He eyed Mark’s slowly swelling face again with a curled lip. “And damaged goods sell less .”
He waved a hand at one of the men, snapping out more Russian and sending him off. Mark would have struggled, even tied up as he was, but the other goon still had him pressed firmly to the wall. Mir chuckled where he stood over his captive, smoking his cigar and looking the picture of a smug cat.
“You have been so quiet , Собака. Have you resigned yourself to your fate? Have you come to accept your situation? You will not be escaping me. No one does.”
Mark was well aware that Mir was baiting him. They’d been playing this game of cat and mouse for weeks now. He always tried to take it on the chin, to give his captor the cold shoulder and deny him anymore fun. But Mark was hardly the type to take words or hits laying down, and thus he rose to that bait yet again.
“You’re going to all this trouble for a corpse .” The words grated harshly in his throat.
Mir tossed back his head with a boisterous laugh at that, as the goon Mark thought he’d dismissed re-entered the room with a wooden baseball bat in hand. The sight of it instantly made Mark’s stomach churn anxiously, his blood running cold with the possibilities. Mir, catching his horrified expression, smirked.
“Quite the lively corpse. And the lucrative one. We have been over this, Собака. ” He pulled from his cigar again as the man holding Mark down took up a fistful of his dark hair, forcing his head back with a painful jerk. “It is much easier to kidnap and abuse a man no one thinks is still alive.”
He puffed out a breath of smoke and stepped closer to Mark, knowing his captive could kick out—but also knowing he wouldn’t. Not if he wanted to keep those legs. So Mir could crouch beside Mark without fear, his man holding the ex-speakeasy owner steady.
“Your бра т, that judicial scum, should have rotted away in prison.” He craned his neck, imposing and casting a shadow even in such close proximity. “He should have ‘died,’ and then his ‘corpse’ should have belonged to me . So that I could show that filthy gook-”
“Don’t you dare talk about him like that!” Mark snapped, jerking, not caring as he felt a few hairs pull free from his scalp.
Mir’s response was to tug the collar of Mark’s shirt down, the small butt of what remained of his cigar pressing firmly to the healing skin. Mark screamed, writhing in pain, but Mir didn’t stop until he was certain a decent impression had been made.
“- exactly who is in charge, no matter where either of us may be, that no man or cop or judge can stand before a king without consequence. It is I who holds this city within the palm of my hand. Not him, not Carpett, and certainly none of those pretenders with their little immigrant armies.” He made a noise of disgust when he pulled his cigar away, pulling a face at it before flicking it off to the side. “You are fortunate I would never ruin a full one on your yellow skin.”
The goon let Mark’s head drop while he shuddered and gasped, mind spinning from the pain. Once more, his ears alerted him to Mir’s movements, the mafia leader pulling away to stand again. Mark wasn’t naive enough to believe it was over. That bat was still in the equation, after all. Mir had plans .
“I was hoping to avoid this, you know.” Mir sighed the words out in a single breath. “As I said, damaged goods are so bad for business. But you leave me with no choice. Even damaged product is better than no product, and I cannot be having you running away back to your little underground friends. You are mine now. You belong to me, property of the Russian mafia. And everything in the Russian mafia, is mine. Just as this city will be.”
Approaching footsteps coaxed Mark into lifting his head again. When he saw the man with the bat now hovering over him, specifically his legs , his heart leaped into his throat. Brown eyes bulged in their sockets and he tensed, immediately trying to scrabble away. But firm hands held him fast, and a foot landed harshly at his ankle, pinning a leg into place. He started to pant heavily as his fear spiked.
“You look frightened, Собака. Perhaps a story will help to calm your nerves.” Mir chuckled as he stood back, leaving his men to do the real dirty work, as par the course. He watched with rapt attention as the one pinning Mark’s legs took a few practice swings.
“Nonono, no, no please, no- don’t, you can’t, you can’t- please-!” Mark rambled out, backing down in the wake of such a threat. Self-preservation and instinct reigned supreme while his face drained of all color.
Mir outright ignored the pleas, spinning a tale as if he were telling his own son a bedtime story. His tone was amicable, pleasant even, for the setting.
“Once upon a time, there was a kind, benevolent man. Now this man, he found himself a stray, and out of the goodness of his heart took the poor wretch into his home. He fed him…”
The bat came down, stopping just short, but pulling a terrified scream from Mark’s scarred throat nonetheless.
Again, the bat came down, with no follow through—but a scream all the same.
“...cared for him, just as any good owner would. But this Собака, he was bad. Selfish and careless, he threw away these kind gifts, he tried to run away. ”
This time when the bat came down, it didn’t stop. The wood made contact with Mark’s shin with a sickening crack and his entire body jerked against the hands holding it in place.
His head fell back in a ragged scream that tore through his throat like acid, more roiling away in his stomach with newfound nausea. He didn’t want to look. God, he couldn’t look; his leg was a stream of white hot fire. He continued to scream, shaking, starting to sob as his other leg was pinned down.
“The master caught his foolish Собака. Caught him and brought him home, and he knew, that Собака would try to run away again. Would continue to show his ungratefulness.”
Mir was unphased by the scene laid out before him. There was no pause, not a single hiccup in his story even as Mark began to cry from the agony.
“So, he decided to break its legs. Just the two, the hind legs, so that the little Собака, he could no longer run from his master. So that his Собака would know its place. It would heal, but it would never be the same. Thus was its master’s will. And its master’s will, was law.”
The goon didn’t play around this time. He nailed Mark’s bone in the first vicious swing, not quite in the same spot but still on the shin. The bone split beneath the force and sent Mark reeling again.
His ensuing scream cracked and petered out into a hoarse wheeze of air, his voice dying in the wake of the abuse on his already strained throat. He sobbed, silently, trembling and heaving while his legs remained unmoving beyond an occasional twitch. He didn’t even try to curl his toes.
“Ahhh, Собака. Such a sad face you wear. Don’t you realize this is for your own good?” Mir pulled a fresh cigar from his pocket along with a cutter, snipping off one side without even looking.
Another wave of nausea slammed into Mark, a new tingling numbness beginning to underline the fierce sting and throb in his legs. He gagged once, then twice, before he felt himself being pushed to the side where he promptly threw up. The mix of stomach acid and half-digested food only made his throat hurt worse, but it was nothing compared to his legs.
His legs, god, Mir had broken his legs . How was he ever supposed to walk again? This man was insane . He hadn’t even batted an eye, or flinched.
Mir lit the cigar and brought it to his lips, breathing in the tobacco.
“Does one need to stand to serve drinks?”
The question was posed to the Russian with the bat, who hesitantly gave a shake of his head. Mir smirked again.
“Get him a chair. We open in an hour, and I need my bartender.” His attention turned back to Mark, who was still dry heaving and crying. “Perhaps, if you are a good Собака , I will see to your legs after closing.”
Mark’s vision blurred, flickering between darkness and comprehension as his consciousness threatened to wink out in the wake of such trauma. He felt faint and lightheaded, the stench of vomit and cigar smoke enough to make him sick again- if he’d had anything left in him to lose. Vaguely, he spied Mir’s retreating legs, and felt the hands lifting him up. Mir honestly expected him to work in these conditions? With broken legs? How-
His weight settled on the split bones and he would have screamed if his voice wasn’t wrecked, his entire body instantly collapsing. Only the hands gripping his arms stopped him from hitting the floor, but the blast of pain was enough to send him tumbling into unconsciousness. As he drifted, no doubt being roused far too soon, his mind couldn’t help but to wonder.
Mir was a mafia boss. Jack, PJ, Molly- they were all mob bosses too. He knew them, but how much did he really know? How much did they hide?
How many legs, and how many people , had they broken?