Roy was beat. He slumped into the diner with his shoulders slumped and a strong need for the blackest coffee he could get. Taking a seat on a stool at the counter, he rubbed his hands over his face, wincing at the sting in his knuckles. Dropping his hands down, he flexed them, giving them a good shake, and grimaced at the cracked and bloodied skin. It wasn't his first time in a fight, far from it, and this guy had it coming. The Glades were a rough place. Everybody was a target down there. And women especially were treated like third class citizens, beaten or raped by any thug who saw a victim. Roy wasn't okay with that. Sure, he was a thief. He'd taken purses and wallets more time than he could count. But he took it from people who could afford it, and taking a few bills didn't hurt them too much. He was a survivor, he had to be, and so he did things, things he wasn't always proud of but had long ago convinced himself weren't too bad in comparison. He never hurt women, never hurt anyone weaker than him, and when he saw others doing so, he got into the way. Maybe it was just his way of keeping hope that the world could be better. That, despite everything he'd seen, there were still good people out there willing to make an effort.
Gladys swung by, smiling at him tiredly. She leaned one plump hip against the counter and raised a drawn-on eyebrow. "You wanna coffee, honey?"
"Yeah, please, Gladys. Thanks."
She winked at him before she left, pouring him a hot cup of coffee and returning with a slice of blueberry pie too. "On the house, Sweet Cheeks," she told him, before bustling off to look after someone else.
Roy half-smiled, wrapping one hand around the coffee mug just to let the heat sink into his skin, while grabbing up a fork and scooping up a bite of pie.
Time ticked by slowly, the low murmur of a television buzzing in the corner by the register mixed with the clatter of forks on plates. If he closed his eyes and listened a little harder, he could hear the radio playing in the back for the cook and the scrape of his spatula on the grill. It was soothing in some ways; a constant flow of white noise, the smell of coffee and greasy food on the air. The familiarity of Gladys' too strong perfume and the knowledge that Abe, who Roy was pretty sure lived on the stool three down from him, was, and always would be, right there, reading a newspaper.
Sipping at his coffee and eating his pie, Roy sunk into the sense of comfort, ignoring the way his knuckles still ached and that in twenty minutes he'd have to head back out, make his way through the grittiest parts of the Glades to get to his shitty trailer where his mom had skipped out on him months earlier, leaving nothing but a coffee tin he'd kept a wad of cash in, empty on his bed.
There was noise, a rustling, before a body sat down beside him.
Roy didn't pay it much attention, even as whoever it was called Gladys over for a cup of coffee and, "whatever pie he's got there too, if you don't mind."
It wasn't until—
"You got it, Detective."
—that Roy stiffened. His hand stilled in cutting off a slice of pie with the side of his fork, but, worried that might look suspicious, he continued through with it and scooped the bite into his mouth. He ate his pie slowly, pointedly not looking at the man next to him. He'd pocketed two wallets today, neither of which he had on him since he took the cash and tossed the cards and ID elsewhere. Still, even not having evidence on him, he worried that maybe one of the guys he grabbed them off of had ID'd him somehow.
He sipped at his coffee slowly, glancing at the clock periodically, wondering, with each passing second, if he could leave without looking suspicious yet.
The Detective finally finished his pie, wiped his hands with a napkin and balled it up in his palm.
Roy was almost down to nothing in his coffee cup and just reaching back for his wallet to leave Gladys some money. She always said it was on the house, but he didn't want her getting into trouble on his account. And he definitely didn't want the Detective next to him to start accusing him of not paying his bill.
Taking a drag from his coffee, the Detective licked his lips and cleared his throat. "Roy, right?"
Roy went still, his heart quickly plummeting to his stomach. Dread quickened through his veins and he considered what his chances were of getting out of the diner before the Detective could grab him. But, chances were, if he knew his name, he had an idea of where he lived, which meant that running would only get a 'resisting arrest' charge added to whatever else they were looking at him for.
So, with a sigh, he looked back, a resigned, irritated look crossing his face. "Yeah?" He arched an impatient eyebrow, waiting for the Detective to turn smug.
"Calm down, kid, I'm not here to arrest you," he said, with a snort.
"No?" Roy looked him over suspiciously. "What do you want then?"
The Detective stared back at him, mouth pressed into a thin line. He was older, somewhere in his forties with black stubble and dark eyes, heavy brows furrowed over them in a perpetual sign of frustrated irritation. He looked like something right out of a TV show; grizzled and worn down by the decaying nature of the city he was supposed to protect.
"Help," he said, looking up at Roy. "You interested?"
Roy would be lying if he said he wasn't curious. But in a place like this, curiosity could get a guy killed, and talking to cops wasn't the best route to staying alive. In the Glades, he'd learned to keep his head down. He intervened when it was necessary, but he wasn't a snitch. Never had been, never would be. He'd done his own share of fucking up, and if he started playing judge and jury to everybody else, where did that leave him?
"I don't think I'm what you're lookin' for, pops," he answered with a smirk. Pushing off the stool, he pulled his wallet out, dropped a five on the counter, and turned to leave. "Thanks, Gladys," he said as he went, pulling his red hood up over his head and tucking his hands into the front pocket before he shouldered his way through the diner door.
He was walking down the sidewalk, head bowed and eyes on the lookout when the Detective caught up to him, a little breathless, like any smoker was after a short jog. It was probably a good thing the guy was a detective and not a street cop.
"You don't wanna hear what I need help with before you turn me down?" he wondered.
"Doesn't matter what it is," Roy dismissed. "I've got nothing to say."
"Look, kid, I'm not asking you to tell me what your neighbor's got his hand in, all right? I'm thinking something a lot bigger than that."
Roy cast his eyes around, worried about who might be seeing him walk down the street with a Detective at his side. "I'm not your guy, now can you leave me alone?"
The Detective was quiet for a moment. "Worried about your reputation?"
Roy sighed, quickening his steps.
The Detective kept time with him. "What if I told you that if you helped out, you'd get your record expunged?"
Roy pursed his lips.
"Sure would open a lot more doors for you, wouldn't it? I know you've applied to a few places downtown, trying to get yourself out of the Glades, but as soon as they do that background check…" He whistled. "You go to the bottom of the pile, if not straight into the trashcan."
A muscle ticked in Roy's cheek, his teeth clenched tight.
"Clean record, new start. You tellin' me you're not interested in that?"
Roy let his words rattle around in his brain for a moment, a clenching in his gut that told him he did. He absolutely wanted out of the Glades. But his record kept shoving him back into it. Nobody wanted to hire someone who had a history of theft; it didn't look good and they had no reason to trust him. He got that. But all he needed was one good hand up and he'd be gone, out of the slums and on his way to something better.
Taking a deep breath, he tipped his head back and glanced at the Detective, hesitant to show any real interest. "What kind of help are you looking for?"
The Detective smirked, and then paused in his steps, forcing Roy to do the same. When he was sure he had Roy's full attention, he said, "I'm not interested in small fish. Think bigger. Think Bratva."
Roy's eyes widened before an incredulous scoff left him. Quickly, any flare of hope died. "Right. Thanks for nothing," he snorted, before turning on his heel to walk away, shaking his head.
"Listen, I know it sounds impossible. You think I'm going into this with some half-cocked plan? I've been planning this for a while. You do this, you got a free pass to do whatever you want with your life. But hey, if you wanna stay down here and rot…"
Roy stopped. His eyes darted along the pavement beneath him as he considered what he was saying, and then he shifted his feet and turned to look back at him. "I'm listening," he said.
The Detective smirked. "Good. Then let's take this somewhere with fewer ears."
Detective Lance, as he finally got around to introducing himself, apparently meant his own run-down apartment when he suggested they find somewhere better to talk. Roy was pretty sure it probably looked nicer without the stacked boxes of files pressed against any given wall. Papers and candid snapshots covered every available surface. Obviously, he was more than a little obsessed with the Bratva. And, since it was following him home, Roy didn't think it was professional so much as personal. He'd seen people like that, who let things get to them, fester away and take over their lives. His dad had been like that before he put a pistol in his mouth.
Uncomfortable, Roy shifted around, his eyes bouncing around the apartment nervously. Just talking about the Bratva put his hackles up. Screwing around with the mafia wasn't exactly on his to-do list with his life, not if he wanted to have a long one.
"All right, c'mere," the Detective said, waving him after him as he made his way into an office. Against the wall, there was a detailed hierarchy all put together with candid shots of each person to go with their names and station. "I'm gonna go over this quickly, so pay attention…"
Roy nodded, crossing his arms over his chest.
"First things first, there's three mobs currently running things here. The smallest of the three is run by Frank Bertinelli. He's getting a lot of heat from Stefano Mandragora, who's trying to move in and take over, so he's got his hands full. Next, we have the Chinese Triad, a drug cartel that take their orders from Zhishan. Lastly, and the one we've got are eyes on, are the Solntsevskaya Bratva. At the top of the pyramid is Anatoly Knyazev, he's the pakhan, think, uh, Godfather. Knyazev runs things from Moscow, so getting him on American soil is unlikely. Our real problem is the working unit he's got here in Starling; we're talking racketeering, drug trafficking, extortion, loan sharking, murder. The worst things you can think of, these guys got their hands in it, all right? At the head of the working unit here is the brigadier, the captain, that's Oliver Queen." Lance stabbed a finger at a picture of a man directly underneath Knyazev in the pyramid.
Roy recognized him well enough; Oliver Queen was one of a few billionaires that took up residence in Starling City. The Queen family had previously been one of the biggest employers in the city; the Steel Factory used to employ most of the people in the Glades. But then Robert Queen shut it down and, shortly thereafter, was killed in a drive-by that a lot of people chalked up to pissed off former employees. Ever since, the Glades had been sinking more and more into destruction while the Queens continued to live the high life with their multi-billion dollar company prospering.
"Prior to him taking over, there was talk that maybe Robert Queen had ties to the Russian mob, but we didn't have proof back then. Since he croaked and Oliver took over, things are looking a little clearer."
"If they're so clear, what do you need me for?" Roy asked, shrugging.
"Because. I need more than just a hunch and a few pictures. Oliver Queen surrounds himself with some heavy hitters, people that are trained to make sure he never gets his hands dirty, at least not in public view. And, tell you the truth, I think he's got more than a few people from my squad on his payroll." He shook his head. "Taking down the Bratva takes time, it takes resources and a lot of attention to detail."
As if trying to prove this to Roy, he turned back to the wall. "This, look—This here is Slade Wilson. Former Australian Secret Intelligence Service made mercenary. He's a trained sniper, martial artist and swordsman. He works as Queen's, uh, they call 'em kryshas, they're enforcers. This guy is brains and brawn, and he knows it. Next, here, we got John Diggle, retired ARMY Special Forces; sniper, hand to hand combat, and an expert military operator who speaks fluent Arabic. He's Queen's right hand man and bodyguard."
Roy could already feel information overload hitting him, but he took a step closer, examining the pictures of the two men in front of him.
"Next, we got Nyssa Raatko, she's a torpedo, an assassin. She's a trained martial artist, swordswoman and archer. Her favorite way to kill a mark? Poison. She's wanted on murder; a lot of it." His brows hiked meaningfully. "Never sticks around long enough for us to arrest her and the few times we got close, we came up empty, like she was tipped off..."
The picture of Nyssa was grainy, but the sharp eyes staring directly at the camera still sent a chill down Roy's spine. Beside her was a blonde woman, features indistinct.
Humming, he took a step back and cast his eyes around the larger picture. He paused at a photo of a blonde woman, smiling to someone just to the right of her. "Who's the blonde?" he wondered.
Lance stiffened, but then looked over, spotted where Roy was looking and relaxed. "What? You've never read a gossip rag? That's Felicity Queen, wife to the captain himself. She's an MIT graduate, got some big degree, certified genius or something. How she got tangled up in all this beats me. But she plays nice for the cameras and looks good on Queen's arm, makes him look more human, I guess. Probably just a media thing, to make the company look good. She's big on charity, humanitarian type, that kind of thing."
Roy nodded, casting his eyes away.
Lance waved his hand over the wall. "All of these people are Queen's inner group. You've gotta think bigger than just this wall; there's underlings, associates, uh, shestyorka's all over the place. Like Roman Zakharov—" He pointed to a sneering brunet, a toothpick hanging from his mouth. "He's just been made into a vory, like a made-man, which is what you're going to do."
Roy frowned thoughtfully.
"They've got informants—" Lance pointed to a picture just under and to the right of Nyssa's. "This is Sin. She feeds information to the family through Thea Queen." He raised his arm and pointed to a pretty brunette's picture just to the side of Oliver's. "She's Queen's younger sister. She owns a club out in the Glades. Verdant. You might'a heard of it."
"Sin splits her time between trolling the streets for information and tending bar at Verdant. She's Thea's closest confidant. People've tried to turn her before, but she's loyal. Stupid, but loyal."
"All I'm hearing is ways you can't get these guys…" Roy sighed.
"No, what I'm telling you is that from an outside point of view, yeah, these people are solid. They're tightly knit. They rely on each other to keep one another safe."
"So the only way to bring them down is from the inside. You have to make yourself a part of their group and then topple the whole organization."
Roy swallowed tightly, and then shook his head. "No. No way."
"Look, kid, if I could do it myself, I would. But they know me, they wouldn't let me ten feet from the front gate. But you? You are exactly the type of person that would go looking for a chance to prove yourself in their ranks. You've got a record, you live in the Glades, you're a fighter and you've got a smart mouth. You'll fit right in."
Roy rolled his eyes. "This is suicide. You're telling me to sign up with the Bratva and what? Hope to hell they don't realize I'm a rat?" He waved a dismissive hand. "This is crazy. I'm out!"
He got three steps away before— "Four million."
"Four million dollars is how much the Queen family has, on site, in a safe. You help me take them down, I let you take every dime out of that safe, walk away, scot free."
Roy looked back at him, head cocked. "And I don't get a knock on my door a few months after they're locked away in prison? Telling me I'm on trial next?"
"Full immunity, wiped record, four million dollars. Take it or leave it."
Something that tasted a lot like hope crawled up Roy's throat then, nearly choking him. He nodded jerkily, even as a nervous part of him told him he was about to sign onto something far too big for him to fully take on. "Deal."
Roy knew, as Lance grinned at him, a manic gleam in his eyes, that he'd probably just signed his death warrant.
Across town, a man named Marko hung, half-frozen, in a freezer, with meat hooks skewered through the skin of his back. Teeth chattering from the cold, Marko noticed that, if he strained his ears, he could still make out the noise of the patrons milling around inside the Gentleman's Club. But shouting, even if it were possible through vocal chords that burned just from breathing, would do nothing but draw unwanted attention. Even the hooks in his back no longer ached like they had; there was nothing but a dull, distant pain that let him know he was that much closer to death.
It would be a gift for him to die that easily. He knew that wasn't in the cards for him. The Bratva didn't take kindly to snitches, and he had done too much talking to too many ears. As if to remind him of his transgressions, they'd already cut one of his ears off, and stuffed it in his mouth as 'food for thought.' He'd spat it out as soon as they left, but the coppery taste still clung to his tongue.
As the metal door of the freezer banged open, he closed his eyes, begging for a miracle that would put him out of his misery quicker. Instead, he heard every pounding footstep as they came closer and flinched helplessly.
"I told you he was still alive," a thick, Russian accent noted, humor laced throughout. "Didn't I?"
"Didn't think he had it in him," another answered.
Slowly, Marko opened his eyes, wincing as his lashes pulled, having frozen together in the brief time he'd had them closed. Kirill and Nikki stared back at him, one smirking darkly while the ladder's expression was blank, and scarier for it.
"P-Please," he rasped painfully. "This is a m-mistake. I'd ne-never betray the family. You know that. You know me!"
Kirill tugged gloves out from his jacket pocket and slowly began to put them on. "We do know you. We trusted you. The family is built on trust, Marko. When we cannot trust you, we cannot keep you. And if we cannot keep you…" He raised his head and peered into Marko's eyes. "Then we must set you free… brother."
Marko shook his head, opening up the frozen wounds on his back, and blood spilled down his chilled skin. "Pozhaluysta! Let me speak to Kapitan. This is a mistake. Yest' drugiye! YA skazhu vam ikh imena!" he croaked. "Please! I can fix this."
"The Kapitan knows of your betrayal." Kirill stepped forward, drawing a long, silver knife out from a sheath on his hip. "What do you think, Nikki? The toes first, or maybe the fingers?"
"Tongue," Nikki said dryly, standing a few feet away, hands crossed in front of him, feet braced apart. "It's what got him into this problem in the first place."
"Da," Kirill mused, dragging the tip of his knife down Marko's jawline, leaving a thin wound behind, blood slowly pooling. "Good thinking." He took Marko's chin in his hand and smirked. "Hold still, staryy drug. I will bring this to the Captain as your peace offering."
Marko did not hold still; in fact, he struggled as much as one could when hanging, half frozen, from fish hooks. But, alas, his tongue was stripped from his mouth, carved out as Kirill whistled a jaunty tune, unperturbed by Marko's tears or his screaming. Blood spilled down Marko's chin, painting his chest, and pooled on the ground.
It was only the first of what Marko would lose— the other ear, his toes, his fingers, etcetera— in the end, before the light finally left his eyes, he was little more than pieces. He watched through hazy eyes as Kirill wielded his knife around like a spatula; as if he were a chef and this was his kitchen, with Marko as the main course.
Marko closed his eyes, and wished that the loss of his ears would mean he wouldn't have to hear the brutal sound of knife meeting flesh and bone. Alas, for a man with no tongue, he thought his screams said more than he ever had before.