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Chapter Eighteen – I Will Be Your Soldier
“What’s the meaning of this?” Ruslan asked. “Who are you? Where is Martin? What did you do to him? And why the hell do you sit there like you own the fucking place?”
The stranger put one hand up, and his smile grew wider. Johnny was in too much shock to say anything. Now he understood a few things, especially about why Douglas had wanted so badly to keep it a secret that Ruslan was related to him by blood.
The man in front of them needed no paternity test or fancy DNA screening. He was Ruslan, head to toes, some twenty-five years from now. Or maybe not entirely. His face was harsher, his lips thinner, and there was something cold and measured in his eyes even as he smiled. The designer suit fit him like a glove, and he was impeccable to the last hair on his head.
“I do own the fucking place,” the reply came.
Johnny noted the heavy foreign accent right away.
Ruslan gasped. “What did you do to Martin?”
“Butler? He’s fine. I just needed his phone. And this house.”
“Why?” Ruslan asked. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Such a dirty mouth. Just like your mother,” the man said.
He made a gesture to stand up, and one of the goons hurried to pull his chair. The man paid his servant no mind and walked slowly around the table, touching the lacquered table with something in his eyes and his moves that, from where Johnny stood, looked like nostalgia.
“What do you know about my mother? You still haven’t told me. Who the fuck are you?” Ruslan shouted.
Johnny could not believe Ruslan didn’t see it. Maybe he was too much in shock. “Pretty, I think that’s your father,” he said slowly.
“Ah,” the stranger said with satisfaction. “Smart. Who’s this? Bodyguard? Good choice. He looks strong.”
“You can’t be,” Ruslan said, shaking his head.
The man sighed. “All right. Let me introduce myself. I’m Vladimir Petrovsky.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” Ruslan spat.
“Of course not. Douglas told you nothing about me. He was right, in his own way, I suppose. Because my son belongs to me.”
Johnny wasn’t sure whether it was the man’s broken way of speaking a foreign language or he did mean that as it came out. Instinctively, he stepped in front of Ruslan, to protect him.
“Easy, bodyguard,” Vladimir said. “No one here wants to hurt your boss.”
“He’s not my bodyguard,” Ruslan said. “He’s no one. Let him leave.”
Johnny turned to stare at Ruslan. “Now what are you playing at, pretty?”
“Ah, he’s the fiancé,” Vladimir intervened. “I heard of him. I didn’t know he was this strong. Now, Ruslan, come here and let me embrace you.”
Ruslan’s eyes were shifting from Johnny to Vladimir and back again. Johnny felt a bit relieved. He was wary still, but it didn’t look like this man wanted to hurt Ruslan. Vladimir was looking fondly at his son.
Respectfully, Johnny took one step to the side, but Ruslan made no sign that he wanted to move. Vladimir opened his arms wide and walked over to him. He pulled Ruslan who seemed more like a ragged doll at this point, into a tight embrace and kissed both his cheeks loudly.
He took Ruslan by the shoulders and made him walk to the table and sit. “You can come, too, bodyguard,” he said over his shoulder.
Johnny followed in silence. It was so strange to sit there and look at Ruslan and that stranger. Side by side, the resemblance was even more striking. It was like a punch to the gut, and Johnny could not help but wonder what Douglas must have felt when he saw Ruslan for the first time. It was clear as day who the father of his daughter’s son was. The lawyer must have lied through his teeth at the will reading. They must have all known Ruslan was the spitting image of his biological father.
Presumably, none of them thought this would bite them in the ass. Yet, Vladimir Petrovsky, as the man had dutifully recommended himself, had clearly caught wind of having a son, and he was now here to claim him.
Johnny always went with his gut instinct, and he felt completely calm in the presence of this stranger. Maybe it was because he looked so much like Ruslan that Johnny could not see him as the bad guy. If that were the case, and Vladimir’s intentions were bad, they were in deep shit.
“So, your grandpa failed to find your mom,” Vladimir said in a playful tone like he was talking to a child.
Johnny could barely keep a smile despite the seriousness of the situation. Ruslan’s glare was legendary. His lover wouldn’t tolerate being patronized like that. “And? Have you found her or something?”
Vladimir was holding Ruslan close, by his shoulders, forcing their chairs together. In turn, Ruslan looked like he wanted to be in a separate universe. “I wish I did. I wish I found you before now, little treasure.”
“Little treasure?” Ruslan sputtered. “Seriously?”
“What? Is it the wrong term of, how do you say this, endearment?”
“Let’s just say you’re just about twenty-something years late to use any term of endearment,” Ruslan said icily.
Johnny rubbed his face with gaziantep lezbiyen one hand to hide his smile.
“Ah, I didn’t know about you,” Vladimir replied, his own smile never leaving his face. “I was interested in some small business, something little to give my cousin who wants, for who knows what reason, to live here. And I find that Douglas Kent has a son named Ruslan.”
“And? Douglas will always be my father,” Ruslan spat.
“He’s your grandfather. And did nothing to clean your spiteful mouth,” Vladimir replied, looking at his son pointedly. “Melanie told me. ‘We ever have a son, let’s name it some name you want.’ And I chose your name for you,” he added as he pushed a finger into Ruslan’s shoulder.
Johnny shook his head. He could not believe his ears, or his eyes, but Ruslan’s real father was right in front of them, and that was no fantasy.
“So I wanted to see this Ruslan. They kept me in the dark, all these years. When I could have watched you grow,” Vladimir said with affection mingled with regret.
“Spare me the crocodile tears,” Ruslan said and looked down stubbornly. “You don’t know my life.”
“But I want to know it,” Vladimir said in an excited tone. He slapped Ruslan’s back hard. “Should your mom have come to me, I could have made her a princess. Now I’ll make you a prince.”
“No, thank you,” Ruslan replied.
Johnny could feel that Ruslan’s façade was breaking. Whatever toughness he had in him, Ruslan must have felt it dissipating right now, hearing this stranger talk so casually about him and his mother.
“Ah, don’t be mad at me. Douglas should have told me of you.”
“Papa didn’t have to tell you shit,” Ruslan said and pushed the back of his hands into his eyes.
Vladimir pulled him close. “He robbed me of you. Like he robbed me of Melanie.”
Ruslan pushed his father and stood up. “He did nothing like that. You just fooled around with my mother, and I was some accident.”
He began to walk away stiffly. Vladimir was quick to stand up and catch him by one arm. “That’s not true,” he said sternly.
Johnny stood up, too. He was nothing but a spectator, but he felt like he needed to intervene. “Maybe you should listen to your father a little, Ruslan,” he asked in a soft voice.
Ruslan threw him a cutting look. “This man is not my father. My father died months ago, and his remains are ashes in an urn.”
Johnny felt taken aback by Ruslan’s determination. Vladimir sighed audibly.
“And what is that you want anyway?” Ruslan turned toward his father. “I inherited a fortune, so you came to grab it for yourself? Do you want to pressure me into it? And are you the one who’s messing with everyone’s business? How about you go back where you came from?”
“Hey, hey, hey,” Vladimir said. “So many questions. Your fortune is your own, my son.”
“Really? Didn’t you pressure Martin into giving this home to you? When you knew it was papa’s?”
“I bought it above the market price. He agreed. And I’m giving it to you. You should have it. You should have everything.”
“Oh, fuck. You’re a great actor, aren’t you? Do you have any other children?”
“Yes, you have two brothers and three sisters,” Vladimir replied promptly. “And you’ll meet them all when you come with me to Russia.”
Johnny’s ears prickled. Now that was the kind of development he wasn’t expecting. And five siblings? Ruslan’s father had been a busy man, it seemed.
“I don’t want anything to do with your wife and her kids,” Ruslan replied.
“Wives,” Vladimir corrected him in the same playful tone he had used throughout the conversation.
Ruslan rolled his eyes. “Can you be married to more than one person in your country?”
Vladimir shrugged. “Technically, no. But divorce, marriage, is all blurred lines. They all live happily together. I make sure of that.”
“Fucked up,” Ruslan commented and turned on his heels again.
Vladimir caught him from behind into a hug. “You’re lucky you’re too old to turn you on my knee,” he said.
Johnny sighed and walked closer. “Mr. Petrovsky, please. I should take Ruslan home. Maybe you’ll talk more later.”
It wasn’t like him to be some diplomat, but the situation was far from being normal so that anything could go.
“You have enemies here. Both of you,” Vladimir said. “I’m here to clean up mess, too.”
Johnny was now very much interested in hearing Ruslan’s father out. “What do you mean?”
Vladimir finally let go of Ruslan who straightened up his clothes and pushed his hands through his hair like he wanted to make sure that all of himself was still there.
“You say, Ruslan, that I’m the one messing with business. But you know why the jungle goes all quiet? It’s when the king arrives. Lion,” Vladimir pointed at himself with uncontained satisfaction.
“Oh, and that’s you,” Ruslan said. “And? What am I supposed to get from that? That everyone gets out of the way the moment you make an appearance?”
“Something like that,” Vladimir said, his smile growing wider. “Who is this Davenport?”
“Nigel?” Ruslan asked.
“Friend of yours?” Vladimir asked affably.
Johnny wasn’t falling for the act. “No,” he replied in Ruslan’s stead.
“Thought so,” Vladimir said with satisfaction. “He’ll be history. Soon.”
“What? Are you just eliminating people randomly? No wonder papa didn’t want you to know about me,” Ruslan said.
Vladimir quirked an eyebrow. “Eliminate? He’ll be asked to leave. Politely.”
“So you’re ruining his business for what?”
“I don’t ruin anyone’s business. They’re weak. All. His father left him debts on top of debts. That’s not my fault,” Vladimir said, raising his shoulders as if he could not believe he was being accused for no reason.
Johnny sort of liked Ruslan’s real father. The man seemed ruthless, but he was telling the truth about Nigel. And if that fucker was out of the picture, it was all for the better. Johnny could not stand the thought of that scumbag around Ruslan.
“Did you pressure papa, too? Was that why he was worried?”
“Your grandfather did keep you hidden from me. That’s not a thing easy to forget,” Vladimir wagged a finger, and his smile became skewed a little.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Ruslan pressed the matter further. “Do you have anything to do with his death?”
“Nothing. Old man, frail bones. I guess all that happened. Not me,” Vladimir said with a shrug. “It worked out good. He would have sold everything to me anyway so I could give it to you.”
Ruslan got into his father’s face. “He gave it all to me anyway — no need for your interventions. And you know what? I don’t give a rat’s ass about all that. I’d give it all only that he was here with me still.”
“Easy there,” Vladimir warned. “It’s easy to kick it all with your foot when you have everything.”
Johnny almost felt the need to duck for cover. Ruslan’s eyes were stormy skies. “Oh, really? Didn’t your intel tell you? I had nothing until papa saved me. I was sixteen and working the streets when he got me and took me home with him.”
Finally, something seemed to get through to Vladimir. Johnny could tell by how the man’s features darkened and the few wrinkles on his face deepened. Without thinking, he took a step to be closer to Ruslan.
“She gave you away?” Vladimir said the words slowly like he could not bear to talk. “I thought she just left you with her father.”
Ruslan shrugged. “I have no idea. I have no idea what either you or she ever did. The only parent I’ve ever known is no longer with me. You don’t matter.”
Vladimir stood there, frozen. Johnny wanted to feel for the man, but couldn’t. The guy had clearly expected to come in there like a champion, and have Ruslan fall into his open arms. Nothing was like those stupid shows on TV, though. This was no lost and found reunion, with tepid tears and crooked flowers.
“Wait,” Vladimir called after Ruslan.
Johnny followed his lover, as Ruslan was marching out of the room. Then he stopped suddenly. “Are these goons of yours going to follow me?”
Vladimir shook his head. “Not these. Others.”
So, the security detail wasn’t Douglas’s doing, after all. Johnny had wondered why they still had their shadows long after Douglas’s passing away. At the time, he hadn’t questioned it at all. If it were the man’s wish to watch over them even from beyond the grave, those dudes in black could do it until their contract expired. Now it all made more sense.
“Call them off. That if you want me to talk to you again,” Ruslan said through his teeth.
“Ruslan,” Vladimir said in an apologetic tone, “don’t be mad. I won’t call off the men. You need people watching you.”
“Why? What did you do that I’m in so much danger?” Ruslan snarled.
“I told you. You have enemies,” Vladimir explained.
Ruslan threw his father a pointed look. “Choose. Call off your goons, or we’ll never talk again.”
Vladimir said nothing.
Ruslan shrugged and walked out of the room, with Johnny on his tail.
“You know it’s not his fault. If he didn’t know about you -“
“Johnny, stop. This has nothing to do with you, okay?”
“So? I’m not allowed to say anything or something?” Johnny asked and frowned. “And where are we going?”
“There’s an exit through the back. I bet that those goons are waiting for us in the front.”
Ruslan walked quickly, two steps in front, and Johnny had to speed up to keep up with him. “Maybe your father is right -“
“Don’t call that man my father,” Ruslan said.
Johnny wasn’t fooled. There was heartache right there, and Ruslan could not deny it forever. Johnny was no good at talking about things like that anyway, so he just needed to wait for his lover to calm down. Maybe they just needed to go home and sleep over all this. Yet, there was something he needed to say. “I believe Vladimir when he says that Nigel is dangerous. Don’t tell me you hate your …, whatever, Vladimir so much that you want to be on Nigel’s side on this one.”
“I’m on no one’s side but mine,” Ruslan said while stubbornly walking ahead.
“So you’re in this alone? Is this what you’re saying?” Johnny questioned, his face all a frown now.
Ruslan stopped and turned toward him. “Yes, maybe that’s what I’m saying. If you like Vladimir so much, why don’t you go to him and hold his hand? Maybe sing Kumbaya or whatever.”
“Pretty, that’s not fair,” Johnny warned.
Ruslan was royally pissed. But Johnny could feel himself heading over there fast, too.
“Are you coming home or not? I’m so done with all this for now.” Ruslan turned and walked away without waiting for an answer.
Johnny hurried after him. Now he was sure he didn’t want to let it drop.
They were out in a backstreet and Johnny followed Ruslan since apparently he was the only one knowing where they were going. “What the hell are we doing?” he asked.
“Getting out of here and looking for a cab,” Ruslan said shortly.
“We could call for one. We have these things called phones,” Johnny tried to joke.
“Not a good moment, Johnny.”
They walked for minutes, without saying anything.
“Ruslan,” Johnny called again. “How about you stop with the attitude? Are you pissed at your dad? I don’t care. But don’t treat me like shit or we’ll have a problem.”
Ruslan stopped only to get in his face. “Problem? What kind of problem? Have you taken that many hits to the head that you can’t think of why the hell I’m so pissed?”
Johnny’s eyes darkened. Ruslan knew better than to challenge him like this. Well, he would go home alone now. Johnny had had enough of all that bullshit.
He was about to tell Ruslan to fuck off when he caught something from the corner of his left eye. “Watch out,” he barely managed and tried to reach for Ruslan, but sudden pain shot through the base of his skull and the world around him tilted in slow motion before it got completely dark.
Johnny woke up suddenly, the sensation of not being able to breathe too much to bear. He shook his head and realized that someone was throwing water into his face. He sputtered and spat. The first instinct, to get to his feet and strangle whoever thought could drown him with water from a bucket, had him struggle furiously. His hands were tied at his back, and whatever they used for that dug into his skin, cutting circulation. He flexed his fingers in an effort to eliminate the numbness. His legs were immobilized, too.
He stared at the man in front of him. It wasn’t anyone he knew. Could it be that Vladimir had sent his goons after them anyway, and now they were taught a lesson not to disobey ever again? Somehow that didn’t seem to be it. Johnny could feel it. His gut instinct was telling him right now that they were in deep trouble.
Ruslan. Where was he? His eyes began searching around frantically. The goon in front of him, a dude in his late forties with the face peppered with deep craters from some childhood measles or something, caught his chin and then slapped him hard.
Johnny struggled against his restraints and growled loudly. The man slapped him again, seemingly amused with seeing his futile attempts to break free. “Who the fuck are you? Where is Ruslan?” he demanded to know.
The man moved out of his line of sight to allow someone else to step in. Johnny cursed loudly. “Motherfucker.”
Nigel stood there, his hands in his pockets, a jovial grin on his face that seemed completely out of place in that dank room. “Well, you do know my real name, Johnny. Or should I call you Snake? Hmm, you seem pretty fangless to me right now.”
Nigel leaned downward as if he wanted to take a better look at him.
Johnny ignored him. Now was no time to get riled up like a rabid dog, no matter what that scumbag wanted. “Where is Ruslan?”
“Ruslan? Your fiancé, you mean?” Nigel asked, his eyes glinting with something nasty that made Johnny want to kill the man just for speaking Ruslan’s name. “Oh, he’s okay. For now. I understand that his market value just went up. I have yet to make up my mind about him. At least, I know what to do with you.”
Johnny ground his teeth hard. “Where the fuck is Ruslan?”
Nigel made a bored gesture, and someone else in the room dragged Ruslan into Johnny’s line of sight. He was silenced by a piece of thick rope pushed through his teeth, and his hair was glued to his forehead with sweat. Except for looking a bit roughened up, he seemed okay.
Johnny focused on that. They weren’t dead yet. That meant the scumbag wanted something from them. “What do you want?” he asked Nigel directly.
“A man of few words. I like that. I just wished we could have been friends. Well, that ship sailed. So, here’s what I want. I want you to get into my ring, and fight until you’re dead,” Nigel spat the last word at him as if he was projecting poison.
“Yeah? And why would I want to do that? You’re that strapped for cash that you need me to bring in people for fights?”
Nigel tsked, more and more pleased with himself. “Are all fighters this stupid? It’s going to be for one night. Your last performance, Snake.” The grin on Nigel’s face was cruel, that of a mad man. “It’s fitting, don’t you think? My dad had you fight for him. I’m doing the same. But I’m also finishing the job.”
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