“Oh, London is man’s town, there’s power in the air
And Paris is a woman’s town, with flowers in her hair.”
The man silently repeating the words to Henry Van Dyke’s ode to the comforts of home watched the Moscow skyline blur past from the backseat of the Volvo he was riding in. He didn’t even know the rest of the poem. Instead, he liked to conclude it with a stanza he had written himself: “And Moscow is killer’s town, where everything is fair.”
The man twisting the Van Dyke poem had not been born a poet. He hadn’t been born a killer. Born in Cheremoshnoye, a tiny rural village located in southern Russia, Aleksandr Volkov’s parents had raised him to be a God-fearing, patriotic Russian. They went to weekly service at their local orthodox church and made their money selling crops from their moderately-sized farm. And then, when Aleksandr was twelve-years-old, disaster struck. His parents were killed when a drunk driver swerved into oncoming traffic, leaving a young boy parentless.
The mobile phone charging on the bedside table vibrated. The young woman napping underneath the thin flower throw blanket stirred, then reached over and snagged the phone.
“Hello, this is Kat.”
Katya Lebedeva was an award-winning journalist, known around the country for her propensity to break stories related to corruption within the oligarchy of Russia. In a country where freedom of the press is often under brutal attack from the government, she was a rarity. Armed with stunning good looks and a relentless style of journalism, she was a force to be reckoned with within the Russian power structure. Of course, that also made her a target.
“Kat, good to hear your voice,” said the heavily-accented male voice on the other line. “Are we still on for tonight?”
“Da. Dinner in an hour?”
“Of course,” he laughed nervously. “And I’m sure you will be interested in the information I have. Maybe over a vodka at my place?”
“Not over the phone. Talk later.”
“Of course, of course. Excuse my carelessness. Just wanted to confirm. See you in one hour.”
Katya hung up and then fell back on to the flowered sheets covering the bed in her drab hotel room. The light cast from the tall lamp in the corner of the room was dim and depressing, adding to her general exhaustion.
At only twenty-seven, she was one of the most well-known members of the media. But it came with an immense cost. In a non-stop quest for the next story, she constantly moved around, living out of her suitcase in hotels around the country. At the moment, she was in Moscow after staying in St. Petersburg for a month. Before that, it had been Volgograd, and before that, it had been Omsk.
She stood up and wandered over to the window. The sky was grey and the rain was coming down in sheets, covering the city’s famed onion domes in a continual stream of water. As she started down into the soaked streets, she asked herself—once again—why she was doing it. Sure, she was well-known and well-off, but she often battled intense loneliness. Her parents—loyal citizens to “Mother Russia,”—had disowned her not long after she began her career. She didn’t have friends and she certainly didn’t have a boyfriend.
The constant target on her back was a weight she could never quite shake. She loved the thrill of breaking a story and watching the dominoes fall, but when she laid her head down on her pillow at night she hated the feeling that at any moment the door might break down and she might receive a bullet to the skull—or worse, a trip to Lubyanka.
She pushed aside the thoughts of self-pity, stepped away from the window, and began to pick through her suitcase in search of an outfit. Back to the grind.
Aleksandr remembered receiving the news that his parents had been killed like it was yesterday. The partly-cloudy sky. Soft grass beneath his feet. The kids engaged in a soccer match running up and down the field.
He will never forget the look on the neighbor that lived across the street as he sprinted across the field to deliver the life-changing news.
He soon moved to Moscow to live with his aristocratic uncle and aunt. The experience had been short-lived and they soon shipped the stubborn teenager to boarding school. While he resented his uncle and aunt on a personal level, he was not above using their name to his advantage. Soon, he was friends with the children of some of the most influential families in Russia.
They partied, they made their rounds with the women, and began to dabble in drugs. Remarkably, the farm boy from rural southern Russia found himself entangled in the Russian Mafia.
“Volkov, look alive!” Snapped the driver of the Volvo. The windshield wipers were flying back and forth, trying their best to beat back the rainstorm.
“Yes, sir,” Aleksandr responded, fiddling with his seatbelt.
“Let’s go over the plan one more time,” the muscular man in the passenger seat said. He turned in his seat to look Aleksandr in the eye. “Give it to me, Volkov.”
“So, the plan is for us to wait outside the restaurant until the woman and Peter come out,” Aleksandr gestured to the man in the backseat next to him. Peter was good-looking, tall and slender with a trendy business suit. “They will exit the building and Peter will lead the woman to the alley where the car will be parked. When he opens the passenger door for her, that’s when I move in.”
“Where’s your weapon?” Asked the driver.
Aleksandr patted the shoulder holster concealed underneath his dark blue windbreaker. He was packing a Russian-made PSS-2 handgun, one of the most silent firearms ever created. The PSS-2, or Vul as it is known, had been developed by the KBG in the 1980s for missions in which the utmost silence is required. Thanks to an internal piston, the weapon is almost completely silent and releases no smoke.
After ten minutes of standing outside her hotel in the rain, Katya was finally able to wave down a taxi to take her to the restaurant. Collapsing her umbrella, she slid into the backseat and told her driver the name of the establishment.
Dressed in high-heels and a red dress, Katya sat silently as the cab made its way through the rain-slicked streets of the Russian capital. This was certainly not her first meeting with Peter. She found him charming, friendly, and—most importantly—an excellent source with contacts in high places. Even so, this was business. The greatest asset in any conversation or interview was always preparedness and knowledge. She refused to ever let her guard down…as much as she sometimes wanted to.
Aleksandr was soaking wet. He had been “hiding out” in the alley where Peter’s car was parked for almost thirty minutes, waiting for him and the woman to come out.
The wet brick walls and a stray cat were his only companions as he waited for the moment. Sitting next to a dumpster, he tried to steady himself. He was alone now, this was his job…and he was scared.
He had been a member of the Russian Mafia for years, but his involvement mostly involved smuggling and trading illegal drugs. He had been in a few scrapes, but never anything like this. His job was to…murder someone.
“Oh, London is a man’s town, there’s power in the air,
And Paris is a woman’s town, with flowers in her hair.”
Aleksandr waited, continually repeating the altered stanza to himself.
“And Moscow is a killer’s town, where everything is fair.”
A rat ran past his feet in search of a meal. He watched with interest as the creature scurried about, collecting the refuse generated by the restaurant. A bread crumb here, a piece of chicken breast there. Survival, by any means necessary, was the rat’s sole goal in life.
Suddenly, there was a double click in his earpiece, the sign that Peter and the woman were exiting the restaurant. Aleksandr’s heart began to pound as his mind left the rat and returned to the mission at hand.
I don’t even know who this woman is. Aleksandr thought. Can I do this?
He didn’t have a choice. Steady yourself, Aleks. Everything is fair in Moscow.
He wondered what his parents would think about him now. Huddled next to a dumpster, clutching a silenced-pistol, about to do the unthinkable.
Peter and the woman came around the corner. That’s her. Just as beautiful as the photo.
Arm-in-arm the couple walked towards the red BMW Peter and Aleksandr would soon be using as a getaway car.
Peter said something to the woman and they both began to laugh. She wasn’t expecting a thing. She had let her guard down.
They were within twenty feet of the car.
Aleksandr rose slowly, tensed and ready to pounce.
Don’t do this! Screamed one side of his brain.
You have no choice! Screamed the other.
Peter reached for the door handle and time seemed to slow to a crawl. Aleksandr’s heart was begging him to drop the gun, while his head pushed him along. He had to do this. Everything is fair.
When Peter opened the passenger door of the BMW, Aleksandr made his move. Pouncing from his spot behind a dumpster, he aimed and fired twice. Click, click. The first shot hit Katya in the shoulder, the force of which threw her body against the car. The second bullet hit dead center in the forehead.
Crimson red blood mixed with the falling rain as the award-winning journalist’s lifeless body hit the pavement. The rat Aleksandr had observed skittered away, fearing for its’ life.
“Get in,” Peter said to Aleksandr. “We have to get moving.”
But Aleksandr was frozen, unable to pull his eyes from the body. He wasn’t panicking as he expected. Instead, there was a strange calmness.
Her blood is the same color as her dress, he thought.
Now in the driver's seat of the BMW, Peter was swearing. “Get in the car, fool!”
Aleksandr shook off the momentary trance and stepped over the body into the BMW. The door slammed shut and they quickly drove away into the storm.
Within hours, the body was found, and the entire street was cordoned off as the police started the search for the killers. Of course, they would never be found. In part, because the police were in the pocket of the Mafia; and in part, because the Mafia was very good at what they did. They left just enough evidence to send a message, but not enough to build any kind of case.
But another murder happened that cold, rainy Moscow night. The murder of Aleksandr’s heart and soul. Everything was fair now, there would be no looking back.
The killer was also the killed, and nobody had seen a thing.