Mishka sat there in the rotting cell, wondering how it all had happened.
Remember how it went? The wedding?
Do you remember the altar burning?
I do. How could I forget?
A crisp fall evening is great for an outdoor wedding. The leaves are turning orange, making for a beautiful vista against the sunset. And the altar they built just for this wedding is perfect. It has the vines growing at the top and the white finish is flawless. Flowers were even planted around it. Aesthetically, it's incredible, but the sentiment is where it shines.
For years, the Parkov and the Teriosk family had been feuding. It had been doing maybe a hundred years now, but no one knows for sure. There was killing by both sides. The police in Estonia refused to get involved, especially considering both families have dangerous criminal ties. Money laundering, fraud, conspiracy, murder... you name it, they've done it.
But in true Romeo and Juliet fashion, eventually Mishka Teriosk and Ana Parkov found each other. They fell in love, not knowing who the other truly was until the love was deep enough to be unconquerable. In secret, they planned a wedding.
Not this one though.
Both of their fathers figured it out eventually. The bad blood fueled what would be one of the biggest non-military massacres in Estonian history. A battle broke out on the streets; twelve men wound up dead. The fathers from both sides finally realized that this couldn't go on; that it just wasn't worth it. They agreed to a truce and two months later, this wedding was set. Mishka and Ana threatened their fathers with eloping and that's how they saw reason.
It was so sudden too. The blast and then the fires... the screaming.
The bride stands before the mirror, trembling. She wonders if she is absolutely perfect for the wedding. How's her hair? Is the dress tight enough? Is the veil even?
And, more importantly, does she really want to go through with it? She is giving her life to Mishka. But her father came behind her and told her, “Do not be nervous, my girl.”
“Oh, father, I can't help it.”
“No, you can't,” he laughed a fatherly laugh. “But your mother and I? We are so happy for you.”
“But father, he is a Teriosk!”
Mr. Parkov sighed, “Today that doesn't matter. Today there is Mishka and there is Ana. You are not a Parkov today and he is not a Teriosk. Not today. Our differences are left out the door.”
“Papa, that means so much to me!” She embraced her father.
“Darling, you are beautiful and Mishka is a lucky man. He is also a good boy. But most importantly, you love him.”
Ana let go of him and told him, “I love you, papa.”
“I love you too,” he smiled. “Now, run along, it's starting soon! I will be with you shortly!”
Mr. Parkov watched as his daughter left the room. She truly was beautiful and it was hard giving her away like this, but he was happy for her. And he would let nothing screw that up. Parkov pulled his phone out of his jacket and dialed the number. “Deshk? It's Parkov. Are you set?”
“Yes, I am.”
“If Teriosk tries anything... I want him dead. You pull that trigger without hesitation.”
“But let's hope it doesn't come to that, shall we?”
Mishka Teriosk wasn't fit for running a mob and his father knew it. Mr. Teriosk never really considered Mishka for the job. He was a tall and thin boy; attractive, sure, but also lanky. He just wasn't mob material. Nevertheless, the boy looked good in his tuxedo. The bow tie was a darkened orange to match the autumn leaves and it went well with his hair. Ana had chosen it and she had chosen well. Mr. Teriosk was proud of his boy.
“Son, I have a gift for you,” Teriosk told his boy.
“Yes, father?” Mishka tugged at his tie. No matter what he did, it wouldn't feel even.
Teriosk held a wooden box in his hand and gave it to Mishka. “This was your grandfather's. I had planned to give it to your brother, but... I found it appropriate to give you to today.”
Mishka opened it and inside he found a silver Colt M1911 pistol with pearl grips. It was a beautiful pistol. “Father, I don't know what to say!”
“Then say nothing,” Teriosk grinned. “But promise me one thing, son.”
“Promise me that you will never use it.”
Hours before, Teriosk had met with his man. His name was Herak and he was a mercenary. Teriosk had hired him many times before, but never trusted him. This, however, was too important. Teriosk found Herak sitting on his car, smoking a cigarette. Teriosk carried a large briefcase.
Herak asked, “What's the job?”
“I want you to listen very carefully,” he sighed. “This is my son's wedding. Nothing can go wrong. But the Parkovs are there as well. I cannot trust them. I just need some assurance.” Teriosk flipped open the large case. Inside was an M203 grenade launcher and a single round for it. “That round is a very expensive incendiary round. If something goes wrong, I want you to fire it at the Parkov side. The hope is that no one will die, but they will get a powerful lesson.”
“What is that lesson?” Herak inspected the M203.
“That you do not screw with the Teriosk family”
And then they found your father... a bullet through his brain.
In the fire, Mishka stood over him and pulled the trigger. He broke his promise to his father.
And here she comes! Mishka watched in wonder as Ana walked down the aisle. She was so beautiful and he would never forget the sight. And watching her walk between the Parkov and Teriosk family, acting like a zipper bringing them together was more significant than he could imagine. This wedding was the ultimate of peace and matrimony. Mishka wondered how he kept himself still, but managed somehow. She smiled back at him. Perfection.
When she was close enough, he took her hand and she joined him at the altar. The priest stood between them and then began to recite something or another. Mishka couldn't hear him. All of his world was dedicated to the beautiful woman before him. Their eyes locked. Neither had to say a word to understand the deep love that they shared.
But suddenly, from beyond the hill behind the guests came at least fifteen police officers led by a younger man in a trench coat brandishing a badge. This man, a detective, ran his way to the altar and held up a pair of papers, “I have here warrants for the arrest of-”
“Is this a joke?!” Teriosk shouted as he stood.
“This is your doing, Teriosk!” Parkov growled.
The air whistled before the ground beneath the bridesmaids burst into flame. Two of them were instantly engulfed and the rest fled. Mishka grabbed his bride's hand and they ran for cover. Mishka heard the crack, but didn't see the bullet pierce his father's skull.
“What is happening?” Ana cried.
“I don't know!” Mishka exclaimed as more gunfire erupted “Our fathers are mad!”
Ana and Mishka retreated together and hid. On the next day, they returned to their wedding site. Everything was burned and there were still bodies laying on the ground. Some were Teriosk, some were Parkov, some were policemen, and the rest were women caught in the crossfire. The altar was nothing more than ash. The forest behind them had burned, but the firefighters contained it before it become a catastrophe.
Ana and Mishka had come because they wanted to see what had happened. They didn't understand it. Suddenly the police arrived and suddenly everything burst into flames. What had happened? When they arrived, they found only one soul on the scene: Parkov.
Parkov saw them and greeted them very quietly, “I knew you would come. The both of you, that is.”
“Was this your doing?” Ana asked.
“No,” Parkov exhaled. “It was not Teriosk's doing either. It was the both of us.”
“Explain,” Mishka ordered.
“Don't tell me what to do, boy,” Parkov shot back. “But I will. Both your father and I had hired... insurance. Insurance that the other would pay if anything happened. No one expected the police to come. We each assumed it was the other who had called them to make a show; an example, perhaps. I had paid a sniper, who shot your father, Mishka. I am sorry.”
“Calm down, there is more,” Parkov looked down. “Your father had hired a man, Herak, do you know him?”
“He gave Herak this,” Parkov picked up the M203 and tossed it to Mishka. “He gave him a special bullet that could make fire; an incendiary round. Herak is dead,” he pointed to a body on the ground. “And so is Deshk, the man I hired.”
“So, it is finished.”
“No!” Parkov cried. “Two men still breathe who should not.”
“The young detective who started all of this. His name is Minski,” Parkov said. “Just an overeager son of a whore who decided to ruin a wedding day.”
“And who is the second?” Ana asked.
Parkov sighed, “Someone ratted on us. Someone gave the police enough evidence to put both myself and Teriosk away for life. I've seen the warrants. It was for extortion; money laundering... things we've both done, but things they could never prove. The only way for this to happen was if someone had told them.”
“Can there be no doubt?” Mishka asked.
“There cannot,” Parkov rubbed his forehead. He handed Mishka a wooden box. Inside was Mishka's grandfather's pistol. “I found this inside. It is yours. Mishka, your brother is dead and so is your father. The Teriosk empire is yours.”
Mishka pulled the pistol out of the box and then Parkov tossed him a full magazine. Mishka objected, “I promised my father I would never use this.”
“That is not a promise you should keep, Mishka.”
Detective Minksi rested comfortably behind his desk. It wasn't but a year ago that they gave him the promotion. His superiors had seen his passion; his fire. Minski would do anything to get criminals behind bars, so they gave him the most difficult case of all: the Parkov's and the Teriosk's. And it was for that quasi-year that Minksi could find nothing. They covered their tracks too well.
But sometimes you just get lucky....
Minski was untouchable. Mishka knew never to go near the police. If he killed Minski, then it would all be over. And luckily, Minski's warrants were for the fathers and no one else. Parkov had shot himself the night before the police made another move on him. Ana was heartbroken, but somehow didn't want revenge. Mishka loved her compassion, but couldn't understand it. She urged him to forget about the informant.
But there was too much of his father in him and Ana knew it. She resisted his burning desire for revenge, but ultimately chose to allow it. She had grown up in too much of that for it to really faze her. Ana didn't like it, but she understand her husband's drive.
Since Parkov was dead and Ana was married to a Teriosk, the Parkov empire also fell under Mishka's command. Suddenly the entirety of the criminal underground was under Mishka's power. He had planned to disband them, but that just wasn't possible. The sins of the fathers ran too deeply.
Lobrinski was the name of the informant. Detective Minski insisted that the man give his name. Of course, Lobrinski resisted at first, but ultimately had to do the right thing. He told Minski everything and gave him copies of papers which implicated both Parkov and Teriosk. Minski could not have been happier. And, in his ambition, he gathered what policemen he could and rushed to the wedding.
Little did he know that he was walking into a bloodbath.
After four years of hunting, Mishka finally found his man. It was Lobrinski; one of his father's most trusted accountants. Apparently the man had grown a conscience. It was too late for that though. You don't just grow a conscience if you're in the mob. You just don't.
Through the years, Mishka had come to trust a man named Yarok, who became his right hand man. Yarok was older than Mishka and knew what he was doing. Yarok had spent time in the military, where he was in the Estonian Special Forces. But a sniper's bullet took away Yarok's left arm. His expertise, however, remained.
As Lobrinski drove home from a long day of work, Mishka and Yarok followed him. As soon as the traitor had parked, Yarok blasted the car with a fire bomb. It burst into flame. Lobrinski, in total terror, jumped out.
Mishka told Yarok, “Stay back. I will handle this one.”
The boy-turned-man racked the slide on his grandfather's pistol and walked over to Lobrinski. The traitor was on the ground, his ankle twisted by the escape from the burning vehicle. Lobrinski sobbed, “I'm sorry! I didn't mean for this to happen! I-”
“Then what? What did you mean to happen?”
“I just wanted it all to stop... all the violence.”
“You only caused violence, Lobrinski. My father trusted you. “
“But look! Look! Your families are at peace now! Look at the good that's come from-”
In the fire, Mishka stood over him and pulled the trigger. He broke his promise to his father.
Minski was excited as he rode in the squad car to the wedding. He was ready to make a show. He was going to grab both Teriosk and Parkov, throw them both in prison, and make an example for all criminals out there. Minski was going to be the first man to bring any of Estonia's mafia in. Images of glory and promotion littered his mind.
Ambition, however, can be a terrible thing.
Minski jumped from his car and ran with the men to the altar. He hid a grin as he marched down the aisle. There they were: the bride and groom. Of course, they were probably criminals too; the both of them. But they would have to wait. Minski had only two warrants, one for each father. He climbed up to the altar and exclaimed, “I have here warrants for the arrest of-”
“Is this a joke?!”
“This is your doing, Teriosk!”
The left side of the altar suddenly burst into flames and then Teriosk's head burst in crimson. Minski stared in disbelief as the fray broke out. Within a few seconds, he broke himself out of the daze and drew his revolver. The police had no choice but to retreat. This was a madhouse; a slaughterhouse.
Mishka sat there in the rotting cell, wondering how it all had happened. He could remember details; flashes. It had all started with the wedding and it grew from there. The lust of empires overtook him. Estonia's crime syndicates became bigger than ever. Twenty-five years later, everything was worse for wear. And to think... Mishka could have stopped it all.
Ana sat on a stool before his cell. She was older. Her hips had grown and her eyes sagged. But more noticeably, her lip was cut and swollen; she was bruised all over. Minski had beaten her. No longer was she the beautiful woman at the aisle, but he was no longer the man from that day either. He had been arrested just the day before, on quite damning charges. Ana said to her husband, “Do you remember how it went? The wedding? Do you remember the altar burning? I do. How could I forget?”
“I could never forget that, Ana,” Mishka said to her as he wiped away sweat and remorse.
“It was so sudden too... the blast and then the fires. The screaming. And then they found your father... a bullet through his brain.”
“Why do you say these things?”
“Because Mishka, when I saw him dead there... I thought that life had died with him. I thought that maybe the life of crime was over. But I was wrong. You have become your father.”
“Goodbye Mishka,” Ana cried as she stood to leave. She put her hand to his one last time and kissed him on the forehead. This would be the last time they would touch.
“Ana, wait, I-”
“Goodbye,” she left.
Mishka's head hit the wall. How had it come to this?
“It took me twenty-five years to finally put you away, Mishka. And look... you have nothing!” Minski exclaimed as he emerged from the shadows. “You tried to take what is not yours and kill to have it. You must know that you can never win that way.”
“I have one thing,” Mishka whispered.
“I said that I have one thing, Minski.”
“Oh, and what is that?”
“Revenge,” Mishka stood and from his sleeve came a tiny handgun. It had only two shots. Mishka fired one into Minski's neck. He watched as the detective struggled to the ground and finally stopped moving. Mishka smiled a very faint smile as he brought the pistol to his own temple. He pulled the trigger.
Teriosk is finally dead. The dynasty is gone.
Minski could find nothing to put Mishka Teriosk away. The evidence simply wasn't there, but everyone knew that the newly forged alliance between Parkov and Teriosk was bad for everyone. Without anyone to oppose them, the empire grew and grew. Mishka absorbed so much power that he had become a legend. Rumor had it that he had more power than the government; that he had paid so many officials he could make any decision about Estonia.
He had to be stopped.
So, if Minski couldn't catch him, he would hurt him. Minski charged himself with the task of ensuring that Mishka's life would be a living hell. He became a thorn in the empire's side. And they couldn't touch him, so Minski did his work.
And the power got to him just as did Mishka. Minski soon found himself breaking the law in his pursuit of Mishka. He would use any means necessary.
And by any means, that meant using Ana. Minski found Ana one day. She was still innocent, but did that matter? No, this is the greater good!
Minski took her behind an alley and beat her until she finally told him how to implicate Mishka. Did he regret that? Yes, but the prize is worthy. God would forgive him in the end, wouldn't he?
Ana truly was innocent through it all. The power never got to her because she refused to be like her father or his nemesis. The crime and the murder was ridiculous. And she truly believed that Mishka would put a stop to it. She never once lost her faith in their twenty-five years of marriage. Of course, it was faith misplaced. After Mishka was arrested, she lost all of that faith.
But she had been given a great gift: a Russian S-4M silent pistol. It fired only two shots, but that was all Mishka would need. She hid it in her pocket when she went to the prison to visit her husband. They said things to another... harsh realities. And when she put her hand on his, that was when she gave him the gun. Ana knew that he would kill both Minski and himself.
At this point, she wanted both of them dead.
And she got it.
The fire... the blood... the stains... they can only spread and they can only kill. Kill or be killed; these are the only choices.