Home > Last Kiss (Hitman #3)

Last Kiss (Hitman #3)
Author: Jessica Clare

CHAPTER ONE


One Month Ago

VASILY

“You think to lead the Petrovich Bratva?” Georgi Petrovich cries from far down the table. He is so far removed from the main branch of the Petrovich family tree he barely warrants a place here. “You aren’t even blood Petrovich!”

“Am I not?” I ask. There’s no need to raise my voice. Any emotion indicates weakness. I am not a weak man. “What makes a Petrovich?” I stand then and begin to walk around the table. “Is it blood? Then half of you should be executed on the table for failing to have the requisite DNA. Who shall go first?”

I point to Thomas Gregovorich, a loyal member of the Bratva for at least two generations. His father served in the KGB during the Cold War.

He gives a small nod in deference acknowledging that the Bratva was a true brotherhood made up of allegiances rather than blood.

“Or you, Kilment, when we took you and your brother in when you were left orphaned on the street, did you believe you became a true Petrovich when you made your first kill? Conducted your first job? When we speak of the Bratva, we speak as one voice. What is done to one, it is done to all. Or does that maxim no longer hold true, Georgi?”

There are low murmurs of approval and Georgi sits back, folds his arms, and looks petulantly at the table. We are meeting today to discuss the future of the Bratva after the death of Sergei Petrovich. A death I helped orchestrate, and many suspect it, which makes it difficult for me to enact my next step—to kill Elena Petrovich. Two Petrovichs dead so close together smells of a coup. We are an unstable lot, and lopping off the head of this snake would result in chaos. In order to achieve my ends, the Bratva must be stabilized.

However, in this den of iniquity, it is not love that holds the loyalty of each man. It is fear. The Petrovichs have held power over us all by setting us one against the other. To rise above, I have eliminated all weaknesses.

What sets me apart is all that I am willing to do. Each of these men at the table has had limits. I have none.

The men that sit at this table are divided. Some view me with awe and respect, and others with disgust. The latter are the ones I respect, because a man who would kill his own sister, a man such as I, deserves to be in a dungeon, locked away from all of humanity.

Instead I stand here as the potential leader of this room of villains and thieves. And it is a position I seek, not because I lust after power, but because if I control the Bratva, then nothing is out of my reach. I have one goal now.

“Will you kill your mother to save the Bratva, Thomas? And you, Pietr, when your sister whispers to her lover Pavlil Ionov, do you worry that she’s telling secrets? Or Stefan, your son, I saw him the other day holding hands with . . .” I stop behind Stefan’s chair and rest both hands on the back. I can almost feel him inhale the fear. “. . . a smart young thing. They looked to be enjoying themselves.”

Pietr coughs. “So you are willing to kill us all to maintain hold of the Bratva? That is not a good reason to follow you.”

“No, but you all know that I will sacrifice everything and everyone to protect the brotherhood.”

They are all silent because unlike the others, my sister, Katya, is gone. Disposed of by my own hand at the order of Elena Petrovich.

I end my stroll around the room behind my chair. “I am the one who led us away from munitions and dirt to telecom interests. In less than a decade, the Bratva’s primary businesses will be legitimate, which means that you no longer have to hide behind your armored vehicles. You no longer have to rely on bodyguards that could be bought off. You need not fear the KGB or the militsiya. You can invest in your futbol teams and mansions in Londongrad without fear of reprisal.”

Leadership means effective utilization of the carrot and the stick. I lead with the stick. Always. The Petrovichs believe in only the stick. For them the carrot does not exist or is viewed with suspicion.

The boyeviks—the young muscle our old warlord Alexsandr groomed from urchins on the street to protect the brotherhood—grow tired of the constant threat to their homes and family. They sleep with one eye open, their hand over their heart, wondering if the brother next to them will be killing their mother or raping their sister in retribution for some Bratva infraction.

The older generation such as Thomas and Kilment and those who sit on the Petrovich Bratva council are loath to hand over the power of this organization to me, a mere foot soldier sold by his father to repay debts. With Sergei dead and the vicious Elena the only real Petrovich remaining, I am left with a choice. Attempt to wrest control of the brotherhood from the old guard or walk away.

And I would walk away. I have some money stored but I’ve been a Petrovich for a long time and there are many enemies that would crow over my death. No, in order to survive, the Petrovich Bratva must remain strong.

If I have learned anything, it is that people with nothing are victims. It is those with power and money and might who have the ability to protect others.

Thomas rubs a hand across his jaw. “There is one thing you could do.”

“That is a legend, Thomas,” Kilment groans.

“I will do it.” Legends persist because people believe, and if belief means I can bring down Elena Petrovich and secure a peaceful future, then I will pursue this foolishness until the painting is mine. Their desire to recapture the past is absurd and yet another reason the old guard should be replaced. “You wish me to procure the Caravaggio.”

Cries of wonder and confusion fill the room.

“So you know,” Kilment says flatly.

I pretend no ignorance, for it is a story that Alexsandr shared with me long ago. “I know that a famous triptych painted by Caravaggio once hung in the palaces of the Medicis in Florence, perhaps the Careggi Villa. It was commissioned as an altarpiece but considered to be too profane, as many of his pieces were judged. It was gifted by the Medicis to Feodor the First, who then lost it, and Russia entered the Time of Troubles. When the Boyars rose to power in the seventeen hundreds, it is rumored the painting was recovered by Peter the Great. Citizen Petrovich’s grandfather was gifted this set of three paintings and it hung in the great hall of the Petrovichs until it was lost, sold, stolen during Sergei’s time. Many say that he who holds it, holds the world.”

Thomas nods at this recitation, but Kilment looks unconvinced.

“It is known as the Madonna and the Volk,” I conclude. The Petrovichs loved the painting because the woman who sat for Caravaggio was purportedly a true Mary Magdalene—a whore. And the Volk? It is a man-wolf who is eating Mary, and despite the gruesomeness of the depiction, there is an expression of ecstasy on her face. Volk, too, was seen as a play on the old Russian criminal rank of vory. Thieves, wolves at the door. We were the predators. Everyone else is prey. I saw it only once, when I was given to Elena Petrovich like some birthday treat. It seemed fitting that Sergei sold it to fund some sordid perversion of his own. “But why is it that it is of any importance? It is a mere painting.”

Thomas stares at me. “It is a symbol of our wealth and power, and we have lost it. And no Caravaggio, one of the greatest painters of all time, can be dubbed a mere painting. It belonged to Peter the Great. It is priceless, one of a kind. Why would we not want it? That it is in the hands of someone else is shameful, a blot against the Petrovich name. Now more than ever, we must show our enemies we are strong.”

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