Dedushka patted the younger man on the shoulder before he gestured towards the car, urging Dmitri to drive up with Taras in the back. He barely looked up from his phone.
The dump was one of the properties that belonged to his family. Taras had learned a lot from eavesdropping on his parent’s arguments. He learned bratva, plucked from a blizzard of angry words, and that Dedushka was twice the man that his father was.
Taras had listened. Knowing that she was right.
They had been with Dedushka for his birthday when the burglars came. Taras was torn between admiration and pity. Admiration because it took insane amounts of courage or stupidity to burgle the house of such a man.
Pity because when they were caught, it could not end well.
The SUV drew alongside him. He opened the door for Tee himself, smiling with even white teeth. His skin was almost translucent, and his goatee was white as a dove’s breast, but his eyes were chips of blue ice set into dark sockets.
Taras did not roll his eyes, but he dragged himself from the back seat and walked alongside his grandfather. They stood in front of the impact crusher. Within it sat a Mercedes, and Taras was about to ask what the point was when he saw the face pressed against the glass.
James Grantham, who was in his English class. His dad owned most of the Wild Benny’s Barbecue Restaurants and could afford to settle the lawsuits, pleading down the criminal charges that James, just fifteen, had accumulated.
‘Dedushka, you can’t do this. I go to school with him.’
He had sworn in front of him once, when he was thirteen. He had not seen the blow come, but it had knocked him on his ass and made his eyes blur for several moments. He had not sworn in earshot of him since.
Dedushka smiled and shook his head.
‘Taras, do not plead for this boy. I don’t care who his father was. Whoever he is, he failed him.’
He reached into his pocket and retrieved something. He cupped his right hand and turned it so that his palm faced the ground.
‘I met with this boy. I looked into his eye, and I asked him if he had done this thing.’
Taras shook his head.
‘Please, Dedushka, he’s an idiot, but he’s not worth going to jail over.’
Dedushka tucked the cane under his arm and took both of Taras’s hands in his. He slipped what he held into his palm.
‘The television, the stereo, all replaceable. I have insurance.’
One of his men came over and handed him a small black box with an aerial extending from one side.
Taras looked at the locket in the palm of his hand. Burnished gold, worn by time and love, and the clasp opened to reveal a single black and white photograph.
Dedushka studied his reaction without interruption.
‘He went through her things. I went and asked him for the locket back, and he laughed at me, Taras.’
Dedushka held out the black box under Taras’ nose. The red button in the centre had been so used that it was a dusky pink in the centre.
‘So, I ask you, for me and your babushka, if you are worthy of the bratva?’
Taras swallowed, his mouth tainted with adrenaline. His hands shook with it, but this was something devastating. Something fundamental.
He would not be able to pretend any longer. Sure, there would be school, college, but there would also be prison, the tattoos with meanings that he had searched online for. There would be glory in it, and he knew that he was not his father. That whatever burned in his Dedushka burned in him.
As he took the device, he looked into his Dedushka’s eyes, and when he pressed the button, his heart thumped so loud in his chest that it drowned out everything else.
Even the screams.